How one couple manages to afford to road trip for 3 years

Campbell and Goldfarb enjoying the fruits of their labor (literally). Photo: Idle Theory Bus
James Campbell and Rachel Goldfarb enjoying the fruits of their labor (literally). Photo: Idle Theory Bus
When Rachel Goldfarb, 27, and James Campbell, 28, first loaded up their bright-orange 1976 Volkswagen bus — which they aptly named “Sunshine” — they decided to get rid of anything they didn’t need. Everything in storage? Sold. Extra clothing? Donated. Those office jobs? They quit them.

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“We wanted to live more wildly, more primitively,” Goldfarb explains. The duo (who has been together since high school) had been living in a cramped studio apartment right out of college when they decided to reevaluate.

“We wanted to work with our bodies, to find an alternative to sedentary careers. We set out to redefine the role of work and play in our lives,” she continues. “Society hadn’t offered us satisfactory answers to our question: ‘How do we live a good life?'”

Being idle can be difficult, Goldfarb says, but it's important to their lifestyle. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
Being idle can be difficult, Goldfarb says, but it’s important to their lifestyle. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
The couple has been on a road trip for three years now, traveling the country boondocking and wild camping in some of the most remote places they can find, from the pine country of Nevada (where they say there’s only one person per square mile) to the Canyonlands of Utah.

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“[Humans] were never meant to live in large megalopolises,” says Goldfarb. “We feel as though we’ve gained the world in that we park the bus in deep, dense forests with no permanent human habitation for miles. In that way, we own huge tracts of land for one night at a time.”

She says she and her boyfriend share a simple, low-maintenance existence in their bus, cooking three meals a day from scratch over a vintage two-burner Coleman stove and spending most of their daylight hours hiking or backpacking.

An "idle" moment in the snow. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
An “idle” moment in the snow. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
Somewhere along the line, Goldfarb and Campbell dubbed their experiment in life on the road the “Idle Theory Bus,” setting out to examine how work and play — and more importantly, the balance of the two — affect our lives.

“Modern society preaches the gospel of work and completely neglects leisure and idle time,” she explains. “We seek to change that. Meaningful work is important to the spirit, but we need time, also, to pursue interests that aren’t money motivated. Why work 50 hours a week? Do you need to work that much to survive? Why not be happy?”

Campbell and Goldfarb earn money for gas and food through seasonal harvests at farms across the country. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
Campbell and Goldfarb earn money for gas and food through seasonal harvests at farms across the country. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
This inevitably brings up a question: With no nine-to-five jobs and nothing to sell, how does one afford to keep putting gas in the tank?

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“Our main income on the road is seasonal farm work,” says Goldfarb. “We travel with the agricultural seasons, picking cherries, peaches, apples and grapes. We usually work a month, travel for two. Harvest work isn’t very lucrative, but it provides us with the cash we need to cruise.”

Goldfarb says traveling this way has given them the opportunity to see how a large part of the country lives, sharing meals and making wine with farmers and their families along the way, often working alongside migrant laborers. They just finished a grape harvest on a small winery in Southern Colorado, where they worked 12 hours a day picking grapes for a month straight — and taste testing the goods.

Campbell and Goldfarb have been living in Sunshine, their VW bus, for three years. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
Campbell and Goldfarb have been living in Sunshine, their VW bus, for three years. Photo: Idle Theory Bus
“We helped the farmer and winemaker in the crushing and fermentation process,” Goldfarb says. “That work mostly consisted of cleaning stainless steel tanks, but we learned so much about the process — and drank so much delicious wine.”

In transit again, the duo is en route through the Rocky Mountains into New Mexico, hoping to do a citrus harvest in Arizona in January. Until then? They’ll play music, enjoy nature and continue their experiment in being idle.

“We think it’s helpful to schedule in your idle time,” she says. “Take this Saturday, make a plan to go somewhere natural and be alone. Plan it like you would a meeting, say 9 a.m. Turn your mind off; don’t be productive. Don’t worry. Grow from there. The best ideas are born in practicing idleness.”

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