It was mid-January 2020 when Jessica Alfreds, 44, her husband, David, 45, and 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, moved from the New Jersey suburbs to a 4,000-square-foot house in Connecticut. The family made the move to what Alfreds called “farm country” so that she could expand her food delivery business. Alfreds had been feeding hundreds of people a month, delivering healthy versions of comfort food favorites to clients in New Jersey and New York. She remodeled her new home to function like a commercial kitchen, installing two dishwashers and five ovens. She also planned to grow food on the two acres of land surrounding the house.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. It was early March when Alfreds got a text message from her husband urging her to “buy a ton of emergency food” as fears of a lockdown loomed. By mid-March “the whole world starts to shut down,” Alfreds said. She tried to keep the business afloat, but pandemic restrictions meant that she couldn’t have staff in her home and had to pay extra for drivers who were reluctant to make deliveries for fear they would get sick. She worked around the clock alone in her kitchen while homeschooling her daughter as her husband continued to work as a television producer from home.
In May, Alfreds looked at the books for her small business, which generated “hundreds of thousands of dollars” a year pre-pandemic, calculated her losses, and declared, “I’m done.” She and her husband realized that they didn’t want to pay property taxes if their daughter wasn’t going to be in a local school and that they would eventually have to sell the house. They talked about what it would be like if they traveled around the country for a while, but Alfreds was reluctant if it meant spending weeks or months in a cramped RV.
Instead, they crafted a plan where they would live in a handful of locations in the United States in short-term rentals for a few months at a time and explore those communities in depth. The couple put their Connecticut home on the market and are expecting to close in late October with their traveling life beginning soon after.
The opportunity to leave everything behind and travel was also a financial decision, Alfreds said. “When in our lives are we ever not going to have a mortgage?” she said. “We’re saving money by traveling.” David is able to continue to work remotely while on the road, providing some income for their travels, and, ever the entrepreneur, Alfreds plans to expand Revolution Academy—a curriculum for homeschooling she created at the beginning of lockdown that includes botany, sign language, and Black and Indigenous history—so she can teach her daughter and other students of color.
They plan to spend the holiday season visiting family in the tristate area before eventually heading south to the Carolinas and Florida and then heading west to Indiana and Illinois. The prospect of spending time together is what drove Alfreds and her family to make the final call to get on the road. “What we learned during the pandemic was that we loved being together,” Alfreds said. “We went for hikes, played card games and board games, and we ate together. We realized, ‘This is awesome; we want to live like this.’”
Of course, there are concerns about safety, particularly since the couple are interracial—Alfreds is white; her husband is white, Black, and Indigenous—and their daughter is multiracial. But racism is something that isn’t limited to a particular region of the country. It was something Alfreds said the family experienced even in Connecticut when they were looking for homes: “It’s very racially charged out here.”
The family eventually plans to settle down, but Alfreds hopes the lessons they have learned during the pandemic endure. Before the pandemic, “we felt like we were always racing to get time together. There wasn’t time for the three of us,” she said. As they emerge from a difficult year to explore the country, Alfreds and her family have a new philosophy: ”This is life. This is real. This is great. It’s how we feel like we should be living.”
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This story is part of a series on pandemic-driven career shifts.