Tech designer best friends trade NYC desk jobs for 250sqft home on wheels
We’re Raven and Brie, originally from Texas and New Jersey, but we met in NYC in 2017. We worked together as designers in the tech industry and have been best friends ever since. We’re both adventurous, love to travel, and know that neither of us is made to live life sitting behind a desk. Add to that the fact that we’re both crazy enough to want to live in 250 sq. ft. together, and here we are!
Motor: Allison DT466
Interior Square Footage: 250 sqft
Current Location: Texas
Purchased From/Location: M&M Auto Salvage in Ruckersville, VA
Cost in materials for the conversion: The limit does not exist (but honestly, we lost track)
Total time from the purchase date to on the road: What year is it again?
Why a bus?
We love an unconventional moment! We knew we wanted a complete lifestyle change and explored several options, but we just kept coming back to a bus. The idea of bus life felt unfamiliar enough that it would make for an ultimate adventure but approachable enough that we wouldn’t be completely on our own. As we started doing research, we found comfort in knowing that there was a sense of community already established and enough people that had come before us that we could learn from as we tackled the conversion.
We both love to travel but also need a sense of stability and familiarity from time to time, so being able to travel in our home felt like the perfect balance for us. We also liked the idea of having creative control over the build, as opposed to doing an RV renovation where it seemed we would have more limitations.
What have been people’s reactions to you buying a bus to live in?
Reactions have generally been positive and supportive, but definitely range depending on how well a person knows us. The people closest to us pretty much all reacted with mild shock, then an “Oh, that makes sense”. Neither of us has ever been known for following typical paths in life. People who don’t know us quite as well usually reacted with a laugh followed by questions. So. Many. Questions. Our coworkers tended to react in a similar way with an added level of envy. In front of our manager, one of them even asked how she could be expected to continue working at a corporate job anymore knowing she could be doing something so much more purposeful. We love to see it!
Does your bus have a name or phrase you call it? If so, why did you choose it?
We throw around BABS every now and then which is short for Big Ass Bus (and she definitely lives up to that at 40’ long) but we focused more on naming the journey as a whole— which we are calling “A Soul Vacation”. We spent several weeks trying to nail down the perfect name, something that would represent the big adventure as well as the “why” behind it all: a transition to a more meaningful and purposeful lifestyle. Reclaiming our freedom and happiness, and distancing ourselves from the systems and structures that were stealing our joy.
Cut to us on a road trip to rural Pennsylvania to pick up our new RV windows. “Drops of Jupiter” by Train is playing, which we’d heard and sang along to a million times, but the line about a soul vacation suddenly had a new meaning. We knew it was the perfect symbol for our new pursuit of happiness.
Where are you converting/ did you convert your bus?
After we quit our jobs, we left the city and moved in with Brie’s parents in New Jersey. We worked on the bus in their backyard for 8ish months. We will finish the build at Raven’s mom’s house in Texas. We love extreme temperatures apparently—northeastern winters with single-digit low temps to Texas in the middle of summer. We need serious help.
Did you do the conversion yourself or did you hire someone?
We set out with the goal of doing everything ourselves. But along the way, we realized that sometimes you just need to pivot. We decided to call in the professionals for a few projects (shout out to Skoolie.com) and it has lifted a huge weight off of our shoulders!
Were you all on the same page about living bus life or did one person (or more) have to be convinced?
On the same page from the start! Which was one of the main deciding factors for us? We couldn’t pass up the fact that we both wanted to uproot our comfortable lives and leave our favorite city to chase this crazy dream. So we made a plan, quit our jobs, and fully invested ourselves in this project.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
We are designers by trade, so our backgrounds are in solving problems creatively. This has afforded us unique perspectives and experiences when it comes to working within design constraints and using what we have to create ideal solutions and has definitely been an advantage for us in this process. With regards to the actual building, Raven grew up around home renovation projects. Her mom is a bit of a DIY queen who taught her all about power tools and building basics from a young age. Brie loves to research (so much so that we call it “Briesearch”) which is kind of an important skill to have when you’re learning how to build a home from the ground up!
This is still very much a learning process for us and we’re learning new things every single day, literally. The first thing we had to teach ourselves was how to drive a 40’ bus, which still seems a little crazy when we think about it. Throughout the demo process, we learned how to use countless new tools—to think, we had never even used a ratchet before we started this! We’ve learned about bus systems like heating and AC, and now that we’re finally starting to build, we’re learning more about the mechanics of the bus and how to actually apply basic building skills to create a home.
Tips/tricks/advice to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this?
Our top three pieces of advice are: One, no matter how long people tell you their build took, be prepared for your pace to be different. It’s easier said than done, but try not to compare your progress to other people’s—it diminishes your efforts and steals your joy. We are constantly working on this.
Two, avoid converting in winter if you can. Besides just trying to survive the pain of bone-chilling cold, most building materials don’t do their best work in winter temperatures. Trying to get them to work in conditions they’re not made for will often lead to even more headaches and heartbreaks than you signed up for by doing a bus conversion.
And three, although there’s an amazing, established skoolie community providing tons of research and advice to work from, not everything is out there. Keep in mind that sometimes your specific problem might not have an answer on the internet so you’ll have to get creative and figure it out for yourself. That being said, don’t be afraid to ask for help! We haven’t come across anyone who hasn’t been willing to help us yet.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
The skoolie community is filled with couples and solo travelers, but we’re two best friends doing this together. Something really important to us was finding a way to each have our own space, even in such close quarters, without sacrificing any of the common areas. The two-bedroom solution we’ve come up with (props to Raven for being the mastermind behind it) is something we haven’t seen in any other conversion yet. We can’t wait for everyone to see it!
How has the pandemic affected bus life for you?
It slowed down what felt like already slowwww progress. It made our daily trips to hardware stores a lot more challenging and time-consuming. And really eliminated them completely during the strict stay at home orders in New Jersey. We’ve also had to work through the emotional tolls it’s taken. Some days it was extremely difficult to find the motivation to work on the bus with so much devastation all around us, especially just having left New York and watching the daily updates of our city struggling so badly. The pandemic has also reminded us how lucky we are for our health and the resources available to us that allow us to maintain our comfort and lifestyle. And reinforced the notion that life is short and can’t be taken for granted.
Follow this build! Keep up with A Soul Vacation on their Instagram.
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