This family of six steers clear of the pandemic in their off-grid adventure mobile.
The B Hive Family has been living their bus life adventure for over two years. Johnny is a USMC veteran and together with his wife Shiang-ling B, the two have been "roadschooling" their four children and teaching them the meaning of living a full, sustainable life on the road. They cook together, play together, and travel the country in their bus named Buzz searching for the ideal piece of land to settle down. But by the looks of things, that setting won't be happening anytime soon. They are currently staying with friends in Vermont, and this winter they will embark on their journey West. In this interview queen bee Shiang-ling B gives us a look at what sparks joy in their daily lives and what inspired them to choose bus life.
Make: Thomas Built Bus
Model: RE MVP
Motor: Allison 3126
Interior Square Footage: 320sqft
Current Location: Vermont. We will be leaving before Halloween
Purchased From/Location: American Bus Sales in Oklahoma - we wanted a well-maintained engine because neither of us know engines!
Total time from the purchase date to on the road:
Three months! We weren’t complete but it was functional-ish.
Interviewee: Shiang-ling B aka Queen Bee
Why a bus?
We went to one of those RV shows to check out the spacing. You know, get a feel for it. Johnny wanted to see how tough a cabinet door was and kind flexed it… and it cracked. We knew our family wouldn’t be able to live in one. I’d break it. We are always wrestling and tossing each other. So many things would break. Plus everywhere I looked in the RV I wanted to redesign for efficiency, so might as well build with 2x4s and wood, things we were familiar with and enjoyed!
Who are you living/traveling with?
It changes depending on who has a pet at the moment. Consistently there is me (Shiang-ling), my husband (Johnny), our four kids Alexis, Matthew, Chloe, and Jacob. Current animals are Phoebe our pitbull, Neko our cat, and Alpha the beta fish with Ned the snail.
Does your bus have a name or phrase you call it? If so, why did you choose it?
Our bus’s name is Buzz. He’s a drone searching for his “queen” (our land). He even has antennas (Johnny’s pull up bars). It was the only name we could think of that went with our bee theme since we have never owned bees.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far? Johnny has a background in construction/odd jobs and engineering. He learned maintenance for this large vehicle's engine, how to get insurance, and registration changes - all things relatable to the bus life. I, Shiang-ling, am a DIY builder. I am always working on some project that I've seen somewhere and said, “I can make it myself." I thrive on learning new skills to build the things we want or need. This includes learning to weld so I could attach the roof deck to the bus!
Tips/tricks/advice to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this? Any current troubles? Take your time and make sure you have essential items done first. Don’t get me wrong, now looking back on our two years of bus living I wouldn’t take anything back. But when we left on our maiden voyage we didn’t have hot water hooked up (for a year), or our pee diverter wasn’t piped in, we still don’t have solar (and it's been fine!) and we are STILL working on the bus. It will always be a never-ending project, but I am glad that we kinda lived in the space while we were in the middle of construction because it allowed us to really understand the smaller space and build as needed.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
This is a hard one, I love soooo many aspects of our build. I think my favorite thing is that there is a unique space for every individual on our bus to be and not be “disturbed”. It was really important to Johnny that the kids each had a place to sit, build, create, write, eat, sleep, and retreat to without being in another's “space”. Not because they can’t get along, but it just gave everyone their own space. Johnny and I are flexible. Other than that feeling we were able to create with our build, I really love the amount of storage we have on the bus. Like, stupid amounts of storage. When the “pandemonium” started, Johnny asked me one night if we had to “bug out” and live off of what we have aboard how long could we last, to which I answered, probably five months.
What do you do for income? How often do you work while on the bus?
Johnny receives a stipend from the VA after serving nearly 13 years in the Marine Special Forces. Alongside that, he owns an LLC and contracts every so often as a way to continue to add money to our savings for our future homestead and our traveling adventures. I am ‘working’ on my homesteader skills, I'm learning how to go back to basics. Eventually, we will be back homesteading and I want to keep my skills sharp!
Is there anything you wish you did differently in your build?
Always… HA! I joke about wanting permanent couches in the front area all the time. I’ve even joked that I’d rebuild areas while Johnny’s away working (I usually tinker on something either way). Realistically though, I do feel like our build is perfect for our adventurous, foodie, wild family. I tell my husband at least twice a week how tickled I am that we live on a bus - it’s my little cottage on wheels. Every adventure we’ve been on while living the bus life has been just that, an adventure! It’s been fascinating to watch our kids' minds open and our bonds grow as a family.
What about the bus will help you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
The end-ish goal: to get property and build out our self-sustainable homestead. Every weird thing you can think of that we can figure out how to make ourselves we just might try.
Living aboard the bus is allowing all of us the luxury of TIME; time to find what we really like and experiment with it. Not just for us as adults, but we try not to limit the kids either. Our kids Alexis(12), Matthew (10), Chloe (9), and Jacob (6) all have interests in cooking… not just cooking but farming, gardening, foraging, and butchering. Our three oldest can whip up delicious meals and desserts from scratch either from a recipe or off the top of their heads! Even Jacob can fry you up a mean eggs and bacon. The way we look at it, we are using this time of adventure and wandering to learn and grow our skillsets. While Johnny works and is the primary homeschooler, I learn and experiment with as many self- sustainable practices as I can… and then "Cliffnotes" it to him.
This lifestyle is also allowing us not only travel and adventure, but we are paying off debt, saving money, and learning along the way! For the past two years we have traveled like this: We connect with friends and people with homesteads or properties, and we go help them on their property in exchange for free stay. Right now we are staying with our friends in Vermont and we are splitting utilities and then some. BUT IT'S SIGNIFICANTLY CHEAPER THAN STICKS N BRICKS! We’ve had a great summer hanging out with our friends. We cover our cost and then some because it’s still savings for us. And since we have more “free” time, we help them (painting rooms, setting up pig pens, culling chickens, moving) with anything they need to check off their list. As long as we can all be adults and get along it just works out SOO well for both families.
What have been people’s reactions to you buying a bus to live in?
I think people love it. I think they also think we are a roadside attraction sometimes. The only reason I share on IG and YouTube is for the other families that need to see it's totally doable. My hope is that I come across as genuine as I present myself. Yass I am that wild, apparently I “speak like a princess” (Ahem it’s Queen) and make weird mouth movements… but I’m sharing because other big families think this lifestyle would be chaotic, messy, and impossible. And while sometimes it can feel like that, you just have to choose to see the good in everything. Be disgustingly optimistic and opportunistic… Try it for a week, I challenge you.
So what if the kids make a mess in the kitchen after making waffles? It buffs out. Someone broke the new french press YOU JUST GOT? It's replaceable. Tiny spaces with a lot of kids will get crazy as hell, but if you can learn to choose happy and positively redirect, you can SO do this!
Have you met other skoolies or buslifers on the road?
Absolutely! They are usually some of the best people with wildly different backgrounds and reasons for living the same way. Also, the community is always up for lending a hand to anyone who might not possess the skills it takes to “build” their dream.
How has the pandemic affected bus life for you? It honestly hasn’t. We were ahead of the pandemonium by a year. We did the homeschool hooplah... It's that feeling like you're supposed to do ALL these things and then you realize that homeschool is simple. You are teaching your kids to do life alongside you.
Where do you project you’ll be three months from now? Hopefully heading West! We have a plan to start heading West at the end/beginning of 20/21.
How can people learn more about you?
Follow our adventures on Instagram & Youtube! I post pretty much daily on IG about our crazy lives and I am working on getting back into weekly Youtube videos again. @thebhivefamily. You can also follow @halfbakedandbarelymeasure to see all of the cooking/food experiments I test out in my tiny kitchen. From raising/growing the food, to butchering/cooking and even preserving, I’ll show you how close I am getting to be completely self-sufficient.