- Written by Patrick Schmidt
If you’re on Bus Life Adventure reading this, you’ve got to be having a great day! Let's make it even better!
The other day I received a message on our Instagram from a couple who are interested in living their own Bus Life Adventure. They are dreaming about “The Bus Life.” We chatted for a while about the ups and downs, what it takes to switch from having a steady job and living in a house to “giving it all up” to live in a converted Bus.
How? Why? How do you make money? Where do you park? Do you have health insurance? So on and so forth.
Here’s a summary of our conversation in a Question and Answer format. Enjoy!
Q: Hey there!! My husband and I are so interested in Bus Living… We are trying to plan it out to start our build in the spring. Wondering how you guys made the commitment and how you're able to sustain yourselves and afford it. Any advice would be awesome!
A: First of all, fantastic! It’s a pleasure to meet you! Congrats on coming this far already, and believing it’s a possibility for you, because it is!
For me personally, I was destined for Bus Life, and the bus I own chose me. My life seemingly made more sense going the Tiny Living Route. It was a commitment that was necessary and important to me. We’ll chat about more on that later.
One thing that is super important to realize going into this is that it’s hard, difficult, takes a lot of learning and patience. Most of all, it will consume a lot of your time and money. A LOT OF TIME AND MONEY.
Money being THE biggest factor. Do you simply want a 5 gallon poop bucket, a mattress and a few essentials, or will this be your full-time home, where you want more comfort and a better ratio of adventures to disasters?
How will you pay for it? How will you sustain it? Will you have a place to park/full-time/ part-time? Are you mechanically inclined?
I’ve had a savings account since I was 18, and managed so save up $25k before buying the bus, which all together cost me $13,500 to buy and convert. 4 years later, I still haven’t figured out how to fully sustain myself financially and am actually in a bit of debt for the first time in my life. I’m 33 now.
As for the build, do you have the knowledge, will power and strength to build it yourself, or the finances to have someone else help you build it. Those are all things to consider.
Things don't always work out how you want them to. That doesn't just apply to Bus Life, but Life overall. Right from the get-go, many people realize that their build will take them much longer than they thought, and costs more than they anticipated. Not including the price of tools (Easily $1,000 - $2,000), ever increasing building materials, etc. Then things start to wear out, they break, and it generally costs more than you thought, etc. Road tripping costs a lot – school buses love burning diesel/gas. Think about the overall total cost, not just the price tag of the bus and your rough idea of what interior you'd like – think about all the things that will take time and money.
Q: My stepdad converted a minibus into a camper that we would always go on weekend getaways on. He’s super handy and so is my husband so I think were good in that aspect luckily.
Currently, we both work full time. My husband is a pipe fitter and I am a nurse. We recently traveled to Europe for 2 weeks for our honeymoon and our eyes suddenly opened to how amazing the world is and had an “Oh my god! We’re going to work a 9-5 job for 30 years and THEN age to explore all of this?!” moment.
We have a house now and 2 cars. If we eventually had a plan to sell all those I feel like we would be smooth sailing (kinda) but we of course couldn't do it without having an idea of our money income on the road. That's the hard part.
Tiny living and downsizing would be extremely different but I’m sure we would adapt. We have each other to work together with finances and such. But down know what we would do if we were on the road. That's why I was reaching out!
How the heck do you have an income on the road?
A: Travel nursing! We’ve met a few couples who have done that. They travel, and then park for 2-5 months working at whichever hospital they get a contract with. The husband then finds a local job (or a is a stay-at-home-busband)
At which point you could find a local RV park, or perhaps a property through Craigslist or connect with fellow Skoolie friends who might know some parking opportunities.
My wife and I have done several things over the years. I’ve worked day labor jobs in towns (tree nursery). We’ve been "Workampers” where we parked and worked at a Resort and Organic Coffee Shop in California. My wife is a server/barista and has gotten jobs locally when we’ve permanently parked for a few months. I have an income for helping with Bus Life Adventure Social Media content and being a Contributing Writer, as well as running my own site at SkoolieLove
Continuing your research, I’d follow thefrugalrver. They're a full-timing family and they've figured out how to sustain themselves on the road. Remote financial advising, virtual assistant type stuff. They’ve even been offered TV time through movies and tv appearances, so they have all sorts of new avenues for growth coming their way, which they might never have thought was possible. The passion and the money finds you, someway, somehow.
Q: Your previous jobs and current endeavors gives us hope that some day soon this can be us!! It seems as though making the final jump to commit would be tough for us. Any tips as to doing that?
A: Why do you think the final jump to commit would be tough?
For me, personally, it was something I HAD to do. Watching Into the Wild at the end of 2007 cemented the idea that I need to live in a bus. I love camping, have spent lots of time in a small camper trailer, and love the idea of owning my own home while being able to travel.
I graduated college in 2008, the following year I hiked the 2,183 mile Appalachian trail for 6 months. Then I moved to the Florida Key West islands and lived/worked there for 3 years and decided I wanted to live in Seattle, never having been there. It was in Seattle where I met my future wife, but broke it off with her, not knowing at the time what a mistake I was making.
A month after she moved out, I decided to buy my bus and drive around the country. I have always been desperate for extreme change, so for me it was not a big deal to just go ahead and do it. (As I've mentioned, I had upwards of $25,000 in savings so I had no worry about money at the time.)
A year into Bus Life I reconnected with my girlfriend and in April last year we got married. Things seemingly work out if you have the courage to attempt them.
Take your time and be diligent picking out a bus. Find out and learn as much as you can. It’s a huge investment, and will be your home. You definitely want savings/nest egg for that broken windshield, flat tires, oil changes, new transmission, etc etc Get as good of a bus for the amount you are able to spend. A free/cheap bus sounds nice, but you might end up paying more in repairs compared to buying a more expensive bus that's in better shape from the start. It really helps to make the final decision once you find "the right bus" and all you can imagine is your life with it, that's when you know you need to do it.
Q: Where do you park at night when traveling? As far as parking, you can basically park wherever as long as there is no sign or anything, right? You just observe your surroundings and make sure its safe of course, right?
A: You’re right as far as parking. After some time on the road, you'll build up and improve your sense of “right” and “wrong” about where to park and your senses/instinct will tell you.
For our latest road trip from Vegas to Florida, we signed up at Planet Fitness and parked in their lots overnight. That way we could also get a workout and shower. Before that, we mostly found free campsites through FreeCampsites.net but I've parked in City/State/National parks, as well as KOA's. In front of churches, in neighborhoods, Rest/Truck stops, etc. You'd be surprised where all you can park.
There are “no camping” signs which is mainly for tents, we still park there overnight. And then there are “no overnight parking” which clearly means what it says.
Some of us have been hassled by Police/Neighbors, but it mainly ends in having to move. Excuse always being “Sorry, we were tired, and we needed to rest for a few hours for safety reasons” You can’t be faulted for that. But! As far as where you will build your bus, there are plenty of neighbors who have gotten sour over a bus being parked for an extended period and the noise of construction. Don’t get caught having to move your bus if your current location was your one and only plan. Be ready to move at all times.
Q: That’s all so cool! Incredible that you like change that much! So inspiring. It’s hard for us to commit as we have stable jobs (my husband has INCREDIBLE benefits – that raises another question… how do you carry health insurance) and a stable home that we've been in for a couple of years.
I graduated college a few years ago and immediately bought our house and have been there since. It’s a little intimidating to not have a perfect source of income and a permanent plot of land to call home, you know? Coming from where are right now at least. I'm sure it would be something we can eventually get used to. We could start by exploring this summer if its able to be lived in by then. Then eventually make the “jump” and go for it permanently.
That’s all great to know about parking too! So you end up not having to spend a ton just to park every night. That's a nice positive there.
A: Yeah, sounds like you two are in a great place, home and job wise. BUT! We wouldn't be chatting if it was all you wanted and needed out of life. Median retirement age is what, 67? And average death age is what, 75-85? That doesn't leave much time to enjoy “the good retired life.” With my wife and I’s income so low, we are actually on Medicare in Las Vegas, which is our home base (my parents live there). Health care is obviously a mess in America anyhow. So that’s a HUGE issue and would clearly be for you since you have great coverage now. We’re all getting screwed by the health care system.
My parents are self employed and pay like $1,200 - $17,00 a month or something ridiculous like that. It’s the biggest scam to keep people working their company jobs.
Does his job have mobility options? Anything similar to where he could freelance that work on the road? A traveling nurse position shouldn't be a problem for you.
Q: Yeah, he definitely has that option actually. And insurance is so ridiculous its not even fair. Its such a scam. Makes me so mad. I think were looking for something more online – we just don't know what or how to get started. Like selling insurance, marketing or something (neither of us have done anything close to that) but something that doesn't involve the normal 9-5 thing. Like you could do it when you wanted in the bus (or anywhere basically)
A: You are definitely headed in the right direction. It can all be a bit confusing and overwhelming but piece by piece, the puzzle becomes a clear picture. Keep looking around Instagram at other folks living this lifestyle, and you'll get a better idea on how much (full-timing) or how little (small getaways) you are willing and bale to do. It’s not all glitz and glamour as you see on most travel accounts. I like to follow the ones that show you not only the “good” but also the “bad” cause realistically, that’s what life is.
We just drove from Vegas to Florida and we are parked in our friend's driveway. My wife found a job the first day, its not the best gig, but we know that with our skills, we can get a job just about anywhere we go. I'm typing this blog on the bus as we speak, not having to leave the house and still make a bit of money. We are constantly figuring new things out and each place we stay has different benefits and drawbacks, but it’s something we know going into it, so we adjust accordingly. It all comes down to what you want and what you can do with/without. Your perception and reaction to what’s going on is more important than anything.
Q: Thanks for sharing your story with us. Today has been the first day where I was like OMG! We could maybe pull this off, after exploring and seeing just how many people are able to do it. It’s exhilarating. It’s also crazy to feel like you're the like 2% that just goes for it!
Otherwise well stay stuck following the “normal” 9-5, retiring at 65, having gone on a MAX a month of vacation a year (even that's a stretch). I know we can do better, its just so nerve racking to leave what we have. Well have to work on the build while minimizing at home. The lifestyle sounds just so simple and fun. Obviously not always simple but you're definitely living with the basics and enjoying the world.
Q: Do you have any other recommendations of accounts to follow that show the TRUTH about Bus Life? Not just the glitz and glam?
A: wilddrivelife is super great! As well as bluebusadventure, jaxaustin, navigationnowhere, and countless more. Also, if you look through the #buslifeadventure tag on Instagram, look for pictures of buses getting towed. Those folks keep it seriously real about how “easy” and “fun” bus life can be. Be forewarned, getting towed is almost a badge of honor and a “Welcome to the Reality of Bus Life” threshold to pass. Luckily, we have so far been able to not join that club. But! As the saying goes, “It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN.”
This is from an Instagram post we absolutely love:
bluejeanbus: "As a planner, I want certainty. As a traveler, I seek spontaneity. The blend of the two seems to define this journey.
Before we took off, I knew we couldn’t control everything and to expect to would be foolish. But I wanted to believe we could narrow in on a range of certainty. Especially with the health of the bus. If we do all of our maintenance on time, if we make sure to regularly check our fluid levels, and listen and look for odd noises or smells, everything will follow our carefully crafted plan to keep moving forward. Perhaps the greatest lesson up until this point is the cliche that the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.
Despite our best efforts to diligently tend to Blue Jeans every need, she sent us a curve ball today en route to New Orleans. We noticed the steering wheel began to shake and pull towards the left. Being the cautious overlanders that we are, we pulled over and noticed that our back driver side wheel was hot. Noting our luck (sarcasm) that we were in a relatively rural area of Mississippi on a Sunday, we turned to our beloved AAA.
Silver lining: we are covered for the 100 mile tow to New Orleans and there’s a 24 hour service center already awaiting us. It’s not the day we had planned and there’s still plenty of room for more uncertainty along the way, but trying to prepare for all of that simply robs us of the opportunity to face what we have at the moment. If we spent our time anticipating what might go wrong we would only see the looming negativity, instead, in this moment, despite the obstacle, all we see is our luck and gratitude for a solution. So we will enjoy the rest of our ride to New Orleans that saves us some gas and miles on the bus and hope we can still make it out to Frenchman St for some world class jazz "
Thanks for reaching out to us! Hopefully it gave you a bit more of an idea on how to move forward. It sounds like you have a good idea of what you're getting yourself into. You are a bit hesitant, need to do more research, but know that in the end it's going to be worth it.
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- Written by John and Jayme Sebell
"Do you ever leave the dogs alone in the van?"
~ By Contributing Writer: The Gnomad Home ~
Quick answer: Yes, but with strict guidelines.
To be honest, we hate leaving the girls behind. We take them with us everywhere we can. But sometimes we want to do things that don't allow dogs. So what do we do in those scenarios?
First off, we NEVER leave them unattended in the van when it's hot. Even if it's just really warm we'll have one of us stay back with them just to be safe (ie: one of us runs into the grocery store instead of both of us). Even when the weather really is nice we'll still have one of us hang back because that means we can get some work done while the other runs the errands. We have ways of keeping our van comfortable in hot weather - like reflective window coverings, a vent fan, cooling towels, etc - but we still like to be safe.
If the weather is cool enough (comfortably cool, not freezing temps) we may pop into a restaurant here or there. But being the over-protective parents we are, we'll park in a visible spot and ask for a seat by the window (😅).
We never leave them unattended for long, I'd say no more than an hour tops, and if whatever we are doing ends up being longer than an hour then one of us will pop out to check on them every once in awhile to make sure they're comfortable and have water.
Sometimes we want to do REALLY cool stuff that doesn't allow dogs like go to a concert, check out some museums or spend all day at the movies, and in those scenarios we tend to leave them with a Rover sitter that we vet heavily. Yes, yes, we're those parents, haha. We have very high standards for what sort of strangers we'll leave our girls with and if we don't find a good match we just re-evaluate our plans until we find an option we're comfortable with.
We built this van for our girls, to show them a life outside of a fenced-in backyard. So we don't like the idea of abandoning them a bunch. But the van is their home and their comfort zone, so it's far less stressful than it used to be leaving them behind.
What about you? Do you travel with pets? Do you leave them in the van? Comment on our instagram post!
- Jayme, John, Nymeria, Delilah
- Written by John and Jayme Sebell
"What do you feel when you're in the middle of nowhere, far away from a city, all alone?"
~ By Contributing Writer: The Gnomad Home ~
When we are secluded in the middle of nowhere is when we feel most at home. When the free-range cows next to our van are our alarm clock and the sun rising over a distant mountain is the lamp on our bedside table.
We step outside our van and greet neighbor Sequoia. We're able to sink our fingers into dirt that has forgotten what a loving touch feels like. We're able to clearly hear the songs sung by all of nature's ensembles without being drowned out by the sound of cars humming on a highway or nonstop TVs, radios, or phones making their distracting beeps and honks and rings and noises, noises, noises.
When we're far away from the chaos of cities and the craziness that follows, we find ourselves able to connect deeper within. We're able to hear our instincts guiding us towards our truth. We're able to rediscover our purpose, our drive, our passion, our abilities.
When we choose the wild as our home we choose ourselves. We choose to create. To explore. To learn. To discover. To unravel. To understand. To reconnect. We're able to see our lives for the reality they hold. We're able to know ourselves in ways we've never seen. We're able to hear what we're called to do as if someone were screaming it in our face.
When we go back to the cities, the crowds, the chaos, we lose all that in an instant. We want to grab a stranger and proclaim to them the lives we discovered just beyond that treeline in the distance. We want to grab them by the hand and pull them to the edge of the cliffs where we planted our own feet, and show them a world of radical understanding as they dive to the waters of discovery below.
But the cities have cell service. And cell phones carry an entire galaxy of distractions. We tell someone of a waterfall and they tell us of a meme about shoes.
You see, it's in the cities where we find ourselves painfully alone. Where people have been spoonfed a false idea of connection. It's in the wild, where we can root ourselves in the same soil as the great Redwoods, where we feel truly connected.
You're never alone in the middle of nowhere.
- Jayme, John, Nymeria, Delilah
Make it a wonderful day everyone!