Today marks one year of living in a bus for us! Normally we would be posting a Feature Friday about another skoolie build, but given the timing, it felt right to pay homage to our favorite bus build ever – the one we’ve now lived in for one year.
We want to tell you about the ups and downs, what we’ve learned in that time, the changes we’ve made, and most of all – if we regret the choice.
Without further ado – one year of living in a bus, with all the trial and error, lessons learned, and memories made!
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
On May 29th, 2019, we pulled Oliver up to the apartment we’d leased for six months and moved what was left of our belongings on to him. We cleaned the apartment and pulled away with everything we owned now traveling with us, official residents of Oliver the skoolie. A few short weeks later, having tied up all remaining obligations and freed ourselves to travel full-time, we hit the open road and began our travels.
Exactly one year later, here is what we’ve learned.
IT DOESN’T ALWAYS LOOK LIKE YOU THINK IT DOES
Instagram and Pinterest make bus life look pretty glamorous – constant panoramic views, freedom from societal norms, and daily adventures. And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of that, and it is pretty fabulous.
But there are also periods where you’ll be parking in a Walmart overnight because there’s nowhere else, where everyone will be cranky from too much driving to chase a destination, where you’ll struggle to find water or propane or your bus will break down.
In the last year, we’ve watched sunsets and rises over the ocean from our bedroom. We’ve found remote locations that became our backyard for a few nights, met fellow travelers and learned their stories, and created more memories with our kids than we would have been able to in their entire adolescence had we stayed in our old life.
But we’ve also dealt with people who think we’re dirty hippies living off the government and tracking us down on social media to tell us so, health issues cropping up when we’re hundreds of miles from a hospital, and stressful moments where I thought we might all kill each other if we had to spend one more bloody moment on this bus together.
EVEN WHEN YOU DESIGN A LIFE OF TRAVEL, TRAVEL ISN’T ALWAYS POSSIBLE
As I write this, we’ve been stationary through the winter. We planned to spend November and December in our home town for the holidays with family, then depart in January for Skooliepalooza. But my health dictated an extended stay and so we stayed another six weeks.
Just as we made preparations to head for the desert once more and catch spring in Arizona, the Covid-19 lockdowns started and closed many of the parks we’d hoped to visit, so once again, we stayed.
We’re at peace with the lack of movement, some days gracefully and others grudgingly. But I will tell you one thing. At no point while we were building this bus did we talk about how excited we were to sit in one place for five months!
THERE ARE TRADEOFFS TO ANY LIFESTYLE
When you live in a regular house, you walk to the sink and turn on the faucet, taking for granted there will be water. You go to the bathroom, flush, and don’t think about where your waste is going. You have a garbage can that’s emptied every week, a heating and cooling system you can flip on, and if you buy a little too much at the grocery store, you likely have a place you can store it until you can use it.
We have to fill our water and propane tanks regularly, and there have been times I’ve gone to make breakfast or take a shower and couldn’t. Our toilet has to be emptied, and best believe I’ve had to clean up urine when I groggily didn’t realize Mike had taken out the urine tank to empty in the morning.
We have to find places to responsibly dump trash while we travel, meaning it’s stored in our under-bay until we do. We have to chop wood to heat our home and get up all night during the winter to keep the stove fired up and hot enough to keep us warm in sub-freezing temps. Every single thing we buy has to be vetted and ensured a place because there is no extra room to spare for thoughtless purchases.
We also work entirely from the comfort of our home, wherever it happens to be parked. We always get to stay together, not trading 40 hours of time away from each other to make ends meet. We decide and when and where we go, we get to meet other nomads who share our views and values, and we mostly choose how we spend our days. This lifestyle doesn’t require even half as much financially as our old life did, meaning we can go weeks at a time not working and be okay thanks to careful planning.
But we also have to clean up urine when we don’t pay attention. So, you know – tradeoffs.
YOU WILL EITHER LEARN TO ADAPT OR BREAK
We were four days out when a UTI hit me on a lonely stretch of highway 200 miles from a hospital. We were enjoying the Oregon Coast when a problem with our air brakes forced us to backtrack inland to find a store that had the parts we needed. We were coming down a mountain pass a few days later when the problem reappeared and we spent a white-knuckled hour praying we got out of the pass safely.
I will never forget moments like these because in those moments, we learned the most valuable lesson of bus life – adapt or break.
We didn’t always adapt perfectly. We had moments of utter defeat where we all sat in the living room looking at each other hopelessly because we had no idea how to proceed.
But more and more, as we were tested, we learned to flow with reality rather than cling to expectations. Now, when these kinds of problems crop up, we know it’s best to immediately change lanes and go in the new direction rather than trying to stay in the lane we thought we’d be in and go against the flow of traffic.
Applying this lesson to life in general, outside the bus and travel, has been one of the greatest I’ve learned. Situations, people, jobs, parenting – they all benefit from learning to adapt to what is actually happening rather than staying attached to the original plan.
YOU WILL CONSTANTLY BE FIXING SOMETHING
We basically live in an earthquake zone. No matter how secure you make it or how well you build it, you are asking your house to barrel down interstates, creak down backroads, climb mountains, and deal with weather extremes. Trust me – there will ALWAYS be something that needs attention of some kind.
It’s one of those aforementioned tradeoffs. You simply get used to having a running checklist of tasks to complete and small projects to finish.
And even if it isn’t things breaking here and there, as you adapt and travel and learn and grow, you’ll create new projects for yourself as you find different and better ways of doing things.
For instance, we held off on making screens for the windows and endured a house full of bugs last summer. Best believe we took time this spring to correct that. We realized our stairs were responsible for a ton of heat loss this winter and had to better insulate and redo them.
It’s a common saying in the skoolie community that your build is never done. There are always improvements to make, always little things to fix.
YOUR FAMILY WILL GROW CLOSER
When we lived in our three-story home, our kids were often in their basement where their rooms were, doing their own things. I would be on the middle floor doing laundry and dishes and cooking, and Mike would be upstairs or outside working. We all retreated to our own activities and spaces and converged for mealtimes.
Living in a bus, we are together almost ALL THE TIME. Even when we’re all doing our own thing, we are never more than 50 feet away from each other. There’s constant conversation, constant contact. And while this can sometimes cause stress when we’re all feeling a little cooped up, it’s fostered a closeness we didn’t have before.
My teens joke with me. They hug me every time they walk by. I hear their conversations and get to see parts of them I didn’t before. They watch us work and are connected with where the money we use to buy food and the items they want comes from in a way they weren’t before.
I already thought we were closer than most families, homeschooling and running our own business where they could hang out when they wanted to. Then we moved in here and gained a level of closeness I didn’t realize existed. I get to see my kids from the moment they wake up until we all say goodnight. I get to be intimately involved in their lives and share conversations with them that inspire and astound me.
And let me tell you when you’re in a fight with your spouse and don’t have another space to run off to, you start dealing with problems differently and learn to communicate better. Mike and I gained further intimacy living with fewer distractions and less space to run away from problems.
YOUR PRIORITIES WILL CHANGE
I used to see something I liked in a store and purchase it without thinking about where it would go or if it was necessary or how long I would use it. Now when I see something I have to go through a checklist.
Where will I put this? Is it worth the space it will take? Do I already have something else that does the job? How long will I actually use this – should I instead borrow it from someone else instead of buying one of my own?
Instead of being concerned with working a ton to buy stuff we didn’t really need, we prioritize time together and doing things that bring us joy.
WHAT HAVE WE CHANGED?
When we first moved in a year ago, we couldn’t imagine we would change a thing. Everything seemed so perfect and we couldn’t imagine being happier with the space.
But then we experienced living in a bus for real and we learned what worked and what didn’t.
First, we removed the bunk beds and installed the murphy bed couch. The kids hated being confined to their bunks while we drove, so we created a way they could each have a bed without being committed to permanent space usage. The remodel freed up a ton of space in front, gave us plenty of room to hang out, and made the kids happier with the space.
Then we removed our washer/dryer, which we learned we would rarely use because it required being hooked to power and we rarely are when we travel. Laundrymats are easier, and when we’re near family we use theirs. We replaced the space with a bathtub, which I was missing.
We also added more storage in the kitchen, put in a front shelf, redid the way our closet functioned, and insulated and floored the stairs. Recently, we started a third remodel based on further learning that we partially unveiled last week on our Instagram.
In other words, we’ve changed things around quite a lot. And exactly like a year ago, I can’t imagine being happier with the space. But I also know that more changes will come because we will continue to learn and adapt and change it around to suit our growing needs.
WHAT ARE OUR FAVORITE MEMORIES FROM THE PAST YEAR?
Answering this question could be several posts in itself, because so much has happened in this little bus.
My personal favorite memory was our first trip out in the bus the week we moved in. The water wasn’t completely finished, but we took Oliver out into the woods and spent four nights parked beside a rushing creek. Our nights were spent laying on the roof looking at stars, we ate pasta with morel mushrooms I cooked in our new kitchen, and we would all just sit on the couch looking at each other with smiles because IT WAS FINALLY REAL.
Mike is partial to the very first time we every drove the finished bus out, having no idea what we were in for. We only drove around the neighborhood, but Ellery and Aidyn were running around trying to close cupboard drawers and doors that were swinging open (we bought locks) and Mike had to run down and grab the front door, which swung open mid-turn (we learned we needed a backup to the normal door lock) while I tried to navigate this metal tube of frantic activity back to safety.
Aidyn’s favorite memory living in a bus was the day we found the best vegan taffy we’d ever tasted on the Oregon coast, purchased ten pounds of it and spent the rest of the day driving down the coastal highway stuffing ourselves with every flavor the store had contained.
Ellery prefers the first time we hit the coast, which happens to be the first time she’s ever seen the ocean. She and her brother ran headlong into the waves only to shriek and run back howling with laughter and surprise about how salty and cold it was. They spent the next three hours playing chicken with each other, building sandcastles, and otherwise forgetting they were moody teens who didn’t care about anything.
However, while these memories shine the brightest, I can’t overlook the ones we’re making in the day to day, like right now – Mike cooking lunch while joking with the kids, their homework on the floor forgotten for the moment, “Come and Get Your Love” bouncing from the speakers, my work paused as I take in this moment.
This is bus life, and I love it.
WHAT ARE THE HARDEST PARTS OF LIVING IN A BUS?
Of course, there are hard parts. I told you there is always a trade-off when living in a bus.
We have encountered issues of all kinds. Our air brakes had issues, things have broken, and we’ve even been in a small accident, all of which you can read about them in numerous posts on this blog. We have tried to be incredibly transparent about the downsides of bus life, because we want people aspiring to live this lifestyle to know exactly what they’re getting into.
But to be honest with you? We love this life, even with everything in those linked posts. Filling water and propane, emptying a toilet, getting up all night to stoke a fire, dealing with things breaking and breakdowns – they’re all worth the inconvenience to have had this last year.
ONE YEAR OF LIVING IN A BUS
So after one year of living in a bus, would we change anything? Do we regret it?
No. A resounding, emphatic, booming no.
We love this little skoolie home on wheels. We love the freedom it’s afforded us, both physically and financially. We love that our family has a year of shared experiences and travel and growing together in a little space. We love sitting here and knowing that we built our home with our own two hands, and have all the experience and knowledge we gained in the process going forward.
Happy one-year Busiversary Oliver. You’re our absolute favorite Feature Friday skoolie today and every day.