What led you to purchase the bus and pursue a mobile life?
We were interested in something alternative for some time before we decided on the bus. Small cabins, yurts, tiny homes, refurbished RVs, we considered them all. At the time it wasn’t so much about mobile living or tiny living, as much as it was about affordable living. Our debt freedom was on the horizon (we had $100,000 to start!) when we started looking. The idea was to find something we could customize and make ourselves without getting into debt; a beautiful space of our own without the debt.
It wasn’t long after we started the bus conversion process that our own wheels started to turn. There was potential here for real adventure, something more than just a debt free life.
Over time that idea slowly started to take shape, and one Sunday in July 2017 while on a hike in the White Mountains of NH, almost a year and a half after we bought the bus, we decided to set a date to leave our jobs and pursue a life of travel, adventure and entrepreneurship.
How did you find your bus?
We found the bus on a random Craigslist post out of Massachusetts. The description was really detailed and well written. It’s a retired 1989 Chevy prison bus converted into a mobile command center for the Fairfax, Virginia Sherif’s Department. With chipping black paint, locking prison cages and bars on the windows — it was irresistible!
Where did you find all your products/systems?
Composting toilet, water filter, wood stove, etc. you name it -- there is SO MUCH to research & find. We put together a full blog post broken down by room to help others source things for their build. Check it out here.
What kind of bus is it? What are its origins?
Our bus is a 31-foot, 1989 Chevy B6P 8.2T Detroit diesel with a 4-speed automatic Allison transmission.
Before it was our home, it was used as a prison bus and then mobile command center by the Sheriff's department in Fairfax County, VA.
How much did the bus conversion cost?
We wrote a whole blog post on this. Check it out here...
Did you do the bus conversion work yourselves?
Yes. Everything from the cabinet doors to the curtains and our bed frame is completely custom and handmade by us. We used as many second-hand or found materials as possible. It's bright, rustic, and cheerful. This makes us love our bus even more because there's a piece of us everywhere; it's uniquely Ben and Meag.
Ben managed a reclaimed lumber company for several years so using wood with a story throughout our bus was a MUST. We have reclaimed factory maple flooring from a textile mill in Massachusetts, baby blue bead board accents from an old building in Portland, Maine, a handmade white pine barn board kitchen countertop and more! Our fold-down kitchen table is an original butcher block from an actual butcher that's over 100 years old. We love reclaimed wood.
We prepped and painted the outside of the bus ourselves, which saved thousands of dollars. The color makes us happy.
Are you trust fund kids?
YES. The secret is out.
No, we're not. Not even close. Things have been in our own hands since we started dating (20 & 21 years old).
We played around for a couple years and one day realized -- holy crap! Our huge loans are going to come out of deferment and we have RESPONSIBILITIES!! WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!
So... we worked really hard at our jobs for five years during our debt payoff and preparation to go full-time mobile by 2018.
We also modified our lifestyle and habits to have less overhead and expenses. I (Meag) freelanced on the side and we did as much for ourselves as possible to save money. We spent less and stayed committed to our goals.
Tough as it was, I'm thankful for the challenge in the end. I'm glad we had to go through this ourselves because it taught us so much and inspired our desire to help others with their finance journeys.
How do you make money on the road?
The answer to this question is always evolving. There are so many avenues to explore and ways to make it sustainable. We live in a really unique time full of opportunity to make money on the road and online.
To prepare: we paid off all of our debt (huge help), minimized our recurring expenses (also a huge help) and saved up as much of our income as possible for almost a year. Read our free finance guide here for more information.
Freelance work: I (Meag) freelance in web design, graphic design and marketing. I started doing this a full year before we quit our full-time jobs to get a feel for it and build up a few client relationships. This made the transition much easier.
Online Income: We write, take photos and create content for brands we love and products we use and we're also Amazon affiliates.
We're also designing a personal finance course for students and hope to combine that with our public speaking engagements with our bus! Contact us if you have questions on this!
How long did the bus conversion take?
We bought the bus in February 2016 while still working at our jobs full time. We began renovating mostly on weekends in the spring, summer and fall and only worked on fair weather days in the winter.
After leaving our jobs in December 2017 we were able to start working on it full-time. But just like a house it’s never really done and we were very limited by the northeast winter weather.
It’s now summer 2018 and it's a beautiful and comfortable living space and were still working on it, always trying to make it better. Before finishing one project we’re already dreaming about the next upgrade. It’s a big, blue labor o’ love.
Do you have a bathroom?!
Yes & no.
We have a composting toilet and a reclaimed southern yellow pine tub base that we shower in. Both are in half height built ins that double as nightstands by our bed. We do not have any full height walls because we really wanted to maintain an open-concept.
Also, let's be honest, we've known each other for 15 years and we've seen it all. We're LIVING IN A BUS afterall...
Take a look at the photo above. 🙂
I don't see a stove/oven, how do you COOK AND EAT?!
We kept our kitchen SUPER simple.
We've been able to maintain our healthy, homemade food diet (maybe even more so!) since moving into the bus full-time. We just use a simple butane cooktop (portable) and a toaster oven when we have access to shore power.
We're both vegetarian and eat a really simple, whole food diet. We do a lot of one pot/skillet meals with a base of protein/starch (lentils, beans, peas, rice, etc.) and LOTS of veggies, spices and different homemade sauces.
Are you off-grid?
Yes. We kept our systems pretty simple too, being off-grid was essential.
We have a 40-gallon fresh water tank inside (expanding by another 40-gallons before we head west this fall).
We have a composting toilet which eliminates the need for a black tank. Our toilet and our reclaimed southern yellow pine, sit-in tub/shower are both are in cabinet-style built ins which keeps our space open. It's different not to have full walls for the bathroom, we know, but... it works for us! The shower has a curtain, of course and our windows are all tinted. We're not animals. 🙂
We have two 300-watt solar panels with a battery bank system. We have plenty of power for our refrigerator, LED lights, water pump, composting toilet fan as well as electronics & small appliances. Being able to comfortably boondock for a week plus is AMAZING.
Our bus came with an installed Cummins Onan 8000 generator and shore power hookup, which are great back ups.
Our main source of heat is our 4kw Dwarf stove. It's also a focal point of the bus. Everyone LOVES it. Ben built a beautiful white washed brick hearth with a granite base (recycled from a yard sale kitchen cart we found!).
We've been parked full-time in northern New Hampshire since late February so we've seen our fair share of COLD days and nights so far. Our stove keeps us cozy.
How is the mobile life treating you?
Social media might like to portray that every single day is sunshine and rainbows when you travel and live tiny full-time. It's not. We really try to share a bit of everything in what we do because this lifestyle is actually one of extremes, highs and lows. That said, we love it. It's taught us SO MUCH about each other and ourselves.
Right now this lifestyle allows us to say yes to opportunities that come our way, discover more about who we are, what we want, and where we want to be. It’s not just a mobile life, it’s a creative livelihood and opportunity for us to impact others in a positive way.
Our equation is always evolving and we hope that it continues to grow and shape itself into more great things. We’ll keep you posted!
Who's idea was it? Do you guys still like each other after living in a bus for six months?!
I feel so fortunate to have Meag as a partner to collaborate with, not a lot of people would be comfortable with the leap we’re taking together. Obviously, being on the same page is key in any relationship, but try moving into 165 sq./ft and NOT being on the same page, it won’t be pretty. We made an agreement long before purchasing the bus that when it comes to our living space we both need to be comfortable with what we choose.
If one person feels uncomfortable and the other is 100% all in, the deal is still off. Ironically we looked at houses and multi-family properties to purchase before pursuing bus life and nothing felt quite right. It wasn’t until the bus came around that we were like, “Yup, this is the one!” And honestly, I don’t know if it was my idea or Meag’s, I think it was something we both were interested in from the beginning and eventually it just sort of happened.
We've learned SO MUCH about ourselves and each other through this experience that started as a project and is now our full-time lifestyle. We still love each other and wouldn't have it any other way. There are REALLY hard days, we won't lie, but we're enjoying the ride.
What's next for you two?
If you follow us on Instagram @wilddrivelife, you know we LOVE hiking. We're about to start a thru-hike of the New Hampshire 48 4,000 footers and the Cohos Trail. We were fortunate enough to be selected for the 2018 Thru Hike Syndicate and can't WAIT to start.
Next up in September is exhibiting at the New York City Maker Faire! We were invited to participate in this AMAZING event and can't wait to showcase our bus and our story at the show.
We're heading south and west for the winter months and will be busy developing our personal finance course for students, writing, hiking and sharing updates along the way. We have BIG goals and can't wait to dive in and keep moving.