Alyssa and her fiancé Will converted to “buslife” in baby steps. A whole lot of small (but big!) life changes lead to their converting a school bus into a full time home and work space. The two run their own web development consulting business and are able to work from anywhere. The lifestyle allows Alyssa to live the outdoor lifestyle that she loves so much. As a pair, the two document that love on their blog, Outside Found.
Learn more below!
How did your “bus life” come to be?
My fiancé, Will, and I met in college. We were in the same dorms and had the same major. At the end of school, we started a small company and ended up selling that company and moving to the San Francisco Bay Area to work with different startups. It was super fast paced, all about the hustle and getting to the next level. We liked it at first, but I got burned out around month seven. I decided to quit and hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) and take a breather. During the hike, I convinced Will that he should also quit and come to work with me as a contract team. We do front-end web design and development for small software as a service startups. It’s a small niche, but it’s just the two of us so it works well.
I hiked the JMT, came back and we were working together in the Bay Area just South of San Francisco. We had all these clients who didn’t want to work in person – they wanted to meet over Skype. And we thought, “why the heck are we living in this condo and paying all of our money to rent?” We moved to Boulder, CO and we got exposed to more outdoor activities. Our clients didn’t care that we were living in Boulder, either.
We had some friends who had a bus that they used as a raft party bus. It was totally trashed – they’d taken out the seats and added couches. It made us realize that we could buy a bus and we could turn it into our adventuremobile of sorts. We thought it would be easy, and of course it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
We took about three months working on that at the beginning of 2015. We traveled all of last summer and then traveled all this Spring. Now we’re living in it on family property but we’ll still continue to travel.
Getting here was really just a series of baby steps, from where we thought we wanted our lives to go to where you start going “over the hill” and you realize you’re somewhere totally different.
Were there incremental growing pains in your relationship with Will as you went through all these changes?
We started slow. We worked together in college, so when I quit my job and realized there was a market as a freelance designer, I knew we already worked well together. So that wasn’t too big a step.
Moving to Colorado and starting the bus project, it was similar. We knew we worked well together and it wasn’t that scary going into this big construction project because we knew we could handle each other in times of stress. Some couples keep their work and their private life separate. We don’t need that.
Building the bus was really hard. There’s no manual for a bus conversion. You either do a really cheap job or you can go all the way up to however nice you want it to be – but there are no directions! We would spend all day slamming our heads against a wall until nighttime. We would do things and then have to rip them out and start again. We did it everyday for 3 – 4 months. That was pretty hard but we made it through that.
Traveling, we knew that we get along pretty well. Being in such a small space and working on the same projects means we do try to seek out alone time for mental space. It was a growing process and we eased into it, but we’re also fortunate that we work really well together.
Take a photo of your five must-have items for your buslife.
Patagonia Fore Runner Pack – this is my go to pack for any adventure, from a quick jaunt around the block to a full day expedition. It’s super versatile, has pockets on the straps to hold my bear spray, and straps down tightly to eliminate bounce.
Acure Dry Shampoo – living on the road means that I often go more than a week without showering. Body-wise this is fine because I can clean up with a little Dr Bronner’s and warm water, but it’s harder to deal with my hair. I’ve tried just about every dry shampoo on the market and Acure is the only one that really works for fine, light colored hair. On top of that, they use all natural ingredients with no harsh chemicals. Win-win!
Nexus 7 – This little tablet can do a lot, but I mostly use it as my e-reader. I love being able to get a new book instantly!
Suunto Ambit 2s – If you run 30 miles but forget to turn on your Strava, did it really even happen? Kidding – I’m not that obsessed! I do love data though, and seeing stats on all of our activities for the year is pretty neat!
UE Boom – When we renovated the bus we ripped out the existing sound system… and neglected to reinstall another one. The Boom is the perfect portable speaker system for us. We use it while we’re driving but we can also take it outside or anywhere else that needs a little ambiance.
What are the “pros” of a bus as a vehicle that you both live, travel, and work out of?
We have a little truck that we put a hardtop on, put drawers in the back and built a bed. We worked on the road for almost three months, but we realized having the dog, it was too difficult to leave the dog in the truck. Also, if it’s raining, we weren’t able to work in the truck. We needed dedicated office space, to have space to store gear, and room for the three of us.
We started looking and thought about a van. There’s really no way to get full office space. I’m not as picky about it, but Will likes to have a big screen for programming. We also wanted bike storage on the inside of the vehicle. Also, a van is pretty darn expensive if you’re looking for a new one. We looked briefly at RV’s, but with our budget, we could only afford the “Breaking Bad” type RV. Also, we do so much camping at BLM camping and trailheads that a nice RV isn’t really what we were going for.
Once we met people who owned a bus, the idea of a big blank canvas for under $5,000 was really appealing. It’s an accessible entry point and we started adding on from there. Our final figure was around $33,000. It’s as big as an RV, fully solar, and contains enough water for 10 days.
That’s really cheap for a little house.
Exactly! It’s everything we need.
We like to think about it in terms of rent. Living in Boston or San Francisco, it wouldn’t take that long to rack up $33,000.
I feel so much better canceling out rent!
On the flip side, what are some of the “cons” of living in the bus as a home/work vehicle?
Logistically, we have a composting toilet and have to empty the pee bottle. They’re different chores than in your house. It’s not a big deal – instead of mowing the lawn, we empty the gray water.
The biggest downside for us is that we’ve always been big community people and living on the road, we don’t have a standing community. We have friends visit us, but when they leave we get this feeling like everyone’s gone home for the weekend and we’re still there. Which is a weird feeling. We feel a little adrift sometimes – being out there alone.
Do you think it’s why the virtual community has become so important? For example, #vanlife on Instagram and the number of blogs out there?
Yes, definitely. Having that presence has made a big difference for us. This year we’ve been finding interesting people and asking people if they want to meet up. We’ve been pushing making the plans happen. We all want the community and it really helps.
You can feel like a satellite on the road. Like you’re drifting around and meeting these people and you have these thoughts: “I wish everyone lived in the same town that I don’t actually live in.”
Social media has allowed us to meet up with several groups of people multiple times. We’ve seen people in Moab and in Boulder. It’s so great to have the tools to do that. Even just a couple of years ago, it didn’t really exist. It does take putting yourself out there. The private messaging on Instagram is great for that!
Do you have any advice for working on the road to be as productive as possible?
We built the big beautiful desk in the bus, but we don’t use it as much as we thought we would because we don’t get great internet inside. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because our trick to getting work done on the road is visiting public libraries. They have great wifi, seating, it’s free, and you can stay as long as you want. Our strategy is we go to the library for four hours and we have to get everything done in that time period. I write everything I have to do in a list from most important to least important. I don’t look at Facebook or any fun stuff until I get the first three things checked off and then I take a break. Time boxing is the best way to do that.
The danger of not having an office where you have to go and be focused is that you are unfocused and just floating around. We like to plan activities in the afternoon and if the work’s not done, you don’t get to go!
You started “Outside Found” as a way to share your travels with friends and family. How has it grown from when you first started? Is the mission still the same?
We really wanted a place to add photos and share with close friends and family. We also wanted to document the buildout process for the bus. The latter is the most popular content, but it’s not the purpose of what we’re trying to do. The bus is a means to an ends so we can travel and do the things we love. It’s not what we expected, so we balance the traffic between people interested in builds and people interested in our outdoor activities. For us, it’s ultimately a way to connect with new people and companies. We’re not trying to monetize it, but it’s really great to have a presence online so we can show others what we’re into.
It’s also a great creative outlet. It keeps us taking high quality photos.
Someday, when you’ve been married for 50 years, you’ll be able to look back at yourselves when you were “young.”
You sound like my mom now! Totally, though. You’re absolutely right. Someday we’ll be able to print it all out and reminisce.
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