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Bus Life

Off Grid Resource Conservation

It’s been a week since we rolled out of the Wallowas, and have been off grid since then. That means we haven’t been connected to shore power or water.

The key to successful bus life is knowing your resources and being adaptable. Sometimes resources are plentiful and sometimes they are not. When times are plentiful there is no need to conserve. With shore power, we use a space heater, cook with the Instant Pot and can run the vacuum. With shore water we can shower frequently and wash dishes without concern. When we are without, conservation techniques kick in.

Water

When we know we will be off grid we buy drinking water in jugs so we don’t have to use water from the tank for cooking, drinking and making coffee. This has allowed us to stretch the tank water so much more.

Washing dishes generally uses the most water. I’ve developed a technique that uses very little and doesn’t waste. With the biggest pot in the bottom of the sink and the smaller dishes inside of it, any water that is used collects in the big pot, which is usually the greasiest and is washed last. Our faucet has a spray option also, which uses less water.

Little things like not running water while brushing teeth also makes a difference. To shower, we use enough water to get wet then turn it back off while soaping up and washing hair, then turn the water back on to rinse. Sponge baths and hair washing in the sink also works really well in between showers.

Where normally we would refill the tank every two to three days, by using conservation we’ve gone a week and still have half a tank left.

Power

Conserving power just means that we use alternate energy sources for cooking and heating. The wood burner heats this place up crazy well (almost too well, sometimes it gets too hot and we have to open the door or a window). We can cook on the top of the wood burner, or with our propane cook top.

Making coffee, watching movies on the projector, running the fridge, and powering our laptops / phones still uses electricity. How much power we have depends on how much solar we can get from the sun, which varies with light conditions. On a dark, rainy week like this week has been, that’s precious little.

When power reserves get low we start up the bus for ten minutes or so and turn on the isolator switch. This was an awesome redundancy that we built in, using overflow from the isolator to charge the batteries while we are driving (or in this case when we need an extra boost).

Expansion

This summer we are going to work on expanding our off grid capabilities so we can last much longer at one time. Doubling our battery bank, adding a standalone solar panel that can be pointed to the sun, and having a backup generator will expand our capabilities and redundancies quite a lot. We’ve also been designing a gravity filtering system so that we can refill our fresh water tank from lakes and streams, similar to what we do when we are backpacking, but on a larger scale.

With better off grid capabilities, our options for where we can go and places we can explore will open up even more. I’m looking forward to that!

One Year

One year ago we moved into the bus full time. It had taken eight months to build out to the point that we could live in it. At the time we were living in a small attic room rented from a co-worker. Even though our space was small we still had the rest of the house and garage available to us.

We had to cull even more of our possessions to be able to move our life into the bus. We left a few things behind – a mattress, some shelves, books… I sold my car. I gave things away to avoid the time and trouble of selling them. It was easy to let go of everything unnecessary to be able to have a clean slate to start this new life.

After a few months of stationary living, we hit the road for Washington, officially becoming “nomads”. We don’t have a permanent address. We are technically homeless simply because we don’t have a yard and a mailbox, but we do have our home roaming with us wherever we go. You can’t put a price tag on that. The time flies so fast when you are having fun and seeing new things every day.

We do still want to buy a property and build a tiny house. Does that mean that we are compromising our nomadic vision and settling down? I don’t think so. But it will give us a home base, a launching point for our adventures, a place to come back to and regroup, recharge. While traveling through Washington, Idaho and Oregon we have been able to check out some areas to see how they “feel”. Real estate photos just can’t capture the essence of the property, you have to see it with your own eyes.

It will be fun building something again with our own two hands (four hands?). I have visions of land near a creek or spring with views of the mountains, with plenty of trees for shade, and space to build my own greenhouse and vegetable garden. We’ve been having fun sketching out concept designs for our future home.

The search for a property that we can call home continues. Brad judges a property’s merit by it’s proximity to skiable terrain. Here is Brad checking out a ski resort near a potential property.

Tonasket in Northern Washington seems to be the most promising area for land with the features we want. It has proximity to mountains and ski parks in both Washington and Canada. It’s right near the Pacific Northwest Trail, which connects Idaho to the Olympic Coast. The winters are long and snow is plentiful. It’s sparsely populated, a quiet place that could give us the serenity and solitude we crave…

After we wrap up our current travels in Oregon, we are going to make our way back up through that area to see what we can find. Maybe we will be land owners before too much longer!

Frozen

We were going grocery shopping a lot, but it still felt like we never had anything to eat. So Brad had an idea to convert our tiny fridge into a freezer (it’s designed to go either way). Now we are fully stocked with food that lasts a lot longer. Even in a tiny freezer we can fit frozen meats, tamales, veggies, fruit and grated cheese. We’ve started using frozen garlic and ginger that come in little ice cube trays. And we keep herbs like cilantro that don’t keep long fresh in there too. We have so many more options now than we did before. It can all go from frozen to fully cooked and delicious in a short time with the Instant Pot, which has turned into one of the most useful appliances for bus life! Sure, I miss fresh food a lot, but at least now we don’t have to go grocery shopping every day. Keeping ourselves safe and well fed under quarantine.

Nomadic Bus Life Q&A

I opened up to the community to ask us questions about bus life or living as nomads. Here is the conversation.

What was the most difficult part of starting bus life? What was the most rewarding?

While building the bus itself was more challenging than we thought it would be (and took much longer), the most diffcult part was probably overcoming fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of challenging the status quo. Fear of not having a permanent address with a mailbox. Fear of not making enough money to support the lifestyle.

But it has been the most rewarding adventure! Not having a permanent address gives us the ultimate freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Every day is exciting. The fear melts away and then there is only the question, “Where will we go next?”. We laugh like kids every day!

How much did you spend on the bus?

We spent a whopping $2,000 to buy the bus (fantastic deal for a bus with low miles), and put about $20,000 into building it out. Some of the things we spent money on were luxuries, like our wood stove and lithium batteries, but we were willing to splurge a little on things that were quality and would have longevity. We’ve also spent more after the build on some mechanical repair work. All told, it’s a great deal to have a traveling home that goes where you go, and not have to pay rent or a mortgage!

How’d the install go on the wood stove with the fiberglass roof?? Nervous about ours!

We were nervous too. The thought of cutting a hole in the roof was a scary thought, and we put it off for a long time… But once we decided it was time there was nothing to be afraid of! We just measured carefully and made the cut. Now our wood stove is a permanent part of our bus. We love it and couldn’t live without it!

Kimberly wood stove, best on the market

How do you make money on the road?

When we were ready to start the next chapter and hit the road we both quit our jobs. Surprisingly, my employer asked me to stay on and work remotely. No one else at my job was doing it, and I wouldn’t have known it was an option without attempting to resign first. Now almost the entire department is working remotely due to COVID. Times change. The lesson here is you never know, it might be a possibility for you, and it doesn’t hurt to ask!

(I am an IT analyst working for a health system, and work Mon-Thu with plenty of time for travel and play. All I need is wi-fi on the road, which I have and is working great. I made a post about what I use for internet on the road, check it out if you are looking.)

What kind of camera do you use?

My regular camera is a Nikon DF, but it’s not an “adventure camera”. It’s too big and too heavy to climb mountains or ski with. So the majority of my photos here were taken with my Pixel 3 (cell phone). They aren’t as good as they could be, but it’s like they say, the best camera is the one you have with you!

Backpacking on the Olympic Coast

Very curious why you chose a wood stove over other options like a propane heater (propex)?

Firstly, we didn’t want to rely on an electric heater because we weren’t sure if our solar would be enough to sustain that. We seriously looked into propane heat as an option, but ultimately it was our lifestyle that caused us to go with wood heat. We spend a lot of time in the mountains at higher elevations. Propane heaters require the correct mix of propane to oxygen, and at higher altitudes there is less oxygen, which could cause issues with ignition or noxious gasses. There are adapters to make adjustments to the amount of propane flow, but ultimately we didn’t want to have to keep making adjustments based on our elevation, so we went with a wood burner. 

We love our wood stove and feel like it was the right choice! Wood heat and the ambiance of flickering flames is so special. We do also use a tiny space heater that heats really well, but only use it when we are connected to shore power. 

It’s warm and cozy inside, even in the snowy mountains!

What was the most difficult part of the build/ or surprisingly the easiest?

Framing out and walling in all of those odd angles corners and nooks was so frustrating. It took ages and a whole lot of patience. There are no right angles in a bus! Also, fiberglassing the shower by hand was grueling and very messy. We breathed a lot of awful fumes (even with PPE) that burned our sinuses. The result was well worth it, but it was a lot of work!

The easiest was plumbing and electrical. It’s surprising because neither of us knew anything about plumbing or electrical when we started. We just researched and learned it all as we went. YouTube became our best friend.

So many curves and odd angles!

Mood Lighting

Disregard the messy kitchen – this is the reality when you live in a tiny space – but look! We have ambient under cabinet lighting!

We installed an LED tap light in our dark electronics cabinet. Now I can plug things into the outlet under there and see what I’m doing, no more fishing around blindly! The extra tap lights went into the kitchen, and it’s so nice in the evening to turn those on without having to turn on the “big lights”. It also makes for subtle movie mood lighting that’s not too bright for the projector.

We’ve been working on some small bus projects and reorganizing now that we’ve been living in our bus home for almost a year. There are always improvements to be made.

One Year Busiversary

So we have passed our one year anniversary of buying Cuddlebus! What a year. It all started out like this: Brad and I were talking, and he says to me, “Ok, I’ve got a crazy idea, but just hear me out… What if we bought a van and converted it into a home with room for our skis and gear? We can drive to the mountains, park at trailheads, and have a warm space to come back to after long days of climbing and skiing.” I said, “That’s not crazy!” That had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I was obsessed with books on “small spaces” when I was a teen (before “tiny homes” were a thing). I was inspired by an Apartment Therapy story about a woman converting a double decker bus into a home, before “bus life” was a thing. My Pinterest page was full of articles and stories about van conversions and nomadic living.

We had been looking for a property because we wanted to build a treehouse home, but were getting discouraged at not finding the right one. So we started looking at vans on Craigslist and doing research, watching videos. I wasn’t really sure how we would convert a vehicle into a home. We had never done anything like that before. Were we actually going to follow through with it, or just dream about it?

After looking at a couple vans, we decided they were too small, and started checking out box trucks. There were a lot of options out there, but nothing felt right. Then I got a Craigslist search alert for a shuttle bus being sold by a local church, and as soon as we saw it WE KNEW. It was the one! Two days later we owned the bus, and started demolition the next day. We were committed.

There was a lot of literal blood, sweat and tears shed over the course of the next nine months. Perhaps there were some profanities uttered also… Moments of pure frustration at seemingly impossible tasks. Fighting with tools and equipment. Trying to stay organized. Everything took many times longer than planned. Motivation and energy was tough to maintain while working days then coming home and working on the bus at night, sometimes in the dark and the cold. Not feeling like we had any time to just relax. Not having energy to cook dinner. We had differences in opinion, and differences in aesthetics. We learned a lot about each other working on the bus. We learned how to communicate better, how to compromise. How to find joy in the accomplishment of building something with your own hands. And realizing we are not too old to learn how to do things we’d never done before, like electrical, plumbing, fiberglassing and woodwork!

Now we live full time in our tiny home on wheels. We’ve moved from Oregon to Washington. Brad quit his job and I’ve become a digital nomad. Our lives have changed dramatically, and will keep changing. I love change. What will the next year look like for us, I wonder?

Light Blocking and Privacy

I love this fabric! It has an embroidered pattern that is subtle and not “busy”. We are installing a curved curtain track that will stretch across the front window and around the driver’s side window. Then, Brad will sew curtains from this material that we picked out at the fabric store. It will be nice to have the light blocking and quick privacy. It’s so cool having a man that knows how to sew!

Temporarily Homeless

Noooo, Cuddlebus!! After our long weekend at the amazing Deception Pass state park, Cuddlebus wouldn’t start. We learned a few things about our AAA service, most notably that they will not tow a converted vehicle (non-standard RV) for whatever reason. Disappointing. We did have it towed eventually for some $$$. We knew the day would come at some point when our home with all of our belongings would have to be in the shop, just didn’t know it would be today. Had to pack a bag really quick and empty / unplug the fridge. 😜 I miss our bus already, but since I have to travel for work this week the timing is ok.

Storage Bench Seat

It’s funny to add a new furniture piece when we have such a small space, but the addition of this bench was so worthwhile! You may remember a while back we built a fold out table on the side of our bed. It expands our kitchen counter space and gives us a place to work and eat, but then folds out of the way when we don’t need it. But normal sized chairs are too tall to use to sit at the table. We needed something shorter. This ottoman style bench seat is portable and folds away to put under the bed, but is crazy sturdy and plush, you wouldn’t even know it is collapsible. And the inside is super spacious for storage. So now we have the perfect seat to work at our table, or we can fold the table away and sit on the bench leaning against the bed, cuddle together in front of the fire… all of that good stuff. I’ll be working from home starting next week, so this is where I’ll be for most of the day. 🙂 It’s the little things that make all the difference.

The Forever Project

How glad am I to be *almost* done with these cabinet doors? You have no idea. This has been a patience game. Cutting and gluing the frames, front and back, waiting for glue to dry, fixing warping issues with moisture and pressure, then more drying. Staining and waiting for stain to dry, then reapplying. Each cabinet door takes days to manufacture, sometimes longer if it’s humid. However, I built them all by hand, and while they are imperfect (for sure), they give our home a bit of a rustic, cabin-like feel that we love. Here I am applying more stain in place because we decided we wanted a richer color. It’s messy, but the new color looks great with the countertops!

Inline Water Filter

I’m really not a fan of the taste of hose water. Depending on the source, it may have a medley of flavors ranging from metallic to stale. But water is precious, and when we are out adventuring we get it where we can. So today I installed an inline water filter that removes bad tastes, odors, and contaminants! Cold water runs through the filter, and hot doesn’t, so filtering isn’t wasted on showers and such.

We fill our fresh water tank through a flexible cloth hose. After spending a week in the desert we realized that our hose wouldn’t fit onto all of the potable water faucets we encountered. Many of them had non-standard adapters or didn’t have threads. Combined with our new “Camco Water Bandit” and a turn key hose clamp, our options for finding usable water just opened up. The Water Bandit has a silicone end that can be stretched onto any water spigot, even ones without threads.

I’ve also started taking photographs of water faucets we find with my photo geotagging turned on. This creates an instant map / directory on my phone of places where we can fill up in the Pacific Northwest, wherever we may go!

Ikea Elastic Cords

We needed something to keep our bowls and pots on the shelf where they belong. We’ve been driving some pretty rough washboard roads lately, and it rattles and shakes everything with mad furiosity! Yes, I made that word up. So we came up with a simple solution using IKEA elastic cords from their Skadis pegboard series. Just enough to keep things on the shelf, but you can still reach in and pull things out. Sometimes simple is best.

Spacious Tiny Home

As awesome and roomy as the full sized skoolies are, all we need is a shuttle bus. People tell us they could never live in something so small, but let me share how spacious our home is.

We have plenty of storage under the bed for clothes and miscellaneous. We have a dedicated charging station for our equipment and many devices. The stove top and sink are under mounted and the countertop is continuous for maximum work space. A table folds out from the side of the bed when we need to expand cooking space or sit down to eat. We have both a shower and a toilet, and the two efficiently share the same space. We can heat our home and also cook with a mini wood burner (people freak out when we tell them that we have a wood stove inside our bus). We have a “garage” that fits all of our climbing and skiing gear, accessible from the rear door of the bus and also through a little hobbit door. Our bed is queen sized and feels so spacious. We have a projector mounted over the bed and full sized screen for a complete cinematic experience. And there’s still room for a spare tire, chains, ladder, fire extinguisher… instant pot, electric kettle, sparkling water maker, vacuum.

Most importantly, the bus is small enough that driving is easy and we can get to places in the mountains where a bigger bus couldn’t reach. I don’t feel like we are lacking in anything, and we are so lucky to have this life.

View of the walkway to the shower. I keep forgetting we put a light in there!

Window Shades

We have window shades! They look so great. I’m glad we decided to buy them instead of cobbling something less functional together ourselves. The privacy and light blocking portion is on the bottom. Light filtering and air flow is at the top. Both sections are fully adjustable. Kinda perfect since our windows only slide open at the top.

Wood Burner Installed

Our wood burner is officially installed! This was the last major project to do, and it’s so exciting now that it’s completed. We are in the full swing of summer, so I don’t think we are going to need it for a while, but the option is there… Now we just work on smaller projects like window blinds, cabinet doors, and trim. I love our cozy little home.

Nice Perch

The weather in Seattle is a cool 68 degrees and overcast. So lovely after the crazy high temps this week. It has me in the mood for split pea soup, so that’s what’s on the menu for tonight. I’m grateful for our new fold out table. It basically doubles our cooking space. Not surprisingly, a cat will always jump up on a nice perch, and that’s the first thing he did.

Sparkling Water on Demand

Something awesome about being in the Seattle area – ordering from Amazon Prime in the morning and having your items delivered that afternoon. For free, of course. I could get used to this.

So we spied a SodaStream inside the Lucky Bus at the Bus Fair and found out we are not the only sparkly water addicts living in a bus. The addiction is real. Living full time in a bus does not make it easy to maintain the addiction when you have to deal with can storage and recycling. So we pulled the trigger and got one (an Aarke instead of SodaStream). This thing is amazing, and ain’t she pretty too? Also, just learned that raspberry cucumber is an amazing flavor combination.

Hot Summer

What’s to be done with the hot summer sun? We are roasting in the bus already, and in its current location that can’t be helped. After this weekend we’ll park under some lovely shade trees, which will cut some of the heat. But we’ve had endless energy in our battery bank, more than we ever imagined, and are using hardly any of it.

So we’ve been incrementally adding some electrical devices, and the additions are so lovely. Now we have an electric kettle to boil water so we don’t have to use the propane stove top. I love it, it boils water so fast! And a cheap, tiny evaporative air cooler that works remarkably well. I’m pretty sure that it’s some “As Seen On TV” product and has horrible reviews, but in this tiny space it actually works quite well.

Today we will go buy some Reflectix to make inserts for the windows and hopefully bounce away more of the sun. This, combined with new window shades for light blocking and also air flow will help a ton.

So here’s hoping we survive another blisteringly hot southern Oregon summer, this time in a tiny bus! 

Mini Projector

We got the little platform set up for my tiny cube projector last night. We planned ahead and piped the cables through the wall, so no more getting tangled up in cables in bed. 😃 Queue more laughing like kids. We can now watch anything from Netflix, Amazon, Plex, YouTube… in surround sound. And with the projector screen spanning across the entire foot of the bed it’s like a private cinematic experience.

I’ve always wanted to live in a treehouse ever since I was a kid, and I’ve decided that why I love this so much is because I never grew up. It’s like living in a tree house – with movies, snacks, comfy bed, and shower. My dream come true!

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