Ask most people who choose to live in a bus what their reasons are and you will find a lot of similarities. Quality of life, getting to see and experience new places, and freedom are on most lists. These are just as important to me, and possibly more so as someone choosing this lifestyle as a Spoonie.
When we found bus life in 2017, I had no intention of living six months out of the year in 120 square feet. I was simply trying to solve a problem, as summarized here. Circumstances have a way of pushing you toward what you need though, and many decisions later have me choosing this life above others. In a nutshell, here’s why:
Typically, time and age aren’t kind to Spoonies. We have one or more debilitating conditions that make traveling a hard, stressful, planning nightmare. From the items we have to bring to the concerns about if we’ll be able to sleep to the social expectations we have to prepare for, it’s just not fun. Sometimes it is necessary and worthwhile. Most times it is exhausting and we have to recover for days. As we get older, that typically just gets harder. With bus life, I am able to travel in a way that reduces these burdens. I experience places and things when I can, but I try to be compassionate and accepting when my body says no. When you take a one-off trip, it’s “do the awesome thing now” or likely never have the chance again. With bus life, I can often go back to my mattress and comforts that I know work for me, and potentially try again the next day or a couple days down the road. That enables me to see and do more than I would ever be able to otherwise.
I’m a big Walt Longmire / Craig Johnson fan and in his latest book, Walt asks a guy who is literally stuck in a time warp (it’s a bit different than Johnson’s other books), “You call this pleasant, going through the motions every day and night, nothing changing, waking up exactly where you started?” The guy responds, “Sounds like life to me.” And in true Walt fashion he says, “A shitty life.”
At home, I tend to go through the motions. I think to a certain extent we all do in our own way. On the road, every day is different. It’s hard, it’s stressful, and it often makes me miss my large bathtub, but there is no going through the motions. Being present is a requirement. We can’t put off the dishes or simply open the door for the dogs to go out. We have to be there, we have to do the work. By some weird, twisted miracle, that makes my mindset better. Maybe it’s the experiences along the way that add such highs, or being forced to be in the moment, but whatever it is, it is good for my mental health and that is better than what a sedentary lifestyle does to me. At home, I feel like I will never get better. On the road, I have hope and experience the journey, not just the destination.
Stretches Me and Forces Me to Grow
The first major area that bus life forced me to grow in is expansion of my skillset as a whole. I had to learn how to:
- use power tools
- measure properly (my least favorite)
- not give up when I got injured doing who-knows-what
- put down a floor
- screw into metal
- sand down, prime, and paint an entire school bus
- sew with wool
- sew curtains
- not bring too much excess
- have all the right supplies
- know how solar works
- know how to drive a 23.5 ft vehicle
- live in less than 120 square feet with two other humans and three dogs
On the road, there are a multitude of other areas I am constantly working on getting better at (such as finding safe places to sleep, finding proper places for things so they don’t fly everywhere, and doing the dance of a tiny space with my other half). Everything I do affects my partner and everything he does affects me, so we constantly have to be checking in with each other and considerate of what the other is doing. We must be intentional. This is sometimes easy and others quite frustrating. It also forces me to manage and handle my emotions more effectively as I can’t just go in the other room if something he does pushes me over the edge, and vise versa (there has been a lot of walking though). We also have three emotion sensitive dogs that constantly want to be with us that we have to manage and make sure are taken care of. All of this in a tiny space adds complexity and requires the skill of adaptation that we don’t have to deal with when convenience is at our doorstep at home. Not to mention supplies, prepping for the basics such as heat and water, and not having Amazon to deliver anything we want at any time. This kind of lifestyle works for us because we enjoy solving problems and thinking creatively.
Less Pain and Symptoms (generally)
I haven’t figured this out 100% yet, but when I live in Intrepidus, I have less symptoms. My chronic pain is less, which is the big one, and so is my brain fog, fatigue, and sensitivity to foods/allergens (MCAS). I contribute part of this to constantly having purpose and not being stationary for very long (walking/moving is better for my body than sitting/laying down all day). I think another part of it is having consistent things to look forward to that increase dopamine and endorphins. Whether it is a hike or a museum or a covered bridge, we are always headed toward something, and that tends to cut off hypoarousal symptoms before they can establish themselves.
Requires Simpler Living
Since bus life requires living with intention, we cannot collect all the things. We cannot make five course dinners (at least I don’t think we can with a two burner stove, but maybe I’m wrong). We cannot have a closet full of clothes and shoes for parties and social outings. Items are essential or bring joy – that’s it. It basically boils down to a minimalist lifestyle, as discussed by The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus in Love People, Use Things: Because The Opposite Never Works. As hard as it was the first time to leave home and try to pick my “favorite” things to bring with me, this time it was a no brainer and I spent months prior to leaving reducing the amount of stuff in my house. Having less means less stress about stuff. It means less maintenance. It means that everything you have has a purpose or brings you genuine happiness. Yes, I am curating a magnet collection, but other than that: life is simple and purposeful. As someone who is reminded constantly that the complexities of life are often too dramatic or too draining for me to handle as an energy conscious person, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
More Awareness of Consumption and Self Sufficiency
Do you know how many things end up in your trash cans every day? Do you know how many amp hours of electricity your devices/lights use? Do you know how much water it takes to bathe? I had zero idea until I started essentially living off the grid. We have solar and my brilliant other half has it all set up so that when we drive, we charge batteries that then enable us to run a freezer, a fridge, a heater, and an inverter where we plug our devices and fan into. On our last trip we hadn’t nailed down exactly how much pull things took and ended up with several middle of the night inverter-tantrums, which taught us a lesson about being conservative in our usage of power. In a similar vein, we don’t have space for a giant trash can. We use grocery store plastic bags and watch as they fill up every day. We see what containers food comes in because we have to deal with the space, whether finding a way to store it, or keeping it in the trash until we can throw it out. Staying at a campground is a luxury because we can just throw everything out as we use it, but we are still extra aware because it’s not a “take the trash out once a week” thing. It’s an every-day thing that we pay attention to or else we are overrun. It also requires us to plan ahead. We don’t have a gigantic fridge to thaw various meals. We have to be selective. When we shop, we can’t overdue it or we end up eating a lot that day or items go to waste.
All of this may sound super inconvenient. Honestly, it is. It puts the effort back into a lot of things that time and development have removed, and that’s not a lifestyle a lot of people would choose. I don’t think of it as going backward though. I think of it as being intentional, aware, and present. Bus life allows for a deeper connection with myself and allows me to choose how I want to live and spend my time. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.