- 1.Unique Places to Call Home: A Big Yellow School Bus
- 2.Unique Places to Call Home: A Floating Hospital Off the Coast of Africa
- 3.Unique Places to Call Home: A Shipping Container on a Texas Farm
- 4.Unique Places to Call Home: A Solid Stone House
Living in a suburban house with a white picket fence isn’t everybody’s dream. In this age of work-from-home professionals and flexible careers, more Americans are looking to have more mobility in their lives. In this first installment of the Unique Places to Call Home series, you’ll meet Jessica Ryan who certainly has experience living outside of the box.
Ryan, along with her husband Nate, lived in a renovated school bus for nearly a year. In 2014, they bought a 1997 Bluebird school bus with 250 square feet of living space and renovated it over three months.
“We wanted change and adventure. Plus, we felt like we were paying $1,000 a month for nothing,” said the self-employed photographer about the couple’s rent expenses.
The couple felt that their monthly rent payments weren’t the best investment. They believed a school bus would provide the entrepreneurial couple with flexibility and freedom to go anywhere.
“As we started thinking about getting out of our apartment lease, I stumbled across the ‘Schoolie’ concept online,” said Ryan, 27, referring to the community of people who buy and revamp school buses. “We explored buying a house, but we didn’t want to be tied down with a mortgage. And we also considered buying a tiny house, but they seemed too expensive.”
The West Michigan-based couple then found a reasonably priced bus on Craigslist and began researching renovation costs before relocating to Portland, OR.
“One challenge we found is that school buses aren’t insulated very well. So we spent money insulating the floors, walls and making other upgrades,” she said. “A big part of the conversion process was getting the seats removed from the bus. It was a little pricy.” Another downside to bus living was that their insulated home quickly heated up during Portland’s summer months.
After a lot of hard work and about $4,000 in renovations, their home on wheels was decked out with a new shower, kitchen, composting toilet, a full-size refrigerator and even a queen-sized bed.
“My favorite feature about the bus was our spacious closet,” said Ryan, who also needed room for the couple’s two cats. “Nate and I made sure that we designed the bus with ample storage space.”
She said dealing with their composting toilet was probably the hardest part about living on the bus because the tank had to be emptied every two to three days.
“Since we were parked inside of the city of Portland, we couldn’t just dump our composting anywhere,” said Ryan. “We tried to be very eco-conscious with the bus. Living in a small space truly helps minimize your carbon footprint because you use less water and lighting.”
Ryan said their decision to buy a bus allowed them to use less energy and resources than they used in traditional housing. And they enjoyed that and other aspects of school bus living. “We never got sick of living in our tiny living space,” she insisted. “When we got sick of being inside, we just spent a more time outdoors.”
This was another benefit of their flexible lifestyle compared to traditional housing. The couple loved having the ability to stay in an RV park, travel or even park roadside if they wanted. But after 11 months of “Schoolie” living, the couple sold the bus for a profit and relocated to Michigan.
“We got multiple offers on our bus; I wasn’t surprised because prospective buyers really loved it,” she recalled. “Living in Portland is amazingly expensive. So it has become a mecca of tiny homes, RV living and school buses, too.”
Ryan said living on the bus allowed the couple to save money and the experience taught them a lot about ourselves.
“My husband and I had no experience with building things or being handy, but this experience taught us how,” she said. “What we wanted out of this experience shifted over time. We both feel it was a huge growing experience with our marriage, too.”
The couple learned how to be independent since they had no family living on the West Coast. And they enjoyed learning new things about the people and culture of Portland. They appreciated the experience because they learned more about themselves and their ability to be resourceful, resilient and content with their lives.
“It’s funny: Once you’ve lived tiny, your concept of normal size really changes,” Ryan admitted. “We’ve dabbled with the idea of doing it again even though we’re settled back in Michigan now.”
Looking back on the experience, Ryan said she’s happy with the sacrifices the couple chose to make, including selling one of their cars to afford their school bus adventure.
“People always ask us what possessed us to buy a bus. We tell them it just looked cool, so we went for it!” she said.
Stay tuned for another installment of Unique Places to Call Home. If you or someone you know has a one-of-a-kind home, share it with us in the comments below.
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