Roll with Rachel & James in a VW Bus

Idle: to spend time doing nothing.
Theory: to spend our time idling.
Bus: vehicle, home, and friend.
It's hard to say just a few words about Rachel & James. They are two beautiful souls who are on a quest to find the meaning and purpose of both work and leisure.
I think we can all learn a thing or two by the way Rachel & James live. They actively pursue doing nothing—which is actually a whole lot more meaningful than trying too hard to do something.
What do I mean by that?
To be still while you listen to the forest or bathe quietly in hidden swimming holes requires you to accept the world around you and embrace it. So many times we don't want to be confronted with the unknown or the mysteries that surround us.
Rachel & James are immersed in this lifestyle because they want to feel something and they want to make sure you feel it too.

Square Feet: 80

Only thing to do is keep on. Follow that road. It’ll lead you somewhere. Hell, it’ll probably lead you somewhere you never knew you wanted to be. And you know what? One day you’ll probably look back and celebrate that road, for all the beautiful and difficult places it took you.

Currently Living: On the Road

James and I have been on the road for almost three years, so I guess the answer is all over the United States. Every day we have a new backyard, a new front porch, a new piece of wild land on which we park the bus. Nomadic living has its benefits.

Make, Model, Year: 1976 VW Bus

Her name is Sunshine. She is a Westfalia model, which means it is the camper, instead of the transporter style.

This is the perfect home for us; we wouldn’t have it any other way!

What were you doing before you went mobile?

Before hitting the road, we lived in San Diego. James was making short films for a surf website, and I was working in a wine bar near the ocean by night, writing by day.

Why did you make the change?

We craved freedom. We craved wildness. The city was a pressure cooker, and we were about to explode.

Now, we sleep beside creeks and eat on the ground in the woods. To be happy, we necessitate a life outside and wild. We need discomfort to be joyful, the fierce winds of winter, the blazing heat of July.

We wanted to live in the real world, a visceral life directly connected to the harshness and beauty of nature.

What was the process like to move into your mobile home?

Once we made the decision to leave, the process was easy. Straightforward. Evident. We were set up to make this change. We had lived in the bus for a year straight out of college, so knew what we were getting into. In the city, we lived in a studio apartment with furniture from Craigslist. We owned few things and nothing of value, so it all went to friends or to Goodwill. What fit in the bus came with us.

We registered the bus in Florida, at our family’s address, and left. We hadn’t been there long enough to build relationships, and our family was already far away. Clean and easy was that part of the break.

Where do you shower?

We don't shower very often; dirty hippies to the core! We often splash off in a creek or river, no soap. We rub our skin in the water, comb our hair and done!

When you begin to go without regular shower or soap use, your body produces the correct amount of natural oils and hygiene begins to...mostly...take care of itself.

We believe that the modern obsession with cleanliness is actually unhealthy and wasteful.

That being said, once or twice a month we pay for a "real" hot shower at a truck stop or state park. Usually they're quarter showers and cost about two bucks a pop. Not bad.

How do you get Internet?

We usually scout small town libraries for Internet. They are usually welcoming and warm and have free Wi-Fi. We are so grateful for libraries.

Because we have video and writing jobs, we sometimes need a faster Internet connection than what the library offers. If that's the case, we look for a local coffee shop or roaster with better Internet. 

Where do you receive mail?

We use the General Delivery service of whatever small town we're passing through. Coordination is incredibly tricky with that.

Both of us use our parent's address for our driver's licenses and government info. The government requires an address; that's something that, after three years, we haven't been able to get around. But it all works out in the end. We've always received our packages and mail in the end.

How do you balance work and living in a small space?

We believe that achieving balance between work, leisure and idle time is a monumental challenge no matter your lifestyle.

The American model of ‘work first, do do do’ is destructive and rarely leads to true joy.

Those beliefs are the mindsets that drew us to the road, to small and simple directed living. Working long hours for stuff simply doesn’t make you happy.

Figuring out work and money has been a challenging part of road life. We have been able to create films and write freelance from the road. We supplement that income with farm work. We’ve dipped low on the money scale, lower than we’d like, but we always make it. We work when we need to, no more. We wouldn’t say we’ve mastered working on the road, but it’s become increasingly easier.

We call ourselves Idle Theory Bus because we purposefully dedicate time to idleness, or the art of doing nothing, a completely underrated pastime in modern American culture. To be full, we need to find equilibrium between meaningful work, passionate leisure, and grounding idleness.

Today, the role of work is limited in our lives. We earn the money we need to survive and never labor to accumulate material wealth.

We have lived below the American poverty line for five years now and have never been happier.

What are your hobbies on and off the road?

Backpacking is our favorite thing to do together. We have hiked countless miles through every terrain, and we make a point to walk in the wilderness in every spot we visit. We have done everything from one-night jaunts to 500-mile trails. It is restorative time spent in deep community with our wild world.

James is an amateur woodworker. He whittles spoons, chains, bowls and trinkets with found branches. He also takes more artistic photography than what he shoots for work. Because he isn’t burnt out making content 40 hours a week, photography now can be both a work and leisure activity.

I'm an avid bird watcher (and am very, very nerdy about it!). I’ll spend hours each day watching the antics of a sparrow or a finch. I also keep a cartoon series called “Ataraxia” that is inspired by ancient Greek and modern existential philosophy. In addition, I complete the Junior Ranger program at every National Park we visit. This is serious business.

We also play music together. It isn’t our strength, and we aren’t very good, but it’s fun to work on a song and perform it for new friends around a fire!

Leisure time is precious because it’s spent pursuing what sparks your passions. It is not money motivated and therefore can achieve incredibly meaningful and powerful things for society as a whole and the health of each individual.

What are your top three go-to items in your tiny home?

Good Maps: We recommend Benchmark. They are topography-laden gems. Those maps are how we choose our destinations and navigate when we’re miles out of service on a BLM backroad. Couldn’t do it without them!

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir: This book has literally saved our lives, more than once. It is the best DIY vehicle manual we have ever owned and a must if you travel to remote places in an air-cooled VW.

A Good Cookstove: We cook three meals a day in our bus and believe in the unrivaled power of farm fresh, unprocessed ingredients. For us, making our meals from scratch is an important way to live.

Kombucha Mothers: Can I add a fourth? We are big drinkers of this probiotic beverage and save so much money making our own. A rambling SCOBY culture travels with us in our bus. We each drink a bottle a day!

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

The freedom! When you have no debt and few possessions, you rule your own destiny. There are no things, no obligations to hold you back. We wake up every day and do whatever we want, because why not? We have nothing to lose.

The worst thing that could happen on the road never seems so bad, because we have our experiences and skills — two things that can never be taken away from us.

What is the most challenging thing?

Maintaining relationships that existed before hitting the road has proven to be a big challenge. Some people don’t understand our lifestyle. Others don’t approve. Then there are family events, friends'’s tough to be there for them when you are far away and perpetually low on money. We have missed some of those milestones and have lost relationships through living this way. It’s hard to discuss, but that is definitely the most difficult part of nomadic living.

What is your advice to future homeowners who want to live small or hit the road?

Don’t overthink life! Everything is unknown until you jump into it. You can’t plan too much for the future; set plans only set you up for failure, for failing to meet your own expectations. If you have no expectations of life, you will never be disappointed! Take the easy road, and grab the low-hanging fruit. There’s no reason to tangle yourself up in details; life is as simple or complicated as you make it. Follow your intuition but use your head, and it will all work out. It always has for us, and we never know exactly what’s next!

Do you plan to go back to your previous way of living?

You know, now that we think about it, we've only lived in a tiny space as adults. We lived in studio apartments before moving into the bus; that definitely didn't exceed 300 square feet.

We've never seen it necessary or desirable to have much living space. 

After all, when your inside space is small, you begin living outside.

That's the whole goal, to become feral people, to begin inhabiting the natural world once again—to live in a way that is no longer separate or severed from the wild.

The biggest change in living small for us has been that we don't need much money to live. That means we don't spend all of our time working for money anymore. We're free to pursue passion projects, explore the wild and simply be. We have become far more balanced beings living in the bus. Because we don't have many niceties in our home, our cost of living is minimal. We are debt free, live on little and consequently are able to enjoy life to its maximum—in all the lovely and big ways we only used to dream of.

What's next for you guys? Any news you want to share?

We are working on a full-length book this year—a mixture of prose, illustrations and photos from the road. We are currently discussing how to best release it, whether through Kickstarter or a preorder on our website. This has been an incredibly exciting undertaking, a passion project that we can’t wait to share! Stay tuned for how you can be involved in the book; it’s a community project!

Also, the webseries we filmed with Where’s My Office Now last winter will be released in the upcoming months on their YouTube Channel. It features interviews with other nomads, and a reality show component that is a raw glimpse into the ups and downs of life on the road. Check it out!

Lastly, we created and released a print zine that is currently for sale on our website. The zine has been a dream for a long time, and we are so excited to share it with anyone interested. If you like adventure, travel, and philosophy, check it out and consider purchasing one. We appreciate the support!

Tonight will be a dusty mountain road in Utah. And tomorrow? Tomorrow’s just another day. We’ll figure it out, which new and rarely tread road we’ll travel, when new light breaks over the mountain.

Follow Rachel & James and their adventures

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to Idle Theory Bus.