Roll with Sarah & Matt in a VW Bus

Square Feet: 80

… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life ...
— Henry David Thoreau

Where are you currently living?

We are based out of northern Utah and travel around the west whenever we can scrounge up a few extra bucks for gas. Both of us have a serious love for Utah because the state accommodates the lifestyle and activities we enjoy.

Also, our trusted mechanic lives in Utah, and we have learned that our dear bus can only go so far without needing to go in for a checkup.

Name the make, model and year of your home.

We own a 1978 VW Transporter with a Westfalia camper kit—coming from the factory with a kitchen sink and pop-up roof.

It wasn't until a couple months ago when our bus broke down while we were climbing in Indian Creek that we finally found a name for it. There was a nice fellow, Forrest, who helped us patch our bus back together—but not before many tries. On the last try before the engine turned over, he grabbed my hand and told me to have a little faith. That was all it took. The bus started and made the journey back to our mechanic. When we drove away from Forrest, a Grateful Dead song came on the stereo (everyone knows that Grateful Dead helps power buses). It was 'Sugar Magnolia.' And that was it—her name is now Magnolia.

Since we've owned Magnolia, we have made a few modifications that have helped to utilize our tiny space. With all the outdoor activities we enjoy, we need a lot of gear, and it's been a fun challenge figuring out where to store everything.

What were you doing before you went mobile and why did you make the change?

Before we made the move, I was finishing school while Matt was working several jobs. Life was pretty hectic, and even though we found some time to get outside and enjoy the things we loved, we decided that slowing things down and living minimally would be the best direction for us. It seemed as though we were working all these hours just to put most of it back into the cost of living.

Because we had tried living in Magnolia for a few months right after we got married, this time around we knew what difficulties we would encounter and were able to put a lot more thought and preparation into the move.

How long have you been living there and do you live there full time/part time?

Magnolia has been our full-time home for almost nine months now.

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

Over the course of several months, we started making the space more functional while we took more and more time off work. Before we knew it, we were ready to make the move, and I'll admit that I was a little scared. There were a lot of what ifs that we had to let go of, and thankfully we have a really great support system of family and friends who made it easier.

Living in northern Utah, we were planning for snow and ice (which perfectly accommodates our love for skiing and ice climbing). But living in a box of metal and glass with very little insulation was a challenge.

We put in a wood-burning stove, but we knew it could only do so much. Winter was hard, but we managed to have a blast through it all, and it made spring all the sweeter.

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

We decided that we had two options:

  1. We could work as much as possible for six months to a year so we could save up enough money for an extended vacation to live on the road without working.
  2. We could figure out a way to make this lifestyle more sustainable.

Rather than binge working, we decided to work a couple of shifts a week at our local climbing shop. Matt is a gear nerd and has just about as much fun playing with climbing gear as he does using it outside, so it is a really great situation for us. Because of our location, there's a lot we can do during a five-day weekend.

What are your hobbies on and off the road?

We both love rock and ice climbing, skiing, hiking, yoga, slacklining, camping, trail running and any other sort of outdoor adventuring. We are mountain people who just love being outside!

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

One of the great things about living minimally is learning there is so little that you need to get by. When we made the initial move, it seemed as though every week we were getting rid of more things.

MSR 3-Ounce PocketRocket Stove: We use a two-burner Coleman stove for cooking, but I tend to use our little MSR stove more often than not. It's a small, cheap, compact stove that has made preparing a bowl of oatmeal or cup of coffee super easy.

Pendleton Wool Blanket: Not only is it beautiful and a nice pop of color in our living space, but we also sleep with it year-round.

Books: We love our bookshelf full of guidebooks, poetry books and novels. Reading together is something we both really enjoy, so having a plethora of reading material has been really fun.

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

Besides the more obvious rewards of being able to work less and play more, one of the greatest things that has come from this experience has been learning to work together and grow closer as a couple. We don't live in a very big space, so we've learned a system of cooking, getting ready for bed and other silly little things that you wouldn't really think of unless you were living in a tiny space with another person.

After two years of marriage, we moved into the bus and were hardly apart for nearly seven months. (Matt went to Alaska to climb Denali in June.)

The bus has only brought us closer together.

What is the most challenging thing?

Winter was a bit rough. We didn't have a heater, and even with a wood-burning stove, it took a while to figure out how to survive. We made it hard on ourselves by moving in right as winter hit, so we didn't really have the tiny living thing dialed in yet.

But we made it work and still managed to get outside to ski and climb in spite of living in an icebox. As perfect as our little bus is, it's not really made for winter living or other harsh conditions (we have yet to figure out how to keep it from leaking buckets every time it rains).

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

For me, it was a scary leap of faith to trust that we could make this crazy dream of ours work.

There were so many things that could go wrong—and so many things that have. But we have made it nine months, and it's been an incredible way of life that we want to continue.

It hasn't always been peaches and cream. There have been some growing experiences. But every time we hit a roadblock, things seem to sort themselves out.

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

It breaks my heart to even think about this, but we are currently looking into buying a vehicle with more space, better fuel economy, a more reliable engine and insulation. We love Magnolia, but the bus has kept us from being able to do some of the things we otherwise could have. We haven't found anything yet, but I have already cried about it.

Living simply has changed us. We get to wake up each morning and wonder what the new day has in store for us, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

To keep up with Sarah & Matt and their adventures, follow them on Instagram @thebuslife or Matt
@themattparkeffect. Visit their blog to read up on their adventures.

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to The Bus Life