Roll with Tessa & Dillon in a VW Bus

Square Feet: 80

This trip is 50% about the bus, 50% about Dillon and 50% about Tessa, making it a 150% tripod of road trip fun.

Where are you currently living?

Home truly is where we park it at this point. At the moment, we are in El Salvador, almost halfway through our journey in the bus from Alaska to Argentina.

Name the make, model and year of your home.

Dillon and I own a 1975 Volkswagen Bus, Westfalia Edition.

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

Pre-bus life, Dillon was working in a cubicle as a supply chain management specialist, and I was teaching students with disabilities. I feel fortunate that I was (am) extremely passionate about my career field and absolutely can’t wait to get back to the demographic of kids I was working with.

Our life in Alaska was full of weekend warrior adventures and great friends. Having been on the road for a while now, we have met many people that looked into going mobile and creating a life on the road in a response to not being fully satisfied with their normal lives.

I feel grateful that I often miss my pre-bus life, and have set up a fulfilling life to return to. It will be more difficult (and not likely) that Dillon will return to a desk job after enjoying the freedom of living without walls and being on the road.

I was pretty much just up for an adventure. Having traveled as a backpacker throughout parts of the world, I was excited at the prospect of bus travel and the ability to connect with people and places that are difficult to access on the backpacker circuits.

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

We have been living the vagabonding life in the bus since the beginning of February, putting us on the road for almost seven months now. The bus is our full-time home!

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

When we decided to do the trip, we were planning on leaving in May 2014. We had no clue how much work went into fully restoring a vehicle. We bought it for $500 from someone’s yard with rust holes in the floor, and it didn’t run. We ended up putting about $20,000 into the restoration, including the Subaru engine Dillon installed and all of the parts for the conversion (which hadn’t successfully been done by more than a handful of people, so there was a lot of trial and error involved).

The restoration process and doing all of the work ourselves (learning to weld, paint a vehicle, install an engine, etc.) was as much of the adventure as the actual trip. Needless to say, we didn’t end up leaving until this past February. So when our lease ended nine months earlier, we moved in with my parents to save funds for the trip.

Moving an apartment full of stuff into one room was definitely a gradual downsize exercise that made moving into the bus easier. We both have a lot of outdoor adventure gear so it was a balance of selling stuff along the way, shipping home seasonal gear before we left the country and trying to be realistic about balancing what we wanted and needed in the bus. In the beginning, we packed way too much stuff and it ended up being too crowded.

As the saying goes, take half of what you think you need and twice the money!

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

We quit our jobs before moving into the bus and starting life on the road. The draw of being able to work on the road and extend our travels definitely sounded appealing, but in the end we decided we would rather try and find work when we end up in a spot we want to spend a lot of time in. As a way to really experience an area versus having the constant distraction of trying to find Internet/be connected, we wanted to just be present and live in the moment. We have met many people on the road who are able to do both and seem to love it!

At times, living in such a small space feels like a full-time job itself. It is a constant dance of cleaning, reorganizing and getting rid of stuff. Van life is not as glamorous as we thought it would be based on the lovely Instagram feeds and blogs we follow. The reality of van life is that things get messy really quickly, and sometimes by the time you’re done shuffling stuff to make coffee and breakfast and do the dishes, it’s time for the next meal. Organization, cleanliness and learning the flow of things is key.

What are your hobbies on and off the road?

Throughout our relationship, adventure has been the common thread. We love backcountry skiing, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, cabining fishing, and anything that is an excuse to be outside. It has been hard to figure out which of the gear associated with these hobbies we have/should room for in the bus.

Dillon enjoys surfing, so his cup has been full as we have spent most of our trip on the coast!

I am a maker of things. I love to craft and sold my jewelry to help supplement my savings for this adventure. Typically, crafting involves spreading stuff out for days at a time, making van life not conducive for creating things. That being said, we have had more time for things we didn’t prioritize as much at home, such as learning to play the ukulele, reading, and journaling.

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

iOverlander App: The iOverlander app is something we use all of the time to find campsites or sights off the beaten path. It's a great tool for this kind of travel.

Engle Fridge: The fridge is a lifesaver. With the low current draw, we have been able to run the fridge 24 hours a day, at the lowest setting. Anything above that and it freezes all of our food. Because we lack AC, nothing is better than ice-cold water and cold packs on your neck while going through the brutally hot border crossings of Central America!

Cameras: We use Canon DSLRs for documenting our trip. Capturing all of the detail in the expansive landscapes, incredible colonial buildings, and central markets with a full frame DSLR has us taking pictures with the confidence that we can hang large wall prints when we are finished with the journey. It is worth the price we pay in lugging around a large camera.

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

The most rewarding thing about living small is the amount of freedom that comes with it. It sounds crazy but things truly weigh you down. I have talked to many people who say they would love to do a trip like this, but what would they do with all of their furniture or with all of their stuff?

We are fortunate enough to be able to store some stuff in Alaska with people, but it sure makes us wonder why we stored stuff when we can’t even remember what we left there.

Living small allows you to be more responsive to your surroundings. Having our home with us at all times offers the freedom of going where the wind takes us, which has been more liberating than we could have imagined.

What is the most challenging thing?

The most challenging thing about living small is probably how small we are living. We opted for the bus instead of the newer VW Vanagon (we actually owned both at the same time and sold the Vanagon) because we love the icon that is the VW bus, the smile that it puts on people’s faces and all that it represents. On the other hand, when we meet people traveling in Vanagons it feels like they are living in mansions.

Two people trying to do the same thing in the same tiny space can make 80 square feet feel like 8 square feet. When we camp in one place for a while, we make it a priority to create an outdoor space to overflow into.

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

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” These words only resonate with me more as time goes on. So many people reach out to us and say, "Some day I want to do something like that. When I retire I would love to do a trip like that."

The silver lining of having a mom who has been battling cancer on and off for eight years is how quickly I learned that that time is not a guarantee. Many people say how envious they are of our adventure and how lucky we are to be able to do this trip.

The truth is anyone can hit the road if they choose to make it a priority.

We decided to live in an intentional way, eating ramen and living simply to set ourselves up for this experience, which isn’t for everyone.

In the process of making moves toward hitting the road, I found it more difficult than anticipated to swim upstream and challenge the societal norm of working to spend. There were plenty of people who were baffled when we told them we were quitting our steady career jobs for the instability of the unknown. But more people — even mentors in our career fields — either said they did something similar at our age and it was the best choice they’ve ever made, or they wish they would have done something similar. This lifestyle is not for everybody, but we haven’t regretted a second of it. (Except maybe that one 10-hour drive through 105-degree interior Mexico where we had to crank the heat to keep the bus from overheating.)

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

We are flying back to Alaska for a family reunion and some late summer fun. We will be back down to Costa Rica to reunite with the bus and continue the trip shortly.

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so we just keep rolling on under the stars.
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Follow Tessa & Dillon and their adventures on Instagram @thebusandus. You can also visit their blog or shoot them an email to get in touch.

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to The Bus and Us.