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Her DIY Skoolie Life w/ Her Two Pets


Like so many others, Elizabeth joined vanlife because of the shutdowns of 2020. When she stumbled across vanlife on YouTube, she was hooked!

Through a series of events, she ended up purchasing a short bus and converting it into her own home on wheels. She has a remote job and is able to travel while living in her adorable bus named Wanda. The rig is perfect for her and her pets, and she loves life on the road. We had the privilege of interviewing her for this post, and you can read her story in her own words below.

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Tiny Living in Her Bus Named Wanda


April 2020 I got laid off from work due to COVID shutting down the planet (I’m a travel consultant). At that time I was renting a two-bedroom apartment, 970 sq ft, top floor of a century home, in a great neighbourhood, a five-minute walk to the office I was working from before I got laid off.

May 2020 my sister bought a brand-new THOR motorhome, and we did a couple of day trips with her RV. During one of those trips I was outside, washing dishes on the picnic table (her RV has a full kitchen, but it was beautiful outside so I was washing the dishes outside), sun was warming my shoulders, a slight breeze was keeping the temperature comfortable, birds were singing in the trees nearby, and I thought, “Gosh, it would be nice to wash dishes outside all the time”.

Since I had time on my hands due to being laid off, I was on YouTube more than ever in my life and all of a sudden, a video came up as a “recommended” to me about vanlife. Well, I fell down that rabbit hole and I think I’ve watched every video ever made about vanlife…and I realized that I didn’t NEED 970 sq feet.

During the lockdowns/quarantines we had, I was going from my bed, to the kitchen, to the sofa (to eat at the coffee table)….and to the washroom of course…..but the entire second bedroom was just used for storing my paints and canvases (I used to create wall art).

I also have “itchy feet”….I’m not used to sitting in one place for long. Even when I lived in the apartment, I used to do about three or four domestic or international trips per year.

I’ve never been materialistic and have always valued experiences over things….so getting rid of stuff wasn’t a hardship for me….in fact it felt very freeing.

Wanda (my tiny home on wheels) was a retired mini-bus when I found her on Facebook Marketplace (April 2022). The seats and wheelchair lift had been removed by the seller, but I did everything myself in converting her from bus to camper to home (October 2023).

The process is ongoing, as things come loose during drives (especially down washboard roads, like many are, to get to boondocking on BLM)….someone once described it as living in a constant earthquake. Wanda specifically is a rough ride…vans come with shocks and absorbers….Wanda is like a bucking bronco haha.

Also, as time goes by, I learn what’s working for me and what needs changing or improving on. Much like a sticks and bricks home….I don’t think anyone’s ever bought a house and NEVER changed or fixed or made any improvements to it, right?

I have four unique parts of my home. First is the entrance….I have cork tiles on the walls/overhead in the cab area….not only looks good (in my opinion) but is functional and also cork has other benefits: it helps absorb sound, it’s warm and insulating, it’s environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic and anti-fungal.

Second is that I have no overhead cabinets…I felt that would make the space feel too claustrophobic to me, and I like having a clear sight-line. I HAVE seen other busses without overhead cabinets, so it’s not unique strictly speaking, but it is rare I think. I love to cook and have a LOT of spices so I like seeing them (otherwise, I’ll forget what I have and end up buying more, unnecessarily).

Third, I have carpeting. Real carpeting, not just floor mats. I like that it makes it look like a real home, but it also absorbs sound, it’s warm underfoot, soft, and it makes it easy and safe for my little dog to jump from the floor to the loveseat/bed. I have it in two parts, so that if one section needs cleaning, I don’t have to disrupt the entire floor area.

Fourth, my loveseat is my bed at night. Because there’s a heater in the back driver-side corner, I can’t build a bedframe in front or over that….and it would also block the “bedroom” window if I built a bedframe back there…..so I simply remove the back cushions and decorative cushions at night, I have a twin-sized 3″ memory foam pad on there at all times (with a mattress protector on it, but also a soft fuzzy blanket). It takes very little time to make into a bed, or to unmake it in the morning. The only “challenging” part is trying to convince my dog to get out of bed on cold mornings haha.

In order to make money on the road, I signed a new contract in November 2021 with the travel agency I had been with since 2017 (the same one I got laid off from), as an Independent Travel Consultant….which means I have the host agency, but I can work remotely as long as I have a Wi-Fi connection (I have Surfshark for protection).

This lifestyle has changed my life in SO many ways! I don’t even know where to start! Living in (approximately) 98 sq ft you learn what you NEED, what you REALLY need. I had three yard sales back in 2020 to downsize, I’ve made dozens of drop-offs at donation centers, and I’ve given many things away. I DO also have a small storage unit back in Ontario for my sentimental items.

I’m an introvert, but I’ve made more personal connections with people whilst living on the road than I have in 55 years of NOT living on the road.

EVERY day brings something new….not necessarily something BIG NEW, but something new nonetheless…..I don’t feel like I’m stagnating…and if I DO feel that way, then I turn the key in the ignition and off we go.

I say “we” as I share my tiny home with a dog, Tia (11 year old Chihuahua-mix) and a cat, Tabasco, aka Tabi (12 year old Persian). So I have to be more cognizant of temperature in the bus for them. I always make sure it’s never too hot or too cold for them.

I don’t feel like I’m just working to pay bills anymore. My expenses are minimal now. I work on commission, so if it’s a “slow month”, then I drive less. If I have a few extra pennies, then I can allow myself a nice drive day.

Speaking of watching my pennies….I DO watch my pennies now. When I worked on salary, I knew how much I’d get paid every two weeks and I never had a “what if” fund. Now, I am always aware that something could break on Wanda and she’ll need repairs, so I have what I call a “what if” fund (“emergency” sounds too dire).

I no longer feel like I’m in a rut, on a treadmill, just going through the motions and waiting for the weekend to “live a little”. LIFE is so tenuous and precious and we never know when will be the last sunset we see…..so I am grateful for and cherish each and every one.

I’ve learned about myself….how I handle things…how important community is (even for an introvert)….and how important attitude is. I no longer shower on a daily basis (no, I am not a dirty person, I’m very clean in fact, but there are other ways to stay clean other than just showering).

I am always aware of where is safe and where isn’t….where can I dispose of my household waste….where can I get fresh water…where can I do my laundry….where will I sleep tonight. Many more daily decisions than living in a sticks and bricks.

The hardest part of  vanlife/skoolielife is when the vehicle needs repairs that require over-night stay at the garage/service center. Because you’re not just without your vehicle, you’re without your home. And in my case, I have two pets, so finding a place to stay with two pets is challenging.

It’s so hard to pick just ONE rewarding part….but if I have to pick just one…..I would say, having the choice to do what I WANT, versus what I HAVE to do.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone (thank goodness, otherwise it would be chaos).

I know many vanlifers say, “Just do it!”. I don’t agree with that advice. It’s not easy. And it can be uncomfortable if you don’t know yourself. My advice: figure out your WHY (that way, when you DO have a “bad day”, and you WILL, you can remind yourself of WHY you’re doing this)

Do your research, but don’t overthink it. Everyone’s needs are different, so don’t base YOUR needs on someone elses……for instance, I’m a solo female with pets, I still work and have to watch my money….so my needs will be different than some of your readers.

Again, specific to vanlife/skoolielife….don’t invest your time and money into converting anything until you’ve lived in your rig for at least six months.

Don’t isolate yourself. As I said, I’m an introvert, so I recharge when I’m away from people, but I have a network of people, my “tribe”, my “community”, who “gets me” (and I have to say, it’s an awesome community! People are so eager to help and offer advice).

Attend vanlife meetups….what you see on social media and in videos is not an accurate portrayal of what you could experience in real life.

Highlights:

  • Elizabeth was working as a travel agent and got laid off in 2020. With her newfound freetime she came across vanlife on YouTube and was hooked!
  • She purchased and renovated her short bus, Wanda, all on her own. The build out is simple and practical and meets her needs and the needs of her dog and cat.
  • Now that people are traveling again, Elizabeth got a new contract with her old agency and is able to work remotely.
  • She absolutely loves the freedom and community that living on the road has brought her.

Learn more

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Our big thanks to Elizabeth for sharing!

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Stefica
    February 1, 2024, 10:43 pm

    Elizabeth in this story with her Mini Home Wanda, is my beautiful daughter. I am so happy for her and a very proud Mama that she worked on her mini home for 2 years, and that now she CAN enjoy her mini home, meeting lots of wonderful and helpful people, AND been able to travel a big part of United States of America . With Elizabeth’s postings and pictures many people and myself felt that we are travel with her. Thank you Elizabeth for taking us with you on your amazing trips . God bless you , and I pray that he will keep you safe and Please enjoy your every day to the fullest. I love you XOXOXO.

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