Driving home the other day along the Ballard Locks in Seattle, I discovered this beautifully painted "skoolie" parked on the side of the road. A stunning site juxtaposed with the falling apart, junky RV's that frequent the area. What's a skoolie? It's a converted school bus - also a term for those who reside in them. This bus was painted blue and brown with the brown simulating wood paneling - I totally thought it was real until I ventured closer. Towards the back, "Little House on the HWY" is painted in white with social media symbols just below. So, naturally, I looked up the camper on Instagram and instantly wanted to meet the creative travelers behind it. Listed in their bio under their names Elizabeth and Richard read, "DM to collab," so that's just what I did.
I honestly didn't expect a response. They're probably busy, I thought. Most likely only in town for a night or two and I'm sure they have a packed schedule. But, there it was in bold letters in my Instagram messages. "Are you free tomorrow?" They asked. Heck yeah I was!
They employed Jump bikes in the morning to tour Pike Place and the city before meeting up with us at their Little House at 3 p.m. And, as if we'd been friends for years, they welcomed us into their tiny home with open arms to tell us their story and show us around their hand-built creation and home for the last year.
Little House on the HWY is a 34-foot-long 1996 Thomas International school bus turned awesome. I walked up the steps to find a dash covered in stickers from fellow skoolies, campers, festivals, you name it - an ode to their travels and the empty spaces beckoning a keepsake from their adventures to come. A bamboo plant sits in the driver's window. Just behind the driver's seat is a storage cabinet with plans for a painted landscape in the works. Opposite sits two incredibly comfortable chairs around a table - the small library across the isle. Amid-bus is the kitchenette with a cutting board and counter space on one side, a sink and tiled counter flanked by a fridge/freezer on the other. Making our way to the back of the bus we find a cassette toilet for emergencies - they said they mostly find other ways to use facilities like Planet Fitness, rest stops, and the like. And lastly, the master bedroom sits farthest back complete with a full-sized bed with under-bed storage, two small dressers, a vanity, and an additional storage shelf.
I was drooling to say the least. Vanlife has been on my mind for some time now, and meeting couples like Elizabeth and Richard just fuel that drive to go full throttle and get to it. I couldn't help but ask how they finance their lifestyle, as that's the one thing that's been holding me back. Could I feasibly freelance write and make it work? Would I make enough money to live somewhat comfortably?
They picked up the bus for $2,500 and said they've put about $10,000 into it overall, but "it really doesn't take much to live this lifestyle," explained Elizabeth. They can get by with just about $700 a month if they're careful. The bus itself is 100% solar powered (sans the engine of course), which exponentially cuts down costs. They can cook at home with their portable gas-powered stove, brew coffee in the morning, you name it.
Elizabeth and Richard met aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2010 where working and traveling in small spaces was the norm. Richard was a housekeeper and Elizabeth a Jr. Waiter on a 7-day cruise in Hawaii. Elizabeth now freelance writes for an RV lifestyle magazine based out of Canada and additional publications here and there, and when they're running low on funds, they do odd jobs or work on a farm to raise a couple thousand dollars before hitting the road again.
"Is there anything you miss about having a house?" I ask, as that's another concern of mine. Maybe I could prepare a little better if I know what I'll miss. "Well, we make every place our home," Elizabeth says with a smile. But they both agreed that privacy is one thing they've sacrificed when they went mobile. They chose to be in the public eye and offer their home to guests as a way to encourage others to take the leap into this alternative tiny home lifestyle, but that also means they have to be ready for the common unannounced visitor. In fact, someone walked up as we were chatting just outside. He seemed to arrive a little angry, asking if they were affiliated with any of the surrounding businesses, but these guys know what they're doing. Richard continued to happily explain the Little House to the stranger and offered to show him around. The visitor left with a change of heart, telling Richard and Elizabeth they'd have a new bunk mate for the rest of their journey. "This happens all the time," Elizabeth explains. To help with privacy, they installed curtains that extend over every window and even a few that cross the isle indoors so they both can still have their alone time.
The Little House on the HWY has been Elizabeth and Richard's home since August, 2018, and they plan to continue this journey through 2020 if all goes as planned. They're on their way back east as we speak with some talk about eventually heading up into Canada, but who knows? With no set schedule and a continent full of open road, the opportunities are endless and the adventures aplenty.
HUGE thanks to these two amazing people for taking time out of their day to welcome us into their home! I'm super stoked to keep up on their adventures to come and follow along as they discover more and more of our stunning continent. They're such an inspiration! If you catch a glimpse of the Little House on the HWY, send them a message and stop by to say hi! They also frequent many skoolie and vanlife festivals around the country as well as tiny home shows and expos.