July 11, 2017 2 Comments
After a few years working in a fast-paced, high stress corporate environment, where 10 hour days, 6 days a week routine revolved around formatting Excel spreadsheets, the apparent efficiency of a successful capitalist lifestyle slowly became more and more redundant.
The ‘living for the weekend’ format didn’t seem effective or even appealing anymore, so the idea of building a tiny home on wheels that could allow for a full-time holiday and create a better work-life balance started to play in my head.
Two years ago, I was sat at my desk in Hong Kong adjusting my seat to relieve my back pains and premature hemorrhoids, and I figured I shouldn't be living with these issues at 28.
I asked myself “Why am I sat at this desk? And to what end?” I assume, as every other Excel warrior around me, that I was working to save for a deposit, to get a mortgage, to buy a house. I calculated this time span to take another 20 years of macros and pivot tables — and a more crooked back and some very serious hemorrhoids!
I needed an alternative.
At some point in the past, a friend had sent me a link to a school bus company in Canada that was going into liquidation and selling off their school buses.
This idea came back to me and I figured that a bus shell could work in the same way as a modular pod and I could therefore replace all the exterior elements of a house with the bus.
Having worked in the construction industry as a Quantity Surveyor for 7 years, albeit from behind a computer, I had a good understanding of the make up of a dwelling house; I had created numerous spreadsheets and was very well aware of the cost to build a house of my own. Now, the possibility of building my house in a bus meant my build costs would diminish dramatically!
The dilemma of living ‘tiny’ never really crossed my mind. Looking back, I can see this was because I was already living tiny: In Hong Kong one pays extortionate rates to share a 80 m2 rented flat.
With a school bus I could have half of this space and drive away if I don't like my neighbors. More importantly, with 2 months’ rent I would be able to afford the majority of the build.
I am almost certain that the idea of road tripping in a school bus had been in the back of my head since watching the movie ‘Road Trip’ as a kid. With this in mind, Canada seemed like the ideal place to make this dream come true and be able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, nature and relaxed culture. The fact that I could get a working holiday Visa played a major role as well.
Of course, to build a house and travel using only your savings is possible, but not sustainable. I knew that with this format I would someday find myself back in the office chair sitting on an inflatable cushion.
Therefore, I needed to find a way to make enough money on the road to cover my costs. This is when I thought of a Hot Dog van. I calculated my basic costs could be covered by selling 10 hot dogs a day; if I sold 100, I would be somewhere near my Hong Kong wage. It frightened me that this math was free and it only took me 5 minutes to realize—why isn’t everyone doing this?!
And there I had it: plans to build a house, travel extensively and possibly start my own business. It didn’t take long to recruit believers for this utopic dream.
After a year working in hectic Hong Kong (where “work hard, play hard” seemed to be our official motto), the decision had been made and not only my girlfriend Xana, but also my childhood best friend Alex and his girlfriend Alix were on board with the idea.
Xana was working as a pre-school English teacher, Alex in the Marketing department of an international newspaper, and Alix in a prestigious fine art gallery. We all felt like the time had come for a change in our lives and had dreams of a less fast-paced daily routine—we wanted to free ourselves from the long commutes to work, slow down our weekly partying agenda, and have time to fully appreciate new experiences and expand our knowledge of the world.
A few months in Europe were enough to come to the conclusion that going on a long-term trip to Canada was the perfect way to try to achieve our dreams.
It was great to be closer to family and friends after a long time away from home, but we knew we were ready for another journey.
Alex and Alix in France, and myself and Xana in the UK, we all did a lot of online research on skoolies, van/bus living, camping, boondocking and tiny living. We joined several Facebook groups and online forums to learn as much as we could in a short period of time. It’s incredible how, by connecting with other people with similar ideas, your imagination and pro-activeness flourish!
Undoubtedly, each one of us had our individual goals and plans, but we were able to find compromises and work together to ensure we were taking off with the common aim of being as free and self-sustainable as possible.
In March 2017, the gang flew to Calgary, AB, Canada ready for the next step—find that school bus, turn it into a mobile home and travel everywhere we could.
The goodbyes from the families included a mix of emotions: support, incredulousness, worry, excitement… The ideas of leaving behind “promising careers”, not wanting to “settle down and buy a house”, wishing for more of the “unknown” and craving the “uncertain” surely are hard for any parent who undoubtedly wishes their sons and daughters a happy life to grasp. Above all though, the one thing each one of them must have felt was that their kids are not like many others — and must be a little bit crazy!
Three months in and our Skoolie is pretty much fully converted into a tiny home on wheels. Two of those months were spent working on the bus whilst travelling, and despite all the obstacles of sharing a small building site as a home between four people, the hard work in the freezing Canadian cold, the frustrations when things went wrong, our different approaches to things and the inherent tiredness caused by the whole process, one thing is certain—we are so proud of ourselves and each other! Team work, perseverance, will to learn and experiment, patience and compassion were key to keep us going.
We have traveled from Calgary to Vancouver and then north to Prince George so far. All along the way, we got to meet incredible and inspiring people who stop by to say hello and to have a peak at our home. So many of them were of great help and offered precious advice about the build. We love being able to meet these individuals, who tell us how cool our project is and wish us good luck – it seriously makes our day!
Due to the wild forest fires that sadly are consuming a large part of British Columbia at the moment, we have decided to change our plans of going to the Yukon and we will be heading back south to explore Vancouver Island for a few weeks.
Come August and September and we will pay a visit to the neighbors in the USA and from there... we shall see where our tiny home takes us.
I want to continue exploring this way of living when I eventually go back home to Europe, and therefore the current plan is to sail the bus back to the UK on a shipping container. With a small plot of land waiting on the outskirts of London, there is a full time home waiting for the Tiny Home to live.
We might not have known exactly where to start, let alone how to build and even where we’re going. Nonetheless, when you dream big and live tiny, there’s no end to the possibilities.
See you on the road!
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My name is Alan—founder at Dream Big Live Tiny Co! A few years ago, I quit my consulting job to pursue a life full of adventure. After traveling around the world for a year, I sold most of my stuff and moved into an 160-sqft tiny house. Now I spend most of my time showcasing incredible people living with less in pursuit of more freedom, as well as incredible tiny houses around the world!
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