INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL AND ANNA (@THE ROBERTS WERE HERE)
Who are you and what is your backstory?
Hi!! We are Michael (36) & Anna (35) and our five kids, Elise (11), Micah (9), Elijah (7), Jude (5) and Nora (3 months) - together we make up The Roberts Were Here! Anna I both grew up in Missouri, in the Kansas City area. We were both homeschooled and met in high school while playing basketball. She was a junior, I was a senior. We got engaged a year later while on a ski trip in Colorado and were married 9 months later in Kansas City, at the young ages of 20 (Michael) and 19 (Anna)!
I began working, building homes. Anna was working and attending college. We went on little trips when we could, spent time exploring KC, and traveling to Mexico each year with our church. Anna had a miscarriage a few years into our marriage and a few months later she was pregnant again. We bought our first, 1,000 square foot, house and filled it up with four kids in just over 6 years (and then we thought we were done having kids 😉). I continued working in home construction/remodeling while Anna took on being a stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom, along with running a thriving photography business.
One of our favorite things to do was take our kids hiking, fishing, bike-riding, swimming, or boating on the weekends (we have now added rock climbing and multiple sports and not just on the weekends), eventually taking them further in a pop-up camper we were gifted, and falling in love with our National Parks. As parents, it is a priority of ours to do our best to intentionally...
Give our kids a life of adventure...
Raise them rooted in God’s Word...
Help them be healthy and active and in the outdoors as much as possible...
Teach them they can do hard things...
Show them what kindness, friendship, bravery, compassion and being a servant looks like...
Give them a well-rounded life by encouraging them to try new things and practice/improve upon others...
Show them the world, opening their eyes to new places, people and cultures...
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Skoolie life?
After having our fourth child, we sold our first house, purchased 5 acres of land, and moved into a rental. We loved the idea of having a little farmhouse, a giant garden, watching our kids chase chickens around the yard, and building a treehouse for our kids to make memories in and one day watch their own children play in. We had it all planned out. Anna had a big fat binder loaded with the plans and every single detail. Hours and hours went into planning, down to every paint color, light fixture and faucet.
But.... life isn’t always what we see on orderly little Instagram squares. Anna and I ended up separating for nine months and nearly divorcing. It was one of the most traumatic experiences we have been through and has taken/is taking years and a lot of counseling to get through. When we made the decision to continue to fight for our marriage, we took a long hard look at our land and realized, even though it sounded like an incredible dream (that maybe we can revisit one day), our adventurous spirits would always feel pulled away from it, yet unable to leave much with all the time and attention it would constantly require.
When Anna was a kid she asked her dad if they could live in an RV and travel the country. This was a childhood dream she had never let go of. The more we thought about it, the more we wanted to try now, to go on a grand adventure with our kids now and not later when they were gone and we were older and retired. Anna mentioned the idea of converting a school bus, something she had seen just a couple other families do at the time. So, we sold our land. It was a bittersweet moment. It felt like the death of a dream and hours upon hours of wasted time and work.... But hopefully, opening the door to a new dream.
Be willing to get uncomfortable. We never thought this life would be easy, but we are okay with doing some hard things in order to live a different life!
Losses we had suffered earlier on (not only the miscarriage, but the death of Anna’s dad) are what began our minimalist journey, years before the bus. Cleaning out my father-in-laws things that were saved and never again touched, while wishing he was there and not his stuff, wishing we had more time with him instead of the time spent acquiring and taking care of the stuff, was like a kick in the gut. So, by the time we got to the skoolie decision, about 7 or 8 years later, downsizing was not a big issue. We were already minimalists, intentional about what we spent our time and money on and allowed into our home, and regularly went through/donated the never-ending build-up of kid things.
We were also motivated by the incredibly hard times we had been through in our marriage. We wanted to pursue living a different lifestyle, one that brought us closer together as a family. There is a pattern of the hard things in our lives ultimately bringing about good, which we usually can’t see at the time. Something you will hear us talk to our kids about often is how hard times build our character, they teach us compassion, and prepare us for future life experiences.
The owner of the house we were renting decided she wanted to sell and gave us less than a month to move out! Up until that point, skoolie life had only been something we had casually talked about. This was our final push. We would have to find a new house. We decided to go for the skoolie! Anna was always on board with living in a skoolie. Zero hesitation. We did have worries and questions, but she needed no convincing. I’m usually always up for her ideas. It took just a little bit of convincing for me and I was on board 100%. In those few weeks we found and bought a school bus, sold almost all of our things, and moved in with a family member... hoping the build would only take us 6 months.
Our biggest hesitation was work/income. Unlike many others, we didn’t have remote work. We had zero desire to just always live in our bus in MO, that would defeat our purpose, but we also weren’t willing to let that stop us. We knew everyone would be asking us the $ question. We got a lot of questions from people that we didn’t have the answers to. We had people tell us they would love to do it but the logistics of work and finding places to stay seemed too much of a pain. I’m not saying everyone should just throw caution to the wind and run out and move into a van or something, but we decided to follow our hearts and not our heads on this one; to live without regret, to remember the best things in life aren’t easy, and sometimes even require a good amount of pain and sacrifice. We chose to focus on all of the many reasons TO do it and not the one reason to not do it.
Tell us about the advantages to the Skoolie lifestyle?
We can move, travel and explore new places far more than we ever could before. We love being somewhere new so often! This is perfect for homebodies who also have giant hearts of wanderlust. Live in a traveling home. Problem solved! Our number one favorite advantage: we have more time together as a family.
Even if we have a busy week with work and school, errands and appointments, etc... we’re waking up in some great park that we probably wouldn’t have had time for before. We don’t have to pack for trips, or spend money on hotels and restaurants. When we need to, we can continue to live our somewhat regular routine and experience the USA at the same time.
One of the hardest and most important things for us has been to let go of others expectations of how we “should” be doing this life and just do it our way and be fine with that whether it's the “norm” or not.
Our kids had already been used to being home schooled and spending tons of time outdoors, now they just do it in even more epic places. They have met many new people, learned how to rock climb and snorkel, built endurance in hiking and bike-riding, they have learned first hand about alligators and manatees, and experienced places and history they would have otherwise only seen in a textbook. They don’t sit down and do book-work school everyday, but I love the education they are still getting.
In 6 months they have visited cliff dwellings, paddle-boarded, hiked and kayaked through canyons, biked the Grand Canyons south rim, stared at up at a giant cactus, walked through a “forest” of petrified wood, found petroglyphs, beach-hopped all over FL, kayaked through mangroves, hiked up mountains, spotted multiple alligators, swam with manatee, fed Flamingos, ate Tennessee “meat and three,” Louisiana beignets and po’ boys, tried snake in Arizona, drank from a hot spring, drove through the mountains, gazed at stars, woke up to sunrises, and watched the sunset from the top of our home.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Skoolie lifestyle?
It takes more effort to get alone time and to stay connected to the community you had before jumping into this life.
The bus does take faster to clean, but it can also get messier faster.
We wish we would have done a middle aisle instead of the L, we feel it would help us not feel so right on top of each other in some areas.
It can be nerve-wracking being in places you have never been before, with the responsibility of five kids, and hoping nothing goes wrong with the bus... like the time we broke down in New Mexico, or had a flat tire in Arizona, or a flat tire in Tennessee, or alternator problems in Florida!
There are going to be pros and cons no matter where you live. While we never have to worry about mowing the lawn (thank goodness!), we have to spend more time regularly planning where we’re going to park our home.
When it comes to kids, there really is no perfect age to do something like this with your kids. We find it humorous when people say to wait until your kids are older so they can remember more of it, because that just brings a new set of challenges. They may not remember as much when they’re little but one of the challenge when they’re older is that they have friends they’re sad to leave and sports and other activities they want to be able to participate in. They have still been able to do sports and piano lessons, but it takes a lot more creativity and planning and self-discipline. We are thankful for Zoom lessons and sports leagues all across the country they can be involved in if needed.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
Instagram has been amazing for finding other families that live the same kind of lifestyle. Without that we would probably feel pretty alone in this journey. We hope to meet up with other families along the way! We have met and stayed in touch with several couples we have met along the way (we get stopped a lot to chat because of our bus and all of our kids 😂). Thank goodness for technology and the ability to call, text, FaceTime, and send pictures and video. Our families (and church family) are in the Kansas City area, so we see them when we’re here.
How do you support yourself financially?
To make a long story short, in the middle of our build, thanks in part to Covid, Michael ended up starting his own home remodeling business and has been able to work it out so we can alternate working around KC and traveling around the country every month or so.. it’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s working, for now. We never saw it coming that we would be able to work it out that way. Just imagine if we had said no to the bus because of work! We would have missed out on so much! Even when in MO or KS we still move around to new places to explore every couple of weeks. One of the hardest and most important things for us has been to let go of others expectations of how we “should” be doing this life and just do it our way and be fine with that whether it's the “norm” or not.
Anna has also been using her photography to work with brands/companies to help support us financially. We hope to continue to seek ways to work remotely and keep us from zigzagging across the country so much. We’re open to any advice/connections from others on this!
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Be willing to get uncomfortable. We never thought this life would be easy, but we are okay with doing some hard things in order to live a different life!
Except the build to take longer than you think.
Don’t hesitate to ask for advice and help when you don’t know how to do something. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you, you can always learn! 🙌🏻
Don’t worry if you don’t think you fit whatever your idea of a normal bus life dweller is, do it your way!
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
We relied a lot on YouTube, Facebook skoolie groups, and www.skoolie.net during the build, especially people like @gilliganphantom, @navigationnowhere, and @gus.gps. The bus/RV/van life community on Instagram has been a HUGE help and inspiration, too many accounts to name! And @theamericanfieldtrip gives us all the National Parks inspiration! We also like to use RV Parky, The Dyrt and Campendium for finding places to park.
What does the future look like?
This year we’re hoping to take our skoolie to the Great Lakes, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, the PNW, and Utah’s “Mighty 5.” We’ll also be spending some time in Mexico without the bus.
We don’t “plan” to be on the bus more than 2-3 years, but we can’t imagine ever going back to a more traditional lifestyle (except maybe that little farmhouse one day). We’ll always work to make life an adventure. Anna has been trying to convince us to live on a boat after the bus, even from day 1 of the bus conversion! She has half of us convinced so far. She also talks about buying land again and building a big treehouse to live in. We dream about backpacking through other countries. We’re already planning the Sprinter Van conversion we can do when the kids are gone. So, stay tuned!
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
We don’t have solar. 😢 Solar would bring so much more freedom and we would love to chat with anyone who can give us more information about it!
Also, some of our favorite places to park have been word-of-mouth, so any great places you can pass along would be amazing!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Skoolie essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Roof rack
- Couch storage
- Coffee maker.
- All of our outdoor gear (bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, snorkel gear, etc.) bundled in one. 😂
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Joshua Tree
- Big Sur
- Florida Keys
We really love Colorado, too!! We have even more phenomenal places coming up!
Where are you now?
Kansas City, MO
How long do you stay in one place?
A few days to a few weeks. Our longest stay was 6 weeks, after giving birth.
When did you first start the Skoolie life?
We bought our bus August 18, 2019. We self-converted and then moved into our skoolie November 1, 2020.
Are you full-time or part-time Skoolie living?
How many weeks have you spent in the Skoolie in the last 12 months (estimate)?
We have lived and traveled in our skoolie since we moved in November 1st, except three weeks in December while repairs were being done.
What kind of Skoolie do you have?
40 foot, 1995 flat nose, front-engine, Blue Bird school bus. We also tow a 2006 Land Rover LR3.
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
Instagram - @therobertswerehere
YouTube - The Roberts Were Here
Facebook: The Roberts Were Here