Who are you and what is your backstory?
I am Brian Bear Butler, cinematographer, photographer and full time traveler. The urge to travel started a young age. My dad and grandpa we’re deeply connected to nature and would take me out fishing and into the woods often. I would always “joke” to my family and friends that one day I would live in the woods. My father died when I was a child and left me questioning our reality and thats when I created my own perspective on life. I knew about my mortality at a young age but society does a very good job at making you forget that.
Most of my early years consisted of being outside in the Chicago Suburbs fishing at my local forest preserves. It allowed me to get out of my head and gave me a sense of purpose. 2017 I picked up a camera and immediately took to wildlife photography. It connected me to nature more than I ever thought was possible. My first adult trip to the west was around 2010. Did 8 days in the Montana wilderness and was hooked. Since then I took up bicycle touring and car camping which opened up a new freedom of travel that was very addicting. 2014 I quit my job at an auto shop and started my own mobile mechanic business, one of a kind in the burbs and it did very well.
Make some steps towards a remote job if you have to, look for rigs that will suit your needs, don’t put a timeline on it, clean up your debt and GO.
A few years after that I bought a house and when I was standing in my backyard with the feeling that I’ve done it, it hit me. This isn't fulfilling. I was fulfilling someone else's dream. Then around May 2018 I went backpacking in the smokey mountains with a gal I was dating at the time and we met this couple that were living in a fully converted school bus. WOAH! That got us thinking about living on the road. Fast forward a year later, we took off in a converted travel trailer and my pickup truck. 5 months after that we broke up and I moved into a Honda Element, a year and some months after that I found myself in a skoolie. Now look at me, I still live in the woods.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Skoolie life?
October 2020 is when I decided to upgrade from my Honda Element to a 4 window chevy school bus. After living in a Honda Element for over a year and my production business growing, I really wanted some more space. Now I have a queen size bed, desk, kitchen, storage, solar, WiFi, and even a composting toilet. In my Honda Element I only had a twin size mattress on top of a platform that held a small amount of clothes and food. That’s it.
At first I feared the gas mileage but I knew I had work so I just SENT it. The best is when I’m traveling through towns a lot of folks have a big smile on their face when they see my rig. It’s inspiring to others and I love that.
Tell us about the advantages to the Skoolie lifestyle?
I can stand up haha! To be honest I saw and did more in my Honda Element due to the small size, it could go anywhere. The bus is a little bigger and doesn’t handle harsh dirt roads as well but it does allow me to sit still a little longer which in turn makes me appreciate the area i'm in and save a little money. With staying parked a little longer it really gave my body a chance to rest and be with my thoughts more than normal. It really has done wonders for my mental health.
I don’t have kids but I’ve filmed a few families that have awesome rigs and those kids seem to be really living life.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Skoolie lifestyle?
Dating while traveling is really difficult haha. Finding water spigots are tough but you learn to get crafty. This one day I was at a coffee shop and right when they were closing I asked the lady if there was a spigot around. She said yes and I could use it. Just gotta ask. I do miss being able to shower whenever I want and go into a different room when I’m at a house. There honestly aren't a lot of pros and cons here. Cons eventually turn into pros and you adapt to this life like you would moving to a new town or house. The pros are endless, freedom, you’re outside all the time, away from cities and in cleaner air. Again, this life just becomes normal and pros and cons become the same as if you were in a normal town living a normal life.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
I started this life with a girlfriend, living in such a small space only amplified our issues and that ended quickly. I’ve been single ever since then and that was back on September 15 2019 when we split. I shockingly don’t deal with too much loneliness. People feel lonely even when they’re around other folks. I’ve learned it really boils down to how much you love yourself and how much purpose you have for something. I enjoy being alone most of the time.
Over time and with my job I’ve met so many people and created many friendships. Usually results into camping together for a week or two then everyone goes their own ways for a bit then we meet back up somewhere else. To be honest the road has treated me very well in terms of setbacks. There have some like my Honda Element breaking down in Seattle and taking a week to fix but luckily I was at an airbnb with a friend and had a rental, haven’t had contact with sketchy people yet but I also don’t put myself in those kinds of situations. I haven’t even gotten stuck in the mountains.
There’s also festivals we go to such as VanFest in Hurricane, Utah, Lost Sierra near Lake Tahoe and the big one, Descend On Bend. It does get tough when I can’t see family. They really don’t want to travel out to me and I go home as much as I can. Luckily we have Facetime.
How do you support yourself financially?
When I first started I was making money editing podcasts and living off of savings. My hobby was photo/video which I’ve turned into a profession. January 2020 I got a gig for 3 months in Yakima, Washington filming a master class style course for a Precision rifle company. Right when I got there in March the pandemic started. I got lucky. Right after that I got a gig at Tiny Home Tours on Youtube and have been filming for them ever since and even moved my way up to lead videographer. I edit for other companies here and there but mainly now I film Tiny Homes for a living.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Honestly, just start. Make some steps towards a remote job if you have to, look for rigs that will suit your needs, don’t put a timeline on it, clean up your debt and GO. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s actually easier to live like this than I did when I owned a house. The hardest part about this life is figuring out where you want to go and what you want to do. Skys the limit.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
When I started thinking about living on the road I listened to a lot of The RV Entrepreneur Podcast. From there it was a lot of just life experience of doing it. As I grew I wanted to get more into self development. Lots of Aubrey Marcus Podcast, Peter Crone, Mark Groves, The Angry Therapist. Other than that I don’t really seek out any info on buslife or vanlife. Mainly I wanted to come up with my own ideas.
What does the future look like?
Lately I’ve been wanting to settle down a bit and buy some land and start a new venture while still traveling and filming for Tiny Home Tours and working on other big projects. Building my own house with my bare hands is one of those big projects, building really cool travel rigs, cycling across America and hiking the big 3 hikes, PCT the CDT and AT.
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
With my 2 years of experience I’ve slowly been becoming a source for newcomers. There is still stuff I can learn and do learn but I don’t seek it out. My instagram followers like to hear what I have to say and I’m always reposting mindful reminders in my stories which I get a lot of good feedback from. I do a lot of video work so that’s another thing newcomers ask about since remote work is like this mysterious thing. Honestly with my work and jobs, I’ve just been in the right place at the right time, networking with everyone and telling them what I’m passionate about. Since I was young I always wanted to get paid to go camping, here we are. I just kind of go with the flow and learn as I go.
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Skoolie essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Shovel, for digging out fire pits, getting your rig unstuck, etc.
- Google maps
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Las Cruses, NM
- Pagosa Springs, CO
- Bend, OR
Where are you now?
How long do you stay in one place?
When did you first start the Skoolie life?
November 16th 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)?
Everyday since November 16th 2020
What kind of Skoolie do you have?
2001 Chevy Express 4 window Bus with a V8 gas engine
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
- Instagram @wherestheskoolie