Who are you and what is your backstory?
We met each other at the Electronic Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas in 2011. Within a year we started dating and have been falling more in love with each other ever since.
I have a corporate background working as a consultant in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Nick is an award winning filmmaker and photographer who’s earned the cover of National Geographic’s special edition, “Guide to the Night Sky.” Together we have combined our skills in business and art to create a cohesive partnership.
I was a city girl at heart who loved shopping, going on brunch dates, clubbing on the weekends, and rarely chose to spend my time in the outdoors unless it was sunbathing for a tan. Nick on the other hand has always had a love for outdoor activities and anything that raises his adrenaline. As the old saying goes, opposites attract, right?
Eventually Nick helped me go from heels to high altitude and convinced me to move to Lake Tahoe, NV. We mountaineered together up Mt. Shasta, which was my first major physical accomplishment I am proud of. Here’s a video recap of our climb.
"This lifestyle isn’t about raking in the dough and building a savings account to enjoy in our retirement years. We are experiencing life to the fullest now and choosing how to spend the day as we please, living as if we’re already retired."
My favorite activities have expanded now to include hiking, skiing, hula hoop dancing, yoga, mountain biking, paddle boarding, and pole dancing. No, that last hobby isn’t my newest career move, but I find it extremely empowering for myself and it’s a hard workout that requires dedicated training.
Nick has added skydiving to his leisure activities list and has over 260 jumps under his belt. He also loves winter sports and backcountry exploring either on a splitboard or on snowmobile.
We both have a passion for travel and we enjoy the excitement of being in a new place. Our first test of our relationship was backpacking through Europe and Southeast Asia for two months. The challenges of living out of a small pack, carrying our “necessary” items on our back, and learning to navigate new territories safely - reveals the true personality of a person. We highly recommend if you’re serious about a relationship, take a long weekend road trip with that person and see how well they display grace in stressful situations.
Exploring different towns where English isn’t the first language motivates us to experience life in other cultures. We thrive in those moments when we feel out of place, which is when the adventures begin! Traveling gives us a sense of freedom, yet at the same time, gifts us the flexibility to build connections with other people whom we’d otherwise might not meet.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
We never envisioned ourselves living in a school bus… but rather the bus found us. We initially were looking for a tow-behind trailer to take on weekend trips where Nick could focus on building his landscape photography portfolio, in combination with having fun on our days away from the office.
A friend sent us a link to a craigslist ad and said, “You guys should totally get this!” It was an advertisement for a blue 1988 Thomas Mighty Mite school bus for $1,500. The owners had gutted it and essentially used it as a U-haul to relocate from Idaho to Nevada.
The bus had been sitting stagnant on their property ever since the move and they simply wanted it off their hands. We immediately laughed and said, “No way,” but then curiosity got the best of us.
Unknowingly to each other, we both started researching bus conversions while working out at the gym. I was on the stairmaster reviewing Pinterest for interior design ideas, meanwhile Nick was on the bicycle looking into engine specs. At the time, #buslife / #vanlife was hardly an established hashtag and there were few Youtube videos discussing how to transform a bus into a home.
"We don’t have enough space to hold onto angst, so now whenever something upsets one of us, we immediately comment, “hey that wasn’t nice…” we discuss it, then let it go."
By the end of our hour long workout, we both were convinced we had to buy this bus! Nick said, “If it starts up and can get up to 65 mph then break safely, I’m bringing it home.” Within 24 hours, we made our first big commitment to each other - a joint purchase of a blue bus for $1,000, (Nick talked the owner down $500). While our friends were getting engaged, buying houses, and making babies, we were taking a different route in life.
It took us nearly three years, all of our spare cash, and free time to get the bus into the shape it is in today. The first major hiccup was the original engine, it kept crapping out on us and we decided to replace it with a newer one. This was a hefty project for Nick and his friends, and thankfully Nick had skills and experience from building his own race car after highschool which he could apply to using for our bus.
We purchased a salvaged truck in Idaho that had a Chevy 6.0 engine and transfercase in it that would increase our power drastically and slightly improve our gas mileage. We didn’t know at the time because we were buying a salvaged truck off an online auction site, but that truck had been rolled so when we started the engine when we brought it home, we realized the engine had been starved of oil and ruined the crank. This would require a full rebuild.
Two engines down and more money needed to fix one, we found ourselves again with another huge obstacle for our bus dreams. At this point, we hardly got to drive the bus to many places, yet we were financially and emotionally invested into this - we couldn't give up now.
So, Nick and his friends rebuilt that Chevy engine with all brand new parts, and the 30,000 miles tacked on the odometer now is solely from our bus travels. All in all, we’re about $16,000 into our bus conversion but it will always be a work-in-progress as there’s always room for improvements.
Keep in mind, we didn’t wake up one day and decide to move into the bus, it was a gradual process escalated by life events. Such events shifted our beliefs, goals, and we recognized that time is the most precious and valuable asset in life - therefore we wanted to take charge of it.
I had a great career still in the consulting industry but required me to work in-office, however Nick’s career was 100% remote work where he could work wherever there was internet. I tried to convince my boss that working remotely increases employee satisfaction and higher productivity, but I didn’t succeed. Therefore, I had to make the big leap for my personal happiness, and I left my corporate career to pursue my own journey.
Thankfully Nick was able to continue working from the road and we relied on his earnings and my savings to get us through the first year of buslife. Downsizing our personal belongings by donating and selling items wasn’t as difficult of a challenge as trying to figure out how to make money consistently. We trusted our intuition and listened to that pestering voice inside our heads that told us, “go now while you’re young, you can always return to this traditional life…”
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
We tend to direct our route to follow the sun, enabling us to spend a lot of time outdoors taking full advantage of great weather.
Being that our bus is bright blue, it attracts people to us, which also brings about unforeseen opportunities. We’ve connected with so many new people and old friends whom we otherwise might not reunite with for years.
"We’ve gotten creative with how we earn money and have taken our fair share of random odd jobs… and I mean RANDOM. We once worked at the mall monogramming expensive Michael Kors purses."
One of our favorite bus successes thus far was being an official renegade stage at Northern Nights Music Festival where we had DJ’s and dancers perform from our rooftop dance floor to the crowd below.
Another fun memory is when we were parked along a secluded beach near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and our friends spotted our blue bus. They invited us to their luxury resort and we essentially shared a week-long vacation with them. Perks like that wouldn’t happen for us if we weren’t such a unique looking vehicle.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
Having traveled south throughout Baja, Mexico all the way up to Whistler, Canada in the bus, we’ve both learned how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.
The most common question we get asked is, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” We only get 8 mpg so we go to gas stations frequently and I use their restrooms. However, Nick pleasantly enjoys the views while he’s relieving himself so he doesn’t mind the inconvenience of not having a toilet.
Another major stressor that we’ve learned to tackle is determining our campsite before sunset with using the free app iOverlander. It has been our best resource to rely on for picking parking spots based on user generated content. The reviews are honest and helpful, and we always leave feedback on sites we’ve stayed at so keep an eye out for us.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
Bus life has taught us to be patient with each other, and in general. Our tiny home on wheels is 100 sq. ft., which is like the size of a closet, (or a New York City apartment).
Before when we had a house of 1,500 sq. ft. we’d be able to run off into different rooms whenever we needed space from each other during a disagreement. Now, we can hardly escape each other’s eye sight.
This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we no longer let the small irritating things or comments ruin our mojo. We don’t have enough space to hold onto angst, so now whenever something upsets one of us, we immediately comment, “hey that wasn’t nice…” we discuss it, then let it go.
How do you support yourself financially?
This lifestyle isn’t about raking in the dough and building a savings account to enjoy in our retirement years. We are experiencing life to the fullest now and choosing how to spend the day as we please, living as if we’re already retired.
We’ve gotten creative with how we earn money and have taken our fair share of random odd jobs… and I mean RANDOM. We once worked at the mall monogramming expensive Michael Kors purses. We’ve cleaned houses, watched pets, and worked at a music festival in the snow.
Our current services trade is caretaking a cabin in the snowy mountains, making sure the heavy snowfall doesn’t wreck the place and no animals create a home inside.
With our growing Instagram feed, we’re now in the marketing space of working with companies as brand ambassadors - sometimes paid in cash - but most of the time paid in product. With Nick’s mentoring, I’ve honed my skills as a video editor and have created professional videos alongside him.
My next career endeavour is working as an online brand strategist, helping small companies establish and market themselves on the world wide web.
His biggest success however is conducted through his personal site www.cahillfilms.com, where he is regularly hired as a videographer and editor to create visual stories. Our careers now are better aligned with our on-the-go lifestyle.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
If we could go back in time and change our past, would we still do bus life? Our answer is YES, but we’d look into a bus with lower mileage to avoid having to replace a bunch of stuff.
The engine cost us a large chunk of money and delayed our travels for months on end. We’ve redone almost all of the suspension, then there’s the build itself, and picking quality parts that last longer. “Buy once, cry once,” is the motto we try and go by.
If money wasn’t a factor, we’d upgrade our bus to have an air conditioner and more solar power so we can have enough battery to keep Nick’s iMac computer running for 8 hours a day, in addition to my laptop and some kitchen appliances that I miss - ahh ice cold smoothies for those hot summer nights.
A piece of advice to those considering embarking on your own nomadic journey, make sure the engine is really good before you set off - and trust your intuition, it’s the best compass you have to guide you.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
As I’ve mentioned before when we purchased the bus and started to convert it, there wasn’t much information or examples of skoolies to reference. We found a few images on Pinterest and watched a few videos on Youtube.
Nick came across a skoolie forum and that was helpful for reaching out to the internet world to solve issues we ran into along the way.
What does the future look like?
The future looks bright for us and our bus! This winter cabin sitting in Lake Tahoe and enjoying our days out in the snow. This summer we plan to hike the 170 mile Tahoe Rim Trail.
In the fall we plan to take another trip down Baja and visit with our friends we’ve made along the way.
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
If you found our story to be interesting or inspiring, please follow us on Instagram @BlueBusAdventure and share us with your friends.
If you’re interested in wanting to help support our travels, we could always use gas tank money! Nick has some breathtaking photography for sale that would look perfect on your wall, so take a look at his website or his instagram. He offers complimentary virtual print previews where he superimposes his photos with your actual wall space - so you can see how it will look before you invest in one of his pieces of art.
Finally, if you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Solar Power & Batteries
- Each other
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Cabo San Jose, Baja California Sur Mexico
- Whistler, Canada
- Oregon Coast, USA
Where are you now?
Lake Tahoe, Nevada - enjoying the snow
How long do you usually stay in one place?
We try to stay at each location for a couple nights before heading off to the next stop.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Summer of 2016
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
Part time for the last 3 years, spending majority of the year in the bus with winter breaks in Lake Tahoe for snow activities.
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
1988 Thomas Mighty Mite school bus
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?