Why I live in a bus

I’ve been living in a 1977 VW Bus for about 6 of the last 8 years, since my second year at college.  I think it’s a great way to live, and I want to make a list of advantages and disadvantages, with accompanied advice, for anyone considering it.

First, to give you an idea of the bus (whose name is Charlie – look here for some examples of what it looks like.)

  • It has two batteries and a solar panel, so I can sit in there on my laptop or charge a phone from the sun’s energy.  Wifi internet can often be used off nearby homes — otherwise I use my iPhone as a modem for the laptop.
  • It has tinted windows and dark curtains so I can be in there with perfect privacy.
  • It has a huge moonroof in the back so I get natural light in the day and can see the stars above me at night.  
  • It has a small sink and stove so I can cook if I feel like it (I usually just eat raw foods and eat out once a day).  
  • It has an ice chest that I open at night and close in the day, keeping the food quite cool, especially in the winter.  
  • It has an inverter so I can plug in 120 volt stuff if needed.  
  • It has a cd player with a remote control and speakers in the rear of the bus so I can listen to music.
  • It has a bench that turns into a bed in about 10 seconds; sleeps two people who like each other.
  • It has a place to hang about 15 shirts and a coat so they don’t get wrinkled, and it has ample cubby space for other folded clothes and an astounding amount of crap.  
  • It has a place for all the tools and cleaning supplies I need to take care of it if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  
  • It gets about 18-20 mpg, has great clearance and off-road ability since it is rear wheel drive and all the weight (the engine) is over the rear wheels.  
  • It has windows which can be open and still keep the rain out.
  • It has a bike rack and bike on the back.
  • Three trash containers to separate waste.
  • Two bottles to store urine – I empty these down storm drains or in public toilets about every 4 days.  I shit in public toilets or restaurants.  I shower at the gym every day or two.  

ADVANTAGES

Low impact: No electricity, no heating, no natural gas, small land use, low construction materials next to a home.  Decreased or non-existent need to commute since you just park and stay wherever you need to be.  I usually only drive once a week, for special trips or just to move the bus.  I use a bike, public transport, and feet to get most places. The whole concept of commuting depends on the separation of workplace and living place.  This is not necessary with a nomadic lifestyle.  

Freedom: No lease, no rent, no mortgage.  I can move to a new city or part of town by turning the key.  I can leave the country easily as long as I can find a safe place to park it or a safe friend to take care of it.  Road trips are a snap.

Preparedness:  Every where I go, I have everything I need.  I have camping gear, backpacking gear, rock climbing gear, formal and utilitarian clothes, food, and tools to fix most things.

Financial ease: a 600 dollar monthly rent costs 20 dollars a day — that’s approaching the cost of a cheap hotel!  And that’s how much less I have to sell my body and mind to pay the bills.  My monthly expenses are: 

  • Phone and Internet: 85
  • Car insurance: 60
  • Health Insurance: 50
  • Post office box for mail: 7
  • YMCA membership and locker: 65
  • Gas: 40
  • Automechanics: 50, on average
  • Food: 400 – I eat well.

Simplicity: I can’t buy or keep a lot of crap because there is no room for it.  People don’t give me crap because they know I have no room for it.  

Cleanliness: Everything has its place, and I have to keep things put away or it gets chaotic quickly.  I find I’m much more messy in big spaces because I can be.

Health: I go to the gym most days, and bike most places.  I eat a diversity of vegan food, most of which is raw.  

Beauty: With a little driving I can move my home to the places where people spend millions of dollars to live, or  to where people are not allowed to have homes so that the natural beauty is preserved.

Connection to community: It keeps me spending a lot of time in public spaces — gyms, cafes, parks, restaurants.  I meet much more people, and different kinds of people, than I ever would if I could just stay in my little room somewhere all day.  I get to know the service workers, baristas, YMCA yogis, and homeless.

Resourcefulness: I learned a ton working on and improving the van.  I now know basic automechanics, electricity, sewing, carpentry, bike repair, and project design.  Fun!

Self-selecting friends and lovers: People put off by this tend to be closed-minded or boring, and people interested in this tend to be open-minded and adventurous.  This means that all of my friends and lovers are open minded and interesting!  Sweet!

DISADVANTAGES

 

It’s usually illegal.  However, I have almost never been bothered by the police, and even when they do bother you, they just check your record then ask you to move somewhere else.  Tell them you were driving, got tired, and had to pull over for safety, and they can’t give you a ticket.

May be unsafe for women.  Mainly, this is because you might be going back to your car at night on foot or bike.  Once in the bus I think it is quite safe, because you are nearly invisible.  Also, thiefs who break into cars to steal something are generally in a very different mindset than armed robbers or rapists.  Thiefs want to be invisible, and if anyone sees them or if anything goes wrong they are prepared to run, while robbers and rapists are prepared to use violence.  I’ve caught two people trying to break into the bus to steal something while I was sleeping.  Both immediately ran the second they realized someone was inside.

Less acceptable for working class people, people of color, women, uneducated people, or other marginalized groups.  Living in a vehicle carries with it stereotypes of poverty, dangerousness, filth, “trailer trash,” and insanity.  These are fairly easily countered or tolerated by an educated, middle class, straight, young, white male such as myself.  If I were already marginalized in other ways it would be more difficult for people to feel safe and comfortable around me, and I would have a harder time finding support and connection in my community.

Hot in the summer, and cold in the winter, like life used to be before air conditioners and heaters.  This can be a big deal.  I couldn’t do it in New York, for instance, where the summers would be seeped in humid sweat and the winters would throw me into a hibernation mode, spending the majority of the day huddled in a down sleeping bag.  A possible remedy, I suppose, is to do like the animals do, and migrate with the seasons!  I just live in California where weather is close to perfect all the time (still a bit cold in the winter, and I can’t be in the bus in the summer noon sun.)  But there are improvements that can be done here that I haven’t done: heaters and air conditioners can work on propane that you store in tanks and fill up at gas stations.  Or electric fans can be installed in the roof to suck cool air into the bus — apparently this can make a huge difference without much cost.

Can’t throw good parties.

Can’t cook or clean dishes easily.

Can’t keep things that need cold refrigeration, like dairy products and meat (not a problem for a vegan!)  Also, some newer vans have propane fridges that, from what I’ve heard, are mostly a pain in your butt.

Can’t take a shit in a hurry.

Can’t do most Yoga positions.

Can’t be loud in most places.

Takes some getting used to – can be scary at first, or difficult to sleep because of passing cars or people talking as they walk by.

Getting mail, credit cards, voting ballots, etc. can be a little tricky.  A post office box for about 60 bucks a year solves most of that, but you can’t receive some shipments there (FedEx, UPS), and some applications need a physical address.  In general, it’s good to be able to have a “permanent address” at someone else’s house who will be there for a while and who you trust.  You can have the USPS forward all your mail automatically from there to your PO Box, and have any UPS or FedEx shipments mailed there or to any other friend who is close by.  

 

FINAL REFLECTION

I started living in my bus because I didn’t want to sell my body and mind to capitalist slavery any more than necessary – I wanted to be able to work for the work and play for the play.  I came to love so many of the “fringe benefits” that I came to prefer it as a lifestyle, and even now that I can afford an apartment, I choose to stay in the bus.  The only things that really draw me to want to stay in an apartment are to have a kitchen and to have a community I live with and share resources with.  Still, I eat good food, I have plenty of community I don’t live with, and when I get back to the bus, I still get that warm feeling of “ah, home.”  

Hope that was helpful.

Luke.

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~ by lukewarming on December 26, 2008.

54 Responses to “Why I live in a bus”

  1. […] you are interested in the pros and cons of living out of your VW bus check this blog post out.  It has some great incite in to Bus […]

  2. Sounds perfect

  3. Enjoyed reading this. I live on a fairly small boat already but just got a bus for my “land version” and am looking forward to fixing it up, using it a lot, and perhaps even living in it for months at a time or more.
    I like the way you think.

  4. This is cool. I have decided that I am going to get a VW 70’s camper and live in in as well. Firstmost, I have to sell my mind and soul in order to afford a decent one, and then I guess I am almost home free… I cannot wait to spend days parked at the beach surfing, reading, and enjoying the nomadic lifestyle.

  5. just got my 78! moving in soon as I clean the shit out the gas tank

  6. Why indeed! Great piece, quite helpful.

    I’ve lived in a range of vehicles, by choice, in my day.

    A ’70 Honda 600, a ’74 Beetle; in those I would just breakdown the passenger seat to form a bed. With a discreet parking place – usually by the beach – and form fitting, cut pieces of closed cell camping pads placed in the windows, I was never hassled.
    I lived in a huge early ’70s Plymouth Fury as well, but could never get comfortable with the doors closed; bench seats just weren’t long enough to stretch out.
    Most recently, I lived out of my ’96 Ranger with a small shell on the back – with two dogs – while going to school in San Jose.
    After all those choices, to live in a VW Bus would be like living in a mansion! 😉
    Thanks for the informative post!

  7. cool

  8. Great insight..I may try it. The shower and bathroom seem to be the only tricky parts.

  9. […] Luke Janes has been living in a 1977 VW bus named Charlie for the last 6 years. He started living in his bus because he wanted to be able to work for the work and play for the play. He came to love so many of the “fringe benefits” that he now prefers it as a lifestyle, and he choses to continue to live in the bus. He gives a few advantages and disadvantages of living in a bus: […]

  10. If you have any need to use UPS or FedEx regularly, any of the Post Office Store-type places accept deliveries there. True the U.S. Post Office will not, but the stores are in every part of the country and take deliveries from any shipper. Most, you use their street address and your box number is just a “Suite number”, which can be handy for plenty of other reasons, such as having a business address (and UPS probably still doesn’t deliver to PO Box addresses).

    Obviously if these issues are not important to you, it’s irrelevant 🙂

  11. Luke,

    I also live out of a bus.
    I have a 1970
    4 months into… how long.. who knows
    Good luck to you.

  12. I have a ’74 Westy. It’s my ultimate goal to ride off into the West and live in it. Coming soon…(I’m 57 and semi-retired).

  13. you are my hero, lol. i got a 68 vw fastback that i’m gonna try to modify to put camping hinges into so i can also sleep in the back.

  14. It is a pleasure to know that I am not crazy and that it actually makes sense to live in a VW van. I have a 78 which I am currently restoring and if I can have my way, will become my residence for a few years while I travel. My dream is to travel the world in it styarting with the Americas and continuing to the rest of the world. I am 54 and I have been thinking about this for 4 years already. Life keeps getting in the way but I know someday I will take off. My heroes are Amanda and Richard Legato (vwvagabonds.com) who took a similar trip. Let’s keep in touch!

  15. Thanks a bunch for the info I’m getting my bus tomorrow and can’t wait to start living in it!!! I can hardly sleep i’ve been planning for the past 6 months

  16. Digg It! I have a 72 Camper. I can not wait to drive off and never look back. I was living in California for 24 years, had an ’82 pop-top. Took it everywhere, every chance I got. Sold it to move to Michigan to be by my dying Father. He has since passed away. I finally found a cherry ’72, and as soon as I can sell off my real estate in Michigan (uggghhh) I am heading west. I am 53 years old and yearning to wander, Veedubin it all the way!

  17. cool! I’m a 26 year old working class vegan living in central cali, looking at getting this 71 bus. I make about 100,000 a year and currently live in a condo. I want so badly to move into this bus. I need to fix it up and get it ready before i get rid of my condo but, I’m ready! I also thought that my gym membership was key to staying fit and clean. i’ll do laundry @ the laundry mat, mail stuff to my moms for now, change it when i want. I hope to avoid the stereo types as well, i don’t think it will be a problem. i just need to figure out the electricity thing… solar? that’s expensive isn’t it?

  18. Seriously, I just wonder why more people aren’t wiseing up to this ultracool, mobile, and freeing lifestyle – especially if you’re single. I think a Volkswagen Westy, Transporter, or Type 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and so on…(whatever you call it). There is no doubt about it the Germans were absolutely brilliant in the design of this very artistic piece of machinery. It is very hard to beat in terms of space efficiency.(especially the camper models if you plan to live in it). I have the 1980 model. and no – it’s not for sale. Good post, Luke. Although, I do disagree with you on the cons of living in a V.W. Bus.(I don’t find any) I guess I’m extremely ODD though.. Where there is a will there is always a way, Right…

  19. I love this! I have a 66 Riviera Camper that I’m going to live out of starting in June with my dog. I have a yoga membership at a lil place out here in Salt Lake and I plan on hitting up friends for showers and laundry 🙂 while I check out every camping area near here. I’m not vegan now but I’m definitely probably going to convert when I hit the road. I am unfortunately tied down to a job so I can’t do too much exploring.. for now at least.. I’d really like to be in contact with you. It’d be rad to be able to talk to someone else out there doing what I’m doing.

  20. Awesome blog! Very inspiring man!

    How much did you buy your bus for and how much money have you put into it (if you don’t mind me asking)?

    I am seriously considering doing the same. So, any additional info would be much appreciated. 🙂

    Peace,

    Valora

  21. Wow, excellent post!

    I’m only 19 years old, and this has been my dream for years. I used to work at the YMCA in my hometown, here in Canada, but just quit it as I”m moving to another city. I hope to get hired at another Y, because as an employee you get a free membership…. so I’d have my shower/fitness situation for free!

    I would love to get an old mid ’60s VW and paint the bottom sunshine yellow, top white. I want to travel all across North America, and later the world. I’m so sick and tired of “the grind”. I am having a ridiculous time trying to find a job in the city I’m moving too, and also having a hard time finding cheap rent. Its the first time I’ll be on my own, and I feel as though its impossible to do. This is wrong, I’m pissed, and I want my VW Bus for ultimate freedom!!

    …. but on a permanent homestead, has anyone looked into “Cob homes”???

    Peace + Love

  22. Great report Luke! I have a 1987 VW Bus it used to be a school bus yellow colored with a white stripe in the middle. I am currently in the eprocess of fixing it as a camper van with as many conveniences of home as possible. I am aware of the downsizing concept and I am all for it it is just that I still could not do without my computer and regular TV. I like your ides of biking. I also have a nice 10 speed bike and if I decide to live in my van I would deffinitively take it along with me. I am willing to share some photos of the progress of my van conversion upon request. Live long and prosper.

  23. Awesome! I really enjoyed reading your blog. I am fortunate enough to work at a Volkswagen Bus restoration company called Vintage Air-Cooled and More. I work with a wonderfully diverse group of people who all have one thing in common; our love for Volkswagen Campers and Transporters! I am doing some research for our new website and, if you are interested, I would love to hear more from you about the mechanical aspects of your bus. What complaints do you have, if any, as far as mechanical failures or upkeep? Again, I am very interested in hearing from you and really enjoyed reading your blog! Please email me.

  24. Solar Lanterns…

    […]Why I live in a bus « Luke’s Blog[…]…

  25. I Love this!
    We live on a DD bristol vr bus in the UK. Living on wheels is great and we know it. Not living in a box with neighbours is even better, Living outside is fun, living on a bus is bliss and we love it!!

  26. odchody autobusov…

    […]Why I live in a bus « Luke’s Blog[…]…

  27. hey I live in a nice apartment,hot water,air conditioning,big space……..and I hate it so much, I just move to US(legaly) have a good work ,start earning decent money……but at the end of the mont there is no money on me ,I pay too much electric, wather, plus I have a noisy neigborg I ride a motor bike….so I am geting me a small bus , thank you .

  28. shopping center…

    […]Why I live in a bus « Luke’s Blog[…]…

  29. You can certainly see your skills in the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

  30. I was so excited about living in a bus until I found out it’s a bad idea for me, being a woman and all.

    pfffft.

  31. hii i have a qustion ….you can give me some web site to buy a bus for living in germany

  32. Sorry, I have no idea. best of luck, Luke.

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  41. Hi, sorry to hear my article discouraged you. I do know some women do it, I just wanted to acknowledge that it would be more complicated as a woman… my assumption is that this is true for most things, given gender oppression and inequality in the US… wishing you well luke.

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  45. hi my name is Ray I have a 1971 VW bus I call Snoopy and I’m doing the same thing that you guys are doing I think is the best thing in the world to do

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  48. This is so helpful. I plan to start my life in a camper of some sort in several years. Probably a VW. Most people are against the idea since I am a woman, but I’ve been preparing all my life and I know I can defend myself so peoples comments about that don’t really bother me.

  49. You made some nice points there. I looked on the internet for the issue found most guys will consent with your blog.

  50. Great article! I’m a woman, so I appreciate your comments about paying attention to your surroundings. I am having a VW Bus cut with a trailer to live in full time. I can afford an apartment or house, I’m just sick of them. I have a gypsy soul and love the freedom of just sleeping wherever I find myself. I LOVE the advice about telling cops you had to stop to sleep. I plan to find legal places to park, but this will help a lot 🙂

    I’d love advice from anyone who full-times! I travel for a living currently, so have been living out of a suitcase for a year. Once this slows down, I know I’ll have an easy time of transitioning to the bus. I am a minimalist, so I’m excited.

  51. Are you still in a bus?

  52. loved the article and the “gezellig” feel 🙂 ted in ashland, oregon (2016)

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  54. Regards,

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