This Family with 3 Children Has Been Living in a Bus for Years

Road It Up Adventures

We are Catherine and JF. Our daughters are Mara and Aïsha (13 yo twins) and Mathilde (11 yo). JF and I both grew up in Québec, Canada, in francophone families. We moved to the Yukon (yes, that’s right by Alaska) when we were 25 years old and the girls were all born there. We are currently in Bend, Oregon, visiting friends and mountain biking.

We are a pretty active family and it is one of the main reasons why we chose to live on the road: To live outdoors and enjoy the outdoor activities we love the most together and as often as possible. We mostly rock climb, mountain bike and hike. JF and I both work as translators. The girls have always been homeschooled/roadschooled and really love their nomadic life. JF loves trail running and Catherine loves photography and mixology (she’s been creating cool cocktails from wild berries and plants lately).

How and why did you get into living in a bus?

We tried the normal life and I (mostly me, Cat) was miserable. After living fives years in the Yukon (where I struggled a lot from the lack of light in the winter), we moved back to Quebec to start a little homestead and lasted three years before feeling quite overwhelmed by the to-do list and the lack of free time to just play and be in nature. The truth is, even if we lived a marginal life at home with our daughters, we were so busy with the farm and producing our own food following an ideal that we had (me, an idealist? No way!), that we weren’t truly available.

We sold everything and rehomed our animals and went to spent six months in the Costa Rica jungle. It became obvious to us that we wanted to give ourselves and our girls the gift of time. The time to live, to play and to just be together. We wanted to offer our girls a childhood away from the stress, from the life that goes too fast. We wanted to offer them parents who were truly present, relaxed and available most of the time, but above all, we wanted to learn and discover the world with them.

Road It Up Adventures

What kind of vehicle do you have?

Our house is a ’84 Bluebird Wanderlodge bus that pulls an ’87 Westfalia Syncro. We chose that bus because it was a tank and it was very reasonably priced. After Costa Rica (in 2011), we did a test year on the road with a pickup and 30 feet trailer. We hated being stuck in the pickup while we drove long distances, but also, the trailer was completely destroyed after only a year of full-time living (these things are made out of cardboard), so we figured a good solid bus was the way to go!

Of course, the bus is old and acts its age and well, we have TWO old buses to maintain (yes, it does add up!). JF is learning more and more how to fix things himself. I don’t think I am ready to think about another vehicle at this point. Of course, we would love to have more space (slide-outs! bunk beds!), but the Red bus has been our home for more than three years (it’s almost the longest I have lived anywhere my whole adult life!!), so I just cannot imagine letting it go at this point.

Road It Up Adventures

What are the best parts of living in a bus?

We love moving around and seeing our backyard change. I (Cat) need a lot of change and spontaneity to keep my sanity, so this is really the perfect life! I also need a lot of outside time and a lot of sunshine, so we follow the sun and the perfect weather to remain active (that would be 18-20 degrees Celsius in my book!).

Living in a bus made me more flexible, made me accept that it was OK to not know, to not have a plan, to trust that it will be alright (because it is!). I was the girl that had the sparkling clean ecological cork floor and freshly baked muffins with organic blueberries picked from my garden. Now, our bus is mostly a mess, there is dog hair in every nook and cranny, but man, I am happy and free from my own expectations!

What are the most difficult parts of living in a bus?

As an only child (and with growing girls), living in a small space is difficult, especially after three consecutive rainy days! However, we make it work, we go outside as much as possible and discuss everyone’s unmet needs to try and figure out how we can accommodate them.

We travel mostly in Canada and the States and have not felt real dangers on the road. We have our big dog with us, so when we sleep in sketchy area, we feel very safe with us (he just barked away two guys that were *very interested* in our bikes one night).

I can say that for us the most difficult aspect is the financial aspect. We are both almost 40 and we still have debts. We don’t earn enough to cover our expenses + payments and the unknown of what could break next is a real stress. We have no house to go back to, no retirement plan, no savings. We live in the moment. We are rich in experiences, of course. But it is a stress that is always there in the background.

Road It Up Adventures

How do you eat and sleep?

A clean healthy diet has always been a priority for us and especially for me since I have some health issues (migraines). We do not have an oven in the bus, but we cook almost all of our meals from scratch (the girls have become quite capable chefs and cook at least half of the meals). We eat a mostly sugar-free, grain-free paleo diet.

We all sleep very well in the bus. Our growing girls sleep at least 9 to 10 hours per night. We have a toilet and shower in the bus, but since we mostly boondock and try to save on water as much as possible (and, ahem, our water heater has been broken for six months and we didn’t have enough time and money to replace it yet as some plumbing has to be redone, too, and fix a leak in our water tank that is under the bed…), we do what we call bowl showers. After so long on the road, a real shower (at the occasional campground or at friends feel like such a luxury!). It’s the little things!

Where do you usually park your vehicle?

We mostly find free campsites (public land – aka BLM, National Forest, parking lots, etc.). We have a solar system on the bus, so the further we can be in nature (with good cell signal for work), the happier we are!! We love the West (BC, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah and Arizona) because there are so many places to camp for free and that is where we spend most of our time (as well as the Yukon in the summer). We love wild places where there are great mountain bike trails, hiking trails and rock climbing spots.

Road It Up Adventures

How did your children handle living in an RV?

The girls LOVE their life on the road. At 13 (the twins) and almost 12, they are more and more aware of how good they have it. They are very independent in their schooling and they do about three hours of school work per day, five days a week, and have the rest of the day to play outside, read or just be. It wasn’t a big transition for them, since we had always homeschooled and had moved and travelled a lot before living in the bus.

Our daughters are happy to see their friends in the summer when we go back to the Yukon and/or Quebec and they are happy to leave and be back together just the five of us for some adventuring in the fall. We also meet other families on the road, which is great! Last year, they have participated in mountain bike races in Arizona, the Yukon and British Columbia. We’re glad they can have this kind of experiences while living on the road.

Road It Up Adventures

What is your best advice people new to living in an RV/bus?

I won’t say to anybody: just do it, believe in your dreams, everything is possible! It’s not true. This lifestyle sounds like a dream (and I truly feel like I am living the dream most days), but it is not for everybody and it’s not a matter of just jumping into it and hoping the universe will provide.

First, you need to have a way to earn money on the road. Not just a little side thing but a real income. Living on the road is not cheap. Yes, you can camp for free, but food, gas and raising kids ain’t cheap!

Second, don’t try to do it and see it all at once. I’ve seen too many families burn out on the first year and say: This is not for us, the kids are exhausted. Well, moving all the time is truly tiring (as is trying to see everything there is to see in one area). If you’re truly in it for the long run, take it slow.

We usually have periods where we move more often (every 2-3 nights) and periods where we stay put longer (two weeks to a month or more, usually Arizona in December/January and the Yukon from May to August for the last three years). We feel this is important to be able to enjoy this lifestyle long term.

Third, don’t overplan it. I know it’s fun to plan and dream, especially while you are still at home and counting the days, but don’t overdo it (and don’t pack too much in). The beauty of this life is the spontaneity of it. You’ll meet people that will tell you about such and such a place, you’ll stop for lunch and find a great spot where you’ll end up camping for three days. Just go with the flow and embrace the unknown.

How much does it cost to live in an RV/bus?

With three growing girls that eat as much as adults and since eating healthy is a priority for our family, grocery really is our biggest expense. Gas is our second biggest expense (we cover a lot of ground between the Yukon, Quebec and Arizona!). I’d say we average at least $3,000/month (up to $4,000).

Road It Up Adventures

Why did you bring your dog?

We didn’t have a dog when we started living on the road. We really missed the presence of animals after living on a farm for a few years and resisted having a dog when we started living on the road because it is a big commitment. We ended up adopting a rescue pup from the Yukon animal shelter who very sadly got hit by a car after only a year of being with us. We really felt his absence in our bus and in our adventures, and a few months later, we decided to welcome Stout in our life. He is a big Presa Canario (Canary Island Mastiff) that is incredibly loyal to our family. Of course, a small dog would have made more sense in a bus, but we are big dog people and well, we are not known for always taking the most rational decisions!

Road It Up Adventures

What are your top five most essential items in your RV?

  • Our awesome solar power system (750 watts of solar w/ 3000 watt inverter-charger and 8x 6 volt batteries);
  • Our kickass Seaco Exprelia Evo SS coffee machine, because, well, coffee;
  • Our Magellan GPS (not the best, but still essential);
  • My good old reliable Nikon D700 camera, because I want to remember these special moments;
  • My buckwheat pillow, because who cares for camping pillows!?

What has been your best RV-related purchase below $100?

Cupboard and fridge bars, they keep the olive oil and peanut butter jars from falling on my head every single time we stop somewhere and I forget (*again*) that we live in a moving house. Goal Zero cell phone chargers (when we are out and about and still need to be connected). Our Rumpl blanket (so light, warm, packable and practical).

Road It Up Adventures

What will the future bring?

We have no idea! It really depends on the girls. We go a year at a time. As long as they are still happy, we’ll keep going. The financial aspect is another important part of our decision, of course. If the bus engine dies, we’ll probably have to stay put somewhere for a while…

We would love to be able to travel south to Central and South America, but with a full time job that requires very good Internet connection, it is still too much stress to be always searching for connection. Soon enough I believe, Internet connection will be better and it will be easier for us to travel outside the States and Canada.

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