Raising a Family in a VW Bus: Tiny House on the Road

It’s September in Belize, which means the azul of the Caribbean Sea is breaking small waves from an afternoon breeze that’s finally cutting through the heat that’s been a long summer in Central America for our family.

We’re five people, living, working, learning and traveling around in our 1978 VW Bus, a home that consists of about 60 square feet of living space, depending on what you consider “living space”. With no air conditioning and only a couple of 12-volt fans to keep us cool, even when the wind starts pushing hard enough to rock the canvas pop top and send our young boys’ Legos scattering through the powdery beach sands, we embrace it. The rainy season has set in, too, and despite leaving us more or less waterlogged every morning (the rain tends to come only at night), even that is welcome as a cool sprinkle on your shoulders is as close to central air as we’ve known for the past several months.

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From an outside perspective, it may not seem like paradise. To the five people who’ve lived in either this Bus or, previously, a 1976 Airstream travel trailer, it’s heaven.

So how did we end up here? It’s a rather long story, but not a particularly unusual one. Boy meets girl in college. Girl goes off backpacking around Europe, boy gets jealous, quits his job making pictures for a television station and buys a VW Bus.

There’s a little more to it than that, but you get the idea. I’m that boy, and my name is Nathan.

Renée is the love of my life, and though it took me ten years to convince her that I was the right guy for her, she eventually hopped into my VW along with my oldest son, Tristan, and we’ve been calling various state parks, deserts and backroads home ever since.

In the eight years we’ve called the road home, we made two more little boys, Winter and Wylder. They were born on the road, one along the Oregon Coast, the other in the Great Smoky Mountains.

So what is it like raising three boys and stuffing five people into what essentially equates to a mini-van?

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Well, there’s a lot of time spent outdoors. <em>A lot.</em> In fact, it’s one of the things we love the most about this life. Our children have never known what it’s like to own a cable television subscription. They don’t beg to play video games all day, and save for when we end up somewhere cold or wet for the winter season, they always have a tan. Their ankles are currently covered in red bumps from all manner of biting ants, flies and mosquitos. Their toys consist of a couple of lunch boxes full of Legos, a bow and homemade arrows, and whatever sticks, shells or rocks they’ve found most recently and painted into their latest masterpiece.

Can it be a bit rough at times? Certainly! I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there are times when we go to grocery stores simply to bask in the air conditioning for a few minutes, or go out to eat for the same reason, even when no one’s hungry. When the rain does pour during the day, cabin fever sets in as we bump elbows like too many cue balls on a pool table.

photo3On the other hand, I have witnessed all of my children’s first steps. I taught the oldest two to read, and likely will the youngest when he’s ready. Along with Renée, we’re their parents, teachers and, when acceptable, their friends. I can duck out of my job as a freelance web designer and writer at 10:30am to take a quick dip in some mountain river or just to go have brunch with the family in town. I’m not off at an office, missing my kids’ young lives. We are a family, knit like Kevlar, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

photo3photo3For those of you interested in how a life like this might work out for you, we’d love to invite you along to follow our story over the next few weeks here at the Tiny House Blog. We’ll talk about the realities of schooling, making a living on the road, what it costs us to live like this, finding amazing locations that make tiny living a little more comfortable, some of the trials and tribulations, and ultimately what it’s like to watch kids grow up this way (our oldest was 7 when he started, he’ll turn 15 next month).

Aside from just telling you how we’ve done it, we’d love to hear from you, too! Your questions, concerns, kudos or even criticisms, we’ll keep an eye on these posts and respond to as many as we can in turn, in kind.
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Nathan is the editor in chief of Wand’rly, a magazine and blog for folks who want to travel

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Michael Bicknell - October 10, 2016 Reply

I have just bought a nissan largo cost mwfeedback@huffingtonpost.com the same amount of renting a caravan in Porthcawl for two weeks about £1000 ,l have taken out the rear seats ,insulated the sides put down 12mm underlay and carpet next step is to put in a steel rack on its side this is my bed Base l have a click clack suffer split it two put end to end this is my bed and the end comes out so you can recline in bed next is a kitchen unit being made out of a wardrobe and a chest of draws,under the end of the bed will be the microwave/oven across the back will be the kitchen unit with the sink deals two burner glass hob with the fridge underneath leisure battery gas bottle and water container with a 12v water pump the sink tap has a micro switch which will switch on water pump to fill up the kettle which is gas or electric on the rear of the kitchen unit will be the t.v the bed split in two halves will lift on hinges and gas struts to provide storage space and for me and the dog camp site electric hook up and the van l have got 10 days holiday right on the beach all facilities for £165 ,Happy Days ! As l have not had a holiday for three years due to a stroke not had a decent holiday in ten years due to being the victim of domestic violence and being made homeless 4 weeks by her 4 weeks after l had my stroke ,a person who didn’t like the sea didn’t like the beach and would kick off a argument 3 weeks before we were due to go ,it was only to take her grandson away while his mom and dad lived it up in Ibetha so Warren Farm Brean here l come ! In April for three weeks on the eight of April ,l am 62 on the ninth ,me and the dog king can’t wait he loves water but he won’t have a bath !

Brenda Palmer - October 10, 2016 Reply

Hi there
Good for you guys ! Living your lives as you want ! Some of us are still dreaming about it !!

Roxanne - October 11, 2016 Reply

Hi:

What is the house in the photo in your “Join our email list” box above? I love it.

scott h. - October 11, 2016 Reply

I can’t tell you how many times I have told my children(21/17)being able to do it all over again….they would have been born in the back of a VW bus. Starting at the tip of Argentina working our way to Alaska! Good on ya! Blessings to you and yours. scott

ps rebuilt a 79 Super vert for #1 daughter. #2 daughter wants a bus! heck…I want a bus, ha!

Monica Burch - October 12, 2016 Reply

I, too, own a ’78 Bus. She’s a Westy. My husband, two boys, and dog travel and camp whenever we can. Living out of our Bus and seeing the country has been a dream of mine for awhile. I’d love to know exactly how you guys make it work. You’re an inspiration! Thank you for sharing!

Dorothy Gale - October 13, 2016 Reply

I miss travelling in my ’66 westy. But where do you all sleep? And do you wear seat belts in the back?

Stephanie Stephenson - October 26, 2016 Reply

Would love to know how you got through the legal snares denying parents of the god given right as parents to educate and advocate for your own children without being prosecuted or having your children removed by the welfare system.?? I live in California and after finally advocating a safer healthier living environment for my seven yr old son and myself moved to our very rural cabin in Angeles Crest Forrest. All heaven except the legal ramifications we’ve started receiving from my mother who filed child abuse and neglancy with child protective services, Lausd, ect ect. How do I keep my son in an environment safest and healthiest in all forms without being persecuted and having my son taken from me?? Any info. And resources you can pass along would really be appreciated. I just want a better life better way to empower us as a family and provide the opptyfor him to become a well rounded and happy child, amidst all the garbage we’ve had to endure prior to the mountain move. Trying to allow a great person to develop naturally off the conventional brainwashed path, where everything is electronic and reality is expirenced by what is on you tube and not by being present in their own lives..Nameste

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