Mountain trails. Steaming coffee. And a beautifully built tiny home on wheels. These are possibly the three most romantic things in life. And the ones that Alyssa Pelletier and Will Hitchcock have managed to make a life out of.
The couple is currently traveling around the West in a converted school bus, working as tech consultants and blogging as they go. I recently got to meet them – and step into their dream house – while they were passing through the Tetons.
Over coffee (that’s how I know they drink coffee), we chatted about the trials and tribs of living on a school bus, as well as the tremendous freedom it affords.
How it all came to be
During a stint in the Silicon Valley startup world – known for its 80-hour work weeks – Alyssa and Will paused for some self-reflection. “What are our adult lives going to look like?” they asked themselves. They loved their work, but also wanted a life beyond work.
So they struck out on their own as consultants. They didn’t have any plans to leave town. But soon they discovered, even when a client’s office was 5 minutes away, their meetings would happen over Skype.
So they went out on a limb, and moved to Boulder, Colorado, because they wanted easy access to outdoor recreation. During that time in Colorado, they occasionally entertained the idea of living on a bus but it was more of a “5-year plan,” Alyssa said.
But then one day Alyssa and Will’s roommates announced they were moving to Costa Rica. So they decided to take the plunge themselves, and began looking for an old school bus in which they could build a home.
Converting the bus
“Everything was really hard,” Alyssa said, of renovating the bus they found and bought. “It was like an emotional roller coaster.”
Like all great projects, it didn’t all go according to plan.
The day the insulation people were supposed to show up, Alyssa and Will got a call informing them the cost to do the job was going to be double the original quote. Oh and, it would be another 3 to 4 weeks before they’d be able to get to it.
After calling around to some other companies, they discovered they had no alternative options, and were forced to deal with the extra cost and extended timeframe.
The couple was living with Will’s parents while working on their bus, and they didn’t want to overstay their welcome. Also, they had taken a hiatus from work to complete the renovation, and needed to get the work done in that time window. So, 3 to 4 extra weeks was a big deal.
Aside from some electrical, plumbing and insulation work, Alyssa and Will did all the work on the bus themselves. Lots of trial and error came with the territory, and when the results were “error” they found themselves undoing hours – or days – worth of work. They had to take down paneling in the ceiling and re-do the entire subfloor.
“There were so many things like that,” Alyssa said.
But nothing so soul crushing as dealing with insurance.
The insurance debacle
They found a company willing to insure their converted school buses. But a small miscommunication led to big ramifications.
Will had casually mentioned they planned to live on the bus. The insurance agent took that to mean they planned to live full-time on the bus, and checked the box on their application accordingly.
Apparently, according to Alyssa and Will, insurance gets automatically denied on converted buses if you plan to live in them more than 9 months out of the year. From the beginning, Alyssa and Will had planned to only live on their bus during summer months and shoulder seasons – it’s not weather proofed for freezing temperatures – but Will didn’t share that detail in his passing comment.
When their application came back denied, the insurance agent told Will he couldn’t change his story after the fact. And, without insurance, Alyssa and Will were, to put it nicely, SOL.
“I called every insurance company ever,” Alyssa said, “I was full-time working on it.”
But there was only one company out there willing to insure converted school busses – the one they had already talked to. And that original insurance agent had taken to stone walling them, Will said.
It was so bad that the night before they were supposed to set out on the open road, Alyssa paid for the premium version of Linked In so she could send a message to an executive at the insurance company.
“I paid like $70 to write this e-mail,” Alyssa said. She sent photos of the bus and this “whole sob story.”
The executive got back to them the next day. He assigned them a new agent who immediately got their application through.
“I sent her the biggest gift basket of Ghirardelli chocolates I could find,” Alyssa said. “She totally saved the day.”
Why living on a converted school bus is awesome
Alyssa describes building their small home on wheels as “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done” and a “test of their relationship,” but it’s lead to some truly incredible experiences as well. In their first few months on the road, they’ve ...
And, perhaps, most exciting of all, they haven’t abandoned their careers in the process.
“For me, as a total ‘type A’ personality, the best part of this whole experience is being able to get way outside my comfort zone and take huge advantage of this time in our lives while still making progress in my career,” Alyssa wrote to me in an e-mail a week or so after we met.
“It's not the traditional dirtbag way, but it truly is the only way that I would be able to commit myself to such an alternative lifestyle. We are so lucky to have come of working age at this specific point in time – any earlier and what we do would have been either impossible or really, really difficult!”