Family of five saves money with full-time bus life
Meet the Bratcher Family: Sharel, Tyler, AJ, Zoe, & Aurora
This family of five transitioned from a 2,500 sqft house into a self-converted skoolie. Tyler works in IT for a local school district while Sharel is rocking it as a stay-at-home mom. They both have several side-hustles: Tyler is a professional wedding DJ, drives rideshare, financial coach and travel hacking extraordinaire and Sharel is photographer, painter, and all-around creative. Their three kiddos are currently all under 4 years old and together they make up Roaming Home.
Motor: Cat 3126b
Interior Square Footage: 250sqft
Current Location: Southern Oklahoma/North Texas
Location Purchased From: Lincoln, IL
Cost in materials for the conversion: $21,500
Total time from the purchase date to the road: About 1.5 years
Interviewees: Tyler & Sharel
Why a bus?
We were fed up with renting. We’ve actually moved every year since we’ve been married because we would need more space (thanks kids) or prices would continue to rise making it unaffordable for us. We felt like we were throwing our money away into rental properties and never investing in anything for ourselves. We also ran into several landlord troubles. We were just done.
We researched for months… Tiny house? Mobile home? RV? We wanted something affordable but practical for our growing family. We knew what we didn’t want for sure, but what would work for us? Then we stumbled upon the skoolie community. It took some convincing from the wife, but it all made sense. Affordable (check) Customizable (check) Mobile (check) Sustainable (check). With all the boxes checked, we set out on our skoolie journey.
Are you full-timing?
Yes. The bus is our home. We currently have it parked on some family’s land where we finished up much of our conversion but will soon be moving it closer to Tyler’s job.
Did you do the conversion yourself or did you hire someone?
We had absolutely zero construction experience. Tyler would get frustrated just putting together some store-bought furniture. So, we did the logical thing - we converted it ourselves of course! As you can imagine this led to a myriad of mistakes and learn-as-you-go projects. Several family members and friends helped out when they could which proved very valuable in getting some major tasks completed. As you could imagine, this DIY conversion has had its challenges but overall, we love to look back and see all that we accomplished and learned in this process.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
Tyler learned everything we have done as we went from blogs, videos, and simple trial and error. He’s learned how to weld, wire electrical, bus mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, as well as several other smaller tasks like cutting a straight line with a skill saw. We’ve learned about everything from painting, staining, composting, solar and off-grid sustainability, and physics ( oh, and don’t throw cinder blocks up to the top of the bus and try to catch them... That’s a story for another day.)
Tell us something you wish you had known going into this. Any tips or advice?
The primary thing we wished we’d known was the sheer amount of time it took to complete tasks. I mean, with all the mistakes and with more trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s than we could ever count, things that seemed like they would take an hour ended up taking an entire day. We would start on a project, realize something was wrong, watch more videos or do more research, and then start again. It’s just all very time consuming especially when you have three young children to take care of. So, the best advice we could give from that experience is to just plan, plan, plan. Have clear, written and drawn out plans for material and construction before beginning a project. If you have a partner you are working with, make sure they are on the same page about EVERYTHING before you dive in.
Is there anything you wish you did differently in your build?
The biggest thing would be not having our living situation figured out during the build. Because the conversion took significantly longer than we anticipated, we were actually homeless for almost a year. During this time, we even birthed our third child. We jumped around from hotel stays to family and friends' houses for several months. We are extremely grateful for the friends and family that gave up their space for us but obviously, we’d much rather have been in a stable living situation during the build.
Tell us about your layout. Kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom?
Upon entering, the steps have a separate “front” door beside the driver’s seat. We have 5ft bench seats in the living room, one opens up for storage and the other opens up and slides out to make a bed. We have our kitchen on one side of the bus with a gas stove, corner sink, fridge and microwave with cabinets lining the ceiling. Our hallway goes down the left side of the bus. As you walk down the hall, the bathroom is on the same side as the kitchen where we have our shower/bath, composting toilet, and some shelving. Going further back the hallway goes back to the middle of the bus where three bunks are stacked on one side while the washer/dryer and closet fill the opposite side. Finally, our bedroom consists of king-size bed space and a play area.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
We have several features in our conversion that we think are unique. We have a 20” roof raise, an almost 3000-watt solar array with Victron products and Nissan Leaf batteries, an actual bathtub, and three bunks. However, two of the most unique features are our king size bed lift and a movie projector. Our bed lift uses a winch and pulley system to raise our king size bed up to the ceiling during the day to give us a playroom/homeschool space/ and office area. At night, we lower it down to sleep on. Our projector is mounted on the ceiling in the middle of our kitchen and it projects down to a screen in our living room area. This gives us a 72” movie screen without having a large, heavy television mounted in the bus.
What has been the hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living/traveling in a bus? Easiest thing?
The most difficult thing is the transition into minimalist living - getting rid of all of our stuff. Sharel is a recovering hoarder and comes from a lineage of hoarding. We’ve always had more than enough things to fill the spaces of our large living areas. Now that we have moved into a tiny place, selling, donating and giving away much of what we own is much harder than we anticipated.
The easiest/best thing is having a place to call our own. We don’t have to worry about impeding on someone else’s home or a landlord breathing down our necks. We can actually invest our time and finances into pursuing our dreams. We hope to one day own land to park our bus and provide a place for others to build and park their skoolies or tiny homes. We look forward to living off the grid, creating a homestead, living rent and debt-free and the freedom to travel without the burden of a mortgage. Because of our bus, we have the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurship and experiences and help others to do the same.
What has been people’s reaction to you buying a bus to live in?
The reactions we’ve gotten have been all over the board. Sharel’s family was on board from the get-go, however, Tyler’s family has been much more resistant to the idea of a family of five living in a tiny space. We have received a ton of support from friends who have been both excited and impressed by the work we have done. Several people have told us that they have dreamt of doing the same thing but lack of experience, societal pressures or kids have held them back. We’d like to think that our story and experience is helping to break through some of those roadblocks people are facing to pursuing the kind of minimal and sustainable lifestyle they desire.
Update: After spending time with Jessica and family of Painted Buffalo Traveling Studio, who have a new kitten, the Bratchers decided to add a new addition to their home on wheels. Meet Asher, Roaming Home's skoolie cat.
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