Jessica Perez and her partner Nick Cahill are doing something that not too many people are courageous enough to endeavor: They are packing up their lives, downsizing to the bare essentials, and hitting the road in a 1988 Thomas School Bus, which they’ve painstakingly converted into a dream tiny home on wheels. Inspired by pioneers in the Tiny Home and Van Life movements, they’re choosing to simplify their lifestyle so that they can travel the world more freely, and see what life has to offer them. You can check out their adventures by following @bluebusadventure on Instagram. We had the opportunity to ask Jessica a few questions about their inspiration, their process, and what life on the road is like.
Travis Hill: Tell us a bit of your backstory. What were your lives like in pre-bus times?
Jessica Perez: My partner, Nick Cahill is a passionate outdoor adventurer and thrill seeker. He is a videographer and photographer with a large ranging portfolio. He earned the cover of National Geographic’s special edition, “Guide to the Night Sky,” and continues to capture breathtaking and unbelievable moments.
I have a business background with several years in the consulting industry. I recently left my corporate career to pursue traveling in the bus. While on the road I will be responsible for building, managing, and selling Nick’s artwork for income. I’m a performer at heart and love to dance.
Both Nick and I grew up in the Bay Area and now reside in Lake Tahoe. Our love story begins at the Electronic Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas where we met in 2011. After a couple years of dating, we tested our relationship by traveling the globe together. We both felt that if we can manage traveling together and living out of a backpack without killing each other, then our relationship will withstand “normal life” obstacles. So far, so good!
TH: That’s awesome. My wife and I did a similar globetrotting excursion back in 2011, and our experiences working together in a bunch of sticky situations on that trip still help us in our relationship today!
In reading some of your other interviews, it sounds like the bus actually started out as a mobile vacation home for the two of you to take to Burning Man, music festivals and the like. It seems though that recently things have changed, and the two of you are moving into the bus on a more full-time basis. People in the Tiny House and Van Life movements, as well as those that are downsizing their lifestyles are often motivated by environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for more time and freedom. Were any of these a factor in your decision-making process?
JP: Of course – all of those are our driving forces that helped lead us into the bus. We ultimately decided to move into our tiny-home-on-wheels because we love to travel and want to explore what this world has to offer. We don’t want to be confined to routine life. We want to live simply, save money, travel, and do as we please each day. We don’t want to wait until retirement before we can allow ourselves to enjoy life – we are taking life by the horns and steering it in our own direction.
We are in the process of transitioning into the bus and currently do not live in it 100% full time. There is still plenty to do to prepare for a tiny lifestyle. Right now we’re starting with downsizing. I’m selling literally all my possessions via Craigslist, Poshmark, Let Go, word of mouth, etc. It’s been working out great! Not only am I purging all the unnecessary items I’ve collected over the years, but I’m also earning some cash.
While I focus on getting rid of my things, Nick’s priority is to finish up the bus for long-term driving and living. He is working on improving the suspension, finishing the 4WD, and installing a kitchen sink.
We soon realized that we can do more with this bus than simply have it as our home in Black Rock City for 1 week out of the year. Why not have it be our adventure mobile all year round?
TH: Did either of you have any mechanical or building experience relevant to this project before you got started? What was some of your inspiration for taking this project on?
JP: Nick has lot of history with automobiles and has built his own Miata race car. Our bus is on a Chevy P30 chassis which is a standard for many older Chevy trucks. We’ve put a modern fuel injected Chevy 6.0 that we’ve rebuilt under the bus which updates us to 300 horsepower with a modern check engine light. We chose this model because of the ease of parts across the nation and reliability.
As for carpentry skills, we didn’t have any experience. We reached out to friends seeking their expertise and they taught us first hand how to install flooring, construct, and build. I tackled laying out the floor plans and Nick brought my vision to life.
Our original inspiration was to have it as our burner rig for Burning Man. A friend sent us a link from Craigslist and said, “You guys should get this.” We at first laughed and thought “Yeah right, what are we going to do with a bus?” Within 24 hours, we had the bus in our driveway.
Our intentions evolved and shifted as we were building the bus. One of our guiding principles is that everything must have a dual purpose in order for it to live in the bus. For instance, our bed can’t just be where we sleep, it has to serve another purpose. So we made a convertible bed that transitions from sleeping to upright couch seating, and also includes ample underneath storage. We soon realized that we can do more with this bus than simply have it as our home in Black Rock City for 1 week out of the year. Why not have it be our adventure mobile all year round?
TH: Tell us about the bus: where did you find it, and what made you decide to go for it?
JP: This 1988 Thomas Mighty Mite bus was residing in Yerington, Nevada when Nick picked it up. The prior owners had driven the blue bus from Idaho and used it as means for transporting all their belongings to relocate to Nevada. They had plans to one day convert it themselves, but as they grew older and the bus sat – the conversion became too large of a project.
We decided to purchase it because it fit our budget, had a good working engine (at the time), and was just too cool to pass up. This was our first joint purchase together and our commitment to each other – and our dreams.
TH: How long has it taken you to complete the conversion? Which parts are done, and which are you still working on? Was there any particular misstep you’ve made along the way, that you would have done differently in retrospect?
JP: We have owned the bus 2 years now, and it has been an ongoing project. It likely will never be “finished” in our eyes as there is always room for improvements! Our first priority was to ensure that the engine was solid before we dedicated time and money into revamping the interior to make it livable space. Unfortunately, the original engine died several months after we purchased the bus, requiring Nick to undertake a huge project of swapping and updating the engine. On the bright side, we now have a dependable brand new engine and 4WD!
TH: What advice do you have for anyone that’s thinking of following in your footsteps?
JP: Do it! Go with your gut and follow what you feel is ultimately destined for YOU. Research, research, research. Learn about the vehicle you’re thinking about purchasing and determine how you will fix it if it breaks down. Finding insurance for a “Frankenstein” vehicle (such as a converted bus) can be difficult depending on your state of residence. Do not rush into it and don’t expect your conversion to happen overnight. Finally, be nice to your local hardware store staff as they’ll soon become your new best friends you see regularly.
TH: How can we best follow you on your adventures?
JP: Follow us on Instagram, @bluebusadventure, and keep a look out for our website to launch soon!
TH: Keep us updated! We can’t wait to see where the two of you go!