As of today, I’ve been living on a bus for exactly one year and two weeks. Many folks have been curious about my life as a nomad, so I thought I’d take a moment to share my experiences after this 12 month milestone. Click the link below for all the details.
First some stats on my rolling home: My home is a 1997 Prevost bus
which was manufactured in Canada as an standard bus and converted into
a motor home the same year by Liberty Coach in North Chicago, IL. The
bus has 340 square feet of interior space (40′ length x 102" wide)
along with a "basement" for storage (where your luggage would be stored
on a Greyhound bus). I get between 6 and 8 MPG depending on how fast
I’m driving and what type of terrain I’m covering. I also tow a Jeep
Liberty, which I can easily connect or disconnect in less than two
minutes. In order to afford this lifestyle, I sold my house in the
mountains west of Boulder, CO and have a few things in storage (which
takes up less space than a one car garage). This allows me to have no
debt of any kind (no mortgage, car payments, or credit card debt).
You can take a video tour of the bus on Inside Digital Photo’s video podcast in iTunes.
Modifications I’ve Made: The bus came with two sofas in the living
room. I’ve removed one of the sofas and replaced it with a lounge chair
and ottoman. I’ve made the dining room table my office by replacing one
chair with an Aeron office chair and the other with a table that holds
about a dozen hard drives and a color laser printer. I plan to add an
ink jet printer to the mix over the next six months (now that they’ve
Where I’ve Been During the Year: I’ve traveled through 22 states over
the last 12 months and visited more state and national parks than I can
keep track of. I’ve also visited many friends and made new ones along
the way. I’ve put exactly 15,871 miles on the bus since I bought it
last year. I started and ended my first year at Liberty Coach’s sales
location in Stuart, FL. My favorite place so far would have to be Utah.
Specifically the Utah, Arizona border near Page, AZ. There is simply so
much to see and photograph around that area that I can’t wait to return.
Unusual Parking Spots: You and I have a much different perspective on
parking. When I say "parking," what I really mean is "living." Whether
I’m in them for one night or several weeks, my parking/living spaces
have run the gamut from marvelous to mundane. I’ve parked everywhere
from the beach on the edge of Lake Powell to a spot marked "Bus
Parking" next to the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills (thanks to Jeff at POG for the parking suggestion). Some of the
most wonderfully unexpected parking places have come from people who
read this blog. For instance Marci found me a nice place to park near
Ocala, FL that had a view of a lake (I even got a haircut outside near
the edge of the lake). Kathey found me a free parking spot on Key West
in Florida and arranged kayaking and other outings with the locals of
Key West. Scott Sheppard from Inside Mac Radio even helped me find a
free parking spot within a few blocks of the Golden Gate Bridge. I want
to thank everyone who has taken the time to cheer me on through lending
a hand finding parking spots or suggesting little known places to
visit… you’ve made the journey much more interesting and rewarding. I
look for these unusual parking places because I rarely pay to park
since the bus has storage tanks and batteries that allow me to boondock
for over a week before I have to dump or fill my tanks. I’d also rather
be parked in an interesting location instead of looking out the window
at dozens of other RVs at a campground.
Before moving onto the bus, I had visited a Wal-Mart maybe twice. Now
it’s one of my most common places to go grocery shopping. That’s
because most Wal-Marts will allow you to park overnight in their lot
for free. I’ve met all sorts of interesting people in Wal-Mart parking
lots including a group of Germans who were returning from an RV
vacation that took them across the county and a guy who lives on a 1958
What I love about my mobile lifestyle: I get to explore new places
almost every week… places I’d usually only get a chance to explore if
I were to take time off for vacation. I can stay at a National Park for
weeks on end. During that time, I usually wake up before sunrise and go
out shooting, come back to the bus and work a full day (nicely broken
up by a a mid-day hike) and then shoot again during the golden hour
before sunrise. While doing that, I can sleep in my own familiar bed
and have all my belongings with me. This is also my first winter where
I’m avoiding the cold weather (I’ve only lived in MN and CO before).
Life is much more interesting when you have something new to experience
I’m amazed at how many people I meet and friends I run into (unplanned
meetings). For instance, when I was exploring near Fort Bragg in
California, I hiked up a sand door while scouting for shooting
locations and noticed 15-20 people standing at the top of the dune. As
I got closer, I noticed cameras dangling from their necks and then
realized that Greg Gorman and Jeff Schewe were teaching a photography
class right in front of me. Had I waited five minutes more before
hiking up the dune, then I would have never seen them since they would
have been out of site in a more remote. I hung out with them for a day
and had a really good time.
I’ve even had friends like Jeff Limbok come knocking on the door when I
was parked in a remote location in Utah. He was sailing by doing 70MPH
when he caught a glimpse of the bus on side road and stopped to visit
(we had no idea we were in the same area of the country). We explored
Lower Antelope Canyon and got together for dinner with hyper realistic
artist Bert Monroy who was also in the area. In fact, I see more
friends (and make more new ones) than I ever did when living at a fixed
Other friends have invited me into their homes on holidays. Like when I
spent Thanksgiving with Marv Miller and his family in Novato, CA. I’ve
also bumped into relatives that I haven’t seen in years, including my
cousins Jimmy and Sara.
I’ve also e-mailed people that I don’t know to ask if they’d like to
get together for dinner and, so far, have never been turned down. This
has included some of the people who have inspired me over the years
like famous darkroom photo compositor Jerry Uelsemann and his wife and
digital artist Maggie Taylor, who had me as their guest for a day. The
shear number of people I’ve run into over the last year is staggering.
The bus is a very popular place during conferences and trade shows. I’ve had quite a few parties on the bus. Having a dozen friends on the bus makes for a comfortable gathering… but when over 30 people show up it gets to be a little crowded.
Unexpected Places to Meet New Friends: The Prevost Owners Group is a
great bunch of people who created an on-line community of bus owners
right around the time I bought my bus. They have a yearly rally where
everyone gets together to swap stories and share maintenance tips (the
next one will have over 60 buses together in one place). I attending
their first rally right after purchasing the bus and met a great group
of people who have become good friends. I regularly visit these guys as
I travel through their home states and they help me anytime I have a
question about one of the systems on my bus or where I should explore.
Jeff, Jerry, Mango, Jon, Lew and the others are great on-line buddies and
even better in person.
What I don’t like about this lifestyle: Having to find a new doctor,
dentist, hairstylist, etc, whenever you need them. It’s not that big of
a deal, but it’s one thing that takes time to adjust to. Also, having
to always think about where you’ll end up parking. I’m quite used to
finding places to park and it doesn’t take much energy to do so, but it
is something I have to think of on a daily basis. I’d like to
eventually find a companion who can share in my adventure, but it’s not
easy to start a relationship when you’re always on the move (not that it’s all that different of a situation than when I lived in a remote area in the mountains of Colorado). Don’t get
me wrong, I have zero desire to live in a fixed location and absolutely
love my lifestyle.
Problems I’ve Encountered Along the Way: The first month I owned the
bus, I had to replace a $700 tire. That happened because my mirrors
weren’t adjusted properly, which caused a large blind spot. I’ve also
gotten stuck in sand (twice!). Verizon cut off my wireless internet
access claiming that I violated my contract (but were unable to show me
exactly which clause I violated). I went through a big sand storm,
which blew sand into every crevice of my jeep, which caused sand to be
expelled into the interior every time I turned on the air conditioning.
Many more things have happened, but none of them have forced me to stop
moving on. With one exception that is… my Jeep was broken into when I
was parked across the street from my publisher’s office in Berkeley, CA
and one of the things that was stolen was the clips that I need to
connect the Jeep to the back of the bus. It took a full day to find
replacements and then I was on the road once again.
What Most People Don’t Understand About My Lifestyle: 1) I have a
"normal" bed and shower, so there’s no need to offer me to take a "real
shower" when I stop by to visit. In fact, my shower is nicer than 99%
of the ones I see in most homes. I’ve only set the temperature on my
shower once and just have to turn it on and count to five before
entering the shower. Because it’s thermostatically controlled, it will
return to the exact temperature I last had it set to the next time I
want to shower. The one thing I really appreciate is when I’m offered
to use someone’s laundry facilities since the bus only has a tiny
combination washer/dryer, which isn’t sufficient for normal loads of
laundry. 2) I feel just as secure in the bus as I did in any house I’ve
ever lived in. People are always asking if I’m scared about this or
that. I’m not. The bus locks up tight and you’d have to use a ladder
and have something pretty huge to throw through a window to get into
the bus. 3) Yes, diesel prices are high, but I charge clients for
flight and hotel when I show up to speak even though I drove and that
helps make the cost of fuel more bearable. Also, most expenses go
through my company, which makes them pre-tax expenses. 4) Driving a big
bus grows on you. It takes about a month, after which time you might
actually prefer to drive the bus over a car. The drive is smooth, the
driver’s seat has its own air suspension and you can see over
everything except for semi-trucks. When you signal and start to move
into another lane, people move out of your way. 5) I have no plan for
exactly how long I want to live this way, so please stop asking me
about that. To me, it’s like asking you how long you plan to live in
your current home. I find that most people don’t have an answer to that
question. Same here. I’ll keep living this way until I find something
that is more compelling and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
There is so much to see in this country that I could easily see me
living this way for the next ten years.
How Has It Changed My Life: 1) I no longer watch any television because
I have enough going on in my life that I don’t need to be entertained
by looking into a box for hours on end. I also don’t care which movies
are in theaters for the same reason. I’m currently trying to cut back
on the amount of time I spend on-line to make more time to exploring
the country. 2) I no longer buy crap that I don’t really need. When you
only have 340 square feet to live in, you automatically get rid of
anything that is not essential for daily life and stop having any
desire to buy something you don’t already have an active need for. 3)
Retirement has always been a vague concept that would happen someday
decades into the future. I now have daily motivation to get to
retirement as soon as possible because I want to spend more time
exploring and less time having to be in any pre-determined location
that is dictated by work. 4) The way I approach life has shifted from
working like crazy in the hope that some day in the future I’ll be able
to have the freedom to do what I’d enjoy each day, to actively enjoying
every day and feeling much more fulfilled in the process.
Future Plans: I plan to keep the bus in Florida until I get back from
my trip to Russia on April 19th. I’m thinking about driving up the East
coast all the way to Canada, but the beauty of this lifestyle is that I
can be very flexible, so I might end up with a different plan as the
Feel free to ask questions in the comments section of this post. If I
get enough questions, then I’ll create another post with answers to
Ben, Congrat’s on your 1st year in the bus. It’s #4 in How it changed my life that we are waiting for. I also enjoy reading your blog at least every 6-8 weeks. Good luck. Tom & Julie Johnson, Mound, MN. (612) 840-0708 anytime. ’95 Prevost Royale
Congratulations on the anniversary, Ben! I’ve loved following your travels and can’t wait to see where you’ll go next! I think it’s a really unique and inspiring story that you have and it definitely makes me want to give it a try some day. Happy Trails!
PS-If you head up the east coast to Canada be sure to stop in Central New York!
Happy Anniversary, Ben–Thanks for the update. I enjoy reading up on your travel stories. Perry
Ben, Being that its tax time.. I’m guessing that you have an “real” address for the IRS? How does that work?
As someone who’s looking forward to the life of never-ending exploration, I have one question:
How do you get health insurance?
Gordon White, Publisher
Truck Camper Magazine
I’m a resident of Texas since they don’t have state income tax. I just have a mail forwarding service that accepts my mail.
Regina in my office got me setup with health insurance… sorry, I don’t know the exact details of what was required.
Happy Anniversary !
I am from Florida also, just outside Tampa. I really enjoyed reading about your first year. Sounds like a dream for a photographer. I’ll bet it was an adjustment but one worth making. Keep us posted.
PS I am going to try to make your workshop in the smokeys this Oct. that sounds so awesome and I love love love Townsend, my favorite spot in Tenn.
Is finding places to park difficult or a big hassle?
This post was really interesting to me. I love being on the road and loved learning more about your lifestyle.
The less picky you are about where you park, the easier it is. Also, the more blog readers you have, the more suggestions you get.
Congrats on your first year of Nomadic life! I’m so happy that you’ve found a lifestyle that suited your dreams.
Any future plans to write a book about your experiences? Would be an interesting read, and probably easy to write (simply take your blog and convert it to book form).
One of my favorite books I’ve ever read is called “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon. If you get a chance, pick up a copy (paperback, of course, so it takes up less room in your bus!). The author sold everything he owned and toured the country in a VW camper bus for half a year. Kind of like you! I’ve always wanted to duplicate that trip, so I guess I’ll just have to continue living vicariously through you. Keep on writing!
When are you going to come up to Alaska? The Denali national park, with over 150million square miles of space, i’m sure would be plenty of roaming room for you. You could lose a whole summer here very easily.
I’d love to explore Alaska. It sounds like it takes a while to drive there and back, which has made it more difficult to plan.
How easy is it to find places to park a huge RV? I really haven’t looked into the details. I’m sure I’ll make it there one of these days.
I’ve had a few Alaska cruises proposed, but none of them have happened yet.