Coffee Time With @bricksofhappiness
Names: Jesse, Lily, Jonah, Brynn, and Haley
Youtube: Bricks of Happiness
Facebook: Bricks of Happiness
We, Jesse & Lily, along with our three kids Jonah, Brynn, and Haley (Brynn and Haley don't live on the bus fulltime), as well as our three pets, make up Bricks of Happiness! We have lived in our self converted skoolie for the past three years fulltime. You can find us on pretty much all of the socials under Bricksofhappiness. Best is Instagram and YouTube (links above). Swing by and say hey! We are more than happy to answer questions and inspire others to live their "daydream"!
Tell us about your favorite beverage and why?
Our overall favorite beverage isn't a beverage at all, it's water! Hydration is key! Other than water, we enjoy amazing coffee. Our two current favorites are The Morning Movement from our friends Jordan and Kaylee with The Nomadic Movement as well as James Coffee's Golden Hour Blend brought to you by none other than our legendary friend Peter McKinnon.
What is your current living situation and how did you decide to take up that lifestyle?
Jesse was able to transition his work from an office to telecommuting and that set us free. We didn't want to raise our son where we were and we didn't want to buy anything from an area that we might not like. So we decided to convert a school bus and travel to find "home". We have found over the past three years that we prefer the road as "home" for now. There is so much to see and we want to see it all. We normally travel fulltime but have arranged a long term parking spot during the pandemic and its fallout. We are still in the middle of nowhere (preferable) and we have stability here. Nothing like holding down a summer camp with endless forest to enjoy!
Can you tell us a little bit about your home?
Outside: 40' International AmTran school bus. It has a Dt466E engine with an Allison MD3060 transmission. A rooftop deck with grass that doubles as a storage area (currently has a kayak we scored for free!). There are 8 residential solar panels that cover the remaining roof space. The roof was painted with Henry's Tropicool and drops the inside temp between 10-18F in AZ heat. The rest of the body is painted with tractor enamel which we cannot recommend enough! We had our friend John (Brinkley Automotive & Fabrication in Prescott AZ) do all of our metalwork. He mounted the roof rack, dropped the shower floor, and welded our front door solid so that it opens like a regular door but still looks like a classic bus door. It locks with a 600lb electromagnetic lock that is keyless. John also fabricated all or our underbelly storage and made the brackets to mount our fresh and gray tanks. We highly recommend his work.
Inside: The interior is roughly 300sqft. It has a Zinus King bed all the way in the back that lifts up for complete storage underneath as well as dog bed, two themed bunks with built-in storage, color-changing LEDs as well as reading lights. The bathroom uses a sliding door that has built-in storage. The toilet is Airhead rather than Nature's Head (ask us why!). The shower floor is dropped 6" below the bus floor level allowing taller people to shower comfortably even if 6'5". One of our favorite features of our bus is the kitchen. We went with a full Ikea setup including the butcherblock countertops and we absolutely love it! It's larger and more userfriendly than most of our previous kitchens. Our sink and faucet were from auction and under $100 total. The sink is large enough that Jonah takes baths in it! All of the drawers are a drawer in a drawer and allow more than enough storage. The front part of the bus has a family seating area that seats up to 7 comfortably. The table area we refer to as Jonah's spot because he uses it for school, eating, lego building, and anything else he can think of. It has a table that moves and can be removed for more seating. It is actually the cutout of our sink. About a year ago we added a Tiny Wood Stove Dwarf 5kw fireplace for when we are in cold climates and need the warmth as well as the dry heat. When that is too much heat we have a diesel heater that is more than enough to supplement. Jesse's work station has an ultrawide monitor above the driver's area and doubles as our TV hooked to a Marshall Stanmore which is incredible for music and movie sound. We chose an open floorplan upfront with a skinny hallway to the back. We wanted as much room in the bathroom and bunks as possible. While we are sometimes jealous of the completely open layouts we still prefer ours because it is so functional for how we live day-to-day.
Many people want to live an ‘off-grid’ lifestyle and find ways to become more sustainable. Can you tell us about how you power your home?
There is 2280W of solar on the roof with all Victron components inside. There are 4 Vmaxx Tanks batteries at 350aH wired for 24v. When initially building we went with an Aims inverter/charger and it was one of the worst things we could've done. It gave us big problems within the first few months resulting in a second set of batteries. Then, a year later the charging function of the Aims stopped working and was threatening the life of our second set of batteries. Luckily, we were able to save the batteries the second time. We decided to rip out all of the old components and standardize with Victron, which is reasonably priced, gives us real-time information, and banks months worth of charging data(highly recommended). We should have done that to begin with, but who knew - our crystal ball was broken, lol. Our dear friends Broccolibus6 helped us change it all over and we documented it on our YouTube channel.
What is your favorite part about your home and you could not live without, why?
Our kitchen has to be the favorite. It gets more use than any other part of the bus. Lily is an amazing cook, sourdough baker, and inventor of all things tasty. It was also one of the easiest and most satisfying parts of our build. Also, our bed. Having a king-sized mattress that is big enough for a family to snuggle and have a good night's sleep in was a must!
What is the one thing that you regret about your home and how would you do it differently now?
Jesse's Dad was very sick when we started our build. Our main goal was to finish the build enough to live in it and head there to spend time with him. That being the case, we didn't have time to raise our roof. We would've raised our roof below the windows 10-12". Not for the headroom - because ours is tall already, but so Jesse could see out the windows without stooping over to do so(looks like he's mean-mugging everyone by accident lol). Lily is short enough that she sees just fine. It seems minor but we both agree that would have been a significant upgrade. Side note: Jesse's Dad is doing great and we don't regret rushing our build to be with him.
How do you support yourself financially on the road?
Jesse runs a one-man show - outside agency for XPO Logistics. He helps his customers ship freight at a cheaper rate than they could do for themselves while giving them essentially, a free employee.
Lily has a budding sourdough starter and baking class just starting. She also sells Thrive but doesn't like selling people on something. If you're interested we're happy to help.
We are also starting a Patreon due to many of our viewers requesting one. Once we have decided on tiers it will be launched for everyone to join if they'd like. We also have our YouTube which will be paying pennies soon, Ha! Go watch our Skooliepalooza video and help us out! It's a crowd favorite!
Living a mobile lifestyle, How do you deal with water, food, laundry, internet, mail, or etc.?
We have a 76-gallon fresh tank that is actually a sprayer tank and holds about 100 gallons topped off. It took Jesse almost three weeks to find the right tank that could hold as much as possible while fitting between the body and the frame under the bus. It is enough water to last us 1-2 weeks but our shower isn't finished yet so that will change. We haven't had any trouble finding water in our 3 years on the road.
Our gray tank is 50 gallons and is full by the time that our fresh is empty but not overfull(we have no idea the mystery, we just go with it). We use all environmentally friendly soaps so we can dump anywhere.
Food depends on how far out we are. We could make a full month without a trip to the grocery store but prefer fresh veggies way too much. Normally, we grocery shop once a week unless Lily gets inspired to make something amazing.
Our internet is a mix of our At&t hotspot (business unlimited grandfathered plan) and our Verizon phones. We have a WeBoost OTR with an RV antenna so that we can go much further out than most can.
All of our mail goes to our family's address and I'm sure annoys them constantly. We wanted to use a forwarding service but $50/yr to pay to see your junk mail.... ya know? Everything that matters is paperless or online anyway.
We hit the laundromat because it is the fastest and easiest. In our new parking spot, a washer and dryer are available and Lily is actually bummed about it.
Can you take us through a typical ‘Day in the life”?
6-8 am: *Yawn.... Take dogs out, let the cat in (she's too lazy to use her door if she knows we'll come). Brush teeth, use the facilities. Make epic coffee, make Jonah breakfast, make Lily her Thrive shake (Shameless plug, Do you Thrive?). Jesse starts checking email or editing Youtube videos. Lily and Jonah do his school work in this time usually. Work/school until lunch. After lunch, Lily is usually playing with either sourdough or succulents and a soon to be garden. Jonah helps her or plays, builds, digs, etc... We try and go for a walk or hike in the evenings. This will all be changing soon with a camp to take care of, storage unit to go through, and garden to tend too. Honestly, activities and schedules change. They also depend on where you are. Some days are spent by the beach building sandcastles, spending time with family, exploring, planning your parking, or fixing/upgrading something on the bus. You have to be flexible and enjoy what you have when you have it.
What is one of the biggest lifestyle challenges that you did not expect and how did you overcome it?
The first challenge we ran into was parking. You really have to plan out your spots. Especially if you need internet service to work. Some places seem like they will work great until you get there. Our first night on the road broke us in rough! We wish we would have been doing Youtube then!
Since then we have become what others call PROs when it comes to parking. We use a multitude of apps as well as Google maps to plan our route and possible parking spots. We now plan a preferred 3-4 spots before we head out on the road for the day. That way no matter what happens we'll be close to one and we still aim for epic!
While we are all drinking some coffee reading this post, can you tell us a story or event that happened to you while living your current lifestyle?
Or course! Hang on, *takes a sip of Morning Movement*
I'll tell you the story of our first day on the road. The first thing you will learn with nomad/bus/van life is that nothing goes as planned or on time. Get used to it quickly.
On our first day, the plan was to go to breakfast with family and then set out. We all met for breakfast and had a great time chatting and then a sad time saying "see ya later" to our loved ones. That, of course, took longer than we thought it would.
We hit the road a couple of hours behind what we were planning on - no big deal, right? We drove from Prescott, AZ to Page, AZ and stopped for groceries. We then ventured on into the sunset on our way into UT with a sense of euphoria. The drive went smoothly and was incredibly enjoyable and freeing. We stopped roadside in the middle of nowhere to eat dinner and let the dogs out for a bit.
By the time we got back on the road, it was dark. We had preplanned our destination for the night at a state park in UT and we were a little under 90 miles away. By the time we got to the park, it was 9 pm. The park was completely dark, we weren't even sure it was open. The roads were tight and we were huge. We drove the camp loop to find our spot at which time we realized it was going to be a three-point turn to fit in. At one point to make a turn Jesse drove up and over a huge rock/mini boulder. The bus rocked, we rocked, the refrigerator rocked, everything fell. Jesse thought that the bus was majorly damaged - like maybe we dropped the motor but it was too dark to see anything. We recovered from that, parked, and proceeded to pick up the mess and get a little late dinner. Jesse opened up his computer to set it up for work the next morning and NO SERVICE! Needless to say, if Jesse couldn't work, we couldn't stay in that spot. So we packed up the bus, pets, Jonah, and everything else to keep driving without a spot picked.
While I drove, Lily was looking at every app and map she could to find us a spot. We drove another 20 miles into Panguitch, UT. Lily thought she found potential parking in an empty field down a dirt road. We drove two miles down this very narrow dirt road only to find that the field is gated and clearly private property. There was no room to turn around. It is now after 10 pm, and we're all exhausted, frustrated, and wondering if it is always going to be this grueling all the time. We had no choice but to throw the bus in reverse and back up the entire two miles, in the dark, with the backup beeper....BEEP...BEEP...BEEP...BEEP. There were lights in houses turning on, dogs barking, people looking outside from acres away. It was hilarious and traumatizing at the same time. We felt terrible! Once we terrorized the neighborhood enough for the night backing up we drove right up the street and parked in a church parking lot just hoping they'd take pity on us if we were discovered.
So ya, now we pick multiple possible parking spots before ever leaving. We also usually do not travel that many miles in a day anymore and we never go down dirt roads in the dark! *Takes another sip of delicious coffee
What is your favorite spot that you have traveled to and can't stop thinking about, why?
There are so many amazing places to see and spend time exploring. It is really hard to nail it down to one. There is one place however that always calls out to us. We could spend months there. Looking back on all of them it is strange that this one spot sticks out to us because it isn't in the middle of nowhere and isn't a long term spot at all. It is actually a tiny spot sandwiched between the beach and a highway. We have deemed it one of our favorite spots on the West Coast. We won't tell you where it is for fear of "ruining" it but don't be offended, we'll explain why! It was one of our "possible" spots that we marked on the map the night before. We had picked three spots. The first one had a gate that was closed, the second had signs all over "No Parking", and the third one didn't seem promising. We drove the bus while towing our Jeep through a narrow and small neighborhood right on the highway frontage road(oh, please don't let it be a dead-end!). At the end of the road right before it hits the highway again there was a tiny pull off that was right on THE BEACH! The house across the street from where we parked was being remodeled and was for sale for $6.4M at 1400sqft! This turned out to be our favorite beach that we've been to thus far. It is also where the sand dollars that we send out to our Youtube viewers come from. So if you want a piece of our favorite place, go find that video and let us know(don't forget to subscribe)! We have since made friends with the people that bought the house and they have invited us to stay "whenever". We even have longstanding dinner plans with them! This life is such an adventure!
If someone was considering changing their lifestyle and living more like you, what would be your best advice to take the first step?
Anyone can do it! Yes, even you! Try and solidify your work situation first if possible. Even if it is lining up possible work camping, voice work, data entry, etc... Many people jump in and make it work, but that would be a large stress alleviated. Also, save money for repairs. They will be needed.
Getting rid of things and going tiny can be a really difficult thing for people looking to live tiny. How did you successfully pair down your stuff and do you have any suggestions for someone struggling to go tiny?
Confession: We still have a 10x20 storage. We didn't have enough time to get rid of everything before leaving because we were in such a hurry. We built the bus in the garage of the house we were renting (another great story) and spent the last three days moving stuff into the bus and running the rest to storage. We have been away from the storage unit for three years and can only tell you the things in there that mean something to us. The rest needs to go and we will be working on that very soon!
A lot of people might be concerned about their own personal safety living a mobile lifestyle. What are some of your best safety tips for someone living on the road?
There are always dangers no matter where you live. The best you can do is be as safe, secure, and prepared while making yourself as small of a target as possible. Crimes are usually opportunity fueled especially B&E and theft. We always make it seem like someone is in the bus even if we are away. That can be done with a note on the window saying "Please don't knock the kiddo is asleep". A dog that barks can also be a good or bad addition depending on the situation. We have a thick chain and alarms on our bikes after getting the first ones stolen. We also setup motion lights outside pointing at the bus when we feel the need. So if someone walks up they will pop on and light up our windows from the outside. We obviously don't do this when trying to stealth park. Make sure your rig locks up as tight as possible. As far as sleeping in it at night? Pick as good as a location as possible. Have self-defense items readily available. Park so that you can drive away if needed.
Finding places to park can be a hassle when traveling full-time. Can you share some of your favorite locations, go-to spots, or methods for finding parking?
There are the apps that everyone uses, freecampsites, allstays, ioverlander, truckers apps etc... Lily looks at those while I usually refer to Google maps and street views. By far, our best spots have been from satellite view on Google. It is important to note that when we park like this, we keep to ourselves, draw the curtains, don't play loud music, try any pick up any trash in the area, and only stay for one night. We are just passing through, not taking up residence. We've only been asked to move twice by police and they were both very nice and told us where we could go alternatively. When in doubt call the local sheriff or police department. They are usually very informative about parking statutes in their area and alternative locations.
If you were driving from the east coast to the west coast what would you be listening to for the drive?
We'd be listening to Jonah talk about everything lol. We are both large fans of Audible and have tons of books downloaded. We're not sponsored by them but we'd be open to it! Let's see, coast to coast eh? For a book, I'd highly recommend Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It is 36 hours long, spans 50k years, and every bit of it is incredible to listen to. Speaking of "coast to coast" does anyone remember Art Bell? If he was still on the air, we'd be listening to him too!
What is one thing that transitioning to a simplified lifestyle has taught you, good or bad?
Don't give up your daydream! If you can dream it you can do it. Just don't wait until you are too old to do so.
What is the most unexpected thing you learned being on the road fulltime?
We left a society behind that was starting to make us sick. We found that we didn't have stuff in common with our neighbors - our values and desires in life were different. We headed out on the road to find our "home". We instead discovered that "home" was actually on the road. What we didn't expect is that we would also find our community, our tribe. The people you meet on the road are amazing! We have made life long friends, had meaningful conversations, and made more caring connections in the last three years traveling than we ever did living stationary. The very thing that we didn't have in common with traditional society is the fabric of the nomadic community and what makes this community so unique and special. We didn't expect that at all and we couldn't be more thankful for that. We hope to see you all sooner than later!