We couldn’t get jobs so bought a bus & now live off-grid – we save £800 a month on rent AND we’re travelling the world
A YOUNG British couple, who struggled to find work after graduating during Covid, are now living the dream “off-grid” – out of a school bus in the US.
Harri Cook, 23, and Nicky Horsley, 22, left university in 2020 and walked straight into a tough job market.
Unsure what to do, YouTube inspired the pair to purchase a Ford Transit minibus – which they converted and drove around Europe in.
Bitten by the travel bug, Harri and Nicky then returned to the UK and took part-time jobs so they could save to buy an iconic US school bus – which they now live in stateside.
The couple are currently living a nomadic life, travelling up and down the West Coast – and say they are enjoying taking every day as it comes.
They estimate that they spend just $1,000 (£820) a month on food and fuel – while living “rent free”.
Nicky said: “We saved up from selling the Boxer and having part-time jobs and used that to buy the bus which cost $10,000 all in including taxes.
“It’s from 2012 with 96,000 miles and was well looked after.
“We spent $5,000 on the conversion making it $15,000 all in – and we’re hoping to sell it for $30,000 to $35,000 when we’re done travelling.
“We’re living rent free with no money on park-ups and we’re totally off-grid so don’t need to plug into a supply.
“We spend about $250 a week on food and fuel so spend about $1,000 a month.
“We get negative comments from people saying it was funded by the bank of mum and dad – it gets under our skin because people always think our parents pay for it but they don’t pay for anything.”
The pair met in 2015 when they were both 16 before studying at University of Southampton together and graduated in the middle of 2020.
Due to the pandemic, they found employers were cautious about taking them on and they started watching vanlife videos on YouTube, discovering they could experience a different way of living.
They decided to buy a van while living with Harri’s family and working part-time jobs and purchased a Ford Transit minibus in November 2020.
Despite having no DIY experience, they followed guidance from other van build videos and created the home on wheels in Harri’s parents back garden in Ascot, Berks.
They documented the conversion on their YouTube channel to teach other people how to follow their vanlife dream and began to earn commission on the affiliated links.
They took the Ford Transit to Europe for three months between June and September and travelled around 11 countries before returning home and realising the self-converted campervan market was booming – meaning they could sell the used vehicle for £17,000.
Inspired by their travels, they knew they wanted to continue their adventures and to save up extra funds, Nicky took on a job at Starbucks while Harri worked pulling pints at their local pub.
They also purchased a Peugeot Boxer for £2,750 which they converted in four weeks, spending £2,250 on the conversion before selling it for £10,500 – making £5500 in the process, as well as creating new content for their YouTube channel.
They used the money to fly out to the States after watching other vanlifers living in their “skoolies” – as the buses are known in the community – and found the perfect vehicle in San Diego.
They converted the school bus while living in an Airbnb for their first month in California and then began to travel up the West Coast, enjoying spending time at the beautiful beaches that line the country.
Now, they say they take every day as it comes and have fallen in love with the area they’ve found themselves in.
“Our family have all been very supportive – they were a bit surprised at the beginning and probably thought it was just for a few months but the more seriously we take it and the more professional we get with it on the content creation side they appreciate it a lot more and see that we’re happy,” said Nicky.
“I don’t know if some people think we’re having a quarter life crisis but we’re focusing on our growth as a brand and make a couple of hundred quid a month through content creation and using Google AdSense on our videos which pays for our fuel while we’re out here.
“We make about the same on affiliate links to Amazon and eBay and we always say our third source of income is converting and selling vans.
“We’ve been together for six years and knew we were going to stay together – before we settle down we want to see the world so started looking into backpacking in South East Asia and while we were researching that we came across vanlife.
“We thought ‘let’s buy a van and do it ourselves’ and in November 2020 we bought a Ford Transit minibus for £5,400 and started doing it up – it was very expensive for what it what because vanlife had started to take off as a thing.
“We watched a load of YouTube videos and thought it looked doable and we were stuck at home anyway with the second lockdown – the internet makes everything seem easier than it is and we gained a lot of confidence watching other van build videos.
“We did the conversion in three to four months for £5,000 alongside our part-time jobs and documented it on our YouTube channel – we kept it simple and taught other people how to do it.
“We took that to Europe for three months from June to September and visited eleven countries before we came home and realised converted vans were selling for so much and decided to sell it, making £17,000.
“We got part-time jobs again and realised Europe had started something without us knowing so said let’s do another van and try to sell it and make a bit of money.
“We bought a Peugeot Boxer and converted it in four weeks on a budget – we spent about £5,000 overall and sold it for £10,500 which was a nice bit of money, and it got us content as well which was a good reason to do another van build and let us keep our YouTube channel going while we were home.
“We watched all these people online with their skoolies which looked awesome – they were so big with so much space, being wider and more homely, so we thought let’s go to America and try to convert one ourselves.
“It was a bit scary because there’s very little research you can do when it comes to buying a vehicle on a tourist visa in America as well as insurance.
Harri said: “When we actually got here it all fell perfectly, we found the perfect car dealer south of San Diego and two days after we had flown out we had this school bus.
“For the first month we stayed at an Airbnb just outside of San Diego owned by this ex-military guy called Nelson who said we could convert our bus on his driveway so we lived with him for a month and converted the school bus in four weeks.
“It was my first time and Nicky’s second time in America – it was all new to us being in a foreign country with different prices and different stores.
“We got the bus done and up to scratch then started travelling a little bit up the West and have fallen in love with the coastline between San Diego and Los Angeles.
“Now we’re taking every day as it comes and spending every day on the beach – we wake up at about 7am normally, neaten up the van, get changed and go to a local café.
“If it’s sunny we head to the beach as I’m currently learning to surf or go to the local basketball courts before making a cheap lunch in the bus and finding a nice spot to park in the evening.
“We share a gym membership so we can do a little gym session and have a shower or we use our solar shower, then we head back to the bus and make dinner – we have a two burner hob and full domestic fridge.
“We find a nice spot in the evening – we’ve been loving this spot just two streets off the beach which is right on the park, it’s a beautiful place the nestle in for night.
“We’ve been going to bed early and waking up early – there’s no curtains in van yet so we go to bed when sun goes down and wake up when it comes up.”