A couple say they’ve lived the dream since selling their four-bedroom home and working almost everything they don’t live – and even welcoming a baby – on a souped-up school bus.
Gianna and Jake Bachowski, both 32, used to own a spacious, 1,400-square-foot home and work in demanding jobs – Gianna worked in real estate and Jake worked in hospitality.
But the couple longed for a more nomadic lifestyle.
After discovering a community of families living online in converted vans, the Sarasota, Florida, U.S. couple decided to follow suit – though they soon took a school bus to a whole new level.
Jake said, “We get messages every day from people asking us how to do things like keep up with the kids’ routines, tackle bills, organize our finances – and even maintain intimate relationships in a small space.
“For us there is nothing like this lifestyle. We would not change it for the world.”
In late 2018, Jake, Gianna, and their four-year-old daughter Luna entered a brave new world of travel after selling their house, cars, and almost everything else they owned and starting the adventure of a lifetime.
Now the couple, whose baby Capri was born on the way in July 2020, are hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams.
Jake and Gianna regularly post updates about their unconventional life on Instagram, where they have 52,000 followers. However, he admits, “Van Life may look glamorous on social media, but it’s not without its challenges.”
Jake and Gianna, who first met in 2013 – tied the knot in 2016 and got Luna later that year – say the lifestyle fits them like a glove because it gives them so much time.
“If we had permanent jobs you would think we were living the American dream, quote unquote,” said Jake.
“We had a nice four bedroom house right next to the park, we had cars – we had all of these things.
“But life was hectic. I worked two jobs, Gianna had her career, and we had Luna too. There were times when we hardly saw each other. “
Both avid travelers when they were younger wondered how to combine being together as a family with seeing the world.
Then, in 2018, they came across an online community of families who had left the nine through five to live, work, and travel in RVs.
“We’d talked for a long time about what our dream life was like, and they both agreed that it included unlimited family time, travel and adventure,” Jake said. “Life in the van seemed perfect. It was originally Gianna’s idea, but I was fully on board. “
“Of course we had some concerns – mostly about health and safety – but the material side of things didn’t bother us. The quality of family time far outweighed any possessions,” she continued.
“We didn’t think that our daughter needed a whole room full of toys – it was more important to us that she sees the world and learns about other cultures.”
Jake and Gianna agreed to take the plunge together, selling their house and practically everything else – a task they found surprisingly easy.
With the money they earned, they bought a used Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and converted it into a perfect home on wheels.
“We saw a lot of YouTube tutorials and had family help too, which was great,” Jake said. “It was strange reducing a four bedroom house to a 90 square foot van, but getting rid of possessions was surprisingly liberating.
“We donated a lot, so it was good to know that it goes to other people in need.”
At the end of 2018, Jake, Gianna and Luna finally set off with no real plan for where they wanted to go.
After leaving Florida, they traveled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado, and Utah before landing in California.
Jake said, “Utah was one of our highlights. It is the indescribably most beautiful place – kilometers of untouched nature. “
He added, “You can wake up and watch the sun rise over mountains without anyone else around. We felt so connected to nature there. “
The couple initially used the money from the house sale to finance themselves, but in June last year they decided to set up their own lifestyle consulting company.
They work from the street and are now helping other families who are looking for a transition to a more nomadic lifestyle.
Then, in late 2019, as they neared the first anniversary of the day they began their trip, the two discovered that Gianna was pregnant.
“It was amazing, we were so happy,” said Jake. “We knew having another baby along the way would be a challenge, but Gianna is an amazing mom and very supportive. Like everything, we knew that we would make it together.
“We made the decision to return to Florida to set up a base and get access to prenatal care. We also knew we would need another van with more space, now we would be a family of four. “
Back in Florida, the couple began looking for larger delivery vans – but found that anything suitable came at a high price.
Then they discovered an old school bus for sale for just $ 4,800 (£ 3,542).
“The vans we saw earlier were between $ 55,000 and $ 70,000, so it was a lot cheaper,” Jake said.
He continued, “We picked the bus and got it in April – but baby number two was due in July and it was a hectic summer to make sure the renovation was done.
“We parked in front of a family in Florida who kindly allowed us to use their facilities while we sorted everything.
“We did about 75 percent ourselves and then got help with the carpentry. Now the bus has beds, a wet room and toilet, an oven, stove, heater and solar panels – it really is a fully functional home. “
The remodeling of the bus was completed at the end of last summer and it is now the Bachowski family’s full-time home.
Meanwhile, her epic adventure has inspired thousands of Instagram followers asking her about anything from where to park to a healthy love life.
Currently still in Florida, the couple are planning to continue traveling with their children through the United States – then hopefully, depending on the pandemic restrictions, one day to tour further afield and also through Europe.
When the girls reach school age, Jake and Gianna plan to buy land for a more permanent base – but have vowed to keep their bus so they can travel in their free time.
Not only are they building an apartment, but they’re also hoping to open a homestead to accommodate other travelers.
But for now, they enjoy making priceless memories and teaching their daughters the world.
Jake said, “The girls are exposed to all kinds of cultures, languages, religions, and so on. We hope it teaches them that the world is huge and that you must treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect.
“They are such happy children. We take them to a different playground every day, and seeing their happy faces is one of the best things in this life.
“People sometimes think it’s an isolated life and ask how we make sure the girls socialize, but there is such a friendly community of other van families.”
“We made a lot of friends and found a sense of community that we’ve never had before,” he added. “People can look for a sense of belonging their entire life – and here we have it.”
And Jake, who wants to encourage anyone else thinking about living off the grid to do as much research as possible before making a decision, believes there will be an increase in people who want to live more self-sufficient after the pandemic.
He concluded: “People no longer need or want to be in big cities. We long for natural beauty and the beauty of people. In the van we are self-contained, so we feel very safe – and there is nothing better than in to wake up to nature. “
“There are days when we feel challenging, like looking for water or finding a safe place to park without risking knocking on the window when someone tells us to move on,” he said.
“But regret is the worst feeling in the world, so we had to take a risk – and now we are following our dreams.”