Four years ago, John and Shiang-ling Bissonnette’s family traded in their 2-acre property and micro-farming lifestyle for an $18,000 Thomas Built Bus that’s only 40 feet by 8 feet.
John, who had served with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) joined the reserves after leaving active duty, allowing the military to become a part-time commitment and this new way of life his full-time focus.
The family of six (including their four children not including their accompanying pets) had a rocky start when joining the skoolie movement, but in the years since, have embraced minimalist living.
Shiang-ling said one of the first lessons she learned was the concept of simple living.
“We, as a society, know so little about our own systems and designs and the way things happen, yet we demand so much,” she said. “That really set us back, me and the kids, because I was used to a certain lifestyle. Transitioning out of military life was a definite mindset shift that set us back to being very humble in our ways and not needing for much.”
John said they’ve also been teaching their four children how to operate at the technological level, to build things and produce their own food.
“We use that term, ‘producer vs. consumer’ a lot in our household,” he said. “Our take is that most Americans are consumers by nature. We’re trying to create producers with ideas and output with our children, to create solid citizens who aren’t a burden in our society. That’s our goal.”
That is certainly evident during the YouTube tour of their DIY bus. Inside, they’ve built and packed everything they could need to survive on the road, including an induction stove; a compost bin; an impressive canning closet; a urine diverter; a Takagi tankless hot water heater; and even a country kitchen sink.
On the outside, they haul four bicycles, kayaks, a paddleboard, a motorbike and an inflatable dingy.
“We have so much in this bus that it’ll blow your mind,” John said. “I have given so many people tours because it’s literally an adventure bus.”
What’s a skoolie?
A skoolie is a renovated school bus that has been converted into a tiny home.
They own nothing but what they haul, and that has helped them remain financially stable. They live off John’s VA stipend, along with an LLC he started for government contract work.
Shiang-ling, who describes herself as a nomadic herbalist and foodie traveler, is finally living her minimalist life. Her Half Baked Barely Measured website has turned into an influencer channel, where she teaches others to be more self-sustainable and self-capable.
Other than diesel fuel, their highest cost of living is food.
“If you’ve seen my channel, you’ll see I like to cook as many meals and make as much food as we can in my kitchen,” Shiang-ling said.
Thriving in a ‘skoolie’
The children are also thriving. They have comfortably settled into their 250-square foot of living space, with each child having their own bunk bed with privacy curtain and individual bunk storage designed to each child’s independent desires; not to include large storage totes beneath the bunk bed systems for larger items. Plus their own customized ‘ode to the lift top school desk’ for all their homework, craft, and other personal hobbies.
John currently homeschools the children, but that might change soon. The couple hopes to purchase a 10.68-acre homestead in the Appalachian Mountains to create a permaculture design system, inspired from Shiang-ling.
“I find beauty in creating our own food,” he said. “We’ve done this on a micro-scale level back in Hampstead, when we had 2 acres. We had a small crop for vegetation, and raised pigs, chicken, rabbit, quail and duck for our own sustenance.
“It really helped offset the cost of food, so with this bigger plot of land we’re hoping to not only have that, but bring in the community with classes on fresh locally grown and harvested vegetables, small meat animals, and in years to come, fruit orchards and more.”
The children will be enrolled in the local public school system, which will free him up to complete projects on the homestead.
John and Shiang-ling encourage other families interested in the skoolie life to reach out to them through social media.
“That’s the whole reason we started sharing on our channels, for those families who think they can’t do this because they have a newborn and can never live in a 40-foot bus,” John said. “But we do it, and we’re a huge family with six people and multiple animals, and we’re unrestricted.”
“If you have an interest in the ability to save money, to learn new things, travel, to get out of the droll of it, and to hear from somebody else say it’s doable, then reach out,” he said.