Tania Graham-Brown is living the… or more correctly… ‘A’ road life dream. She’s been doing it now for over three years and no plans to stop anytime soon. Tania successfully runs her own businesses from her office and home on wheels. Pour yourself a tea, sit down and enjoy Tania’s well heeled nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. This one’s a goody!
One of my biggest values is freedom. I wanted to build a life I didn’t feel I had to escape from and could go where I want to go when I want to go there. I have a fear of being trapped by possessions, people, jobs, obligations so living on the road really appeals to my personality. I am a minimalist by nature and don’t want to get wrapped up in owning things that don’t bring me joy, I’d much rather concentrate on experiences so bus life really works for me. I did living in the Hiace for a year and half and it worked but I felt for it to be a more sustainable life I wanted a bit more space for me and for Nalu my dog so I didn’t feel bad when I left him to go on hikes. I love people as well – meeting and connecting with other humans is huge for me and I feel blessed that as a result of this lifestyle choice I have friends all over the country (and abroad) that i can just stop in and see whenever we feel like. I also love the fact that with the Coaster I can share my lifestyle with others. Having friends to stay and go on adventures with is so exciting to me because I feel the most connected with friends when we are experiencing something new and awesome together.
I bought my old van off Mitch Cox and he then went back to Australia and built a Toyota Coaster so that first inspired me then I started looking over Instagram and everything came back to the Coaster. I think its a reliable vehicle and I was told it was designed to cruise at 100 whereas the other buses cruise more at 90. So having the extra speed appealed too. I didn’t set a budget to be honest. A part of my personality (both good and bad at times) is being more of a doer rather than a thinker. So I suddenly had this coaster after finding it and not wanting to miss out and then I just started doing (based my design loosely on Mitch’s and got a lotttt of inspiration from other people around Australia I was connected with, doing the same). So no budget but I’d say it has cost me A LOT given the help I’ve needed along the way and the hiccups I ran into (mainly because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and did heaps in the wrong order and got the wrong help). But luckily I had a heap of savings so I didn’t worry too much but as always I spent more money by getting the wrong people first time and having to redo some things but everything was a lesson learnt.
I decided I wanted the feeling of space as my biggest consideration. I didn’t want it to feel small so I didn’t do things like a separate shower/bathroom or a full size fridge freezer as I wanted lower cabinets that gave the illusion of space. I did want a good sized benchtop as I love to cook. A sizeable spare bed so I could have a few friends come to stay (its just shy of a double). Roof hatch and roof top deck were a must as well as I love doing breathwork (I teach and practice) and just being outside so being able to entertain up there as well as comfortably hang was a big must so I have heaps of room up there. I wanted to be able to be off grid which I am pretty set up for, but South Island has been a little tricky in winter with less sun. I got everything I wanted. There are still a few things I am working on. I love my design and layout and it really works for me. I got builder mates and facebook groups became my friend to find the help I needed as well as doing most of the foundational work myself. I couldn’t have done it without a HEAP of people I met along the way and friends. I am hopeless at DIY. I am great at ideas, but short of patience and attention to detail.
I went with birch ply for the cabinet fronts as I love that beach boho kind of vibe. A lot of white, and then some cool features like palm tree wallpaper on the partition wall, I used some cool dowel for some features and a couple of bits of Rimu and reused wood to add a few unique touches. I also went with brushed copper on the bathroom and kitchen sink and door handles which I love.
I had to do the build on my road mainly and then some kind strangers and helpers now and again had it on their driveway to make it easier for me. Had the council called on me twice but made it out alive.
Definitely not a solo build – I had builders, plumbers, gas fitters and a few mates help out. I did most of the structural stuff myself but I’d say largely three dudes that helped me the most on the build stuff, then a couple of mates now and again to help paint when I got bored of it, and my mate helped me put the vinyl floor down (I managed to muck that up completely first time as I did the cut out back to front).
I have 4 water tanks, 2 x 60l and 2 x 60l grey water. It was a bitch to install but got some help from a welder and they are all under the bus. I bought custom made ones from Australia that fit Toyota Coasters. I have a Camec instant hot water system
For my batteries I didn’t get lithium but thinking now maybe I should have. I have got AGM’s and 200 amp hours. I have 375 kw of solar panels on and a 3000w inverter. It’s been struggling a bit with South Island for sure. I have been given some ideas why it is so I’m going to try them first but I won’t change the actual set up because I don’t want more solar panels on my roof as I’d rather suffer and have more roof top deck. I do have most things running off 12v system and thats all fine all of the time, it’s just my inverter and plugs that draw a bit too much when the weather hasn’t been good. I have a gas oven and 4 burner stove so that is good as well as doesn’t affect the electric situation.
For heating at the moment it is sheer willpower. But I have a Chinese diesel heater on the way, actually it just was delayed. So will have that installed soon I hope.
I prioritise getting outside and moving, as well as breathwork, adventure and work last. So each day varies but I always go to the gym (i have anytime so i can go around the country) and love trying out new gyms and yoga studios when I go to new places so I always try new stuff which I love as I get bored easily.
I kind of refuse to pay for accommodation as I don’t want to feel like i’m paying any kind of rent so always self contained freedom camp spots and then once in a blue moon an air bnb if I really need a break from the bus. I also do house sits as well but haven’t in a while. Now and again mates’ driveways but I prefer not to ask them.
Typical day – get up, walk the dog, breathwork, breakfast – go see friends if I’m in the area of anyone I know, go to the gym, sit and do work in the bus or find a cute cafe to work from as I get less distracted that way. Read, chill, watch a movie, go find something local that’s fun to do, find a hike, or an activity. I just love moving so always finding ways to do that. Sit on the roof and breath – drive to a new spot – i find days go by quickly on the road and admin takes longer so the boring days of chores still occur – laundromats, filling up water, emptying tanks etc – there’s always a downside to bus life and i get dusty really easily in the bus so lots of brushing dirt away.
I would always emphasise a lot of bus life isn’t glamorous. Getting lost in nature, exploring, lying on the roof and contemplating life is a big part of it and i LOVE that part. I love meeting new people and chatting to strangers and meeting dogs on the beach with Nalu, making new friends and all of that. But sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes it gets frustrating problem solving by yourself, not knowing where to go for help, driving heaps to sort things out so wasting the day driving.
1. Make sure it’s your dream and not one you borrowed from someone else’s Instagram page
2. Really think about your design and know what you want it to look like – i did everything on a bit of a whim and would have saved myself money and time if I had thought it out more
3. If you know it’s the life you want just do it, don’t hesitate – nothing has to be forever so if it doesn’t work out, who cares, you can always go find a place to live
4. If you’re thinking of getting a bus – get a Toyota Coaster. It’s a manageable size, drives well, they age well
5. There will be times you feel isolated and alone – know when you need to be around people and vice versa. I recognise when I’ve been alone too long and go find people and friends. At the beginning I sometimes didn’t listen to that. But on the flip side, know when you need to be alone and go find some peace. The beauty of living on the road is that you can fuck off when you want to. Same thing if you don’t like a place – you don’t have to stay – so leave 🙂
Boring tips: [Tania’s term not ours!!!]
1. Get a diesel heater if you think you will live south in winter ever
2. Get rid of as much stuff as possible you don’t truly need – I am a minimalist so love that the things I have I use
3. Don’t save on money on certain things – it will bite you in the arse later – good batteries, good plumber and gas fitter to get you set up, good builder if you’re gonna get help.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – I’m one to suffer in silence a lot but sometimes its tough building a bus and you need help!
5. Stay true to your vision – I had people along the way try change my mind about certain things – it’s your home and you have to live in it – make sure you LOVE IT.
Something I also always say is that living on the road is A dream but not THE dream. It’s not for everyone and it has down sides like everything does. I love it and it suits me but it’s ok if that’s not your bag, or you could only do it part time. For me, the freedom and ability to be where I want to be when I want to be is something I cherish. I feel so blessed to have friends all around New Zealand now through living on the road. I love that I don’t rely to heavily on others for my happiness but when I pass through a place my friends there give me a heap of joy. We never get sick of each other and really relish the time we have when do. I think that’s even more special than taking each other for granted.
Check out Tania’s fitness retreats; Soulretreatsnz, the website is www.soulretreats.co.nz
And thanks to Shal Addis for the photography. Check out more of Shal’s work on Instagram HERE