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Life On The Road: Kai Branss and Julia Toebel


Kai Branss and Julia Toebel didn’t find their vehicle—it found them. On a morning walk to grab a cup of coffee, they stumbled upon a 1993 school bus and soon began the renovation process. Over a year later, they’ve traveled all over Europe, with no plans to stop.

We caught up with Kai to learn more about the unique build and how he’s made life on the road work. See the bus for yourself @wetravelbybus.

Year, make, and model?
K: “1993 GMC Vandura short school bus with Thomas build”

Where are you based?
K: “Berlin”

Where have you traveled since buying the bus?
K: “Since April 2017, we‘ve been to England, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Sardinia, and all over Italy. This winter, I’m going to Spain, Portugal, and maybe to Morocco. We’ve put quite a bit of mileage on it, and it needs a bit of work right now.”

 

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What did you do to renovate the bus?
K: “It was originally a school bus, and we stripped it down completely and started building from there. We love to cook and sleep well, so these were two main points. We wanted a big kitchen and wanted a double bedwe didn’t want to set up a bed every night and break it down.

The other thing that was important was a wood stove. It was sort of a dream to have a wood stove in our van because it’s just super cozy and since we travel Europe and go to the mountains a lot, it gets cold.  It supplies heat and we use it for cooking, and it gives you a real ‘cabin’ feeling.

Besides that, since I’m a photographer and filmmaker, I need power supply. We have put in quite a bit of solar power and the whole bus is completely off-grid. All we need is to fill up some fresh water and we’re good to go. I would say we last about 1.5 weeks without needing anything or anybody. It’s really nice if you go to remote places—which we like to do.”

 

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Why a school bus, as opposed to a van or RV?
K: “Actually, it was sort of an accident. We didn’t actually look for a school bus—we saw the bus on the street on the way to grab a coffee, and it was for sale. We talked to the [owner] and sat inside the bus for an hour and thought it was perfect for us. It’s a lot wider than the usual vans you have. This way, you can easily have a bed in the back, and you truly have a one-room-apartment feeling because the bus is so wide. That was the point when we said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

 

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What inspired you to to buy a travel vehicle and live out of it?
K: “I wanted to do something like this for a long, long time. For us, the inspiration is that we are pretty into minimalism and the downsizing lifestyle. Also, the rent and prices in Berlin are crazy; you need to earn a lot of money in order to afford a certain kind of lifestyle. It’s great to have less stuff and more time for living and traveling. For me, the traveling part is total inspiration to see new places and meet new people. I feed off of that a lot for my work.”

How do you make money on the road?
K: “Photography and filmmaking. I can do a lot of work on the road like writing and preparing shoots and filming stuff. Depending on where it’s happening, sometimes I leave the bus somewhere and fly to the job. Then I come back to the bus and keep going. It’s way more satisfying to work in a remote place. These days, you don’t need muchjust internet and a laptop and off you go.”

 

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What’s the hardest part about living full-time on the road?
K: “There are a lot of things to organize that you don’t even think about if you live in a city or in an apartment. It starts with fresh wateryou always have to think about if you have enough. Things don’t come as easy as they do when you live in an apartment. You have to put a lot more work into the regular daily life. For example, it’s kind of tough sometimes to find spots to stay overnight if you don’t want to go to campgrounds. You’re mostly on the run, and that can add stress. Especially with our bus, we’re not really undercover.”

What’s the best place you’ve been to?
K: “There’s one spot we stayed close to Arco in Italy near Lake Garda, on top of a mountain and a quiet place to stay. You overlook the lake and see the whole valley. We had a campfire there, and it was so magical.”

 

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Do you have any advice for someone who’s looking to travel full-time in a converted vehicle?
K: “My biggest advice is not to overthink stuff and just to do it. You always find 1,000 reasons not to do it, and my advice is to not overthink it. If you feel like it, do ityou can’t go wrong.”

Rapid fire Q&A

How do you take your coffee?
“With almond milk”

Favorite outdoor sport?
“Rock climbing”

Where to next?
“Spain, for surfing”

Favorite drink?
“Fresh lime juice”

One thing you wish you knew more about?
“Life itself”

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