Many of us may have hopes and dreams of quitting our jobs, packing up our things and starting a new life of travelling around the country and the rest of the world. Well, this couple has done just that.
Hope and Manny Hernandez from the US packed up their lives in June to live out their ‘van life’ dreams.
‘Van life’ has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years, and refers to a lifestyle where people live their lives on the road in repurposed vehicles.
For Hope and Manny, ‘van life’ has now even become a business. Currently, the couple spends their days repurposing vehicles to help others live out their dreams of life on the road in tiny homes.
This year, the couple have repurposed a red double-decker bus from London and are currently working on making a yellow, American school bus into a home.
They have documented their journey and rebuilds on TikTok, and have received over 500,000 followers and 3.9 million likes in just one year.
Indy100 caught up with Hope and Manny to find out all about life on the road.
The couple married in May 2020 and began building their own bus in November, which took them seven months. Hope said: “We worked on it on the weekends, while we worked full time at our regular job. We really just wanted to see the country and experience a different life”.
Their days consist of breakfast and walking their dog, Canela in the mornings, then working solidly on bus conversions for the rest of the day. When they’re on their own bus, Manny says “our day-to-day life is just anybody else’s in a home, except we have to make sure that we’re conserving our energy and power”.
In regards to their rapid growth on TikTok, Manny – who says he has always been interested and has a background in content creation – said it was surprising to grow so quickly but they’ve enjoyed the experience and support they’ve received from their followers.
But, how do the couple balance TikTok content creation and renovating vehicles for others? Manny said, “it’s very difficult to incorporate social media management and converting a bus because everything needs to be planned ahead of time”.
“So, for example, I make a video about installing an air conditioner. Normally, it’ll take me three hours to install it but if I do it for a video, it’ll take me six hours to install it. So, that definitely puts a damper on things but I want to be able to share our experience with everybody because we enjoy it”.
On the best thing to come out of their TikTok account, the couple said it’s definitely clients.
They said every client they have gotten so far has come from TikTok, and people also often reach out to them for help on their own ‘van life’ projects, which Manny said he always tries to help out with.
One of the couple’s best-known conversions was that of a 1960’s red, double-decker bus from London. They received over five million views on TikTok for their videos about the conversion, which they described as very challenging. Hope said the bus was “covered in spiders and dust from the last 10 years of sitting empty”.
“It came from London, then a Girl Scouts troop camped out in it on someone’s property in northern California. Then, our client bought it from the Girl Scouts and brought it to her horse ranch in San Jose, California. So, it was very dirty with spiders everywhere. We had to tear everything out and start from scratch”.
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Manny said the conversion took five weeks of 12 hour days, seven days a week, with just one day off! But, he said he found joy in transforming the once unloved space into something livable. He said, “that’s the biggest thing that drives me to continue to do this because it’s a passion or a therapy”.
Currently, the couple is converting a yellow, American school bus which their 500,000 followers are closely watching the progression of. Thankfully, Manny said the bus conversion is going “amazing”.
He said: “Everything is coming out like better than I imagined, and I’m kind of pouring my heart and soul out into this one because there is a lot of people watching. We’re also staying at the owner’s property and she comes out every day to see. She has a little bit of experience when it comes to carpentry, so nothing can be half-a**ed. It all needs to be like done well but it’s coming out amazing”.
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They’re currently working in freezing conditions in Massachusetts, where the bus is located, with the temperature at around -1 degrees Celsius. But, Manny said he expects to finish the project before the end of the year.
On whether it feels bittersweet to give back their conversions to their clients after the amount of time and thought that goes into it, Manny said it absolutely does.
He said “I’d love to go live in the bus we’re converting right now. But, it’s also a relief because we have two other builds to do right after this so it’s definitely a relief to finish it up and get going to the next one”.
Hope said their current client – who is in her mid-fifties - has always dreamt of living in a tiny home and travelling, so it will be a rewarding experience to give the bus back to her once it’s done.
On the pros and cons of ‘van life’ as it continues to grow in popularity, Manny said “it’s definitely a lot of freedom, but it’s not at the same time”.
He said: “When you have a normal house or an apartment, you have the responsibility of paying for rent and utilities and keeping your space clean. When you live in a bus or a van, you don’t have the monthly expenses of rent or utilities, but you do have a lot of responsibilities like making sure that your solar panels are clean, that you’re conserving water and electricity.
“In a regular house. you can go take a shower for as long as you want but in a bus, you just can’t because you only have a certain amount of fresh water for two people and a dog,” he continued. “So, we need to be very conservative. I like to look at life as ‘it is what you make it’ - you can be happy in a bus and or you can be happy in an apartment. We just happen to be happy in the bus”.
Hope said ‘van life’ means a major lifestyle change and a dramatic shift in your daily focuses and concerns. She said, “you have to make sure cabinets are locked before you drive and make sure that your groceries fit in the fridge. You just have to be more cautious of what’s going on around you in a bus versus at home”.
Manny also said it can get very expensive with the cost of petrol, maintenance and eating out.
On the environmental and sustainability impact of living life in this way, Manny said “this lifestyle allows you to be a lot more conservative when it comes to the environment. I’m learning that you don’t need as much water or electricity as you think you. I used to have, like, 30 pairs of shoes before I moved in a bus but realistically, I would only wear like three of them. Now, I only have maybe six or seven pairs of shoes”.
He said: “I feel like if everybody lived like this, the world would be a better place”.
On advice they would give to others wanting to pursue this lifestyle, Hope said “just do it”.
“People procrastinate for years - they’ll say that they want to do it, they’ll look into it, they’ll do it next year or the next year. It’s never going to be a good time. You’ve just got to buy the vehicle and start the process. You don’t have to live in it full-time but just starting the process is the step to achieving your goal. It’s not for everybody, but it could be if they’re doing it part-time.
Manny also said, ”if somebody wants to do this lifestyle, you need to know how to make money from your cell phone or off the grid, I don’t recommend this lifestyle because you can go from having a well-paying job to really messing up your life because you don’t have a way to pay for gasoline and food because travelling is expensive at the end of the day”.
For their future goals, the couple wants to continue to build their social media following and hope to make their conversions into a full-blown business.
Manny said they want to “bring a homey vibe to the bus life community” and “incorporate high-end things into bus life to get more people to want to do it”.
Hope said another goal of theirs is to get a warehouse to work from, expand their builds to multiple at a time and have some extra employees to help out.