Episode #
008

Skoolie Living Tips and Lifestyle with Chris Penn

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Episode Summary

Many who enter #VanLife doesn't know anything about RV or vehicle maintenance, or even where and when they want to start. It’s important to know the basics, however, and have a general awareness of what’s going on. Chris Penn is a seasoned traveller with expertise on life on the road. Who could be more credible in educating people on how to actually start and thrive on the on-the-go setup than someone who has been traveling full time on the road for over a decade, before #VanLife was even #VanLife!

In this episode of The New Nomad, Chris joins Andrew Jernigan and Allen Koski as they entertain and educate people about the #VanLife, more specifically the off-the-grid Skoolie life. They share their experiences, challenges, and tips on how to make mobile living work. It takes skillful planning, budgeting, and a whole lot of resourcefulness to be location independent while making a decent income. But equipped with enough knowledge, having a great, long adventure of a lifetime could become your reality too!

From the episode

What You'll Learn

Timestamps

[4:31] From a soccer mom van, humble beginnings

[10:50] Making money online made skoolie life possible

[14:12] Comfortable living at $1,000/month

[15:05] Get educated on BLMs, public lands, and where to park for free

[17:05] Monetizing your experience and adventures

[21:02] A dog, the perfect travel buddy

Show Transcript

Allen  

Welcome to The New Nomad we have a really interesting guest today, Chris Penn. Chris is going to check in from somewhere across the country as he is off-the-grid skoolie, which I think is gonna be really interesting to talk about how he's taken this idea of, of really hitting the road in a very unique fashion. I'm gonna bring in our my co-host, Andrew Jernigan, who himself has done some travelling. I think it's interesting, as we talked to Chris today, you know, during our podcast, we mostly talked to people who are travelling around the world. But we have a lot of folks that want to explore the United States much deeper. And really an interesting concept of packing up and seeing the United States that Chris is going to share with us today.

Andrew  

Oh, yeah, Hi, everyone. Great to be here. It is one of those things where the van life, the skoolie life is so popular again. It's not that thing of a Volkswagen bus. It's so many forms in every country around the world. And Chris is really pioneering a movement that you need to plug into, you know, I have, I was in my teens in Amsterdam, when I decided that the world is, is my playground and haven't looked back. And now it's, you know, 2526 years later.

So it's a fun thing to look deeper into his world, I followed him and love what he's doing and empowering others to do. So it's it's a, he's a real free spirit in that there are this new flavour of a free people. That will we're talking about Alen here, this new nomad, whether it's crossing regions of their own country, building their own place to work, live, have community live in new, new dynamics is evolving quickly. It's going back to the 70s. It's going back to the the caravan days, it's going back to the camel days of nomads, it's, you know, but in the in our own modern senses of okay, what's that going to look like? Is it going to be a sprinter that's fully outfitted? Or is it going to be a 1970s bus that's changed? Is it going to be an airline? Is it going to be a yacht? I just got a request, I thought come through earlier this morning of one of our insurance that lives on a yacht and saying, Hey, can you give us this custom document? And of course, I thought it got sent out. But people are moving around this planet in new forms. And it will be a SpaceX trip that we talked about next.

Allen  

Well, you know, you think about the United States, too. We have a lot of people that listen to this podcast that are not in the US that would love to see our national parks. They'd like to get off the interstates, they'd like to get a greater idea of this of this country. And I think Chris is going to share some of that with us. And there's also people love to do motorcycle tours, too. So, you know, it's a lot of different folks. Let's bring Chris into the conversation. Chris, a couple of things. First off, where are you at today? And is it Zeppelin one through 567 and and please share with the group kind of you know, what got you started. You know, I've seen the country from a 2002 Bluebird school bus that you converted and by the way, please people go online and see the how he converted just tremendous stuff, Chris.

Chris  

Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm actually currently visiting family back in Indiana right now. It is Morel mushroom season so I've been going out and hunting morels every day with family. I'm currently in Zeppelin 7. My bus is Zeppelin two to 40 foot Bluebird school bus cut in half raises the roof. They basically built it into my I call it my mobile condo, you know, butcher block stainless appliances like I built it to be my home until I'm not physically able to walk up the steps you know like it's completely off the grid. I love that rig so much.

Well, going back into how everything started. Basically when I was about to graduate college I bought a soccer mom van This is before #vanlife I had no idea what I was doing. But the back little bed that folded down, put that down, put a futon mattress on it build some very rudimentary cabinets and just hit the road with my Husky for a couple months and after that point, I realised I was willing to do whatever it took to make this lifestyle possible. And a bit of a caveat if you do have, you know a lot of people doing the expat thing travelling the US working remotely, one of the catalysts for that was actually me studying abroad in Australia. And then I studied abroad in Rome. And essentially, you know, I was bouncing around on camper vans from time to time, but I did do a lot of overseas travel throughout my 20s. Like basically my 20s was just dirt bag, travelling with a backpack, just doing whatever I could to travel. But more recently, as I got older, I found a new appreciation for the states, I never really had the desire to travel the states really, if something I really wasn't that interested in. But once I started learning about BLM and public land, Bureau of Land Management, public lands, and how you could utilise those resources and live cheaply. It was something that I was going full bore on.

So I had that first van. I sold that got a Class B, which I named Zeppelin which is Zeppelin 1 now. And started bounced around in that and got a class a motorhome and realised that the build quality wasn't too great. And I fell in love with the off-grid lifestyle. And that is when the school bus came about. So in a nutshell, I mean, that's pretty much the Genesis story. And I still spend a month or two overseas each year is well well before this lovely pandemic. I'd planned on going to Ghana and staying for a month, month or two. Being that my businesses are all online I'm able to you know, build a mobile income.

Andrew  

Having lived in Ghana, I parked up there myself about four years in Ghana so

Chris  

really I'm I have to pick your brain and it's definitely my list.

Andrew  

Yeah, my my youngest son was even born there. So tell us keep keep going. You're on a roll. Tell us more. This is exciting.

Chris  

Well, I mean, it really comes down to what you're interested. I mean, are you like is your audience more interested in the mobile income side of things? Is it more of like a Genesis story like how I made it work for me personally like what what bring the most value to the audience?

Andrew  

You know, we have so many folks looking at it from different perspectives of what is this new Nomad? What's your flavour of this life? And it's that they're opening the chat each chapter of this book saying okay, for this person that means moving with our whole family to another place for this person. It just means working from my laptop from whatever Selina hotel there, I mean, community. You're in van life for you that we haven't had the van life skoolie, all of our programme and you quite mastered this and you're empowering others even to join your team and do this to make a living. Can you delve into that and tell everybody about that?

Chris  

Understood? Yeah, absolutely. So it's funny you mentioned Selina hostel because just took a trip down to Tulum. You know, one of the countries that are actually open my my travel itch was getting really bad. So, went down to Tulum and Cancun and stayed in the hostels did that whole thing. So I was pretty fun but in terms of you know, the the new Nomad, my friends, the people that I know personally, you know, the thing that we do in the van life skoolie life is essentially just bounced around the US, Canada, Mexico, a lot of people hit up Baja that's a very common destination for a lot of the you know, if we're going into the quote, rubber tramp side of things, living in camper vans in school buses. It's essentially, and again, this this is where my friends and I we typically stay out of cities, we typically go to the back country, so a typical rotation for me for five years was summers up in Alaska, winters down in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and then just Snowbird and going to all these beautiful BLM spots, having a mobile remote income. You know just if you have Wi Fi and a laptop, you're able to work remotely the lifestyle once you get your build done once you get it set up and you know no major mechanical issues is actually a very cost effective lifestyle.

So for me personally, my cost to live in my school bus being that it is completely off the grid the systems I have set up in there specifically designed to go out to anywhere and live for a month or two without needing anything. I do tow a car which makes it easier. But you know if if it came down to it, I could go out to any desert any forest and be completely off the grid and not need anything. You know that's a little bit more of my specialty. We're camper vans, obviously with the size and the weight capacity can't really pull that off. But it's it's it's really cheap for me to live this lifestyle because if I include everything from my food, my diesel, my health insurance, vehicle insurance, Netflix Animation cell phone, like literally everything cost me about $1,000 to live a complete free life. Like I wake up

Andrew  

eating healthfully, then you're not eating out, you're eating some healthy food, then

Chris  

yeah, I eat all organic, I cook a lot of my own food, trying to eat as healthy as possible. And you know, if it came down to it, if I did buy cheaper food, like I could live $500 $600 a month with every everything all in easily, you know, but I do, you know, buy some little bit more expensive food. But I mean, it's just every, every expense I have is like $1,000 a month, and I'm able to do what I want, when I want when I wake up, I can do anything I want that day, you know. And it's just, it's crazy that we have these magic little light boxes here where we're able to do, you know, remote work. And we're just lucky enough to be born at the right time to learn, if you're from the States, again, it sounds like you have international audience, but here in the States anyways, born in on the right piece of dirt to have this infrastructure to where you can buy, like I bought my bus for $3,000 at auction.

So I was able to buy this massive commercial vehicle with a Cummins eight, three and an Allison 3060 transmission, and then just travel around this amazing like people, you know, might have their pros and cons about the US infrastructure, but just have these roads and these bridges in this public land to utilise like, just so incredibly lucky. Like, I feel so lucky that I'm able to be doing what I'm doing right now. Because 20 years in the in the past, I wouldn't be able to do this when we work online 20 years into the future, who knows how creative because we're in the social space, which is the genesis of my online money making it I got in early. So 20 years in the future, who knows what it's gonna look like in terms of remote workers starting your own online business. So just got born the right spot, born at the right time, and just had the mindset of travel. So I just like, again, just felt so I feel so incredibly lucky to be doing this.

Allen  

So So Chris, when you wake up in the morning, what prompts you to either a head to another location? Or come off the road for a little while? And, of course, the question that goes through a lot of people's minds, how does your mail catch up? And you know, some of the basics, I'm assuming you have a home office that you return to from time to time, but I know there are people out there thinking, God, I would love to do this. But what is like the day to day, you know, maintenance? When do I decide to go? Where do I decide to go? And how do I find these wonderful locations to travel to? And it sounds like you zig and others zag to I would assume that you don't run into some of the National Parks at the high season where you'd be stuck with 1000 tourists it seems like you find some really unique places How do you even find those?

Chris  

Yeah, so how start with daily routine, like typically I'm up at 5am meditate journal, then I work you know, emails coordinate the team but more recently, I started handing things off to my number two, my number three like basically getting them set up and getting the redundant systems put into the business so they can handle anything and everything in any time. But any work from you know, after my meditation journaling around 5:30 you know, do the emails look to a strategic goal see where we're at with everything. You know, respond to Brand Partners and you know try and piece all that together.

And then from 9am on it's whatever I want to do that day and like like I said like typically it's it's BLM public land so I go hiking with the dog, go fishing, my watch some some inspirational videos, listen to audiobooks. I mean, a lot of times more recently, I'm on an app called Clubhouse. If you have iPhones about to open to Android it's an absolutely astounding app I highly suggest you check that out. But yeah, it's just communicating with people and building the brand and building brand partnerships with bigger and bigger companies just so we can get that revenue and and continuously invest it back into the business and that's another benefit of this lifestyle is my cost are $1,000 a month I don't I don't need watches. I don't need the Jordans I do find him at garage sales

Allen  

sometimes Yeah, there you go.

Chris  

That's one of my side hustles as I travel around just go to garage sales and find Pokemon cards and vintage video game stuff that's more of just a fun fun thing Yeah. But yeah, I mean it's it really just depends on where I'm at typically if I find a spot I like I will stay there for a month month and a half and depending on the weather depending on what's close by depending on what Nomad friends are close by I'll jet over to the new spot or have them come meet me and you know, we'll just go from there but like if you go on freecampsites.net or campinion.com, and you look west of the Mississippi, I think you're going to be astounded by how many free BLM and public land spots are out there. Like there's

Andrew  

your talking. Bureau of Land Management right now.

Chris  

Yeah, I need to get a

Andrew  

couple of meetings. Bureau of Land Management? Yeah, place where you can camp out for free, right. And you can hike for free. I mean, etc. There's no no annual path required.

Chris  

I mean, some some of them do. I mean, down in Arizona, for example. If you haven't heard of courtside, and you're interested in this lifestyle, if it's something that you want to try out something you want to do Google rubber tramp rendezvous down in courtside, Arizona happens every winter 1000s and 1000s of people drive their RV is down there. The new movie no man's land, the place where she does laundry, the campsite where like, I've camped in those spots, I know exactly where they're at. I've done laundry there like it's, it's it really is like a massive community gathering down there in winter. And they have it's like a hybrid of BLM public land. And again, Bureau of Land Management, to where you pay $180 for six months. That includes your water, your trash and your dump station for six months. Oh, wow. So it's in there's blight right across the border with grocery stores and auto parts in Ace Hardware.

Yeah, there's spots like that there's spots up in Montana, like, again, if you just go to campinion.com or freecampsites.net and just go on that website and start looking around how many spots are out there. And the reviews from people you know, they talk about the cell phone signal, they talk about the road, and they talk about the noise. So you get like the almost like these Google reviews, free spots to where you're able to go out there and you know, live live whatever life you want to live out there.

Andrew  

Chris, what's the name of your business? And how have you monetize this lifestyle with duplicating with other people doing what you're doing?

Chris  

Yeah, so again, like I mentioned, 20 years in the past 20 years in the future, I started on YouTube. Early in the in the games I mentioned, I sold that first van, I did a quick video to put on Craigslist, just so people could actually see what I did, because I couldn't really show it in pictures and pointing stuff out. And YouTube was very early in, in, in, in their algorithm the way they monetize. But that video for whatever reason got got me the amount of subscribers the amount of watch time or views to be monetized.

So that first month, I made 25 cents spent about 25 to 30 hours figuring out cameras and editing. So I started posting more videos in the van life stuff. And I made 25 cents and I was just absolutely blown away. I was absolutely stoked I like showed I sent text all my friends like a picture of the 25 cents I made. And it was just like, it wasn't even like I had any idea to turn into what it is now. But it was just like I was just so blown away. I could not believe that I was doing something that I loved, and put it on the internet and got any money from it. Sure. Yeah, you know, and you know, it took like four or five years before I started making any money that could actually travel on you know, but basically I was doing the YouTube game, just posting videos making enough for a couple things, a gas, a couple meals on the road or whatever.

Then I read the four hour workweek by Tim Ferriss, which I'm sure a lot of your audience knows and it's it absolutely changed my life. And I implemented you know, two or three key things out of that book, one was hiring freelancers to help free me up. Essentially, let go my ego thinking that I could make videos better than anybody else in my own view, you know, like and what what I mean by that is like I had a certain way I like to do my videos, I didn't want an editor coming in and and doing it. And then the part in the book where you talked about that's nothing but your ego. I was like, holy crap that that that is my ego, okay?

The Pareto 80-20 principle, which was the main reason I'd bifurcated my first channel into tiny home tours, which is the main channel now. And yeah, again, going back to the the freelancers, just bringing more and more people on to assist me and bring talented people on, which you know, turned into now we have nine mini buses that were converted into tiny homes to collaborate with different people to bring talented people on that want to travel, give them a rig, and then they produce X amount of content for their, quote, rents, which basically covers the commercial insurance, and then getting them on the road. And you know, having them produce content for all our social media.

So the main business is basically the YouTube channels. We have four of them now. And then more recently, we started a shop in Kansas where we're converting these mini buses and we're working on designs and working with brands and going to start You know, offering set builds for people are buying buses and building them out because our contractor moves in tomorrow to the shop. So we have the metal fab, we have a carpenter, and we have all the gear in from the brands that we're working with. So it's kind of it's just it's the same, you know, mindset and goal of getting people on the road. It's just tying it in with the business aspect, if that makes sense.

Allen  

So two questions. If somebody were to want to purchase Zeppelin call it 11. How much? How much does it costs to actually outfit yourself in that lifestyle? And the second thing, I'm very curious, you've travelled with your Husky, I hope you still have. He mentioned you have your dog with you. I was that also, as you travel about it, it must be great to have a partner like that I as a dog person myself, I would if I did the lifestyle that you described, I made sure that I would have my trusty dog jack with me.

Chris  

Yeah, for sure. So with with that Husky, so when I graduated college is back at the end of 2009. So it's 2010. And she was eight when she hit the road. So she unfortunately passed away. But I do have a shepherd, a German Shepherd now, that joins me on my my travels, and I am definitely a dog person. Probably never had a cat with me on the road. But, you know, that's that's neither here nor there. But yeah, I mean, having having somebody with you, when you're going out hiking, like we went Morel mushroom hunting yesterday for five hours. And he was just right by my side, my uncle side as we were out there, and he was just running back and forth. And, you know, just just having that constant companion with you is, is amazing.

In terms of buying one we're trying to, like, I should back up a little bit, we just we did a roof raise on a mini school bus, which is very uncommon. And we're putting a bed platform in the back that raises up. So it'll just add more room. That way, we're able to fit a 7, 72-inch kitchen unit, a large shower, and like a living area. And throwing that bed up there is the best way that we found to do it, and the spray foam guys coming over tomorrow. So we're working forward in that.

But what we're trying to figure out is because we buy our buses used. And the issue with that is you never like you can buy a bus that has 80,000 miles on it, and the transmission shifting good and you can build on it, and then you sell to somebody, and then 1000 miles down the road, something happens, it looks really bad on you. So what we're trying to figure out now is if we have people by like, like the platform we're building on now that we really like is the Ford E450 with the 734 diesel,

Allen  

diesel. Yep,

Chris  

what we're thinking about doing is like, Hey, you bring a bus to us, you vet it yourself. And we're going to build it out for you offering that package verse, you know, build them out. But right now the market is just absolutely insane here in the States, like, I bought two buses from a dealer out of Arizona at 30,000 miles on them, they were gas for for window buses a little bit smaller. I got an for $4,000 each, and that was you know, a little bit above market, but I know the mechanic and I know that they do good work. And post pandemic, I would not be able to find that bus at a dealer for anything less than $1,000. And that's not built. Gotcha. Um, but I mean, our builds, like, if we do end up selling them with the roof raise and everything, it would probably be about a $30,000 job to do that. And that's if somebody supplies the bus.

Allen  

That's awesome. So, really in great detail on that. So you've obviously travelled about and I think our audience would love to hear from you have, you know, is there an overlooked person, place or experience you would suggest people discover, because your travels have been far and wide. And you know, there must be something I mean, you've already given us a few websites and the Bureau of Land Management, etc. But something's something specific that they could search out that you think would really make a difference in their lives.

Chris  

Yeah, the The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. That book, I've read or listened to that no exaggeration, at least 25 times whenever I'm trying to figure something out, whether I'm in a meditative state and trying to you know, pick which direction that book is one that I've never experienced a book that has spoken spoken to me or people that I give it to. Like, I've never experienced anything like that. I always keep a copy in my bus. Because I meet somebody on the road and they're like going through life trying to figure something out like, Hey, take this. Let me know what you think. Absolutely love that book.

Alaska is one of those things if you actually go there. Stay there for a while and not just do like the touristy just bouncing around from spot to spot and not be able to really take it in. If you're able to spend a summer up there. Seward is an amazing little town on the Kenai Peninsula, homers, an amazing little town. If you like hiking, if you like fishing, if you'd like good food if you like. Especially if you get a camper van or an RV up there, like there's spots where you can just pull over on the side of the road that's absolutely free. Like you don't have to pay. It's just, you know, free camping. When you wake up. It's like a postcard. And that's not an exaggeration. Like it's literally like an Alaskan postcard. I've never been to a place like Alaska and the only continents I haven't been to yet are Africa and Antarctica. And like, I've been bouncing around pretty much nonstop since I was 19. You know, and I still haven't experienced anything like, like Alaska, so I wouldn't sleep on Alaska.

Andrew  

Oh, cool. Well, this is you know, my, my mind is going in so many directions. And I know that people probably have ideas and thoughts they'd like to run by you they got a friend that wants to do this. Because this is the work from anywhere the retire and take on a different career totally join Upwork and figure out how to how to do their passions, etc. They want to know right now where they can go and find you how they can get on your mailing list, how they can collaborate with you. Can you tell us on your socials and your domain names, etc? We'll put it in the show notes, of course. But for those who are listening and ready to grab their phone and go there this very second tell us away Go for it.

Chris  

Yeah, so our main social I mean, if you want to check out other people's Tiny Homes, whether it be school buses or camper vans, or traditional or tree houses or container homes, Tiny Home tours, Tiny Home tours.com, Tiny Home tours on Instagram Zeppelin Travels, where we give people rigs you know, we get videographers we get freelancers, we give consultants rigs in exchange for working with us. That's Zeppelin Travels Zeppelin, like Led zeppelin_travels on Instagram Zeppelintravel.com and to see a little bit of the inside of the shop where we're converting mini buses or we're taking 40 foot school buses cutting them in half and raising the roof that is the off grid skoolie on Instagram. And to see more about life on the road and a school bus you know details about my bus configuration all that good stuff. That's the offgridskoolie.com. And you know, we didn't talk about this before but if people want to get a deep dive into you know, the lessons learned in terms of my life on the road, how I built my school bus the different mindset tricks, not tricks, but mindset things that I've learned over the years making a mobile income. Just email me at actually yeah, email because I can send the link is basically I wrote a PDF book, it's like 70 pages about all I've learned and you know, schematics of my bus, um, email me at Chris@theoffgridskoolie.com and I will send them that link over if they're interested.

Allen  

Sounds great, Chris, fantastic conversation today. I learned a lot. And then just as an aside, the only state I have not been to is Alaska. So you've got me doubly excited about going up there but not just getting off a plane to check it off the list but to spend some time there.

Chris  

Yeah, I always suggest people like they do have RV rental spots there. There's ABC and then there's Oh, I can't remember a new it's it's simple Google, two big company companies there. I always suggest people you know, get the RV, go up to Denali go down to the Kenai Peninsula, do your RV trip, take it back to Anchorage and then get the train ride into Whittier. And then you know, I guess cruising isn't necessarily a thing right now, but I always suggest people like you do the road part because it costs about the same as getting hotels up there. Sure. And you're able to park on the side of the road, these free spots everywhere. Just go to the Costco fill up your RV and hit the road. And then on the way down, just sit back and relax on that cruise ship and see the Inside Passage down through Skagway and Ank - not anchorage but Juneau and dolphin in Bellingham. So depending on when you listen to this or whatever, that's what I always suggest people to do if you want like a real full experience up in Alaska.

Allen  

I do and I'm gonna I'm gonna take you up on those those thoughts. Thanks again Chris. Andrew, what do we learn Today I think we learned a lot I it's a lifestyle that is extremely cool. It's a unique perspective, your thoughts?

Andrew  

I got several different takeaways because I was I was hearing beyond what was being said. There's one key thing that he's applied, of living frugally wisely in how you spend your time, your money, your assets, and a lot of our assets are actually mental. So how we steward our mental assets, reflect in our values, which come out and how we spend our money. While the times we spend our money in massive mcmansions, houses, furniture, cars, food, dining, etc. And as we scale back to things that we don't really need in life, and we spend that on relational assets on ourselves on our future, instead of tangible things that really shifts. So yes, we had question I wait kind of deep environment, lots there. But this has been really good.

Allen  

I think I'll boil it down to what I take away of kind of what you said, but it's about experiences, not possessions. It's about having a deeper understanding your world. And and to be honest with you, I think that a lot of people are moving to that, because there's been such a consumption based approach as opposed to let's experience let's see. So fantastic job today. For our listeners out there. Please subscribe to The New Nomad podcast and leave a great review. If you'd like to know more, please look at thenewnomad.net or join us at insurednomads.com. We just want to remind you that the new Nomad is not just a podcast, it's a community of people, ideas and spirit, helping you take advantage of that location independent lifestyle. And we very much want to thank Chris today. So thank you and keep adventuring

Chris  

will do. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Andrew  

You pay you Chris. It's been good.

Skoolie Living Tips and Lifestyle with Chris Penn

About the Guest

Chris Penn

Entrepreneur and digital nomad Chris Penn hit the road more than a decade ago and never looked back. Currently living in a school bus, or skoolie, renovated to his needs, Chris now helps others live their dreams of being digital nomads. You can often find him getting his hands dirty while renovating school buses into livable tiny homes on wheels. With Battle Born Batteries powering his Bluebird bus, Chris no longer has battery anxiety when boondocking in some of the most remote places across the country.