The bus stops … briefly

MTU grads embrace love of exploration in renovated vehicle

After their graduation from Michigan Tech in 2019, Jacob Smith and Hailey Bondy began planning their trip around the United States and Canada.

Post-graduation, they both got jobs in Seattle, Washington. They later returned to their home city of Clarkston, Michigan, to get married. That is when their journey began.

In August 2021, they bought a 1996 Chevy G30 with a Blue Bird extra short bus body that was originally used by a construction company in Kansas. It needed a lot of work and there were certainly bumps in the road, but their background in mechanics and woodworking was ideal for this renovation project. 

Jacob, a mechanical engineering technology grad, explained how his experiences in college prepared him for this project. “My education at MTU gave me the tools that I needed to maximize the small space that we were planning on living in, as well as incorporating new technologies that we built like our water filtration system, and heating and cooling systems in order to make it a comfortable living space,” he said. 

On the exploration side of things, Hailey, an environmental engineering grad, provided extensive knowledge of ecology, foraging and ways to live and travel sustainably.  

These two have always had a passion for exploration. During their time at MTU, they had the opportunity to embrace the Keweenaw Peninsula. Everything from skiing the Tech Trails to backpacking in Isle Royale.

“Spending all of that time in the Keweenaw sort of prepared us for traveling and being out in the wilderness and kind of what to expect with living off-grid because we had done so many camping trips there,” Jacob said.

Their reasoning for their travel lifestyle was simple at its core – because they wanted to. Hailey mentioned some advice that family members have given her.

“We wanted to spend some time traveling while we are young and since we just got married, we don’t really have anything holding us back from traveling for an extended period of time. And so many of the elders in our lives have told us that they regret not traveling when they were younger before they had, you know, a mortgage and kids and pets and a job they felt like they couldn’t leave,” she recalled.

They also mentioned how right now, they are trying to figure out where they want to live long-term. They already love Michigan and Washington, so now they’re looking for any other spot that may pique their interest along the way. 

In September 2022, the bus was up and running and they began their extended honeymoon trip. They traveled to the East Coast first, then made their way down South, and they just recently made it back to Seattle to spend time with family before they continue their drive. Some of their notable stops so far have been The Redwood National Park, Red River New Mexico and the Florida Keys.     

There are many stereotypes about van living. Some say that it’s unsustainable and others say that it’s unattainable. They have found their reality to be quite the opposite.

“Something that most people would assume about van life that we’ve found to be untrue is that it’s difficult,” Jacob said. “I feel like people think it’s really complicated and unsafe but we’ve been traveling for over six months and we have not had a hard time finding safe places to spend the night or to find water or fuel. I’d say that once you’re on the road, the actual living part is pretty easy and pretty straightforward. A lot of people think that’s the complicated part whereas I believe the complicated part is actually building your rig and setting yourself up financially in a way that you can afford to live that lifestyle,” he added. 

They reminisce about how rewarding the journey has been so far and realize that all of their hard work has finally paid off. 

“For me, at least, the best part really has been seeing all of our friends and family. But I would say the most rewarding part of it is being able to use all of the things that we built for the trip and having them continue to work for us. For example, our refrigerator, our solar system and our water system. You know we spent so much time and energy designing it and building it, so getting to use it and have it function in the way it was intended and doing it consistently is really rewarding,” Jacob said. 

“I’d also say something that’s been very rewarding is having those moments where we’re like ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been planning this for so long and now we’re actually living it’, and we’re just in beautiful, remote, very cool places – and visiting cities that we’ve always wanted to go to,” Hailey added. 

To see step-by-step videos of how the bus was renovated and to follow along with their journey across the U.S. and Canada, you can follow their account @burdbus on Instagram. 


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