A family of 5 lives full-time in a 250-square-foot school bus with a rooftop porch and reading loft

The Lost Bell FamilyThe Bells live in a skoolie.
  • Emily and Colby Bell live in a 250-square-foot skoolie with their three kids full-time.
  • Built-in bookshelves, a reading loft, a rooftop porch, and custom bunk beds make the tiny house on wheels feel like home.
  • The Bells intentionally designed storage into as much of the home as they could.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Colby and Emily Bell got a taste for nontraditional living after travelling internationally with their kids for seven months.

The Lost Bell FamilyThey travelled internationally for seven months.

In 2018, Colby, 35, started working remotely as a software engineer, while Emily, 34, was pregnant with their third child.

As the couple started considering what they wanted the next year of their life to look like, they realised they wanted to try something different than their normal, suburban experience.

“We had heard of families travelling, and we’ve always made travel a priority,” Emily told Insider. “So we were like, ‘Well, what if we sold everything?'”

The couple followed through on their idea, selling the majority of their belongings and renting out their Utah home to travel full-time. The five of them visited Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Fiji before coming back to the US for the holidays.

While they were home, Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer, so the Bells decided to cut their travels short.

They moved back into their Utah home while Emily sought treatment, but soon, the Bells were looking for a different kind of lifestyle again.

In early 2020, the Bells decided to purchase a 250-square-foot school bus for their family to live in full-time.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe Bells live in a renovated school bus.

“We loved our house and we loved our neighbourhood, but our travel changed the way we saw the world and our goals and priorities,” Emily said of why her family wanted to travel again.

Colby and Emily found a partially-renovated school bus in the spring of 2020, and they bought it for $US14,000. They sold their home, and after three months and $US26,000 worth of renovations, the skoolie was ready to accommodate their family.

Colby, Emily, and their three kids – Zoe, 7; Crew, 6; and Marley, 2 – have been living and travelling in the bus since August 2020.

When you walk into the school bus, the first thing you’ll see is the family’s living room.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe living room and kitchen are connected.

The living room has two couches, which used to sit in their Utah house.

The couches serve as a space to relax, eat, and play, and they allow the whole family to sit together.

The bus had already been gutted and insulated when the Bells bought it, and the previous owners raised the roof to create more space.

The Bells created a custom reading loft for their kids above the driver’s seat.

The Lost Bell FamilyEmily designed the reading loft.

Emily got the idea for the loft when she saw the large space above the driving dock.

“I am a former teacher, so I love books,” she said. “I was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got to have books up there.”

The space is also home to the kids’ toys. The buildings painted on the wall give the area a whimsical feel, as Emily put it.

The tiny kitchen has a surprising amount of storage and counter space.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe kitchen has a lot of storage.

The L-shaped kitchen has a stove, an oven, a large sink with a water filter, and cabinet storage above and below the butcher block countertops.

The cabinet doors have magnets to ensure they don’t slide open when the bus is moving.

Open-shelving above the stove creates even more space.

The refrigerator sits just past the main kitchen area, with even more storage above it.

The Lost Bell FamilyThey built storage into the home.

“We tried to build in as much storage as we possibly could,” Emily said of her family’s approach to designing the bus.

In fact, they raised the floors of the back area of the bus to create storage underneath it.

The Bells also have a built-in spice rack.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe spice rack can be hidden.

The rack pulls out from the wall, so it doesn’t take up space in day-to-day moments.

“We actually have plenty of storage,” Emily said, which isn’t often the case for those who live tiny. “We still have more space to store more if we needed to.”

“Our international travels really prepared us to be intentional and minimal about what we actually need and actually use,” she added.

The bathroom has a composting toilet and a shower.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe emergency exit is in the bathroom.

The bathroom has a pocket door that slides rather than pulling out, optimising the hallway space.

The toilet area and shower area are separated by different floors, walls, and a shower curtain, giving the miniature space shape.

The skoolie’s emergency exit is also in the bathroom.

The kids share a bedroom with bunk beds.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe kids share a room.

The kids each have their own bed, and the railings were custom-made, according to Emily.

The kids’ bedroom also has custom built-in shelving where the children store books and toys.

The beds also have storage underneath them that’s just covered by Velcro cabinetry. When you remove the cabinet doors, you’ll find bins full of clothes.

The Bells can do laundry in the skoolie.

The Lost Bell FamilyCrew’s bed.

A combination washer-dryer sits under Crew’s bed, as does a water tank.

A laundry basket and drawers take up the rest of the space under his bed.

Emily and Colby’s bedroom is behind the children’s room.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe kids’ room sits in front of their parents’ bedroom.

Their bedroom is raised on a platform, and it’s separated from the kids’ room with a wall and doors.

The space under their bedroom is used for stowing larger items, such as paddleboards and tools.

The bedroom fits a queen-sized bed.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe space fits a queen-sized bed.

The space also has cabinets and built-in shelving that mirrors the shelving on the kids’ side of the wall.

The sunroof above the bed leads to the rooftop patio.

Emily often uses the rooftop patio as a place to relax.

The Lost Bell FamilyThe rooftop is an escape.

“I’ve gotten into yoga and meditation, and that’s become critical for my cancer journey,” she told Insider. “I feel like the mental challenge of it all is almost, for me at least, as much, or even more significant, than the physical challenge.”

“I wanted a space where I could go that could kind of be my own or where it could be separate,” she said. “We built the deck so that we could have a little escape.”

It’s not unusual for families who live tiny to use their rooftops as adults-only spaces.

Although they love their lifestyle, the Bells don’t want people to over-glamorize life on the road.

The Lost Bell FamilyTheir lifestyle has challenges.

Emily told Insider that when people hear her family travels full-time, they often only think of the fun parts.

“A lot of people overlook a lot of the logistical stuff,” she said. “You’ve got to fill up with water, you’ve got to fill up with gas, you’ve got to find places to park, and you have to find grocery stores.”

“I think people just tend to forget about the day-to-day life,” she added.

But the nitty-gritty aspects of their life doesn’t make the Bells want to change the way they live.

Emily said it can be challenging to live in such a small space with kids.

The Lost Bell FamilyRaising kids in a tiny space can be difficult.

The close proximity and lack of privacy can be difficult at times, but Emily also said that raising her kids in a tiny environment has made them closer.

“I feel like so much of our life helps us to be intentional,” she said. “It helps us to see each other’s behaviours and see our own behaviours and be intentional about how we want to be.”

“It’s helping us to recognise our emotions and take responsibility for them and then work on communication as a family,” Emily added.

The Bells want people to know living tiny is possible for anyone if you’re willing to put effort into it.

The Lost Bell FamilyLiving tiny is possible for many people.

“If this is what you want, you could absolutely have it,” Emily said of her lifestyle. “It’s just a matter of making it a priority and focus.”

For people who want to live tiny, Emily and Colby recommend downsizing by focusing on the items you use every day, so you only keep what you really need. They also told Insider that choosing to live small requires perseverance and commitment, but it’s worth it if it’s what you really want.

“I just want to empower people to know that they can have what they want,” she added. “And if you have a vision and dream, then definitely go for it because you deserve to have what you want.”

You can watch a video tour of the Bell family’s skoolie here, and you can follow them on Instagram.

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