In October 2014, Kelly Tousley and Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman vowed to quit their jobs, leave their home base in Juneau, Alaska, and see the US by “paying gas, not rent.”
The couple bought a 14-by-seven-foot utility trailer and spent the next nine months converting it into what would be their new home for at least a year.
It’s been seven months since they officially hit the road on May 31, 2015. They have been across the country and back, from Alaska to Michigan, down to Florida and around to Colorado, with stops in Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama along the way.
The couple, both 27, spoke to Business Insider about their new lifestyle: What it looks like, the reality of working on the road, and how they afford it:
Before 'going tiny,' the couple was living and working in Juneau, Alaska. O'Rorke Stedman taught high school English and Tousley worked in social services while completing her masters degree in early childhood special education.
'After four years of being 'professional adults,' we realised we wanted more out of life,' they write on their blog. A passion for travel and desire to live lighter culminated in the plan to build and live out of a 98-square-foot tiny house on wheels.
Another reason the couple hit the road was so O'Rorke Stedman could pursue his dream of playing music professionally. He says touring full-time has offered him creative freedom that wasn't possible in Juneau, where he could only play on the weekends and during the summer while he wasn't teaching.
His one man band, known as 'Cousin Curtiss' blends Americana, blues, pseudo-electronica, and root-stomp sounds.
When it came time to build the framework of their tiny house, the options were slim.
'We looked into campers and RV's and there was nothing available in Juneau,' they tell Business Insider.
Access to Juneau, Alaska's remote capital, is limited. Everything coming in and out must be flown or ferried in, so it would have been incredibly expensive to ship something as large as an RV. 'To get anything to us -- which would have been an older model of anything -- was about $10,000. That instantly limited us.'
'We chose to use a utility trailer because it was feasible to build it ourselves,' they write. 'Not having any carpenter experience, we didn't trust ourselves to build a custom frame, like other tiny houses you may have seen. We decided to opt out of the van life because we wanted separation from our home. If we decided to camp out somewhere awesome for a week, we wanted the option to park our home and just take the truck.'
They found a nearly new utility trailer in Petersburg, Alaska, just south of Juneau, and pulled the trigger.
'Without even seeing the trailer, we bought it for $4,750,' they recall.
That was only the beginning. The couple spent the next nine months turning the trailer into their new home.
Above, they're pictured with their dogs Sawyer and Doug.
'We spent the longest time building the layout and figuring out how exactly we wanted it to fit our needs,' they tell Business Insider. 'We mapped it out in our living room with bar stools and ratchet straps to really get an idea of what it would be like to live inside this thing.'
From there, it was a matter of setting aside a portion of their income each month to direct towards renovations. 'We would target an area -- the flooring or the insulation or the walls -- and would go to Home Depot, get as many supplies as we could, and build it out. It was a piecemeal process over nine months.'
The two biggest projects were installing windows and figuring out electricity. 'The windows were the first major remodel we did to the trailer,' they tell Business Insider. 'That got us going. At that point in time -- when you're about to cut a hole in a brand new trailer -- there's no going back.'
As for electricity, which took a good month to figure out, they invested in a $1,600 Goal Zero Yeti solar generator so their home could run off solar power.
Other projects included building a sofa bed, insulating the walls and ceiling, and installing a shower, cabinets, drawers, a kitchen sink, and even a toilet.
Initial renovations cost about $4,000. Living in the tiny house for the past seven months, they have put another $1,500 into it, making the total cost of their tiny home $10,250.
'It's just like owning a house,' they say. 'It's never done. It's just a matter of what gets remodeled next -- but with us, instead of dealing with 1,500 or 2,000 square feet, we're dealing with 98.'
They hit the road with their two dogs on May 31, 2015 for a two-week tour of the interior of Alaska before travelling across the continent to their home state of Michigan, where they spent the summer with family.
They had a decent amount of savings -- about $7,200 -- partly from selling most of their possessions in Juneau. 'We used that money to help pay for the truck payment and insurance from June until now,' they explain. 'Now we rely on music to pay for those things.'
Their main source of income is from O'Rorke Stedman's shows -- he plays anywhere from two to four shows a week, or eight to 15 a month -- and Tousley does a few odd jobs, such as design work, data entry, and substitute teaching, on the road.
While their current income is substantially less than their combined earnings in Juneau, they're saving significantly on living expenses and have adopted more of a frugal mindset to make it work.
The obvious money-saver is rent -- there's no large home to power or maintain -- but perhaps the biggest money-saver has been material possessions. Even if the temptation to buy shoes, clothes, or knick-knacks arises, ultimately, there's no space to accommodate anything new, they explain.
'The cost of living in Juneau is very high,' they say. 'We were paying $1,550 a month for our rental house, which is pretty typical. We thought we might not make as much as we were when we were both working full time, but if we could travel for less than it cost us in rent, then it was a win-win. That's how we came up with the 'pay gas, not rent.''
Of course, gas adds up. 'We get terrible gas mileage -- 11.1 miles per gallon -- so just about anywhere we drive is expensive.'
It's hard to say how much they're saving month-to-month, as their expenses fluctuate drastically. For example, they only spent $1,546 in August 2015, but $2,744 in September.
'It all depends on where we are and how much we're travelling. When we were in Colorado for October and half of November, our cost of living was pretty low because we were staying with family, but then we did a cross-country trip from Colorado out to the California coast and back, so that was a few thousand dollars realistically speaking.'
They share their monthly costs on their blog, which they break down into categories: camping, gas, groceries, restaurants, tiny house, tourism, vehicle, and dog.
While they may not end up saving a tremendous amount over the course of the year, they're able to travel and see the country without accumulating any debt.
'We didn't have any credit card debt when we left, and still don't have any,' they explain. 'We've been able to pay for things as we make money from Curtiss playing music.'
'The reality of the situation is that we've been able to travel across the country several times at this point, and have seen incredible things and have been able to afford to do so without going into any debt, so that's a big thing for us,' Tousley explains. 'But realistically speaking, we don't really have a savings account. We don't have retirement plans. We've agreed that come summer I should start looking for a job so that we can build up savings again and do the adult things.'
While the plan is to start looking for a home base this summer, that does not mean an end to travel, they emphasise. 'The nice thing is that depending on the job that Kelly ends up getting -- and hopefully the music keeps getting better and better, which as of right now, it is -- it doesn't look like the travelling for either of us is going to stop, even though it might slow down.'
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