VAN living has become a popular route for young hipsters looking to travel and escape the 9 to 5 grind.
But for Theodore Zen, it was a matter of necessity after a wildfire destroyed his home, leaving him to transform an old school bus into a house on wheels — and all on a budget.
After the Woolsey Fire destroyed countless houses around Malibu in 2018, Theodore was left homeless.
Since his home was not insured in the event of a fire, Theodore said he was thrown into van life.
The artist spoke to The U.S. Sun about how the environmental disaster inspired him to embark on a new life path.
He explained that a lot of people around California were in the same situation, and he witnessed an even larger uptick in van dwellers during the Covid pandemic.
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Hoping to avoid campground rates, Theodore began parking his van on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway.
The former real estate worker was able to stay parked for up to 72 hours at a time and revealed that the police were mostly understanding of his situation.
Eventually, he made the move to a yard where people were working on converting old school buses to Skoolies, solar-powered mobile homes.
He managed to do it without spending much, hunting for bargain buys and working with unused materials from other projects.
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"I had a bunch of projects going on, so we started building with stuff that we would find like used wood pallets from furniture stores, stuff from Facebook," he said.
"The flooring, which we got from Marketplace, was redwood planks and it was really nice.
"We sourced wood from homes being remodeled as we decided on a country-themed design for the living area [of the bus].
"We bought bundles of tongue and grooved pine from half-price returns at Lowe's or Home Depot."
He also repurposed a stainless steel stall door from a public bathroom renovation to create a backsplash for one of his buses.
Theodore even traded in the 2006 Dodge van that had been his home since the fire for the old school bus.
After sourcing a second-hand engine and applying his artistic skills to create a camouflage design on the exterior, the 25-foot school bus was ready to be lived in.
Nowadays, Theodore rents out his renovated bus in various state parks, making about $180 per day.
He now owns four larger Skoolies and some smaller vans, which he hopes to officially list on Airbnb.
"We're looking at going out [to the desert] with fully self-contained solar vehicles," Theodore explained.
He referenced a woman who has set up her own remote luxury glamping grounds, The Desert Rose Collective, that is fully self-sufficient with its own well.
Since the off-grid location won't have electricity, Theodore highlighted the importance of solar paneling.
"We're pushing the solar, you know fully self-contained just like the old hippies," he joked.
He also incorporated compost toilets into each of his Skoolie buses.
Theodore pointed out the importance of such vehicles in the event of another fire or natural disaster.
"We've been doing self-contained vehicles with solar panels that people can actually live in if there's a big emergency, which seems to be happening a lot," he said.
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He explained that he would like to create as many self-sufficient vehicles as he can.
To support that dream, he and his girlfriend Jen have published a children's book, Hannah the Hummingbird Girl.
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