Home Is Where You Make It
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By Denise Shannon
If you had the chance to move wherever you wanted, whenever you wanted, and take your home with you, would you? Or are you a stationary, stay-in-one-place type of person? Some people live in their homes and travel as well. Currently, there is a couple who are based here in Kahoka that are able to move with their home from one place to another. Let’s find out how they made this happen.
Who are they?
Meet Eric and Johanna Thebige. They are currently living in their home, which is a bus, here in Kahoka. Originally from the Syracuse, New York area, Eric is a truck driver and Johanna is a pet groomer, and is also currently working at a local grocery store. They keep in touch with her children as they travel. They also have their fluffy buddy, Bandit, who is a lovable cat that keeps them company.
How did they get started?
Eric got this idea from watching TV shows about full-time RV living. The shows explained everything from how convert a bus, to traveling to certain places. They also did research over full-time RV living, converting, and traveling. It took about two years of researching and getting things organized for them before they decided to live this way. It was a big decision that they had to make.
There were reasons that they were looking into it.
Eric wanted to be able to travel freely, and to get to see different places on his own, without the directions of where to go as a truck driver. When they could, they would travel from the Syracuse area to Branson, where they would go to their church down there. After traveling like this for a while, they discovered that they were interested in traveling, and was wanting to get away from the Syracuse area.
Johanna had a personal reason for full-time RV living. A while back, Johanna was in a vehicle accident and hurt her back severely. They didn’t think that she would get to walk. But she has, and right now she is still able to be mobile, with warmer weather.
Cold weather affects her, she cannot be mobile when it is really cold.
Johanna explained, “Before we left New York, I was stuck on the couch for seven months, because it was cold, and I couldn’t be mobile, I couldn’t do much from the pain, and the exhaustion.”
Due to this health issue, she began to consider this way of living and traveling, so that she could get to see everything while she could still be mobile. She wanted to have no regrets later on in life for not getting out and going places when she could.
The couple decided they were going to buy a bus, and make this idea happen. They were also thinking that this could also be a way for them to reach out to people throughout the United States as they traveled to share their Christian beliefs, by praying with them, and teaching God’s word, and leading them to come to Christ if it should arise.
They bought a bus, gutted it out, painted it, and fixed it up to what it is now. They sold the house they had. They gave away all of their belongings, except for a little that they kept, so that they could have enough storage for everything they needed.
“As far as belongings, we scanned all of our pictures, and we store them on USB drives, this way we can keep them and have storage”, said Johanna.
Starting out with this adventure, they were debt-free with no bills left hanging over their heads. They have known of others that have started out with this type of adventure to help get them out of debt.
Next thing, they were up and traveling by their bus/home, and it helped Johanna’s back and her mobility by moving to warmer weather.
They travel with their home, stopping at different spots that are Bureau of Land Management lands, which is U.S. public lands, and natural forests that present free parking.
They have been moving with their home for two and a half years now.
“We can bless others by moving the way we are, whether it’s with money or whatever, we can do it if we choose to. We do not have to worry about a mortgage payment or any other bills that you may have, so we can help people if we choose to do so,” said Johanna.
How does their bus/home work?
Inside of their bus/home, they have things just like everyone else does. They have the power to run lights, outlets, fans, a microwave, a fridge, USB ports, cameras, even an air conditioner. On top of their bus/home, they have solar panels that help to produce electricity. They use these a lot when they travel, usually 60% of the time when they are out in the middle of nowhere staying. “The southwestern states are good for using these with the sun”, said Eric.
The solar panels connect to batteries within their bus/home. Another way that they have electricity for their appliances is by hooking up into electricity, which they very seldom use. They have a generator, and a power inverter that helps them to have their electric for their bigger appliances, or when they have not had enough sun to charge the batteries with the solar panels. When that happens, they can fall back on these other ways to get electric.
“Sometimes we have to clean them from time to time due to pollen or dust getting on them, but, other than that we haven’t had any trouble with the solar panels”, said Eric.
They can cook inside of their home by using propane. They have a propane heater, a small electric heater, and a heated blanket for when it is cold. They have fans inside, and on top of their bus/home to help with cooling. They have a sink that runs water to do dishes with. They have a shower that they can use. They even have a bucket toilet system set-up to use for their bathroom.
When it comes to water, they have two 50-gallon water containers that they fill up every two to three weeks. They get their water from public water spigots. One 50-gallon wastewater container is under the bus/home that allows them to wash dishes and take a shower. And, another 50-gallon freshwater container is neatly tucked away for drinking inside their bus/home.
For their food, they eat out a lot, and also buy perishable items, caned and dry items, fresh fruits, and they carry emergency food with them as well.
They also have a built-in bedframe which they made, and a big bed to sleep in. Bandit, their cat, even has his own place where he sleeps. They also made Bandit a lookout window, so he could see the outside.
Everything they have inside their home is neatly organized to save space. On one of their walls, they have magnetic strips put up that hold their utensils for cooking and eating. They have shoe holders hanging up along a wall, that has neatly separated different items that they use all the time for easy access to the things that they need and use the most.
As they travel, they buy things that can help with their bus/home such as oils, fluids, hoses, wires, and things like that, that they can store easily. It can take a while for them to get parts for their bus/home should they need to order them, so they try to be prepared for the most common things that could happen to get them out of a jam.
How long do they stay somewhere?
“We usually only stay in one place for about a day or two, so you’re in a constant state of ‘don’t take out too much, because it will be time to pack up, then we start traveling again’, said Johanna. We do not sit long”.
Their longest stay has been here in Kahoka. Right now, they are building up their money to travel with. They are thinking that they are expecting to leave Kahoka again in early November to go to Branson.
Every November they attend a special celebration that takes place for veterans in the Ball Park of America in Branson, Mo.
“There are usually thousands of veterans that go there for free shows, food etc.”, said Johanna. This is their favorite place to visit. They want to pay their respect to the veterans for all they have done for us.”
Then, they will head south.
How did they come across Kahoka?
“The first time they come to Kahoka was in June 2018”, said Eric. They had been traveling, and they were coming back from Branson, and were headed toward the I-80 truck stop when they come across Fox Valley Lake. They stayed there for a while. They used their trike, and drove into Kahoka, and ate at different restaurants, and become really good friends with people here in town. After their first time staying here, they really enjoyed it. They come back a second time then went back down south. Then they had come back their third time, this is their third summer in Kahoka.
“This year, we rented a place. That way, if I am out driving a truck, Johanna can walk to where she needs to go. It’s a safe place, we met great people, never had any issues, never had to worry about crime. It’s been really good to us”, said Eric.
“This has become our biggest draw, and we have been to a lot of small towns all over the country, and we have met a lot of great people in small towns, many of them are good, some need some work, others really look at us like who are you, which is understandable, but, Kahoka, has always been our draw, and we are not quite sure why, but, we just keep coming back here”, said Eric.
How do they do laundry?
If there is a laundromat available, they will use it. If not, they have a washboard to use, along with a plunger and bucket method to clean their clothes. To dry their clothes, they have an awning, that they open up, and hang their clothes out to dry on.
How do they get their mail?
They pay a service over in South Dakota for getting their mail. The service gets their mail, separates it, and sends it to them wherever they are at the closest post-office to them. They just have to let the service know where they are at that time.
How do they take care of their licenses and registration on their vehicles?
They pay the same service in South Dakota that collects their mail. They also help them by doing their licenses and registrations when they come due.
What do they do for entertainment?
They do not have TV. They do have cell phones, and a Wi-Fi finder that picks up on free Wi-Fi when they want it.
When traveling to the desert or when they are in places that are in the middle of nowhere, they draw, sketch, go on hikes, and generally explore what they can. They like to look for little spots with museums or parks. These places seem to be the best when they are not looking for them, and come upon them by accident.
What do they pay the most for with expenses?
They said that what costs the most for them is for food, because they like to eat out different places they go, and for gas.
“The cost of our food depends on how much we eat out as we move. Sitting still it’s pretty low–maybe $100 a week. If we eat out a lot, it can be as much as $30 a day. It really varies. Fuel is about $150 for a tank of gas. It holds 50 gallons. We get about 10 miles per gallon approximately,” said Johanna,
Another thing that costs for them is their insurance. They have health insurance that covers them wherever they go. They also have insurance in case their vehicles break down, that covers them whereever they are as well.
Where have they been so far and plan to go next?
“We have been to 30 to 35 states. We have traveled to Route 66. This was our first trip when we started. Then we stayed in the desert of Arizona. Last winter, we were in southern Texas, about 10 miles from Mexico. We have been to Branson, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. We are looking into visiting Tennessee and Utah within the next year. We would eventually like to explore everything we can within the United States. It will take a lot of time and money. We have made Kahoka are center or base if you will, and Branson, because Missouri has been really good to us as a whole”, said Eric.
“We come back to Kahoka, over and over, for a reason. We love the little city, we love the people, we love what everybody does, and we have visited many towns, and cities large and small, and states. But this place represents small-town America, where people are simple. It’s affordable to live in, people look out for each other, and a lot of it is the opposite of what we’re used to. I grew up in upstate New York, and downstate New York, but Kahoka is one of those places where we would have been honored to be born and raised in. We love it here, we love the people, and we would like to come back as much as they would allow us to”, said Eric.
They like to make new friends in many places. Anyone wanting to follow them on their adventures or wanting to keep in contact with them as they travel can do so by following their Facebook page under the name of, Thebige Mansion RV. Bandit has his own page as well.
No matter where they go, home is where they make it.