The call connects, and a woman’s face, topped by dark curls, appears on the screen. Behind her, on a beach in Sicily’s Marina di Modica, a small, white bus shines in the evening sun. But this bus isn’t just for holidays; it’s also a home.
“Look!” says Rebekka Bünter as she enthusiastically begins the virtual tour, showing us the small shower cubicle, toilet, bed, folding benches and twin hotplates. The bus is small, more so than your average coach or mobile home. This makes it all the more practical, Bünter tells us; parking is a cinch and it’s easy to navigate through city streets and alleyways. While Rebekka shows us around inside the bus, Isabella Schulz is outside, busily preparing an aperitif on a folding table. Tonight’s special: fresh sheep’s milk ricotta with olives, accompanied by a glass of red wine. “The on-board luxury continues”, she says with a grin.
Schulz & Bünter’s decision to relinquish their 3-bedroom apartment in favour of a six-metre-square home on wheels was a bold one. The choice, which the couple made in 2019, was also the only one right for them, they confirm. “We’d had enough of the gridlock, following the same routine”, Rebekka says. The pair debated every option under the sun, from moving across Switzerland to emigration. After taking a trip in a live-in bus, however, they both knew they’d found the answer. They no longer wanted to reserve that feeling of freedom and being close to nature just for holidays; they wanted to make it their actual lifestyle.
And with that, the process of giving their things away and putting furniture into storage began. They bought a Toyota Hilux which they converted for off-road use, fitting a folding roof so they could stand up in the cab. Solar panels were also installed on the roof so that they could generate their own energy. “We produce enough electricity to power the lights, fridge, boiler, heating and hotplates, Naturschallwandler sound system and our laptops. Full sunlight charges our batteries in no time at all, and also provides warm water for showering and washing up”, Rebekka reports happily.
Their home on wheels doubles up as their office. EU-wide data roaming regulations let you access WLAN by using your phone as a hotspot, as Isabella explains: "All we have to do is make sure that we have good network coverage where we are at that moment. If not, we just drive a little further. And, just like that, we can usually work on the go”.
Isabella gave up her own practice as a hearing balance trainer in the canton of Lucerne when she moved into the bus. She now rents a practice by the hour while in Switzerland. Since the start of the coronavirus epidemic, however, she has shifted her focus to online consultations.
Rebekka, who works in theatre, has been unable to perform on stage or at private events for some time due to Covid. She now writes short texts and plays for both stage and radio. Both also offer coachings over Zoom. A digital nomad’s dream? “Digitalisation naturally supports our lifestyle;
we can work remotely and pay the bills online”, Rebekka explains. She adds that having fewer fixed costs consequently leaves her with fewer money worries.
Two glasses clink together, the phone display glowing a deep wine red. Rebekka and Isabella celebrate their new life every day. “For us, the most wonderful part is being in nature.’ Rebekka says. “We start looking for our own little spot in the evening – when we’re in Switzerland, we usually pick somewhere on the edge of a forest. The holiday feeling sets in as soon as we unpack the camping table and chairs”, she adds, laughing. “This lifestyle is so close to nature, which leaves us feeling very happy and relaxed”, Isabella agrees. Life feels much closer to nature now. “I don’t even like sleeping in houses any more”, Rebekka claims. If the two ever want to explore a city, they bring out the folding bikes that they keep on the bus. They ride home when they’re finished – and fall asleep to the sounds of the forest.
And yet, does this idyllic-sounding lifestyle come with its own less-than-ideal limitations? Not at all, according to the pair. “We never feel like we’re missing out on anything. We still meet plenty of people – even more than when we lived in a house – because we get a lot of visitors who are interested in us and our bus”, Rebekka says. Their new lifestyle shows that things can still be done simply and on a small scale. “If more than one friend ever visits us at the same time, they just have to bring their own cutlery with them”, Rebekka laughs. The only difficulties they face, she says, come when driving or parking restrictions leave them with nowhere to pull up for the night.
For the moment, however, it’s all plain sailing. The two feel at ease on their Sicilian beach. “We never have to decide whether we want to live in the mountains, by the sea, in a city or in the countryside. Being mobile allows us to go wherever we want, and that freedom is wonderful”, Rebekka muses.
For Isabella, the fact that this lifestyle is automatically more sustainable is another big plus. “We definitely approach things in a more environmentally friendly way – for example, we use very little water”, she says. The shower boiler holds just six litres, and the pair either hand-wash their clothes in rivers using natural soap, wait until they visit friends or stop at a launderette. As long as their solar panels produce enough energy for warm water, Isabella and Rebekka don’t even have to resort to using energy guzzling devices like the kettle. “Our living arrangement forces us not to buy anything new except what we truly need”, Isabella adds. “And we’ve come to realise just how little that is.”
The Sun sinks lower in the sky while the birds serenade us with their evening chorus, accompanied by the waves crashing against the shore. The couple currently has no plans to return to Switzerland. They want to continue living their new lifestyle “for as long as we enjoy it”, in Rebekka’s words. That could be a long while yet.