5 Jan 2023

Life's a bus

From Summer Times, 10:10 am on 5 January 2023

After hours trapped in a 22nd-floor Christchurch hotel room following the 2011 earthquake, Andy Cleverley decided life had to change.

Chucking in his corporate life, he bought an old school bus, converted it into an off-grid motorhome and set off travelling with his young family.

Andy's vlog series Bus Life NZ has had millions of YouTube views. Now he's back with a second bus and a second season.

Andy Cleverly in his renovated bus

Photo: Andy Cleverly

When the magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit Christchurch,  Andy, his wife Amber and their two kids were having lunch and preparing to move to Australia.

“I had just finished up a big job here in New Zealand and was about to start a new job over in Australia.

“So just grabbing lunch, waiting for some laundry to finish up. And next thing just all hell broke loose. There wasn't even a chance to think about what was going on. It was just what is happening? What do I do? It was a survival mode straightaway.”

Such experiences tend to focus the mind, he says.

“Basically, we were trapped there, [on Floor 22] there were no more fire stairs, they’d all collapsed.

“So, we spent the next around two to three hours basically just sitting in a room waiting to either somehow be rescued from 22 stories, or for the building to collapse.

“And it was just this race against time. And when you're sitting there and you're fully expecting a building to collapse around you and kill you, you start to really think about what's important.”

Andy promised himself that if he survived, he would live life differently.

Initially, he went back to work, then after suffering from PTSD decided to act on the resolution he'd made while stranded in the hotel room for five hours.

“I started to make a plan of how you can actually do this, how you can spend the hours of your life doing what you wanted to do. And that came down to, money, right?

“Everything in society is how you can make money and how you can live and how you can have a house and all those sorts of things.”

Andy realised ditching the house part would free him up.

“I started researching and looking on YouTube and figuring out how these people were living their alternative lives and found people living in buses. It was just really captivating to me.

“They've been able to travel around and have these amazing experiences and adventures and living for a very, very little amount of money.”

Andy bought an ex-school bus from Wellington and, despite absolutely zero experience as a mechanic, started converting it.

“I think I owned a power drill that someone had given me for a birthday and I might have taken out of the box and used it twice.

“I just watched a whole heap of YouTube videos and googled a whole heap of stuff and just said, Well, I'm gonna give it a go.”

Crafting the bus took a year of Andy working every spare minute.

Heading off in it for the first time was an overwhelming experience, he says.

“It was just so exciting. When we left it was just yeah, this feeling of freedom, but also kind of like this anticipation and anxiety around is this real life? Are we actually doing this, and we escaped? Or is this a weird reality that doesn't really exist? And what have we done?

“But it was very exciting. And the kids just had an absolute ball. It was probably the best life that we could have given them actually.”

Now separated from Amber, Andy has converted a second house bus to take on life as a single dad. 

“My wife and I actually ended up getting a divorce. So, as you do, you change and you drift apart and you know, nothing untoward. But we just decided we wanted different things.

“So, we ended up separating about a year after we sold the bus. And we've now been divorced for a while and I'm a single dad and I just went you know what, it's time for me to get back into doing what I love and ditching these housing costs so I can really be present for the kids.”

Andy now lives on the road and draws an income from a commercial cleaning business and YouTube.

His advice to others contemplating a similar life is just do it.

"That's the exact advice that I got, was just do it, do it now. I saw a couple in this really cool bus in Kaikōura. And I went in there and looked at it and I asked them all about it and they just said do it, do it now it's just perfect time you can figure it out.

“You don't have to be an expert at building you can figure the whole thing out and away you go and there is a lot of people like me online and we're happy to help out and provide a bunch of videos and answer any questions and away you go, it’s a great life.”