For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment that requires a creative approach on how to live life happily. For the fortunate ones, this has involved a process of learning how to live with less, thinking outside of the box for opportunities for adventure as well as leaning into and cherishing community. It’s a lesson that Jenna, a tiny bus dweller in Denver Colorado, has been exercising for the last three years with the aspiration of inspiring others through a photo journal on her Instagram account, @highspiritsjourney. “It’s pretty much been life as normal for me” when asked how the pandemic has changed her lifestyle. Jenna, who is immune-compromised due to a chronic illness she has had since she was 15, has kept away from large crowds and has always been on heightened alert for her health.
She made the decision to live in a tiny bus after struggling to live and make ends meet with her disability. Living small would give her some financial freedom but more importantly, it would make recovering from a fall or conserving energy much easier. She is fully aware of how drastic the move into a vehicle was but with few options to allow her to live happily and in good health, Jenna started looking into her alternatives. “I couldn't work a full-time job anymore. Having money to pay for rent somewhere became more and more of a struggle.” Jenna started her search by looking into tiny houses but soon realized that they were out of her budget. She then turned to RVs but found that anything affordable might not have an engine that would be worth the expenses of a remodel. That is when she eventually landed on buses. “It seemed like the perfect thing. I could customize it and they are some of the safest things on the road.” After a lot of research, she narrowed down her choices based on the size of the diesel engine and bus she wanted. Jenna, who was living in Miami at the time, eventually purchased her bus from an auction in Tennessee. Her plan was to pick up the bus, bring it back to Miami and prepare for a return to Colorado where she had lived for a number of years before. According to Jenna, not only is the climate better for her health but “the community there is very supportive of each other and projects and helping things come into fruition. I knew in my heart it was where I had to be.”
Like any great journey, the bus and Jenna had to overcome a number of challenges. Some of these obstacles included a break-in and vandalism and then, much worse, a case of cephalitis that left her bedridden for four months. But much like many other obstacles in Jenna’s life, she kept her spirits high and refused to give up. “I kind of had a mantra during that time. To keep moving forward, I have to find things to look forward to”.
Over the years, Jenna’s bus has undergone quite a transformation and she has been living comfortably with her service dog, Kali. Her home is mostly complete, equipped with efficient features like a composting toilet and solar panels. Her Dad, who although supportive, admittedly lacked the skills to help Jenna with the buildout, even stayed on the bus during his visit last summer. He and his partner were blown away with the space and its many customizations; customizations that suited Jenna’s needs, unlike any place she had lived before.
Overseeing and managing the general construction of her bus, Jenna has tackled the buildout very strategically, spending long stretches of time researching and preparing. “Living in a construction zone is really challenging for people in regular houses, but in a small space, the smallest mess is the biggest mess.” There are still some larger projects Jenna would like to tackle. The next project on deck is some new cabinets that she plans to build with a friend. Much like her cabinet project, a lot of the building has taken place with friends. “I find when you are willing to be helpful, other people don’t mind being helpful in return.” It’s a simple concept with a big impact on the amount of love and creativity that has poured into her home’s existence.
Because of the nature of tackling this large of a project, Jenna has been able to expand her skillset in many trades and enjoys learning about each one. She’s been able to work with a number of different materials and when asked if she has a favorite trade, the answer is no. The diversity in craft has been something she has truly enjoyed. In fact, she has enjoyed the project so much, she has been helping others tackle their vehicle conversions. Through teaching basic skills classes and consulting via Instagram and in person, she is making an impact on women and people with disabilities who are looking to be empowered through their living space.
Because Jenna didn't have someone to look to for guidance when she set out on this journey, she has found a lot of happiness being that example for those who are following their dreams to live a more sustainable lifestyle. And although she has been giving the information out casually and freely to those in need, she would love to turn her consulting into a business that could help more people, especially those with disabilities who are in need of highly customized spaces. Helping others along a more purposeful path to a life for themselves is what Jenna's High Spirits Journey is all about. A journey in this day and age that, regardless of a person’s physical ability, is more relevant and necessary than ever.