Meet a Quebec family who traded in ‘dream’ home for life in revamped school bus

Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard with their four sons shown on an antique vehicle during a stop on their travels. The family of six has been travelling for the past eight months across Canada. Courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard

Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard had settled into a comfortable life with their four young sons in the suburbs outside of Montreal when they knew something had to change.

The spacious three-floor house, the massive yard, two cars and several children: it was what they describe as a typical image of a family.

“It was the dream a lot of people want,” Ringuette said.

But it was too much for the clan of six. After returning home from a road trip to Florida during the holidays in 2018 where Ringuette and her boys curled up together at night in a recreational vehicle, one of their sons looked up from the carpet and said, “Mama, this house is way too big.”

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And that moment sparked two years of slowly downsizing, selling their cottage in Saint-Clet and outfitting a new home on wheels to travel with their family.

The couple purchased a nearly 10-year-old school bus for about $3,000 in 2019. But they didn’t set out right away. As a family, they removed the seats and transformed the entire space into a new dwelling, putting in around $40,000 in total to make it feel like theirs.

After they sold their cottage, they moved into Lessard’s parents’ house for a few months at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic while they were still building, converting and tuning up their sleek grey mobile home. There was maintenance, inspections, changes in travel plans and delays — and they wanted to be autonomous and financially sound on the road — before the family headed out west in early November 2020.

“Our goal was to be free,” Ringuette said.

The family of six lives in a revamped bus. Photo courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard. Courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard

Slow living guides the way

The family of six set their sights on British Columbia for the winter, and it took 12 days to reach it after they left Quebec.

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In the past eight and a half months, they drove more than 22,000 kilometres on their trip through the western part of Canada. Their social media pages are decorated with photos of hikes through mountains, snapshots of their boys exploring cities and rural areas, and videos detailing their travels.

But it isn’t just about sightseeing. The idea was to not rush through areas so as to truly explore and to meet other families on the road. They didn’t have a specific itinerary to follow, since they didn’t want to treat it like a two-week, jam-packed vacation.

“From the beginning, we said we wouldn’t travel like others,” she said.

They wanted to distance themselves from jumping from one place to the next, and instead adopted more of a slow-travelling initiative and move based on what or how they feel.

“When we were good, we stayed and when we’ve had enough,” Ringuette said with her partner chiming in, “we leave.”

All four boys are being homeschooled during their time on the road in Canada. Photo courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard. Courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard

Since it isn’t a vacation, Lessard also quit his job as a truck driver while the family lives on the road. The pair also focused on homeschooling their boys: Dominick, Gabriel, Olivier and Raphaël, who range in age from five to 11.

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They had some practice due to the pandemic, which forced Quebec schools to close in March 2020. Their sons read and write every day, complete math exercises, and spend time in nature and do hikes as a family.

Nomadic living has been a lesson in listening to themselves and going with the flow. But it requires patience and acceptance when things go awry.

“There are very tough days,” Ringuette said.

With life on the road, there are countless enticing photos of people relaxing on beaches or visiting local breweries, Lessard said, but there are times when you’re woken up by a kid because a toilet is overflowing and water is all over the floor.

“It’s 9:30 at night and you have two hands in poop,” he said. “You’re in a Walmart parking lot and trying not to spill anything anywhere and you’re soaked because everything is closed.”

“It’s all very relative.”

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‘If we can do it, anyone can do it’

The other aspect of nomadic living is to prepare for the costs that come with owning a recreational vehicle or bus. Oil changes are more expensive compared to a regular car, for example.

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It’s best to set aside money for regular tune-ups and unexpected hiccups, the pair say. Sometimes it’s also tough to find mechanics.

How did the Ringuette-Lessard clan prepare? They sold their house and they aren’t bound by a mortgage. They don’t count themselves as lucky, though, since they made trade-offs to make the leap.

“If we can do it, anyone can do it,” Ringuette said.

The four boys in Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard. Photo courtesy of Vicky Ringuette and Alexandre Lessard.

Aside from the financial aspect, anyone who is enticed by van or bus life should also be ready to give themselves more time to explore, they add.

The couple plan to keep up their nomadic lifestyle as long as possible with their sons. That could maybe one day mean travelling to other countries or continents, like Europe. After weaving through Canada through the cold months, they returned to Quebec in the summer to see family before heading back out to see parts of their home province.

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They are heading to Baie-James in the north this week and with hopes of taking in the region. The family of six has no timeline laid out.

Click to play video: 'Van life means freedom for some and economic necessity for others'
Van life means freedom for some and economic necessity for others

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