Solo Nomadic Traveler Converts Econoline E450 Shuttle Bus
Meet Brad! Next up in The Bus Fair Feature Series, Brad shares his experience surviving three hurricanes while on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and how they changed his life -- for the better! After coming home with a new sense of direction, Brad takes us through his thought process that brought him into nomadic living, first with the Econoline E-250 van and then to the Econoline E450 shuttle bus with his pup, Lucy.
Everything changed for me about three years ago. I experienced three hurricanes during my two-week vacation to St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. Out of the three, Hurricane Maria was by far the most devastating. The hurricane itself came and went in about five hours but the aftermath of shredded houses and downed power lines would last much longer. Food was limited and we drank swimming pool water for about a week until relief provided us with a bucket water-filter system. We had minimal possessions and no cell service or flights off the island for about a month. The situation sounds tragic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I experienced happiness and a sense of community like never before. Everyone was pitching in to help clean up. We stacked sandbags with smiles. Hugs and Jokes were being exchanged instead of memes and complaints. We were cut off from the internet, and the rest of the world. It was at this moment that I found my happiness. Helping others, finding community, and living a minimalist life. I truly believe that the world would be a better place if we all had a little hurricane in our life.
Upon returning to the States, I knew that my life course had been forever changed. I started consuming content based around minimalism, alternative lifestyles, and the quest for happiness. I ultimately stumbled upon “Cheap RV Living” and “Adventure Van Man” through YouTube. I saw a different life. One where I could live with less and spend my days in nature. One where my mind was focused on my next adventure rather than my next purchase. Within about 60 days, I sold everything I owned and bought a 2005 Ford Econoline. I let the lease on my apartment expire and drove to my dad's house to complete the build-out.
Fast forward 1.5 years. I was still extremely satisfied with the nomadic lifestyle that vanlife had provided. However, I desired more room. I found that in my van I didn’t really leave the bed. Sleeping, relaxing, and watching Netflix all happened while lying on the bed. Cooking and working on my laptop happened while seated at the edge of my bed. I couldn’t fully stand up and missed the experience of walking around my “house”. I knew that I could not give up this nomadic lifestyle but needed a new “house” I started consuming content again. I took a deep dive into YouTube and watched tours of every type of mobile living scenario possible: van, bus, camper, cargo trailer, box truck, ambulance. Ultimately, I was happy with the ford Econoline drivetrain on my E-250 van and so an Econoline bus was very appealing to me.
Headroom to fully stand up/get dressed
Length to walk around
Small enough to park in most spaces
After searching all the usual online marketplaces, I found exactly what I was looking for. One hundred miles away from where I was staying there was a 10-passenger (20’ total length only 2’ longer than my van) 2000 Ford E-450 7.3L diesel shuttle bus for sale. It had only 127,000 miles and the seller was willing to drop the price down to $4,000. A series of events took place that could be described as nothing short of a miracle. I was able to move mountains and become the new owner of the exact vehicle that my heart desired. After purchasing the bus, I drove it nearly 300 miles to my dad's house where I would start the build-out.
After 6 months of full-time bus living, I am so happy that I made the switch. This bus is everything I was missing, and it even gets an additional 2mpg more than my van! Vanlife was a great introduction to the nomadic lifestyle and included an additional level of “stealth” that was very much appreciated as I adjusted to life on the road. As a seasoned nomad, I recommend everyone who feels the calling to give it a try. Just go with whatever you can afford and if you decide to stick around, buy the vehicle you really want on the second time. It’s nearly impossible to know what you really want/need until you get out and start living.
Model: Econoline E450
Motor: 7.3L turbodiesel
Interior square footage:105ft2
Current location: Oregon
Purchased from/Location: Las Vegas
Cost Breakdown: Bus:$4,000
Tires/maintenance to get it roadworthy: $2,000
Conversion Materials/Equipment: $2,500
Conversion time working all day/ every day: 6 weeks
Does your bus have a name or phrase you call it? If so, why did you choose it?
I have not named my bus...I am not opposed, however, nothing has inspired a name yet.
Will you be full-timing?
I have been full-timing for the past 2 years and will continue to do so.
Where are you converting/ did you convert your bus?
I completed this conversion myself with some help from my father. It is my second full build-out. I learned a
lot while building my van and brought those lessons over to this bus build which Is why I was able to build it fairly quickly.
Who are you living/traveling with?
I am living with my dog Lucy.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
Building a complete bus requires many skills…Electrical, mechanical, plumbing, general construction. I was fortunate to have a background in this as I spent 10 years in the HVAC(Heating, Ventilation, and air conditioning) industry which taught me the required skills to complete this bus build in a semi-professional manner.
Tips/tricks/advice to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this? Any current troubles?
The big tip I have for everyone considering this lifestyle is to simply get out and try it. Buy something cheap or simply rent a UHAUL box truck and fill it with camping gear. This is the best way to decide if this lifestyle is really for you and which type of vehicle you will be most comfortable in. I see so many “newbies” online that are getting caught up in the consumerism of “vanlife”. Spending days debating brands and colors/finishes. Or even worse, financing an expensive vehicle/build only to decide that they prefer the comforts of sticks and bricks.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
The most unique feature of my conversion is the sliding window panel that I made from kitchen drawer slides. I have not seen it done before. It allows me to effortlessly open or close the window covering from my desk.
What do you do for income? How often do you work while on the bus?
For income, I am a digital content creator. This is mostly gig work and includes photography/videography and social media account management for several clients. Pay is not great, but my expenses are low and I get to live life on my terms…which is most important to me.
What about the bus will help you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
My lifestyle goals include spending more time and nature and avoiding the rat race. The bus helps me achieve this by providing a low-cost place for me to live and allowing me to sleep among the trees and travel to many new locations.
What have been people’s reaction to you buying a bus to live in?
When people find out that I’m living in a bus, their reaction is usually one of curiosity. They are generally aware that people are living in vehicles but confused as to what would motivate someone to do so and what this lifestyle actually looks like. The first question is often “where do you go to the bathroom” I find it funny that of all the things one could be concerned about in regards to sustaining human life... using the bathroom is at the top of their list.
Have you met other skoolies or buslifers on the road?
I have met several bus dwellers, all of which have been warm and welcoming. I suppose at some level, we realize that we are all in this together. When a fellow bus dweller is having mechanical troubles, it sparks compassion as you remember that time you broke down on the side of the road. You remember the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty. And so you offer to help however you can. You offer a shoulder to cry on and comforting words to help carry them through the darkness. And when the clouds pass, you’ll see them at their best again. Lounging in a hammock under the trees, hiking along the river, or sharing a cup of tea consisting of freshly foraged wild mint and pine needles. You will find good people out here, it’s a community that operates on gratitude and kindness.
Tell us about your layout. Kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom?
I am very happy with the layout of my build. The bed is “full” size and situated sideways in the back. There is a large door that opens allowing me to use all the space under the bed as storage. Also when I'm parked somewhere especially beautiful, I can open the door and lay in bed looking out at Nature's current offering.
About a third of my bus is the kitchen area. I have a fridge, Instant Pot, blender, propane stove, sink, and large prep surface. I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, so the workspace was important to me. I don’t really have a bathroom. There is no shower, and my toilet is just a small camp version that slides under the bed.
What is the most memorable place you’ve traveled in your bus conversion?
The most memorable place I have traveled was not due to the geographical location, but rather the people I met there. Summer 2019 I spent 4 days at a vehicle dwellers festival. It was pure magic. I feel like I lived an entire lifetime in just 4 days. I met friends who I now talk to more than family. We shared experiences that can’t really be put into words. For me, the relationships I have made from living on the road are priceless. I have seen beautiful waterfalls and sunsets, but they don’t truly come alive until they are shared.
Where do you project you’ll be three months from now?
Three months from now is about a year in nomad time. It’s hard to plan that far in advance when you have nothing holding you down. Physically, I believe I will be somewhere in the state of Oregon. The universe will have to fill in the rest.
You can follow Brad's journey on Instagram @nomad_brad_503
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley