Meet Wanda Outside!

"We were working nonstop on Wanda for months, but then realized it was still important to take time to enjoy friends and being outside. That is the whole reason we chose bus life in the first place!"

before after interior beach living room conversion

Shuttle Bus Conversion By: Jen and Brandon; Furry friends Joe and Cortado

Interview By: Patrick Schmidt

Bus Specs:
Make: Ford
Model: E350 28 passenger shuttle bus
Motor: 7.3L Diesel
Year: 1995
Interior Square Footage: 145 sq.ft.
Current Location: Emerald Isle, NC

Purchased From/Location: Black Mountain, NC (right outside of Asheville)
Cost in materials for the conversion: $18,000 (including price of the bus)
Expected time from purchase date to on the road: 1 year and 4 months

exterior wooden door wanda shuttle bus

What drew you to a bus? What’s the vision/plan?

We’ve been interested in tiny houses and alternative living styles for a while now. We live in a tight-knit community on an island in the southern OBX of North Carolina. Most people here are very down to earth and not as materialistic as the “norm”. We already live close to the ocean, islands, marshes, and enjoying the outdoors is a part of our daily routine.

To afford this lifestyle, we’ve been living with roommates and in small studio apartments for the past 6 years. So, in a way, we have always enjoyed living tiny and prefer to focus more on personal connections, learning new skills, and being close with nature than becoming monetarily wealthy and buying things we don’t need. Converting a bus on our own and traveling in it seemed to fit right into our way of life!

flooring painting interior shuttle conversion

Has your original vision/layout changed throughout the build?

Our layout hasn’t changed too much. We have a pretty small space, so all the bigger appliances had to go in certain spaces. Towards the end of the build, we did have to figure out where smaller things (like trashcan/recycle bin) would go. Currently, we’re still finishing up the solar system, propane, and grey water tank so we’re living in Wanda part-time. We plan to live in her full-time as soon as possible.

What do you think your day-to-day life will look like once you're living in the bus?

Hopefully lots of parks, public lands, and nature. We took a cross country road trip a few years ago, living out of a conversion van, and decided we want to focus less on cities, restaurants, etc. and that we really appreciate nature-made things rather than man-made.

Speaking of man-made, what tools have you found to be most helpful?

Drill, impact drill, miter saw... Although we didn’t have one, a table saw would have been very helpful. We got by using a skill saw along with a clamp guide for long, straight cuts. We also borrowed tools from my dad and close friends whenever we could. Having an amazing network of skilled builders from whom you can draw tools and professional advice is very helpful as well!

ripped out interior shuttle conversion

Where are you working on the conversion?

We are lucky to be able to rent from my parents right now. Their house has a nice driveway, small garage, extra space in the house to store appliances, and no HOA (home-owners association) in sight!

Anything you thought would be more/less challenging?

I honestly thought the electrical and solar set up was going to be more difficult. We opted to buy individual components to our solar set up instead of going with a kit, and after a few days of research, it really wasn’t intimidating anymore. I feel that we have a good handle on our electrical system and can easily expand the capacity of our system if we want to in the future.

joe dog shuttle conversion bedroom

What have been people’s reaction to you converting a bus?

Almost everyone says, “That’s awesome! I wish I would have done that when I was younger/before I had kids” or “You’re so lucky! I wish I could do that!” It makes us kind of sad that people seem so enthusiastic about the idea but feel constrained by their careers, money, or society’s view of this alternative lifestyle. We always want to respond “But you CAN do it! Just start!

In general, the people in our area have been super supportive and encouraging. There is a decent amount of people around us who live in RVs, mobile homes, or on boats to be able to afford to live at the beach.

wanda outside shuttle bus parked

What skills, if any, did you have going into the build?

Brandon had engineering and some woodworking skills prior to the build, and Jen knew how to sew, research, and keep track of money spent. Whatever skills or knowledge we lacked, we learned through watching YouTube videos and reading endless product reviews.

Has your relationship changed since you bought the bus?

Our relationship has evolved quite a bit since we began dating in 2013.

With the bus, we’ve definitely had some control issues. We were both working full time on Wanda for a majority of the build, and realized that we need to communicate about EVERYTHING. Things like how the bus will look, how many drawers this cabinet will have, where the toilet will go, when and what color we're painting that piece of wood over there, do I need to do X before you can do Z, etc.

We worked on being on the exact same line of the same page, all the time. We have a whole notebook full of diagrams we have drawn for each other to explain our individual visions and allow for collaboration and communication.

wanda shuttle bus inteior build

Are you on a schedule?

Is any build ever on schedule?? Haha. Our build is taking longer to finish than we planned. Some of our current pre-occupations are family obligations, friends, and the fact that it’s summer at the beach.

We were working nonstop on Wanda for months, but then realized it was still important to take time to enjoy friends and being outside. That is the whole reason we chose bus life in the first place!

before after seats interior shuttle conversion

Tips/advice for people that are looking to buy and convert a bus? Questions for people to ask that you wish you had known before?

Do your research on engines, and be patient!! We looked at Craigslist virtually every day for about a year before we found the deal we wanted to invest in. If you are going to put all the effort into building the interior of your bus, you definitely want it to be attached to a solid engine with good mileage. When we found our 7.3L diesel, garage kept, with only 73,000 miles on it, we knew she was the one!

What is the most unique feature of your conversion?

We have a dog “crate” under part of our bed for our two Boston Terriers. We repurposed a used headboard found at a local thrift store for the doors. We sawed the headboard down the middle, put each piece on drawer slides, and cleaned it up for a cute, upcycled space our pups can enjoy!

shuttle bedroom dog bed conversion

What do you do for income?

Jen was a bartender for the past 5 years and saved up money to fund the conversion and pay for living expenses while taking time off from work. Brandon is a wedding videographer and photographer and aims to further his film career. We are still looking into various streams of income that we can maintain while traveling.

As far as our budget goes, we have been able to stay within our limits so far. We still have some expenses to cover as we finish up the build, but everything seems to be on track.

What is your cooking/kitchen setup?

We have a propane two burner cook-top with electric start, sink with freshwater tank below or city water hookup, and an Airmaxx fan for ventilation.

clean interior design white shuttle

Washer/dryer? Bathroom?

No washer/dryer! We figure we can use a laundromat or wash our clothes in the sink and hang dry. For our bathroom, we went with a Nature’s Head composting toilet, which will hopefully be worth its cost!

From an environmental standpoint, we didn’t want to have a black water tank or chemical toilet. A composting toilet and only a grey water tank (we use all natural/biodegradable toiletries) seemed to be the best fit for our environmental concerns.

bathroom interior design shuttle bus

1 bathroom skoolie conversion

1 bathroom bus conversion shower interior design

Safety/Security concerns living in a Bus?

We have deadbolts and locks installed on our doors and have always felt pretty safe living in our area.

dog couch interior design shuttle

Where will you be 3 months from now?

Well, that’s the fun thing about Bus Life: We don’t really know where we’ll be in 3 months! Maybe we’ll take a trip out west, maybe we’ll go south and visit friends in Florida, or maybe we’ll still be in Emerald Isle figuring out our income streams and enjoying the beach life!

Our vision was to travel north from North Carolina and see all of the New England states, Canada, the PNW, and eventually relocate to San Francisco. But, as most things with bus conversions go, the plans have changed!

We recently decided we’d like to settle down in Emerald Isle and sink our roots in a bit. We love the community and all this area has to offer. We’re currently focusing on creating income sources that will be feasible to maintain on the road, because we will definitely still be traveling!

We’re looking for a space to rent or small piece of land to buy where we can park her semi-permanently. But we still plan on traveling as much as possible!

How can people learn more about you? 

Instagram is our primary source for bus updates and travel photos

drone shuttle bus parked beach town