We have the opportunity of going anywhere in North America that we choose.
The flexibility that it gives us is really one of our favorite parts!
Our least favorite thing about living in the bus is how many things are constantly going wrong.
There is always something new to fix or repair.
About our bus and us:
Back in November 2018, we purchased our bus “Charlotte” from North Carolina and brought her all the way back home to New Jersey where we
converted her for about 10 months.
Charlotte is a 2002 Thomas Built, retired US Air Force bus. At only 28 feet, we felt that this medium bus was the perfect amount of room for us and our adopted dog, Django.
Some cool things to note about our build: Our bus is equipped with 1400 Watts of solar, radiant floors, a diesel & propane heater, a recirculating shower (personally built and engineered by David), and 130 gallons of freshwater for optimal off-grid living even during cold, winter months.
2018 was a difficult time for both of us.
I (Shelby) was battling depression and anxiety, as I had absolutely no idea what direction I wanted my life to go.
While in school to obtain my Master of Science in Global Sports Business from Rutgers University, I didn’t know what career path I wanted to pursue.
I wanted something more than a 9-5 job, especially at this age. David, on the other hand, had a full-time Application Developer job for the past 3 years.
While it was a great paying job, he wanted to develop and pursue his own business instead of working for someone else. To put it lightly, David and I both felt stuck where we currently were.
He quit his job in May 2019 and worked full-time on the bus until September 15 . I, on the other hand, had a remote job and worked as a Coach for an incredible gymnastics program called Scarlettes. We worked out our savings and my jobs to get this conversion done!
Why a bus?
A few years back, David was originally considering a van conversion but wasn’t sure if he wanted to live by himself, in such a small space, so suddenly. I remember watching Expedition Happiness and a few YouTube bus conversions before thinking, “This is a lifestyle I can get down with”.
Buses are well-made, reliable, and have more space.
The coolest thing about living in a bus is that it’s your space that you had the creative freedom to make completely into your own.
Everyone’s build is different which is what makes each one so special and unique.
Additionally, we have the opportunity of going anywhere in North America that we choose. The flexibility that it gives us is really one of our favorite parts!
What makes you happy?
Our least favorite thing about living in the bus is how many things are constantly going wrong. There is always something new to fix or repair. Since we’re always on the road and moving, things just go wrong, whether it’s with the physical bus or its systems. It’s important to remember to be patient and flexible for when the unexpected happens.
We have met people that are super supportive of what we’re doing and others that are confused as to why we would ever consider doing this.
I think a lot of the world (especially post-graduates) think that you need to work that 9-5 job because that’s what society tells you to do.
One thing that I love so much about this community is that we are proving all of those “nay-sayers” wrong. Your happiness is completely dependent on how you chose to live. We may not have all of the money in the world, but being able to have the freedom to travel, chase snow storms during snowboarding season, and chill in the most remote locations is what makes us happy.
What more could we possibly need?!
Sharing what we know
We created the Aimless Travels blog and social media accounts in January 2018.
Originally, it was just a fun way to document our travels, which we were passionate about long before we decided to purchase a bus.
Now, our goal for the site and our social media channels is to showcase the beauty of North America, demonstrate the importance of sustainable, off-grid living, and educate others that you can live your dream no matter how young or old you are.
Our website has recently been undergoing several re-designs as we are offering more Skoolie Build, Lifestyle, and Travel content, information that we noticed wasn’t out there during our build.
We want to see this amazing community continue to grow and what better way to do so than supply useful resources to help people get there?
To read more about us, you can visit our Website.
Check out other Guest Writer articles:
Parents pull kids from public school system and homeschool from the open road. "Create memories with them instead of being away from them 8 hours a day." ~Guest Blogger: Ashley… Read More
- Written by Brock Butterfield
"It gave us the freedom to shop around without the pressures of a mortgage, rent, or needing [to find] a place for our family to live."
Interview by: Brock Butterfield
School Bus Conversion: Spencer Family
Make: 2001 Blue Bird
Model: All American RE
Cost of bus conversion: More than we wanted to spend, but super happy with how it turned out!
Ethiopia!? What moved you guys there and how has living there translated to living bus life?
My husband co-founded a clean energy business that operates in East Africa, selling fuel-efficient stoves and solar products to customers at the bottom of the pyramid. We lived in Ethiopia for three years setting up the business there. A little over a year ago my husband had the idea to convert a bus into our US home base, since we spend a few months in the US every year. I honestly thought it was the world’s worst idea, but the words that came out of my mouth were: “Cool babe!” That was all the encouragement my husband needed to start researching to find us the right bus. I figured that this bus idea would die a hard death at some point, but it never did, and eventually not only did I get on board, but I actually got really excited about this bus adventure. We found a bus after a few months of research. Then we had to find a tiny home builder that was willing to take on converting our bus, since we aren’t handy people and also lived in Ethiopia at the time. Thank you to Wind River Tiny Homes for taking on our project.
At the end of 2018, we moved back from Ethiopia and into the bus! I was thinking that transitioning to the bus would be way easier than moving to Africa, but I was wrong! The transition to the bus was very stressful because we were trying to learn all the systems and understand the engine, while gearing up for a cross country road trip in the winter (we aren’t very smart, but very ambitious). Don’t get me wrong, we loved the bus from day one but I think we had some unrealistic expectations about how easy it would be to take our home on the road right after picking it up.
The first day, we blew out our fridge hooking it into 220 (it’s a long story) and we ran the side of the bus into a rock while pulling it into the driveway. The first day of our cross-country road trip we busted a fuel line and spent two nights on the side of the road waiting for parts in 25-degree weather, and we hadn’t figured out our off-grid heating (true story). Our engine froze twice in subzero temperatures in Utah, since we didn’t have an engine block heater. Believe-it-or-not, this is just a small sample of all the challenges we faced in those first few weeks. Looking back on it now, I feel so stupid, but it was all part of the adventure and a steep learning curve.
I spy a little bus dweller. What has been the most challenging part of raising a kid on the bus?
Having a baby on the bus is awesome. I can’t speak for older kids, but toddlers and infants are perfect for bus life because they don’t require much space and they just want to be with you all the time. I love that we can see our toddler at all times inside the bus, and I think she actually likes being close to us, even if she is in another room of the bus playing while I am cooking. The only real challenge is when she is sleeping. My husband has a standing desk in the back of the bus and her bed is in an enclosed space in the middle, across from the bathroom, and you have to pass through her room to get to the front of the bus. When the baby is sleeping, Greg is trapped in the back of the bus, speaking in hushed tones—unless he wants to risk waking her and the wrath of his wife (that would be me!). Don’t worry, if he needs food or sustenance I pass him snacks from the outside through the bedroom window. At night when she is asleep we have to sneak through her room to get to our bedroom, but it’s really not that big of a deal. We really tried to come up with a way for her room to be closed off from the hallway, but we just couldn’t make it work with some of the other features we were wanting.
Are you constantly on the move or are you settled somewhere in the bus?
We travelled cross country three weeks after getting our bus. We started in North Carolina and somehow made it all the way to San Diego and back in two months. It was so fun to see friends and family along the way, but we had our fuel lines bust twice, which I am still traumatized over. The first bust we took it to the Cummins dealer in Nashville and had them rebuild the fuel lines, since some of the brackets were missing. We got all the way to Nevada, in the desert, and it busted again. Fortunately, it was still under warranty. The Cummins dealer in Nashville had apparently put one of the fuel lines in backwards. It cost us five days in Barstow, California, and I am not bitter at all. I was very happy to get the bus safely back to North Carolina and park it for a little while. I joked with my husband that I was going to drive the bus into wet concrete when we pulled it back onto the land! I am excited about another road-trip, but I need some time to just enjoy living in the bus without all the hassle and expense of traveling. This May, we are going to Uganda to launch our business there but will be back in the bus for a few months over the holidays.
What was the most challenging part of living in a school bus conversion?
The cold is interesting to manage in the winter. Here are a few mistakes we made in making our bus winter ready; not insulating our floors better and not putting in a propane heater!! We did use spray foam insulation on the rest of the bus and replaced the bus windows but the cold still really comes through those floors. We put a lot of heavy rugs down which really helped with the floor situation and this winter we just used electric heaters when plugged into electricity. It isn’t cheap to run two heaters to heat a 40 ft bus in 25 degrees. We will have to regroup for next winter and hopefully put in a propane heater.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in converting a school bus?
We did a lot of things wrong along the way (as you have read), but that is also our personalities to figure it out as we go, and that means that mistakes and missteps are part of the adventure for us. That being said, I wouldn’t go on a road trip through Wyoming in the winter again; if you do, make sure you have an engine block heater and there aren’t any snow storms. My husband and I have made a blood pact to not take the bus to Denver, Wyoming, or Utah in the winter again, because of the scary winter storms we found ourselves in and all the engine trouble for subzero temperatures.
It was also very shocking to me how hard it is to insure bus conversions. I am probably naïve, but it never crossed my mind that we might only be able to get liability insurance on our bus. It is stressful when you are traveling with your home down the road. If any of y’all have any tips or tricks to getting more comprehensive coverage let me know. I would definitely warn others before building their bus about only being able to get liability insurance.
Aw man! I wish we would have know each other earlier! I wrote a whole blog on how to get your school bus conversion insured. Doh!
What are the benefits you have found with living in a school bus conversion?
When we were moving back from Ethiopia, we weren’t sure what was next for us except for living in the bus. But because of the bus, we weren’t worried about finding jobs, or picking a place to live, or signing a lease. It gave us the freedom to shop around without the pressures of a mortgage, rent, or needing [to find] a place for our family to live. We thought about living in a lot of different places, and ultimately, we were able to wait for the right opportunity to come our way. If we hadn’t been living in the bus, we probably wouldn’t have been able to wait for the right thing to come our way—we would have had to jump at something to pay the bills and give us some stability.
And her name is... Purple Majesty! Inspired by the lyrics of “America the Beautiful”
"Not only do the lyrics of the song reflect the majestic beauty of America, but it also includes a prayer of thanks and a prayer for guidance from God.
If this isn’t the perfect name, I don’t know what is! Our mission is to trust God in every aspect of our journey and go where He leads. We are also looking forward to seeing the beauty of God in nature. This is just another way that we love to worship God- in His presence, surrounded in the glory of His creation."
"Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea"
Interview by: Patrick Schmidt
School Bus Conversion by: David and Dani
Make: Blue Bird
Model: All American
Motor: Cummins 8.3
Interior Size: 240 Square Feet
Current Location: Virginia Beach, VA
Purchased From/Location: We found it on Facebook Marketplace from a local guy in Virginia Beach, VA. It was actually the bus for the Alabama Space Center. We bought it with only 65,000 miles on it. The seats were already removed as the person we bought it from was planning to convert it, but only ever ripped the seats out.
Cost in materials for the conversion: We are not completely finished with the conversion yet, but our budget is $20,000 total. It could end up being more like $22,000, but we are hoping to stay right around there. We are buying a lot of materials used to help us stay within our budget.
Total time from purchase date to on the road: We purchased the bus in June of 2018 and are hoping to have it completed in January of 2019! We will be hitting the road shortly after! So about 7 months start to finish!
Why a bus?
We wanted to design and create a home on our own, rather than purchasing a vehicle that was already laid out. My husband, David, always dreamed of building a tiny house on his own. He started his degree studying architecture, but later switched to computer science. He has a passion for building and we agreed that this would be the perfect way to fulfill that dream. Converting a bus is much cheaper for us than buying an RV as well.
Will you be full-timing?
YES! We will be living in our bus full time and also travel full time. We are excited to explore the United States as well as meet people along the way. Our mission is to serve others share the love of God with everyone we meet.
We are building our bus to run off of solar power so that we do not have to stay in RV parks every night and hook up. We are so excited to explore the US, boondocking as much as possible.
Where are you converting it?
During our first month of the conversion, we worked on the Bus at the 757 Makerspace in Norfolk. This is a space where people can come to work on any project they may have. There were so many tools available for us and our friends were helping us how to use them.
The best part about being at the Makerspace is that we were able to keep the bus inside. That allowed us to paint the bus inside so we didn't get caught in bad weather. It's also where we installed the solar panels.
We are currently staying at a local man’s family farm who has so graciously offered to rent space for us to store and work on our bus. We moved to the local farm because we no longer needed the tools provided by the Makerspace and we didn’t need to be indoors anymore. Plus we were paying $500 a month at Makerspace (which was so worth it for all of the tools we had access to) but now we are paying $65 a month at the farm!
We are so thankful for this because it is hard to find a place to keep a 40 foot bus! Especially because we live in an apartment right now.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
David studied architecture for about a year and has experience working on cars. He knows how to use tools and has building experience.
Dani has had NO experience with anything concerning the build. It has been quite the learning curve, but also such a fun thing to learn together.
The thing we have learned the most about with the build so far is electrical work. Wiring up all of the electrical work to run off of our solar panels has been a huge learning process for us. But at this point, you could call us electricians!
Tips/tricks/advice to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this?
The best word of advice that we can give to anyone who are thinking of converting a vehicle is go with the flow. Very few projects will go as planned and it is very important to just be flexible and have a plan B, C, D, etc.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
Our bus is purple! We have a few reasons for painting it purple. First of all, we wanted to be different! Many Skoolies that we have seen are either white or blue. We wanted to stand out with a different color that BOTH of us love!
Our Skoolie’s name is “Purple Majesty”. Of course this name was inspired by her color, but it fit perfectly because of the lyrics in the song “America the Beautiful” which is where the phrase “Purple Mountains Majesties” is from. The song talks about the beauty of our country that we are going to have the opportunity to explore.
What do you do for income? How often do you work on the bus?
Both of us work full time right now. David is also in school finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. Because of this, we have limited time to work on the bus. We are working on it any spare minute we get which is normally about one weeknight and the entire weekend.
We are both in the process of looking for new jobs to transition over to when we are living on the bus full time. I (Dani) am looking into remote work with customer service or education as my degree is in Professional Studies with a Concentration in Interdisciplinary Studies. David is looking into Software Development Jobs.
We are both excited for Part Time, Remote positions that will give us the flexibility to travel full time and enjoy this time of our lives.
What do you think will be the hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living/traveling in a bus? Easiest thing?
We think the hardest thing will be finding places to park for free or where we can be off grid all over the country. This will be especially difficult in areas that we are not familiar with.
The easiest thing will probably be the simplicity of life. We will be living a minimalist lifestyle, so we will only have the things that we need. We will also be able to plan our own schedules with our part time remote jobs.
What is it about the bus that will help you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
We are looking forward to practicing minimalism and living simply while living on our bus. We are proving there is more to life than making money and buying things by focusing on what is truly important to us: trusting God and serving others. We are confident that God will provide for us and protect us throughout this new adventure.
We believe that God has called us to embark on this journey and we are so excited to see how He uses us to minister to others. We will be seeking God first in our travels and trusting Him to guide us where He wants to use us.
What have been people’s reaction to you buying a bus to live in? Have you met other Skoolies?
Most of our family and friends were shocked when we told them about our Skoolie Conversion. This is mainly because I (Dani) am not a fan of small spaces, spontaneity, or traveling. I am very much a planner and do not like change! Our friends and family were even more shocked to find out that this was my (Dani) idea!!! I believe that God has called us to do this, even if it is completely out of my comfort zone. I have felt complete peace throughout our conversion journey so far and I am confident that the Lord will continue providing for us as we are following His will and trusting Him.
David was very excited when I told him about this idea because he loves traveling and adventure, and has always dreamed of building a tiny house.
We have talked with several other Skoolie Converters through social media and we hope to meet some of them along our journey!
Tell us about your layout. Kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom?
At the front of our bus we will have our living room/ dining area/ office area/ guest bedroom. We will have two long couches (one on each side of the bus). These couches will fold out into a bed and they will also have a foldable table that can be placed in the middle.
Right past the couches we will have our kitchen. It will be laid out like a galley kitchen, but it will have a fold out bar where we can sit at bar stools and eat.
In the back of the bus we will have two closets, our bathroom (with a composting toilet), shower, and bedroom).
Because our bus was a transit bus, it has two doors. We have built what we are calling the “garage” inside of the second door. It will only be accessible from the outside and it will hold our tools, bikes, and maybe some cleaning supplies.
Where will you be 3 months from now?
Hopefully finishing up the last few finishing touches and preparing to hit the road!
How can people learn more about you?
We have social media pages, a Vlog on YouTube, as well as a blog. All of them are in this link!
Best of luck and continued success to you both!
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!"
Shuttle Bus Conversion By: Jen and Brandon; Furry friends Joe and Cortado
Interview By: Patrick Schmidt
Model: E350 28 passenger shuttle bus
Motor: 7.3L Diesel
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Wanda Outside Products Mentioned