Author and former FBI employee, Jordan O'Donnell, takes his new novel and cautionary tale for the U.S. on the road in his school bus conversion with 17 interns in tow. 

 Jordan O'Donnell Zoon Garden Bus TourZoon Garden Book Jordan O'donnell

What are two things that bring people together? In our opinion, books and buses. In 2020 America, it has become increasingly difficult for people with different beliefs to come together or talk to each other at all. But how would it look if we were animals in a zoo? How might we see our actions differently? Such is the impetus of Jordan O'Donnell's new novel Zoon Garden. It takes readers into an abandoned zoo where the animals are free to govern themselves. The zoo plunges into chaos and the book serves as a warning of what can happen if we continue down this precarious path. 

To promote his timely novel, O'Donnell and his buddy Jake “The Caveman” Harris built out a skoolie and enlisted 16 more interns to go on a book tour spreading its message across the United States. Although the pandemic upended much of their plans, they made the most of their time traveling to remote and iconic places and enjoying each other's company. Learn more about O'Donnell's book, the build and their wild bus tour below.

Bus Tour Zoon Garden Skoolie Full

Bus specs:

Make: International

Model: 3700

Motor: DT 466 International Diesel

Year: 1993

Interior Square Footage: 205

Current Location: Shenandoah, VA

Purchased From/Location: Richmond, VA (Collegiate School)

Cost in materials for the conversion: 8K-10K (About 5k was the electrical system)

Total time from purchase to the road: Roughly 18 months. The bus sat for six months untouched. We then worked on and off for a year until it was complete.

 Zoon Garden Team Photo Funny

Tell us about Zoon Garden and why it is so important for people to read right now.

Zoon Garden is a social critique very similar to Orwell’s Animal Farm. It tells the story of Clarendon Zoo and how the wolves and sheep, the nation’s two leading tribes, accidentally destroy the zoo. Whether it’s the pigeons squawking in the air, the bigger birds showing one side of the story, the wolves tyranny, or the sheep’s communism, the novel critiques basically everything.

One Amazon reviewer noted he “would highly recommend this read to anyone -- especially those who care about and/or take an interest in the future of this country...or in humanity for that matter.” The world is divided, in uncertain waters, and headed in a treacherous direction. Anyone worried about it should read Zoon Garden.

 

How/when did you get the idea for Zoon Garden?

The idea for Zoon Garden came while I was working for the FBI. 2018 was the height of the Clinton Email and Russia Investigations, and I was put on a team to sift through the emails of Director Comey, Deputy Director McCabe, and any related internal communications. The experience showed me the underbelly of Washington and combined with the increasing division across America I wanted to write a novel that opened people’s minds to the roots of our nation’s issues. Oddly enough the idea for animals in a zoo came about as I randomly walked through a grocery store. I couldn’t help but think America was like a giant zoo separated into different species that refused to communicate.

The book serves as a sort of warning, what is your hope for the future and what can we do now?

The book is certainly a warning. My intention was to show Americans, and much of the world for that matter, what could happen to a nation that continues down our trajectory. It shows how both the radical right and left are dangerous, how media manipulation cause mass distrust, and how the destruction of truth will cripple every institution and pillar in our society. It truly is a warning people should heed because it’s happening even faster than I anticipated.

My hope is that the novel inspires open minds and a genuine sense of understanding. Life is yin and yang, a dichotomy, a balance; it’s not one side or another. I hope Americans read this book and see that we need to find a middle ground and genuine empathy. Our future hinges on it.

 

Why a bus?

A good bus is more adaptable than any RV. Our bus is a diesel with only 120,000 miles… basically brand new. It just took a 10,000-mile road trip with zero mechanical issues and will go to 500,000 miles with ease. We installed solar panels and a water filtration system to allow us to go completely off-grid and did everything for under 15K. An RV with similar capabilities would cost 2x-3x that price. Overall, you can’t find the adaptability, size, price, or comfort with any other vehicle. A bus allowed us to create a personalized adventure mobile that can survive any journey, even one around North and South America.

 

Who are you living/traveling with?

To promote my novel I hired 17 college interns from around the country: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, New Jersey, New Hampshire, etc. The 18 of us are living on the bus and two travel trailers as we adventure through America. The team is split into media (handles social media and podcast), video (shoots the documentary and creates vlogs), and publicity (promotes the book and schedules appearances). 18 strangers caravanning America has been absolutely crazy in the best way possible, lots of adversity and hardly anything has gone to plan, but that’s what makes it amazing.

 Zoon Garden Group Photo

Does your bus have a name? If so, why did you choose it?

Our bus driver Jake “The Caveman” Harris (The guy with the huge red beard) named his car Martha. Fittingly when he began driving the bigger older bus he named her Martha Sr.

 Jake and Jordan Zoon Garden Bus

What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?

I had carpentry skills and was able to build all the framing, walls, couches and beds. But two engineering friends helped me learn the plumbing and electrical components. The electrical system has hands down been our greatest challenge. It is fidgety and cooling the inverter charger in 110 degree Arizona heat has been very difficult. We’ve been having problems with it for two months and haven’t been able to fully diagnose the issue.

  Inside1Inside3

How has the pandemic affected bus life for you?

The pandemic has drastically affected us. It basically ruined our entire book tour because we couldn’t set a true itinerary or schedule any events. We couldn’t meet in groups of larger than 10 and we had to completely change our itinerary four times to avoid COVID-19 “hot-spots.”

At the same time, the pandemic is what made our trip such an adventure. An 18-person caravan of strangers road tripping during a global pandemic has never been done; the documentary is going to be incredible.

Zoon Garden Redwood Bus

What has been the hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living/traveling in a bus? Easiest thing?

The hardest thing has been managing a team of 18 people traveling. The logistics are difficult, and if it weren’t for our incredibly flexible team I don’t think it would be possible. Outside of those challenges, the hardest part is not having a routine. Lack of showers, lack of sleep schedules, lack of working out, and lack of eating at normal hours have been huge challenges. Spontaneity is beautiful, but it starts to wear on the body.

The easiest transition has been the minimalism. We only have what we need, and it has been awesome to survive on the bare essentials. It has shown me just how many unnecessary many things are.

 

What has been the most memorable part of the bus tour and why?

They say that you shouldn’t take a journey alone because it’s the people that make the experience. I have found that to be true. As much as they drive me absolutely bananas, this group of 18 people has been the highlight of the trip. We’ve become a family. The best parts are driving with the windows down jamming to music, getting to know people’s idiosyncrasies, the constant laughter, standing at Lake Tahoe, Battery Point, Malad Gorge, etc., arm in arm with your new friends. It’s the constant banter, never knowing what someone will do next or what is around the corner. The uncertainty of the journey and bonding over that experience is the most memorable part.

We spoke with a man in Big Bear, CA, who said America was the most beautiful country in the world and that if everyone saw all of her beauty the world would be a better place. I have thought often of that conversation because it is true. To experience the forests of the east, the flatness of West Texas, the red clay of Arizona, the giant sequoias, the California beaches, the Colorado River winding through the Rockies, etc. shows you the scope and sheer awe of America. It gave me a new perspective on this incredible land and made me appreciate this country.

If I had to list one specific memory it would be when we tried to go to John Muir woods but it was closed. Instead, we went to John Muir beach. The quaint beach is nestled in the valley, the river running into the ocean, the driftwood with fires in the center, the hiking trails along the hills, and the 80 eccentric houses packed onto the cliffside—it’s a magical place.

Ultimately, why did you decide to do this?

Why not? Everyone complains about the 9-5, how they want to do something different with their life, and how they want to experience the world. How many people actually have the courage to do it? I thought a road trip of this magnitude, something absolutely crazy that had never been done, was the perfect way to promote a timely novel and also have the journey of a lifetime. The purpose was to spread a message of unity and encourage others to chase their own dreams. Don't talk, go out and do something wild.

SF Golden Gate Bridge BusInside2

How can people learn more about you (social media, website, etc.)?

Instagram: @zoongardenbustour

Twitter: @ZoonGarden

Facebook: Zoon Garden Promotion Tour

www.jordanodonnellauthor.com

The book is available on Amazon: simply Google “Zoon Garden”

 

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A textile artist follows in her parents' footsteps of nomadic living with her partner in a roof-raised skoolie named Sage.

Thirty unique skoolies were chosen to be featured exhibitors at The Bus Fair. Since we were unable to meet in person this year, we are coming together digitally to share their stories with you. Meet Jen, Jon, and their bus Sage!

Jen Rilley Jon Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

My name is Jen Rilley and my boyfriend Jon and I live full-time in our school bus turned amazing tiny home, Sage. I am 23 and Jon is 24. We both love to travel so skoolie life was a natural fit for us. My parents lived in a van in Europe when they were young so I grew up hoping to do the same. While I was in college, I discovered #skoolieconversion on Instagram and Pinterest and was immediately hooked. I bought Sage while I was in graduate school and once I graduated in May 2019 I headed out west to meet up with Jon to start our tiny life. It’s been an amazing year and I cannot wait to see what else bus life has to offer us.

Bus Specs:

Motor: Cummins 5.9

Year: 2000

Interior Square Footage: 260

Current Location: Sedona, Arizona

Purchased From/Location: Weaverville, NC (but the bus is originally from Montgomery County, Tennessee)

Cost in materials for the conversion: too much

Total time from purchase date to on the road: 9 months

Interviewee: Jen Rilley

 

Why a bus?

Like many people, I chose a bus for the freedom it provides. I love the ability to travel, and I find inspiration for my life and work on the road, all while having the comforts of home.  I’ve always wanted to be an artist and creator, and after I got my Masters in Textiles, I decided to commit to my dream, even though it was terrifying rejecting the conventional wisdom of settling down and working a stable job. Sage is my vehicle for finding who I am as an artist and adventurer, and I am building the life I want around her. I considered other types of homes on wheels, but a bus seemed like the perfect blank canvas to create my mobile dream home with enough space to include a studio for my textile work.

 Front to Back Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

Does your bus have a name or phrase you call it? Why did you choose it?

Our bus is named Sage! I chose after I painted it, I thought the color resembled the plant as well as my ideas to move west. I think it fits!

Will you be full-timing? 

Yes!

Did you do the conversion yourself or did you hire someone?

We did a little bit of both! We didn’t have the skills or time to learn them, so it made a lot more sense to hire contractors for the more challenging and technical tasks. Skoolie.com in Hendersonville, North Carolina did our roof raise and window replacement. We’re super happy with the results, and glad we paid a professional to do it so we know it’s structurally sound and it looks great. We also hired Alex Gaebe at Carolina Tiny Homes to take care of the electrical/solar, plumbing and basic framing. All of his work is incredible, and we feel lucky to have found someone so talented and flexible. With the basics complete, some amazing friends and I made the bus livable with the floor, ceiling, basic kitchen, and bedroom. Although Sage was incomplete, I headed west to meet up with Jon. Over the past year, he and I have been finishing up the interior to bring our tiny house to life!

Kitchen 2 Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

Who are you living/traveling with?

I feel very fortunate to live with my best friend. My boyfriend Jon is an expert botanist; talented mountain biker, climber, and hiker; and makes a mean breakfast. He has been so supportive and encouraging during every challenge and there to celebrate every success. Bus life is a blast, but even more so when you have someone amazing to share it with. 

Were you all on the same page about living bus life or did one person (or more) have to be convinced? 

No, Jon did not need to be convinced. The first time we met was on a whitewater kayaking trip near Asheville, NC where I knew there was a bus I wanted to check out. After the float, I dragged my friends to Vanlife Conversions, where I bought Sage. The rest of my friends were skeptical, but Jon was enamored from the very beginning. He was present for the first few failed attempts at demolition, then had to move west for a job while I finished grad school. We met back up later that year when the bus was partially finished and have been living in it together ever since.  

Bedroom Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?

Before building the bus, I was highly competent at assembling IKEA furniture. Fortunately, this came in very handy since I used their cabinets and a few other pieces in the bus. I didn’t have much construction experience past that, so I’ve had to learn how to do almost everything else on the fly. Jon has some basic construction skills, but he was working 2,000 miles away for most of the initial build.  While in college, I made friends with one of my professors and his wife. He is an excellent handyman and she is a skilled carpenter, so I bribed them with pizza and beer to help me with some of the more technical tasks. Over the past year, Jon and I have used trial and error, and lots of YouTube videos to figure out everything from installing a mini-split air conditioner to tiling a shower. We’re much better now at trusting our instincts and figuring out how to make things work! We’ve made some mistakes along the way and Sage isn’t perfect, but she is ours and we love her!

Bathroom Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

What is the most unique feature of your conversion?

From the beginning, I knew I wanted my bus conversion to be part home, part textile studio. My final plan for bus life is to make and sell handmade clothing, home décor, and naturally dyed yarns and textiles. While it’s not quite finished yet, many of the design decisions I made during the conversion process were to create a comfortable workspace. I raised the roof and changed out the original windows to let in more natural light and create more storage space for materials, added 1800 watts of solar and 400 AH of lithium battery to run my textile machinery. I also plan to install a dedicated variable-height work table and to mount my industrial sewing machines into the countertop. I’m in the process of setting up my business now, and should have things up and running soon! 

How has the pandemic affected bus life for you?

We’ve had to make a few changes, but thankfully we’ve stayed healthy and employed! We decided staying put is the safest option for us, so we are parked at our friends house in Arizona for the time being. I’m enjoying working at a local bike shop and making the most of being in one place. Luckily, the quarantine gave us plenty of time to work on some necessary bus tasks. Since landing in AZ, we have finished our bathroom, installed an A/C, and added some personalization! Jon was originally planning to work for a national park in Alaska this summer, but the position was cancelled due to the pandemic. However, he found a last-minute position with an environmental non-profit organization in Colorado and will be close by for the next few months. I also put my sewing skills and workspace to use and made masks to sell in the community and protective gowns to donate to the local hospital as they fight Covid-19. We will most likely stay put until next spring, then resume our wandering!

 Kitchen Skoolie Bus Conversion Tincan Castle

How can people learn more about you (social media, website, etc.)?

You can follow us on Instagram at @tincancastle and read more about me, Jon, Sage, and our life on the road on our website: tincancastle.com. Stay tuned for more information about my textile studio from Sage & Oak!

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This family of six steers clear of the pandemic in their off-grid adventure mobile.

 Skoolie Bus Life The B Hive Family off grid Living

The B Hive Family has been living their bus life adventure for over two years. Johnny is a USMC veteran and together with his wife Shiang-ling B, the two have been "roadschooling" their four children and teaching them the meaning of living a full, sustainable life on the road. They cook together, play together, and travel the country in their bus named Buzz searching for the ideal piece of land to settle down. But by the looks of things, that setting won't be happening anytime soon. They are currently staying with friends in Vermont, and this winter they will embark on their journey West. In this interview queen bee Shiang-ling B gives us a look at what sparks joy in their daily lives and what inspired them to choose bus life.

 The B Hive Family bus exterior

Bus specs:
Make: Thomas Built Bus
Model: RE MVP
Motor: Allison 3126
Year: 2000
Interior Square Footage: 320sqft
Current Location: Vermont. We will be leaving before Halloween
Purchased From/Location: American Bus Sales in Oklahoma - we wanted a well-maintained engine because neither of us know engines!
Total time from the purchase date to on the road:
Three months! We weren’t complete but it was functional-ish.

Interviewee: Shiang-ling B aka Queen Bee

Queen B Skoolie The B Hive FamilyBus Portrait The B Hive Family


Why a bus?
We went to one of those RV shows to check out the spacing. You know, get a feel for it. Johnny wanted to see how tough a cabinet door was and kind flexed it… and it cracked. We knew our family wouldn’t be able to live in one. I’d break it. We are always wrestling and tossing each other. So many things would break. Plus everywhere I looked in the RV I wanted to redesign for efficiency, so might as well build with 2x4s and wood, things we were familiar with and enjoyed!

 

Who are you living/traveling with?

It changes depending on who has a pet at the moment. Consistently there is me (Shiang-ling), my husband (Johnny), our four kids Alexis, Matthew, Chloe, and Jacob. Current animals are Phoebe our pitbull, Neko our cat, and Alpha the beta fish with Ned the snail.

 Bus Life Build The B Hive Family Interior diyBus Life The B Hive Family Interior American Flag

Does your bus have a name or phrase you call it? If so, why did you choose it?
Our bus’s name is Buzz. He’s a drone searching for his “queen” (our land). He even has antennas (Johnny’s pull up bars). It was the only name we could think of that went with our bee theme since we have never owned bees.

Skoolie Exercise The B Hive Family

 

What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far? Johnny has a background in construction/odd jobs and engineering. He learned maintenance for this large vehicle's engine, how to get insurance, and registration changes - all things relatable to the bus life. I, Shiang-ling, am a DIY builder. I am always working on some project that I've seen somewhere and said, “I can make it myself." I thrive on learning new skills to build the things we want or need. This includes learning to weld so I could attach the roof deck to the bus!

 

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? Take your time and make sure you have essential items done first. Don’t get me wrong, now looking back on our two years of bus living I wouldn’t take anything back. But when we left on our maiden voyage we didn’t have hot water hooked up (for a year), or our pee diverter wasn’t piped in, we still don’t have solar (and it's been fine!) and we are STILL working on the bus. It will always be a never-ending project, but I am glad that we kinda lived in the space while we were in the middle of construction because it allowed us to really understand the smaller space and build as needed.

 

What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
This is a hard one, I love soooo many aspects of our build. I think my favorite thing is that there is a unique space for every individual on our bus to be and not be “disturbed”. It was really important to Johnny that the kids each had a place to sit, build, create, write, eat, sleep, and retreat to without being in another's “space”. Not because they can’t get along, but it just gave everyone their own space. Johnny and I are flexible. Other than that feeling we were able to create with our build, I really love the amount of storage we have on the bus. Like, stupid amounts of storage. When the “pandemonium” started, Johnny asked me one night if we had to “bug out” and live off of what we have aboard how long could we last, to which I answered, probably five months.

Skoolie Bus Life The B Hive Family cat and Homework

 

What do you do for income? How often do you work while on the bus?
Johnny receives a stipend from the VA after serving nearly 13 years in the Marine Special Forces. Alongside that, he owns an LLC and contracts every so often as a way to continue to add money to our savings for our future homestead and our traveling adventures. I am ‘working’ on my homesteader skills, I'm learning how to go back to basics. Eventually, we will be back homesteading and I want to keep my skills sharp!

 
Is there anything you wish you did differently in your build?
Always… HA! I joke about wanting permanent couches in the front area all the time. I’ve even joked that I’d rebuild areas while Johnny’s away working (I usually tinker on something either way). Realistically though, I do feel like our build is perfect for our adventurous, foodie, wild family. I tell my husband at least twice a week how tickled I am that we live on a bus - it’s my little cottage on wheels. Every adventure we’ve been on while living the bus life has been just that, an adventure! It’s been fascinating to watch our kids' minds open and our bonds grow as a family.

Bus Life Skoolie The B Hive Family Queen BeeSkoolie Bus Life The B Hive Family Kids


What about the bus will help you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
The end-ish goal: to get property and build out our self-sustainable homestead. Every weird thing you can think of that we can figure out how to make ourselves we just might try.

Living aboard the bus is allowing all of us the luxury of TIME; time to find what we really like and experiment with it. Not just for us as adults, but we try not to limit the kids either. Our kids Alexis(12), Matthew (10), Chloe (9), and Jacob (6) all have interests in cooking… not just cooking but farming, gardening, foraging, and butchering. Our three oldest can whip up delicious meals and desserts from scratch either from a recipe or off the top of their heads! Even Jacob can fry you up a mean eggs and bacon. The way we look at it, we are using this time of adventure and wandering to learn and grow our skillsets. While Johnny works and is the primary homeschooler, I learn and experiment with as many self- sustainable practices as I can… and then "Cliffnotes" it to him.

Garden Veggies The B Hive Family Bus LifeBreakfast Skoolie The B Hive Family

This lifestyle is also allowing us not only travel and adventure, but we are paying off debt, saving money, and learning along the way! For the past two years we have traveled like this: We connect with friends and people with homesteads or properties, and we go help them on their property in exchange for free stay. Right now we are staying with our friends in Vermont and we are splitting utilities and then some. BUT IT'S SIGNIFICANTLY CHEAPER THAN STICKS N BRICKS! We’ve had a great summer hanging out with our friends. We cover our cost and then some because it’s still savings for us. And since we have more “free” time, we help them (painting rooms, setting up pig pens, culling chickens, moving) with anything they need to check off their list. As long as we can all be adults and get along it just works out SOO well for both families.

 

What have been people’s reactions to you buying a bus to live in? 

I think people love it. I think they also think we are a roadside attraction sometimes. The only reason I share on IG and YouTube is for the other families that need to see it's totally doable. My hope is that I come across as genuine as I present myself. Yass I am that wild, apparently I “speak like a princess” (Ahem it’s Queen) and make weird mouth movements… but I’m sharing because other big families think this lifestyle would be chaotic, messy, and impossible. And while sometimes it can feel like that, you just have to choose to see the good in everything. Be disgustingly optimistic and opportunistic… Try it for a week, I challenge you.

So what if the kids make a mess in the kitchen after making waffles? It buffs out. Someone broke the new french press YOU JUST GOT? It's replaceable. Tiny spaces with a lot of kids will get crazy as hell, but if you can learn to choose happy and positively redirect, you can SO do this!

 

Have you met other skoolies or buslifers on the road?

Absolutely! They are usually some of the best people with wildly different backgrounds and reasons for living the same way. Also, the community is always up for lending a hand to anyone who might not possess the skills it takes to “build” their dream.

How has the pandemic affected bus life for you? It honestly hasn’t. We were ahead of the pandemonium by a year. We did the homeschool hooplah... It's that feeling like you're supposed to do ALL these things and then you realize that homeschool is simple. You are teaching your kids to do life alongside you. 

 Road School Skoolie The B Hive Family Queen Bee

Where do you project you’ll be three months from now? Hopefully heading West! We have a plan to start heading West at the end/beginning of 20/21.

Family Prortrait The B Hive Family Bus Life
How can people learn more about you?
Follow our adventures on Instagram & Youtube! I post pretty much daily on IG about our crazy lives and I am working on getting back into weekly Youtube videos again. @thebhivefamily. You can also follow @halfbakedandbarelymeasure to see all of the cooking/food experiments I test out in my tiny kitchen. From raising/growing the food, to butchering/cooking and even preserving, I’ll show you how close I am getting to be completely self-sufficient.

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Former UK police officer brings Icelandic locals & tourists together

in this school bus turned coffee shop.

Looking for a remote place to enjoy bus life and a good cup of coffee... In Iceland? In the shadow of a volcano?? Check out Skool Beans Cafe with your hosts Holly Keyser and Jeffarious Edwardious the First aka Jeffrey the bus cat.

Holly Keyser Skool Beans Cafe 

My name is Holly Keyser. I am a 38-year-young woman, UK born, Australian resident, Icelandic resident, former police officer, “small changes make a big difference fighter” and entrepreneur! Haha! I was a police officer for ten years in the UK, I took a career break to go traveling while raising money for the local Air Ambulance in the UK. After a year of travel, I moved to Australia and stayed in Melbourne for a little over six years. Wishing to be closer to home, I came to Iceland to be a Glacier Guide and have been settled in Iceland for the last three years. I opened the newest addition to Iceland's hospitality scene on the 01st August 2020, Skool Beans coffee bus, located in the southernmost town of Iceland, Vik.

Skool Beans Cafe Sign IcelandSkool Beans Bagel Muffin Donut Cafe

Bus specs:

Make: Thomas Vista
Model: School Bus
Motor: NO idea! (That’s terrible I know!)
Year: 1996
Current Location: Vik, South Iceland
Purchased From/Location: A guiding company in Iceland who used to use it to convey clients to and from the river for river rafting trips
Cost in materials for the conversion: Full conversion not including stock 14,500 USD (Roughly… Iceland is VERY expensive!)
Total time from purchase date to on the road: 2 years

Skool Beans Coffee Bus Iceland

Interviewee: Holly Keyser and Jeffarious Edwardious the First (Jeffrey)

Bus Cat Jeffarious Edwardious the First aka Jeffrey Skool Beans Cafe Iceland

Why a bus?
After living in Melbourne for so long it was clear that the food truck industry was a massive deal.
Top chefs who would normally be hidden away in a restaurant were suddenly able to open incredible food outlets with low overheads in creative and flexible environments. The low overheads were reflected in the affordable cost of the takeaway opinions which opened up a new wave of great quality food choices for everyday people.
When I arrived in Iceland I was… let’s just say a little disappointed in the hot drink scene, to say the least. I felt like many places outside of the capital city (Reykjavik) lacked creativity and pride in what they were offering. Only catering towards coaches of tourists and not necessarily considering the locals. This was not true for all cases but there seemed to be an uneven balance.

Obviously Iceland has an extreme climate so having a standard food truck was not an option. The wind can literally roll cars over and smash through windows!
I wanted to revolutionize the food truck industry in Iceland by allowing people to come inside to order, wait and sit and enjoy their purchase.
The health and safety department reviewed my case and thankfully allowed the blurred line between restaurants and food trucks to work in my favour and ta daaaa! Skool Beans opened!

Skool Beans Cafe coffee Coffee Shop Inside


Where did you convert your bus?
The bus was already in Iceland and formally owned by a guiding company who let is just sit and rot for two years in a yard in the belief that it was broken down beyond repair!
BUT… I had an amazing friend who learnt how to become a mechanic on that exact bus!! He told me he could fix it, I offered them less than scrap value for it and they accepted 600 USD for it!!!! Two new batteries and an ignition wire later and away we drove to their frustration!
I converted it for the first year on the driveway of my house in Iceland. I have VERY kind neighbours who didn’t mind the overhanging bus on the pavement outside of the house and local police officers and a town mayor who were very supportive of the project. You see, it’s more than just a food truck for the town, it’s a new concept here in Iceland that elevates the coffee scene and connects tourists and locals together with a few simple elements I've included within the bus.

Now, “why did it take two god damn years to convert?” That’s simple… I did it all myself.

 

Learning, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, and working full-time to save for the conversion myself meant that it just took this long.
I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I watched, or how many desperate or teary calls I made to my father but eventually, I got it done.
I have to admit, I had help from amazing friends for the jobs that would have been silly of me to try such as the electricity and the counter building. Especially because I used some beautiful dark wood and it cost me over a month's salary!

My Dad saved the day a couple of times when he came to visit and a local Icelandic friend saved all of the other days that I needed saving! I can proudly say that most of the work and every inch of the design and concept was my brainchild and my efforts. I feel super proud of the outcome which is a fantastic feeling.

Holly Keyser Skool Beans Paint Coffee Bus Iceland

 


What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far?
I had zero experience in conversions like this but a lot of experience in interior design and concept construction, I felt confident in the space and zones I was creating but the actual conversion was a massive learning curve. I have no idea there were metal self-tapping screws or if something was galvanized or not or what epoxy resin or epoxy glue was! My goodness, I think I could write a book about it all now to help out others in my situation!
I have to say though, I feel pretty badass knowing what I do now about Skoolie conversions!

 

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?

I wish I had known more about roof hatched and window leaks because Iceland is extreme when it comes to wind and rain. Depending on what country you live in and how much access you have to materials, the budget is so important. Iceland is crazy expensive and for anyone who has been here, I’m certain they will agree.

If I were to do another conversion, and I plan on doing so, I would map out the zoning and create a budget for each area. I would buy the right tools and suck up the cost of those tools because trying to make the wrong tools work only takes up way more time and probably ends up costing you more in the long run. You can get great second-hand tools online in most countries, or borrow them and if you decide to buy them, you can always sell them afterward.
Finally, tidy up at the end of each construction day so that the next day is begun with an organised space.

What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
Wow, this is a great question because it’s a really unique concept here in Iceland. I didn’t insulate it because I really needed the height space, I didn’t add a funky door or a deck on the roof. I just kept the internal structure of the bus as an empty shell and added to it.

So…. because of that, I added a big log burning stove that would normally be used in a house or larger building. It’s great! It looks stunning, it smells divine from the outside and it kicks out enough heat to keep people warm even on a freezing day.

Aside from that, I would say the stunning Icelandic sweater that was custom made for the driver's seat, haha! It was made by a local girl who can knit a traditionally and as a gift to the bus she knitted a custom seat cover in the style of an Icelandic sweater!

Conversion aside, I think the Bacon and Mapel latte is pretty unique (And of course the resident cat “Jeffarious, Edwardious the first” who was described on Trip Advisor as “A hospitable gentleman!!”

Skool Beans bus Cafe coffee

What about the bus has helped you be successful in reaching your lifestyle goals?
I want to revolutionise the food truck industry here in Iceland and bring in a new idea that can allow others to follow in my footsteps. So far I have been a roaring success in only 20 days, attracting media attention from Icelandic news reporters from all channels. Not only because I have opened a business in the midst of a global pandemic, but because of the concept.

Skool Beans in the smallest micro-roastery in the country. I’m the only Tea-lab in the country, offering 25 varieties of tea from around the world and making handmade soaps and face scrubs from the tea and coffee I offer.

I’m here to show people what they should expect and to push environmental awareness. I am organic and fair trade, plastic-free and I promote “responsible disposal” by offering a 10isk cash reward for anyone who returns their cup to me. This way I can assure that I minimise littering and promote recycling.

All of the takeaway cups are biodegradable and I use organic chocolate for the chocolate drinks where I experiment with different styles of chocolate mixology: white chocolate, lemon juice, and black pepper. Smoked dark chocolate and beetroot and bitter chocolate and Turkish candy floss are just a few options on the menu.

Along with that, I have “screen-free hours” where I try and promote conversations with humans rather than technology. So far, that’s a great success and I also have a free book exchange. The book exchange is a way for tourists to offload heavy books in exchange for any book they choose. It’s also a way for locals to have access to the latest books. For free… Because it’s nice to be nice.
I am the only provider in Iceland of the Happy News and I think there is no better time than to have that available.
So… My life goal… To make people a little more considerate… and to hopefully pay off my home loan in doing so!

Happy News skool beans Coffee Shop Iceland

How has the pandemic affected bus life for you?
It’s odd because Iceland was almost unaffected by the pandemic. That was until other countries allowed for travel. Iceland was then hit with a new wave of COVID19 and consequently started to enforce a strict quarantine rule. These rules came into effect 24 hours before Skool Beans was due to open. I think I thought about delaying the opening for about 5 seconds before I figured, “Hey, we need a space like this at this time.”

I opened with strict COVID social distancing rules, applied online ordering systems, and a drive-through option, and apparently, Iceland is pretty happy with it.
I have people traveling for 2 hours to try the beans I roast and so far I am in the running for the best coffee in Iceland. The media loves it because I have opened a business in the toughest time and the locals are shows a huge army of support and even local restaurants such as The Soup Company are sending people my way.

Collaborations between me and cheesemakers in the Westmann Islands (Vestmannajar) are in the making and I think as a whole, Iceland is standing strong and supporting a space where only positivity is enforced! I mean, even the password for the WIFI is ‘Have a great day” and the first rule when you enter is “It’s nice to be nice.”
This is all new in Iceland and normally new places are only targeting tourists and fast cash. Skool Beans is wanting to push amazing produce and happy vibes. And…. it’s a massive yellow skoolie in the middle of Iceland underneath a gigantic volcano that could erupt any day (Katla) so that get s a fair bit of interest flowing!!!

Skool beans Coffee Shop COVID Iceland

Where do you project you’ll be three months from now?
Hmmmmm.. Well stricter rules just came into play so it’s a toughy, that question, but I really hope that I will be able to tick along smoothly. Perhaps it will quiet down and I can work on collaborations with other local companies and introduce coffee roasting events and chocolate mixology nights to at least keep the locals engaged and give them things to look forward to at this time.

All going to plan, I hope in three months I will have proved to Iceland that we took can have an all year round food truck industry and that can be used to showcase exceptional goods with low overheads in creative spaces and locations.

Skool Beans Tea Lab Iceland
How can people learn more about you (social media, website, etc.)?
Awesome! My website (Which I need to update and make a LOT better) is www.skoolbeans.com
Instagram is @skool_beans and Facebook is Skool Beans. I’m pretty active on Instagram and I try and make sure that anyone that shares a story gets shared by me again as a thank you for supporting this small and mighty venture.

Skool Beans Coffee Bus Iceland Cups

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