~School Bus Conversion Is Home For Software Developer and Traveling Physical Therapist~
Nick, Heather and their dog Miles have nothing but smiles on the road full time. They've cut ties with the traditional form of paying rent and instead put that money saved into their gas tank to fuel their appetite for exploring places they've never been to. But how do you live in such a small space full time without wanting to kill the other person? Nick replied:
Interview By: Brock Butterfield~
School Bus Conversion By: Nick Underwood and Heather Yandziak~
Bus Specs: 1998 Thomas Vista 3600 with International T444E and Allison 4 Speed transmission ~
Ok, break it down for us. How did this whole idea to live in a converted school bus come about?
Heather and I had been living in Denver for a couple years after moving from the east coast just to try somewhere new. We enjoyed Colorado, but were already thinking about where to try next. I don't remember what exactly started the idea, but I had previously lived in a van and also on a sailboat and I'm sure that came up one day and we just went from there. I think we first seriously considered the boat idea, but Tiny Homes were just starting to get big around then and I bet we ran across our first skoolie while digging into those. I always love a good project and ultimately the skoolie seemed like the best idea of all.
So with living in a sailboat for a while, what tiny living or sailboat ideas did you possibly implement into your school bus conversion?
The only thing we can really think of are the fruit hammock, which we had similar hanging things on the boat, and the upper cabinet doors having the hinges on the top so that gravity keeps them closed.
It took you guys a year to convert your school bus. Did you work full time on it or did you juggle working your day job as well?
It was a nights and weekends kind of thing. Heather worked full-time as a Physical Therapist and I was doing about 30 hours a week of Software Development from home. I bet we averaged about 40 hours a week on the bus during that year.
How's it travelling with a dog? Have you found out anything you hadn't planned for in having a dog live full time in your skoolie?
When we got Miles the skoolie plan was already in effect, so we purposely went for a "travel-size" dog. Actually living in the bus with him has been no issue, and he was already super comfortable with it since he spent a lot of me with me while converting. Eating out can be challenging, but we can usually find a dog friendly patio, and if nothing else it helps us from eat out too much. He does most of the hikes and water stuff with us and is an actually an excellent hiker. Most areas have lots of dog friendly hikes, except for the National parks, so there have been a few occasions where we have to find dog sitters so that we can explore the National Parks without him. So far it's been pretty easy to find someone to watch him for a day or two, usually on rover.com
Boy howdy that's quite the deck on the roof of your skoolie! Tell us a bit about the idea, materials used and how you fastened it.
To be honest I'm not sure where the idea came from. It just seems like the obvious thing to do at this point! It was actually one of the first things we did since we thought it might involve putting holes in the roof (it didn't though). I had a local welder/fabricator help with the design, which is essentially a rectangular steel frame with some arms that rest on the rain gutters above the windows. There are some turnbuckles welded to the arms that then clamp the whole frame down to the gutters. There are a few screws through the top of the frame going into some support rails that were already on top of the bus, but the turnbuckles do most of the work holding it in place. We debated a bunch of different materials and styles for the actually decking, including using putting green turf, but ultimately said to hell with the budget and got some long lasting Trex boards.
Ha. Ya, I think a few of us end up saying to hell with the budget and just splurge to make it feel more like home. What was your original budget and what was your total budget all said and done?
Original $15k. We more than doubled our budget by the time we were done.
What's it been like going from a full size kitchen to a small two top burner for cooking?
Heather chimes in: The thing I miss the most is actually a dishwasher, but otherwise it hasn't been that challenging, it just requires more thought and planning ahead of time. I don't really miss the oven or microwave, but I do miss the freezer for ice cream. The two burner stove isn't bad, but I wish the burners were a bit bigger or more spaced out so two bigger pots or pans could be used at the same time. Overall though, it hasn't stopped us from making and enjoying lots of delicious foods. (We have also just added an Instapot and Air Fryer to the arsenal)
Whoa! An Instapot? Are you able to run that off the solar battery bank or do you need to be plugged into shore power to use it?
I always assumed we would have to be plugged in for the Instapot until we tried it a couple days ago and it works no problem on our system. Once it gets pressurized, the power draw is actually quite low. The air fryer works too, but drains a little more than I would like for regular use.
What is the hardest thing you've learned with building or living in a school bus conversion?
The hardest thing with building was designing it in a way to maximize the use of every square inch of space. There were more than one "heated discussions" over some of the layout, but eventually I think we nailed it, though we have never used our shower which was not an insignificant money, time and space consumer during the build. If we did it again we wouldn't add the shower.
Really? If you haven't used the shower yet does that mean you're going on months without a shower?
Nah, we usually find a way to get a shower every few days or so. The problem is that we have a fairly small fresh water tank (24 gallons) and a shower would eat that up pretty quick, plus the wet bath is not exactly cozy. And typically anywhere we are that we can fill our water, there is also a shower available, which is usually a campground. We have also showered at a mechanic's shop while we were broken down, a recreation center, a friend's place and sometimes river baths.
Oddly, I think the hardest part about living in it has been the unexpected amount of work involved with sharing everything on the web site and social medias. Otherwise, it hasn't been that bad at all.
Let's talk parking. How do you find a place to park every night?
We mostly use the Campendium app to point us in the right direction, and have only done boondocking and paid campgrounds so far and we usually plan out a couple days or more in advanced where we would like to be. We've only booked two spots more than a week in advance, which are to coastal spots in California in the fall. So far we've always been able to find a decent place to stay without too much trouble. Some boondocking spots are amazing and some just good enough, with some being found right as we pull into the area and some taking a couple hours of driving around to find just the right place. I think we are probably able to boondock at least 50 or 60 percent of time.
How are you providing an income for yourselves while on the road?
We saved up a decent chunk of money to help us out as we travel and I'm still working part-time doing Software Development. Heather is on a sabbatical, but is quickly becoming a social media ninja.
Does Heather foresee a way to make some sort of profit from her social media ninja skills?
The idea right now is to just see where it goes with no real expectations. We already have some affiliate links, but other than that, we're just seeing what kind of traction we can get right now.
What's the most unique part of your bus conversion?
Hmm, all of it! I'd say the deck design is pretty unique, and the kitchen counter top made from a door and the modular living room, dining room, office couch design. Ooh, and also the sensor box that collects all kinds of live data and sends it straight to the website.
Wait, a what? Sensor box? Ok, you've gotta tell me more about that. I'm a geek for data collection especially for weather.
Take a look at the video and you'll see it briefly. I think there are almost 30 data points I'm collecting, but only a few are visible on the site right now. I have temps, humidity, a wind gauge that isn't working, various air quality/gas sensors, light levels, sound levels, motion levels, GPS data and probably a couple more. You can see a few of the sensors' data on the live data page on our website (with patience, it takes a bit to load up). I would like to do even more with the data I'm collecting, but just haven't had time. I'm a huge data geek.
I also noticed you have quite the geeky WiFi setup which makes sense as a software developer but how does it all work?
Here I went a bit overboard. We have both Verizon and AT&T hotspots. There is a mini router/repeater I have with custom firmware that connects to these hotspots or whatever other wifi we find. There is then a second wireless router that has a wired connection to that first router. All of our devices connect to the second router so they don't have to switch between hotspots all of the time, I just change the connection on the first router and then all the of the other devices use whatever it is connected to. I can also set up a vpn on the 2nd router so that all devices get routed through that when we are on sketchy wifis.
What's the plan now that you're full timing? Bucket list of spots to visit? Will you live in the bus forever?
We started at the beginning of April and plan to go into at least early 2019 and reevaluate then. Our general plan is to do the western U.S. in this order, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, traveling with the weather since we don't have heat or A/C. We're definitely into all of the National Parks and pumped about doing the Pacific Coast highway. As we travel we generally research the areas a week or two up the road to find all the interesting things to see and do. In November we are heading back to the east coast for the holidays with our families, including two weeks in the Keys at the beginning of December. We'll probably do the rest of the winter somewhere in Florida and then start doing longer stays (like 3 months) at different locations so that Heather can start work as a Travel PT. Or maybe we'll just get a sailboat and move to the Virgin Islands!
Some seaside time sounds like a good idea. Best of luck and thanks for taking the time to share your school bus conversion with us!
To follow more of Nick, Heather and Mile's adventures be sure to follow along on their different social media channels and website: