There’s something so freeing about being on the open road, seeing the sights and admiring the scenery as it whizzes by.
So, after much thought…and weighing out our pros and cons, my boyfriend, Aaron and I decided we were going to do it! And by “it” I mean – buy an old school bus, convert it into a mobile home, and travel! We gave up our Seattle apartment, sold our cars and quit our jobs! Scared sh*tless? Yes!
But as I write this – we’re still exploring, loving life, and making connections from all over the world…and you can too!
This is how I made my dream of traveling North America in an old school bus, a reality!
Making the decision to take the plunge was definitely the hardest part!
Once we realized that buslife was for us, we came up with a rough budget as well as a timeline, and started shopping for busses.
We scoured the internet, checking sites such as Craigslist, government auctions, used bus dealerships, and Skoolie forums – a super helpful website for those looking to do a bus conversion.
After getting our hopes up several times – only to be outbid or discover deal-breaker problems with a bus – we found ‘The One’.
We giddily withdrew cash, drove three hours north after work on a Tuesday, signed sale papers in a man’s living room, and then… we were on our way back south.
I felt unmoored on the drive back home, brimming with excitement for the start of our new life, and experiencing that stomach-drop, “oh sh*t!” roller coaster feeling that I’ve found comes with making a large, life-changing purchase. Especially when said-purchase is a secondhand vehicle you found on Craigslist!
However, the bus performed flawlessly, positively whizzing down the freeway at a brisk and unexpected clip of 65 miles per hour!
It wasn’t unil 1 a.m when we arrived back home, but we persisted to have celebratory shot to cheers to Stu – our school bus slash dream-come-true machine.
We then set up our Instagram page while deliriously texting pictures to all of our friends and family. We slogged through the rest of the workweek, drawing layout diagrams and daydreaming about all the amazing places we were going to go to. Finally, the weekend rolled around and the real work began.
The first step for those wanted to do a bus conversion, is the gutting.
We removed the heater, seats, and wheelchair lift, took off the stop sign and extra mirrors, and ripped up the floor. With the bus an empty box, we used masking tape to block out our layout on the floor to visualize the space.
While bus converting, we were still working full-time, which made the process longer than we had hoped for, and quite physically and emotionally exhausting.
The progress felt slow, but luckily, we had a lot of great help! Aaron’s father, a pretty great handy man with years of construction experience, helped us out a lot, while my mother helped with the interior decorating.
I must admit however, that my favorite part of the conversion was painting the bus, both inside and out, because it made such a drastic difference in the appearance. It was this color change that made the whole thing feel real, and we started to feel a sense of home. We used Walmart camouflage spray paint on the outside of the bus, which was cheap and surprisingly effective!
Many of our ideas for the build came from hours of scrolling through other people’s bus conversion pictures and videos on Instagram and YouTube. Most of our parts and supplies were ordered from Amazon, and we made several hundred trips to hardware stores. Seriously, the Home Depot employees probably knew us by name by the time we were done.
After eight months of blood, sweat, and tears, Stu was finally ready to hit the open road!
On The Road
We had planned to do a short trip to test the waters – one where we would still be in range of rescue if we got stranded – but instead, we drove 4,600 miles over 44 days, from Seattle to Tijuana and back. It was an incredible way to break in Stu!
At first, I panicked over every noise and smell as we drove, “Are the brakes on fire? Is the engine about to blow up? Oh my God!” But as we covered more miles, nothing catastrophic had seemed to happen, so I slowly released my death grip on the couch and started to relaxed.
We learned Stu’s quirks with the ability to know which noises were good and which were bad. We celebrated our first night on the road with champagne and instant ramen noodles! I know, a classy combination!
The beginning of a wonderful adventure.
We started to work our way south, staying in free campgrounds or boon-docking in remote spots. (Tip: the website, Free Camp Sites has been an incredible resource thus far, saving us tons of money and leading us to meet amazing like-minded travelers.)
We travelled to Yosemite National Park, which was breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and more incredible than any photo could ever possibly capture.
We camped just outside the park gates (for free, of course), and were able to socialize with fellow travelers. We’ve made so many great friends and connections so far and it’s made the journey that much more fun and meaningful.
The Nitty Gritty
And now that you’ve read my story, here are some bits and pieces that may come in handy to you if you’re interested in doing a bus conversion!
The toilet situation: we have a Nature’s Head composting toilet, which is not as gross as it sounds. There’s no smell, and we empty the liquids container every couple of days and the solids container every six to eight weeks. It was expensive, but so worth it.
The plumbing: Our sink faucet swivels out the window to become a shower. We use this infrequently because we only have 21 gallons of water in our tank. But after rock climbing in the desert, it feels amazing to take a shower!
Otherwise, we stay clean(ish) by swimming in rivers and lakes, showering at friends’ houses if we are visiting, or by using those trusty wet wipes if we’re in a pinch.
The cooking: We cook with a two-burner propane camp stove on a table outside the bus, or inside the bus if we are stealth camping (with proper ventilation, of course). We also have a Jetboil that we use to boil water for coffee or ramen.
The electricity: There are three 12-volt deep cycle batteries under our couch that power our refrigerator and water pump. Our electronics are also charged via the cycle battery, but it’s always amazing when we have access to an outlet. We are currently installing solar panels on the roof to help extend our battery life and boon-docking capabilities.
The water: We get water for free, either at rest stops with RV dump/water stations, or from gas station soda fountains, which is a lengthy process involving a funnel and a 7-gallon water jug. Free water and free workout!
After our solar panels are installed, we plan to head into Canada as we chase more moderate temperatures. After that – our plans are open-ended! We’ll live and travel in the bus as long as we can, chasing adventure and seeing the world.
The road awaits!
This article was written by guest blogger, Cat Carroll.