What It’s Really Like Living in a School Bus Conversion

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Have you ever thought about living in a school bus conversion? More people are choosing to live in a school bus rather than a traditional RV.

Converting a school bus into a tiny home gives people more flexibility when it comes to designing their living space. 

School buses are built to carry children, which means they have an extra level of safety and hardy construction over traditional RVs. 

Plus, a school bus conversion is upcycling at its best – taking something that’s no longer used for its original purpose and giving it a new one.

Living in a school bus is also the ultimate DIY project, which involves lots of learning, building and materials.

The result can be a gorgeous tiny home with your own touches, perfect for road tripping across the United States.

Why one couple choose a school bus conversion

Derek and Amy Cobia of The Frugal RVer didn’t start out with a school bus conversion.

Their first RV was a large 5th wheel camper hauled with a pick-up truck. They hoped to save money and travel, but soon realized it wasn’t going to happen.

“After living in it for a year we realized we weren’t cutting as many costs as we wanted and we weren’t traveling,” said Amy. “Plus, I couldn’t put my personal touch on the RV and that bothered me. Even hanging a picture wasn’t easy.”

Derek agreed: “The RV introduced us to the lifestyle so it’s hard to regret that move, but financially, it was a big mistake because we thought our RV could go anywhere. It couldn’t. We ended up paying $700 per month camping on top of the payment for our truck and RV.”

They wanted something off-grid and small enough to have a good turning radius.

So, they turned their attention toward living in a school bus conversion.

Family of three poses outside their school bus conversion that they converted themselves
www.thefrugalrver.com

“School buses have steel-ribbed frames that go all the way the length of the bus so it’s almost indestructible in its design because it carries kids,” said Derek. “The more I researched, the more I realized we could have a quality school bus RV conversion for fairly cheap.”

How Derek and Amy designed their school bus conversion

They two started looking at school buses to convert and found one for just $3,000 and 27 feet in length. They started brainstorming ways to transform their school bus into a beautiful tiny home.

“We’re both bath people and that was a huge part of it,” Derek said. “We miss our bath from the house. We had a big garden tub and we’d sit in there and drink wine and it was a stress-reliever. That was a huge priority, which is why we have a massive bath that takes up 15% of our home.”

The inside of this school bus conversion shows a rare sight: a beautiful bathtub
www.thefrugalrver.com

Their budget was $15,000, including the school bus, and the couple thinks they may have gone a little over, but still ended up under $20,000.

They have everything hooked up for solar for boondocking – the electrical system alone was $6,000.

“We went small (27 feet in length), because we wanted to get off the beaten path camping,” said Derek “Our biggest goal was to be self-sustainable and be able to live very cheaply. We realized quickly with RVs that we’d have to tie into the grid, so we decided to go off-grid indefinitely. Our solar panels can last three weeks.”

He said its harder to maneuver the bigger school bus campers, so some people who buy those feel frustration.

“We lived the RV lifestyle and knew we didn’t need much and were going minimalist,” Derek said. “So a school bus conversion was perfect for us.”

This school bus rv conversion has a sleek, modern look with couches, beds, a kitchen, and even a bath
www.thefrugalrver.com

The school bus conversion even includes a little bed for their 2-year-old daughter, who so far is loving the skoolie life.

“She gets excited when she sees it,” Amy said. “We have her car seat set up on the school bus so she can see out the front windows and the side windows. The windows roll down and blow fresh air and she loves it.”

This family's toddler has her own little bed on their skoolie conversion
www.thefrugalrver.com

So far, the family of three has driven across the United States, mostly boondocking, or camping for free. They’ve only spent $50 on their journey.

“We’re still on a high so it’s pretty amazing right now,” said Derek. “It’s starting to sink in that this is our life now. For the most part, it’s felt like a vacation.”

They plan on traveling indefinitely and say if you’re thinking about doing it, do your research and understand the costs before committing to a school bus conversion.

“Overall, I’d want to encourage people to do it,” said Amy. “It’s been a breath of fresh air for me and Derek and our daughter, and it’s freeing. It’s so freeing to get rid of all your stuff.”

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Meet the blue school bus, another school bus conversion

Owner of this blue school bus conversion sits on the roof. He said its not always easy living on a school bus
www.skoolielove.com

Patrick Schmidt of Skoolie Love was living in Seattle when he first wanted to buy a school bus to convert into an RV. He searched Craigslist for days, eventually finding a 34-foot blue school bus for sale in California. It had once belonged to a church.

So, he flew to get it and got a good deal.

“I bought it with just 68,000 miles on it. It was for sale for $5,500 initially, but when I told the pastor I wanted to travel and expand my life and have adventures, he was thrilled and sold it to more for just $4,500,” Patrick said.

To qualify as an RV, the school bus conversion needed a few key renovations.

A bed, a way to cook, a way to provide cooling and heating. Patrick decided to install a hot plate and plumbing for a toilet, water and a shower.

Now, it’s basically an entire apartment, 189 square feet of awesome school bus conversion.

“I then traveled for two months,” Patrick said. “I saw 36 states and went 20,000 miles in my skoolie conversion. I didn’t want to do the rat race anymore, I wanted to see how else you could live. I wanted a place to call my own.”

The downside of living in a school bus conversion

Patrick reads on a bench seat in his blue-and-white bus rv conversion
www.skoolielove.com

While Patrick enjoyed his newfound freedom, he also found it challenging to live in a school bus conversion.

Many campgrounds only want RVs, or vehicles less than 10 years old.

School buses are conspicuous to park on city streets. If you want to settle down in a big city in a skoolie, it’s not easy finding a place to legally park it. Stealth camping is totally out of the question.

“Some big cities don’t even allow tiny homes. They want you to have a foundation and take the wheels off,” he said. “Then,  I looked into buying a plot of land to park the bus on. But you find other hurdles there. In some residential areas, you can only park for 30 or 90 days as its residentially zoned. They want you to prove you’re going to build something, not just camping.”

He said finding insurance for a school bus conversion is also a challenge.

“It’s such a heartache. For them, it’s a liability. They don’t know how you did the plumbing, whether it will light on fire at a campground, will it leak going down the road,” he said. “Initially I paid $500 for a year, but then they wanted $800 for six months, and they kept raising it or changing it. It became such a problem that I was telling people not to get into buying a school bus, it will be stressful and difficult.”

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Why he wouldn’t recommend living in a school bus conversion full time

Living in a school bus conversion can be hard. Patrick looks out over the inside of his new skoolie RV
www.skoolielove.com

Patrick said he’d be the first to tell someone not to live in a school bus conversion.

“It’s because of the insurance, knowing that when you’re driving around you could get a flat tire,” said Patrick.

“You need to have savings. You have to be aware that you live in a bus and will have to park in weird areas sometimes. I’ve woken up a lot at night. One time these kids were walking by and wanted to climb a ladder up to the roof. I was wide awake, in the back bedroom wondering if they were going to climb it, but luckily, nothing happened.”

He said his school bus conversion only gets 7 to 9 miles per gallon, which is very expensive if he wants to keep moving and traveling. So, he started a business selling t-shirts.

He does hope that the more people who live in a school bus camper, the more that things will change.

Maybe cities will be more welcoming to school buses.

Maybe insurance companies will offer cheaper policies.

Maybe there will be better places to park.

Maybe in the future, we’ll see just as many school bus tiny homes as we’ll see school buses taking kids to school. You never know!

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32 thoughts on “What It’s Really Like Living in a School Bus Conversion”

    • Hey Monica! You’ll have to contact the people I interviewed….if you’re talking about the Frugal RVers (the family), they have their own website 🙂

      Reply
  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I’m in the PNW (Pacific North West) and have been looking into medium sized Skoolie’s for many years.
    Parking the beast is my biggest issue!! It seems like parking for a period of time is just way to expensive!
    I prefer not to live via Wally World and Rest Stops. The boonie’s are nice but limited as well. I guess there is no way around the issues of maintenance, parking and insurance. Apartment rent would be cheaper combined with a regular car to get out and see various sites. I’m really bummed.

    Reply
    • Yeah skoolies do seem to have their downsides. They are nice and big, like an apartment, but I think parking would be a pain. I think I’d give a vote for a van if I was going to have something for the road.

      Reply
      • I’m using my Suburban at the moment. It serves as shelter and is good on fuel.

        I’ve used a Conversion Van for a while and it’s still pretty cramped. Perhaps a high top van?

        A bit more space like a small Bus or Step Van will be more comfortable, but stealth camping still has its drawbacks. Nothing is perfect and it’s about lifestyle. It all seems to come down to budget and time. What doesn’t?

        Reply
        • Totally! I really would like a conversion van…a high-top would be nice for standing room, but one van life lady I know drives a Ford Transit Connect she got for $11,000. Usually, my boyfriend and I roadtrip and sleep in a Prius, so anything will feel roomier to me, haha!

          Reply
          • Csn you explain in detail the experience of living in a van, car and tent? Thanks

      • I drive a school bus and honestly it’s easier to parallel park than my private car. The cost for parking in the city would definitely cost more though.

        Reply
  2. Thank you for the article, my son is doing the same. He will be driving cross country from AR to WA. I understand finding a parking is a nightmare. Is there a list of schoolie friendly parking options please?

    Reply
    • That’s actually a great idea for an article. I will look into it! I know skoolies are very hard to park, sadly.

      Reply
  3. Wal-Marts allow you to park campers and RV’s over night. I don’t see why they wouldn’t allow a school bus conversion. Check ot out.

    Reply
    • Totally, I think some WalMarts would, but people should call the WalMart first to make sure.

      Reply
  4. Did you paint the inside of the bathtub or is it some type of plastic lining? You guys are living my dream in such a beautiful home!!

    Reply
    • I’d guess they had it porcelain glazed. I’ve seen that done on other horse trough tubs and it looks just like that.

      Reply
  5. Hi!
    I love your bus! Great job! Can you tell me where you bought your bath tub? Many thanks!!
    Amy

    Reply
    • That’s a galvanized stock tank for watering livestock and horses. Any farm and ranch store like Tractor Supply, Atwoods, etc will either carry them or be able to get you one. They come in several sizes, run 2 ft high. I have one that’s 6 ft long like that, and they also make round ones that I think would be perfect for a shower base. There’s a drain in the side along the bottom edge so you’d need to put in a floor drain.

      Reply
  6. I am still working on my tiny kitchen, but thinking ahead for my tiny bathroom. I see from the pictures you have a galvanized stock tub. I want one, but would like to paint it to give it a bolder statement. Plus the local Tractor supply stock tubs come with a logo on them I would like to cover. I was wondering what did you use to coat the inside of your stock tub?

    Reply
    • Hey Grace – you’ll have to contact the owners of the bus to ask that question. They are known as The Frugal RVers and have a website and Facebook group.

      Reply
    • Yep! I see a lot of people doing pickup campers. I should write a blog post about that, actually.

      Reply
  7. Looks like it has been awhile since anyone has commented here. Just dropped off to nothing. Anyway, to share our experience with the “skoolie” life. We have lived in our bus for 16 years, and loved most every moment of that lifestyle. “Full Timers” is how we described ourselves. We actually owned two buses. The first was a 1980 Gillig, 78 passenger with a 250 Cummins, 5speed manual transmission. We lived and traveled in it for 10 years. Then we got a deal on a 88 Blue Bird which had more floor space(38′) inside. We both did all the conversion work ourselves. The learning curve went up after the Gillig. Insurance seems to be a big problem, but we were with State Farm insured as an R.V. We took our agent for a long ride (200) miles, and wrote up a policy showing us as a motor home. Even with the wood burning stove we only paid $ 325 a year.

    Reply
  8. I am wondering if you need the CDL with Passenger rating to drive a school bus conversion or if you can get away with a regular drivers license?
    i am looking at living in a bus conversion because i am tired of paying someone rent and having loud neighbors with their loud music and kids running around.

    Reply

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