After being diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in 2015 and given six months to live, Denise Souza sold everything and bought a bus.
Motor: DT466e 7.6 Litre V6 Diesel Engine
Interior Square Footage: 30 feet bumper to bumper (outside), tiny (inside)
Current Location: Currently back home in Massachusetts waiting out the Covid madness
Purchased From/Location: Holland, Michigan off a guy named Matt
Cost in materials for the conversion: I do not know the total off the top of my head but the cost of the bus was $3,000 and I did a lot of “sold something to buy something” since I had to empty out my house which was a 2,600sqft 4 bedroom 4 full bath.
Total time from purchase date to on the road: Me and my sister flew out to Michigan to pick it up and drove it back home. It took me with the help of my father, sister, and a few friends about a year and a half to convert, then I started traveling.
Why a bus? After hours of research and reaching out to others after being diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) in 2015 and given an estimated 3-6months to live, I decided to go the unconventional way. I chose an “all-natural,” all plant-based diet, natural supplements, oxygen therapy, and a regiment that includes so much more than a diet but also includes high dose Vitamin C IV’s. Unfortunately, health insurance doesn’t cover the unconventional treatments so I had the choice of paying my mortgage or the cost of the all-natural treatments for my cancer. I chose the latter, lost my home, sold everything I could sell, sold my shed, and bought the bus.
My goal is to bring awareness to the things that I feel strongly about which include having a voice for your choice of treatment and knowing that there are other options available for those of us who have received a cancer diagnosis; to bring awareness to the financial hardships that stay with the patients and patients family during and after a life-changing diagnosis; sharing information for organizations that give back to patients, and searching for charitable causes, cleaning our natural environments, and meeting people along the way. On my website www.theskooly.net , 50 percent of all my merch sales are donated back to three local organizations that helped me and give back to cancer patients and their families: Haven's Healing Hands, The Fly Foundation, and Family Reach. You can also follow along on my adventures through Instagram @theskooly, YouTube The Skooly - Wellness, Awareness & Travel Journey, and my Facebook page.
Are you full-timing in your bus? Yes, I live full-time in my bus with my two dogs Greyson (Female 6-year-old charcoal/silver lab) and Paxton (Male 5yr old charcoal/silver lab).
Did you do the conversion yourself or did you hire someone? The conversion I did myself with the help of my father, sister, and one or two friends (when they showed up).
Who are you living/traveling with? In the bus, it’s just me and my two dogs. But I have traveled alongside my sister for the last year and we have met up with some other skoolies and vans along the way.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself so far? RF engineer by trade, with some IT/Computer background, but very hands-on and lived alone for over 13+ years so if it had to get fixed I figured it out. No major professional building experience.
Something you wish you had known going into this? Make sure you have a $$ safety net for breakdowns, tows, unexpected mishaps, get ready to feel frustrated at times like those times where you can’t find a place to fill up water, or that RV park that won’t let a skoolie in b/c it’s not RVIA certified, or just simply because it's a skoolie. Do your research on The Bureau of Land Management land and free parking. These buses are old, they break down. Don’t give up on bus life if you break down, everything will work out.
Is there anything you wish you did differently in your build? Yes. I would have set up the back of my bus a little differently. Originally it was supposed to be a desk/bed area but at the very last minute, I changed my mind and the layout and put the closet back there with a pull-out couch that just collected things and clean laundry. It is now back to a desk setup but if I were to do it all over again I would have put a fixed bed back there with storage underneath.
What have been people’s reactions to you buying a bus to live in? My mother was the only one who was wary of my decision and wasn’t too keen on me moving into a bus, leaving our hometown, traveling solo, all while having cancer. It took her a while to understand why I decided to do it and for her to be fully on board with it. To be honest, once my sister decided to remodel an RV and travel with me she really had no choice but to accept it. She now fully supports it and loves what I am doing. Other than that, everyone else's reaction was awesome. The love, encouragement, and support I have received have been incredible. But others' reactions and opinions wouldn’t have an effect on my decision as I was doing it for my happiness and my health and that is what really matters.
Have you met other skoolies or buslifers on the road? Yes, this little community is absolutely incredible. I have met so many like-minded humans and I can’t say enough good things about the tiny living community.
Tell us about your layout. Kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom? I have 1500 watts of solar on my roof, 900ah battery bank (500ah usable), 100 gallons of freshwater, full-size sink, Berkey water filter, custom made by me penny countertop, black walnut countertop, natures head composting toilet, and a full-size shower, 4kw Dwarf Tiny Wood Stove, Mini Split AC, and lots of dog hair.
How has the pandemic affected bus life for you? It really hasn’t affected me much because I was in remote areas when it all started but decided to settle into a safe spot due to things closing down.
What is the most memorable place you’ve traveled in your bus conversion? I loved Glacier National Park, Bozeman Montana, BadLands, too many to list, but Glacier is my number one favorite.
Where do you project you’ll be three months from now? Currently, I am building out a 2005 T1N Sprinter van to take on a few trips to see if, in fact, I can downsize even smaller. So either still building this thing or back on the road and far away from good ole’ Massachusetts.
Visit www.theskooly.net for a virtual bus tour and to purchase The Skooly merchandise which helps support Denise and organizations that give back to cancer patients and their families.
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley