- Some thoughts and comparisons from guest blogger and owner of Van Sage -
Guest Blog Written By: Veronica Cavanaugh ~
Over at VanSage.com, we’re always contemplating the idea of converting to the Skoolie world, and there’s no guarantee that we won’t someday. Truth is, every time I see a well-outfitted school bus I dream of an on-board shower, the room to cook a real meal, and maybe even have a guest or two in for coffee. Just a few reasons we were excited to get this invite to compare van and bus life.
You Live in a What?
That is the most common question I receive after people ask my address. Very few people ask to see my van when I tell people I live in one. In fact, most people simply look at me as if I’m crazy.
However, judging from what I’ve seen when a decked out bus rolls into the campground, I bet most people want to take a look into your vehicle.
I know I love seeing inside converted school buses, so I can only imagine how many requests you get from strangers to see inside. Although potentially time-consuming and inconvenient, do you let them look?
Veronica's Dodge Campervan
Trebventure in their full size school bus conversion.
Oh the Lessons You’ll Learn
My friend belonged to a family of 6 that renovated a bus and traveled the United States for 5 years. He said it was the best education he could have received growing up.
Although I am grateful for the campervan experiences I’ve had over the last decade or so, I am jealous of my friend who was able to learn so many powerful life lessons at such a young age. Imagine if more parents raised their children this way!
School buses often provide enough privacy, amenities, and space; perhaps the perfect travel vehicles for families. Van life, on the other hand, can be difficult enough for couples. On the other hand, if you’re rolling solo, a van can be a blissful adventure into minimalism.
Dharma Tribe Bus teaching their little one the joys of being a kid growing up in a skoolie.
I love to entertain and while out on the road I have longed for the option to host friends new and old in a larger space.
I know from experience trying to have friends over in an old Dodge conversion van is a bit difficult. Of course there’s no standing up, and even if the bed is of the hideaway variety and the seating is carefully planned, it gets crowded fast.
In a skoolie you can have a potluck and invite your other skoolie friends over!
Design and Décor
There’s not a lot of room for decorations in a campervan and the inside of a newly demo’d school bus must be like a massive, open canvas in comparison. Much more like designing the layout of a studio apartment, with many possibilities.
While we may have one or two options for our chuck box design and a modicum of storage (every inch counts in a campervan), skoolies actually have enough room for designated dining area, bedroom, bath, etc.
I imagine it is much easier to feel at home when you can personalize your surroundings with cabinet choices, window coverings and other fun stuff.
On the other hand, van lifers aren’t burdened with big design considerations, and a bit of color goes a long way in our tiny space.
Valerie Bus showing how cozy you can get with your school bus conversion.
In a refurbished bus, there is room for certain things a person in a van would consider a luxury such as plumbed in toilet and shower. Van life made it necessary for me to find public showers.
For van people, some of the best places to shower are laundry mats, campgrounds, and local outdoor outfitters. My portable solar shower bag, while a lot of fun in the sun, is a rough choice in bad weather
When it comes time to use the restroom, my choices are my little portable camp toilet (keep in mind, that’s in my living space), public restrooms or out in nature. It would be very convenient to be able to take care of all of my hygiene needs at home.
Aw. The ability to take a hot shower anywhere inside or outside the bus with this little portable shower.
Of course many school bus models are known for their durable motors and transmissions and I think many Skoolies take pride in the durability and longevity of their rigs.
Luckily for bus owner, many of the parts are interchangeable. Additionally, there are a lot of different bus makes and models available from a wide range of eras. This makes it easier to find the specifics you may want.
Many campervan makes/models are ubiquitous and we rarely have issues finding parts or mechanics who know our machines.
I have heard it can be a challenge to find mechanics that know how to work on buses. And then there’s the shear size of many of your parts. For example, while the tires on buses may last longer, when it is time to replace them they can be pricey and difficult to find.
Still, given the longevity of bus parts, I’d imagine cost of care and maintenance is a wash between buses and vans.
As opposed to a van, most buses you can access everything easily by tilting the hood. Makes self repairs a little easier.
Matters of size
As a campervan queen, there have been many nights I have needed to sleep incognito in town. Other than full length Sprinters, vanners can usually go unnoticed while stealth camping. Even if you have to pull over in broad daylight for a quick nap, your normal looking van won’t garner much attention.
Of course school buses face some real challenges with regard to staying low key and this is one of the biggest differences between the two awesome types of vehicles.
However, I’ve read some accounts from experienced bus dwellers that they always manage to find a spot, stealthy or not.
If not, it can get expensive staying in campgrounds where you may be required to use RV stalls vs the cheaper car/tent spots. Though I am sure the power and water hook ups are well worth it (depending on how you trick out your bus).
Veronica's quick nap setup in her van conversion.
It was a breeze for The Woody Bus to find parking.
Road awareness and Safety
When I was a new van driver, I had a bit of a learning curve ahead of me as the road awareness required to drive a van is very different from the sedans I’d learned in and always driven.
As a school bus driver, you must be constantly alert. It’s more of a truck driver mentality and includes being aware of overhead bridges, awnings, drive throughs, etc.
It’s easy enough to stay low key in a van and no one needs to know you’re traveling long term or even living in it.
However, when most people see a school bus that’s not bright yellow and packed with kids, they might assume someone is living in it.
So I’d imagine that buses can become a target for break-ins. I’d be tempted to keep windows covered most of the time and install a good alarm. Perhaps even get a mid-sized dog? Be safe out there, please.
Thanks for reading!
As I mentioned at the top of this article, we’re always considering a bus. If you’re reading this, chances are that you share the same insatiable love of adventure and freedom that we do. So no matter what you choose for long term wandering, we’re all brothers and sisters of the road.
When she's not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.