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American Field Trip Logo

What's the IDEAL vehicle for visiting all 59 U.S. National Parks?

Meet the Bowman Family and their converted Shuttle Bus "Buster"

~ By Contributing Writer: Madi Bowman of The American Field Trip ~

Follow them on Instagram & American Field Trip Website

bus life adventure zion

"We're hitting the road! With what vehicle?!"

When my husband and I decided that, along with our two kids, we were going to live on the road, we weren't sure which kind of vehicle we'd end up in.

Honestly, the choice to live full-time out of a vehicle seemed pretty easy compared to deciding, once we were settled on doing a stint of road life, which vehicle to choose.

 

abey road adventure

"Now that we've been in [the shuttle bus] full-time for 15 months, we can honestly say that the choice has been perfect for us."

Skoolie? Standard RV? Some kind of Van?

We did tons of research and a lot of pondering before we settled on a shuttle bus, and while our choice wouldn't be right for everyone, we wanted to lay out our thinking in case anyone else is going through the same process.

Our criteria: We wanted something reliable and safe, something in which we could stand up, with enough space to feel livable for a family of four.

american field trip hobbit house

Initially, we were most attracted to vans. We liked the stealth, the gas mileage, and the safety, and there are so many resources for van conversions that we were confident the project was doable. We thought we'd go that route and spent most of our time considering whether a Sprinter or Ford Transit would be best. But in our configuring, we just kept running into problems.

Sell Everything. Build a Van. Explore the World.

The biggest Transit was too small. The Sprinters were a good size, but we weren't thrilled about getting into a Mercedes. We have family members who own FedEx routes and fleets of Sprinters and they unilaterally described Sprinters as problem vehicles.

It seems that once Sprinters get a good bit of mileage on them, they start having a lot of engine problems, and because they're Mercedes, the problems are super expensive to fix. While we know plenty of people who love their Sprinters, we didn't want to get into something that would be so potentially problematic.

We also looked into installing extended fiberglass tops to other types of vans in an attempt to get the Sprinter height with the reliability of another vehicle. But other vans had shorter wheel bases, which meant much less living space.

Bumble Beast - Sprinter Van Conversion

So we started looking at RVs. They seemed like an obvious choice and still, when we showed people what we were planning with the bus, we were invariably asked some variation of, "So why didn't you just buy an RV?"

So, why didn't you?

Well, for a few reasons. Safety was a big one, especially with the kids. While buses are basically constructed inside a metal cage, RVs are much lighter and less rugged. The kids' seats would probably have been hooked to dinette seats, which vary in their construction, but are frequently much less sturdy than typical car seats.

We're not planning on getting into any fiery crashes, but if we did, we want something that will hold up. I definitely don't think an RV is an irresponsible choice. But knowing how much time we'd be spending on the road, we wanted to be really comfortable with our level of safety.

We also had a hard time finding an RV layout that made sense for us. We wanted to sleep in the same area as the kids, but probably not the same bed, which we couldn't configure in an existing RV layout. We wanted to be able to work comfortably after the kids went to sleep. And we really didn't want a bathroom, so we were hesitant to sacrifice space to one. It might seem odd that a bathroom was on our list of undesirables, but we didn't want to deal with a black water tank or a frustratingly tiny sink, and we definitely didn't want an RV shower.

bowman family american adventure bus

When you are 6 feet and taller, RV showers are just a special kind of cruel. (But all this about the bathroom would likely be totally different for someone else. I have strong, experience-borne aversions to RV bathrooms that a lot of others don't share. So take it all with a grain of salt.)

We also wanted solar power, good insulation, and a full-sized sink, along with a bunch of other features that weren't totally crucial, but would make it more livable for us.

Basically, we knew if we got an RV we'd have to gut it to get a layout we were really happy with, and if we settled on a layout we didn't love, we'd still want to add enough upgrades that it didn't seem to make sense to invest in an RV in the first place.

bowman family bus life adventure shuttle

So we were down to buses.

We honestly never considered a school bus because as soon as we started looking at buses, we found a wholesale dealer in Arizona and immediately connected about a couple of shuttle bus gems, including the one we ended up with.

School bus conversions look awesome, but we think it would have been a poor choice for us, mostly for time reasons. We had to get our build done in a little over a month and the shuttle bus didn't require any metal work or window replacement.

buster family skoolie

All in all, we are super happy we ended up with what we did. The shuttle bus isn't perfect, of course, but we loved being able to design and build it to fit our little family. And now that we've been in it full-time for 15 months, we can honestly say that the choice has been perfect for us.

buster bedroom layout skoolie

blank landscape buster bus

"So many things I love about this little home of ours, but maybe the best thing is that it runs like a dream. We had nightmares about breaking down in the emptiness of West Texas, but Buster chugged on like a champ. He really is a legend."

 

adventure exit outdoors

"Nothing better than being able to take your home along with you wherever you go, to step out your door straight into the most beautiful places on Earth. Also, you can’t beat getting back from a hike and laying down in your own bed, right by the trailhead, for a long afternoon nap"

School Bus Conversion

Valerie Bus

National Parks pin and patch freelance artist converts a short school bus into a boho chic skoolie.

You may remember Heidi Miller from the Life In The Bus Lane documentary and her short appearance of when she was in the beginning stages of her short bus conversion. Now with the bus conversion nearly complete Heidi has already shown her bus at the Tiny House Living Festival stop in Portland summer 2017.

Professional photographer Heather Jackson was shooting Heidi's engagement photos and decided to take some of her skoolie as well. Enjoy the photos and be on the lookout for this school bus conversion to possibly show up on AirBnB just outside Eugene, OR.

Full article
Valerie Bus

Relaxed

Heidi Miller enjoys tea inside her hippy chic short school bus conversion.

School Bus Conversion

Kyle Volkman

Roof raise and all, this 1986 school bus conversion only ended up costing $10-$15k

Kyle Volkman demonstrates that you only need a few skills to get started on a school bus conversion. Everything else will come later as you make mistakes and learn from them. Check out all of Kyle's unique ways of utilizing space in his bus conversion.

This vegetable powered school bus conversion is home for Kyle and his business. Professionally converting school buses, vans and even an ambulance, Kyle travels to the clients location with all the tools he needs to complete a conversion on the road.

Full article
Kyle Volkman

Details

Kyle Volkman spent many hours on the fine details and finish work inside his school bus conversion.

School Bus Conversion

Wild And Free Lawsons

Wild and Free: Nine Family Members. One School Bus. Unlimited Possibilities.

"We would definitely recommend this lifestyle to any family because of the freedom. Living a more simple life allows for the things that really do matter to take preference. Cultivating the things that matter most."

This family of nine lives full time on the road while shooting wedding photography and homeschooling the kids. Trading the mortgage for gas money this large family has become rich in experiences.

Full Article
Wild And Free Lawsons

Family

The Lawson's beg to differ when it comes to the myth that you can't raise a family in a school bus conversion.

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