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."
~School Bus Conversion By: Steve and Michelle Lawson and Family ~
~Interview By: Patrick Schmidt ~
- Make: International
- Model: IC300 Handicap Body, 12 rows, Double AC units, Allison Automatic 2000 series
- Motor: HUGE Diesel engine LOL :) DT466E
- Year: 2005
- Interior Square Footage: 265
- Current Location: Fort Lauderdale
- Purchased From/Location: http://miamibusdeals.com Guy was great, and easy to deal with!!
- Cost in materials for the conversion, including bus: $18,357. Bus was $14,500.
How many Lawsons are there?
We are a family of 9. Michelle and Steve (Mom and Dad) married for 17 years. We have 7 kids - Caleb 16, Jacob 13, Joshua 10, Matthew 6, Liam 5, Charlotte 2 and Owen 9 months.... yes 6 boys and 1 girl ;-)
What was the initial spark that lead to living in a Bus?
Jack Johnson has a song where he sings:
“One day is only two words we say
I don't want to let them get in the way
Of all the plans that we should be making right now.”
We didn’t always want to do this sort of traveling in an RV thing. We thought it was “sooo not us”! Then, the idea of converting a school bus popped up on our radar.
Enter the idea of a Skoolie.
The idea seemed so original. Fun. Different. Out of the box. Against the grain. A little hippie. And it suited us just right.
We love to travel with our kids, and since we homeschool and own our own photography business, it was usually very doable for us. On our trips, we would dream of traveling in something bigger, something we could even sleep in.
We had been toying around with the idea of getting one - then unexpectedly, Steve’s mom passed away in February of 2017. Her only regret was not buying an RV and traveling more with us around the U.S.
She would often say "I'll get it one day." That one day never came for her.
We didn’t want to make buying our skoolie one of those “one day we’ll do it” things.
So that was it. With the Lord’s help, and Him leading the way, we were able to not only buy our bus, but also had friends with building skills come along and help us with all the renovations.
We are ever so thankful. We’ve been able to take Michelle’s mom on a trip with us, and she loved it! Often, when we are on the road, we talk about how grandma Susie would have loved going around on the bus with us also!
How long did the conversion take?
6 months - We drove off the lot with the bus March 6, 2017 and our 1st trip on the completed skoolie was September 4, 2017.
Climate control in the bus? Stock ceiling?
Right now we have an AC that runs only when the bus is running. We have plans to get an AC that works when we are plugged in or while running a generator. We have not really had the “need” for it since we’ve been traveling in colder climates but it’s coming soon!! For heating, we use room heaters while plugged in and they work great!!
Where does everyone sleep?
We have more than enough bed space right now. We have 2 triple bunk beds and a king size bed. We have a little side spot next to our bed that doubles as an extra space for our little one to sleep. It’s perfect! When we have guests, our 2 couches double as extra beds!
Is there such a thing as personal space in the bus?
Yep! Our bathroom is the only spot LOL. Just kidding. Our kids snuggle up in their beds and it’s their own personal space. The bunks are sort of little caves, if you will, and they can be pretty private. The kids have quiet reading time, draw, study or hop on their phones to watch shows or play learning games. Every person in our family is a key player- of course, a major reason for this journey - having the kids close by. We all love spending time together.
When we get to an RV park for extended stays, we set up a cute little living space outside with chairs. Functional and pretty too!
Are you Bus-Schooling the children? Unschooling? Deschooling? What kind of journey has that been?
There is a wealth of knowledge out there- and we are always learning, discovering and growing.
We like to say that life is learning and yes, 100% unschooling is our style. But we didn’t start our homeschooling journey there. Over the years, we have definitely become more out of the box thinkers and want to give our kids the freedom and the time to love deeply, forgive quickly, explore, create, learn, play and just be kids. Children learn wherever they are and we love that we get to be with them and do life together.
What do the parents do for work? What will/does work look like for the children?
We own Michelle Lawson Photography. The majority of our weddings have traditionally been in South Florida but as of late, we have been shooting more and more weddings and families nationally and internationally.
We do not live in our bus full time. We have spent about 4 months of this year traveling around in it. As wedding and family lifestyle photographers, we can work from the road! So, as we have traveled around the country, we have done photo sessions in every state we've passed through.
In the future, we have plans to spend even longer on the bus.
Our kids all love the idea of taking over our family business. Our two oldest, Caleb and Jacob, both edit and Caleb shoots weddings and family sessions now as well. He is also my main assistant at all my weddings. We do have a full team back home in Fort Lauderdale of 6 other editors and 1 other photographer and 2 videographers too!! We work hard and enjoy life together. We have always prayed that Jesus would open the doors for our business that only He could. And He has continued to lead us- all our success is because of Him.
What has been the biggest hurdle?
Keeping the bus clean, so we have a no-shoes policy on the bus.
We all share resposibility for chores and keeping the bus clean. Sweeping, taking the garbage out, and making the beds are daily things.
Honestly though, perspective is key. We don't really see things as "hurdles"- as big or small problems, it's all just little things.
We try to never leave the bus a mess- so the kids normally pick up quickly before we jump off- that way when we are walking back to our bus and someone says: “Wait, is this your bus!? I need to see this!!” We can have them peek inside.
What have been people’s reaction to you living in a bus?
As far as we can see, everyone loves it. We are asked multiple times a day if someone can come aboard. Everyone loves the authenticity of a school bus conversion.
We actually ended up with a sign in book and it’s become pretty important to us now. We have loads of signatures from people all over the world. Yay for Skoolies!
We met the most wonderful family last night in our home town! And it was our first time meeting a skoolie in our own skoolie! 🚌💕🚌 Their bus was so adorable and homey and the children were great! We couldn’t believe they road tripped with 7 kids, but they make it work and are so inspiring 🚌💕 They had us sign their little guest book they had of all the people they meet and check out their skoolie. They even gave us one to have for Alice! Isn’t this such a cool idea?! Their oldest son drew our buses next to each other and it is spot on! If you scroll, you’ll see our actual buses next to each other 😍 Such a great memory to have, filled with wisdom, creativity and good vibes. We so enjoyed the company of your family @wildandfreelawsons 😊 y’all are such wonderful souls. Thank you for the knowledge and book and inspiration! Hopefully we’ll meet again soon 🚌💕🌻#alicethewonderbus
Have you met other Skoolie Families during your travels?
Yes! We LOVE meeting other skoolies on the road!! It’s such a fun group of people. We meet a lot of families- thus the reason for our sign in book. We love going out of our way to meet other families on the road.
Life on the bus is such a fun thing. It's filled with community and togetherness and adventure; we love it. It’s been such a blessing to us. Seeing the world, learning, growing, exploring, reflecting, going on the simplest of adventures- all of that really stirs a joy in us and the root of it all is that we’re together. Living simply. Being connected. Loads of time to just sit and talk and draw and laugh.
Easiest thing about living in a bus?
The simple life! It’s waking up in the morning and finding an adventure or waking up and just taking it slow. We love being open and free to go where we feel led.
We typically have an idea, a general direction- but nothing is really ever set in stone. Less to do, more time to just be.
"Nowhere to be and all day to get there!" As the Bills sing.
One afternoon, we were eating hand made popsicles in Nashville and as we were thinking of dinner- everyone voted for pizza. And so, being the wild and free Lawsons, we loaded everyone on the bus and headed straight for Chicago. (Laughing!!!) A day later we were having pizza in the Windy City. It was amazing.
Another easy thing: family time. Just pure, plain and simple- being together.
Traveling/living/sleeping on the bus, in the small space as a family of 9 is much more beautiful than we ever expected. One of the reasons I love our bus so much is all of the windows. We can sit down and have God’s beautiful light shining in from all angles. And whether it’s rainy or sunshine… The 360 view is beautiful.
We love the uninterrupted family time. We love waking up together in a new place almost daily and most important, always having a new adventure. We love watching every sunrise and every sunset together. Eating every meal side by side. Never being bored. Doing life together.
Have you seen the movie “Captain Fantastic?”
Not yet!! Should we? Now I feel like we need to.
So bus life is working out like you imagined?
Yes!!!!! It’s better than we imagined it!!
We love love love it!! We basically tell everyone we know: you need a bus!!!! As a matter of fact, our other photographer, Rob and my videographer Adam are now looking to each convert a bus with their families. Traveling cross country with our photography tribe. Buses following eachother on old county roads?! Yes, please!!!!!
Do you have a base camp / permanent address?
We have a home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and we park the bus on our property when not on the Open Road. It fits like a glove on the side of our home and calls out to us when we're not on the Bus.
It says things like: “Hey guys... let’s get on the road!! Let’s see things!! Why are we still here!!” You know, things like that. LOL :)
So far, we have been to and explored Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana in our bus. in September, we will be driving from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego then north to Canada then east to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, then south to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and so on.
It’s going to be EPIC!!
What is your cooking/kitchen setup?
We built a kitchen counter and kitchen storage with power outlets underneath the cabinets. They are powered by our Thor inverter. At RV parks, we plug into 30/50amp shore power or use our generator.
For appliances, we have a mini refrigerator/freezer, cook top griddle, toaster oven, tea kettle, and coffee maker.
We have the Dry flush toilet, which is amazing!!! We really love it so much! The battery lasts forever too!
For washer and dryer, we use the comfort stations at RV parks and State parks and at friend’s homes along the way.
Safety/Security concerns living on the road in a Bus?
We have a lock when we leave the bus. It’s a master pad lock and it works great!! When we are inside the bus at night, we have a separate lock.
Crazy adventure story:
We were riding through Custer State Park in South Dakota. This park is wild! It’s located in the Black hills and it’s just such a cool place to see! We had encounters with big horned sheep, elk, prairie dogs, bison and burros. And at one point, we got out to explore and see some burros a bit more closely. And a few of them wanted to get in our bus with us. The kids laughed and laughed and we tried to push their strong bodies out from stepping into the bus.
How can people learn more about you?
The best way is to meet us! We have scheduled photo sessions across the country- you can book a session and meet us while we take your photos! We always announce which states we are journeying through.
The opportunity to meet up with other like minded tribes is fun! We do always try to meet up with families and couples along the way- bus or not. It’s exciting! We love meeting others and sharing stories and adventures, advice and options.
We hope that we can be an inspiration to other families to live out their dreams. To get in the frames, as Jack Johnson sang. To spend more time together, because now is now. No one is ever promised tomorrow.
"Slow down everyone
You're moving too fast
Frames can't catch you when
You're moving like that"
Jack Johnson - Inaudible Frames