Couple Travels Full-Time With Off-Grid School Bus Tiny Home

This couple decided it was time to hit the road in a DIY school bus conversion.

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interior of school bus turned into tiny home

We Got Schooled

The growth of the tiny house movement in recent years has re-ignited interest in the idea of living a simpler lifestyle. It has also revived enthusiasm for small spaces of all kinds -- a soothing antidote to the wretched excess of the McMansion era. Beyond building lovely tiny houses, some are also renovating school buses into stylish homes on wheels. It's hardly a new thing, but one major advantage that school bus-based tiny homes have over 'conventional' tiny homes is that they are much more mobile -- and also much cheaper than a high-end tiny house.

That advantage of mobility can be translated into a long-term, road trip adventure, as American couple Justine and Ryan of We Got Schooled are discovering. The pair, who have roots in New York and Texas, decided a couple of years ago to embark on something a little different: renovating a 1991 International School Bus into a 200-square-foot, azure gem of a home. After two years of hard work, juggling full-time jobs and renovations, the couple finally finished the project last year and hit the road. We get a tour of the brightly decorated, open-concept interior:

The couple explains their motivations for this major lifestyle change:

After years of staying put, working too many hours in stressful jobs, and always feeling like we were missing something, we decided to make changes. We started saving money, bought the bus and converted it, and finally left our nine-to-fives. Our motivations are manifold – ranging from an urge to live more simply, a goal to escape the rat-race, to a deep-rooted desire to get out and see more of this world while we can. We were done dreaming and were ready to take action.

Layout of the Converted Bus

We Got Schooled

The bus contains a generously sized sitting area, a small kitchen, dining and work area, a bathroom, bedroom and plenty of storage. The seating has storage hidden underneath, and all the shelves have a removable rail that secures things while the bus is in motion. There is also a roof storage rack for outdoor gear and their bikes, which they use as a secondary form of transportation when they're parked in town and want to explore.


We Got Schooled

The kitchen in particular is designed to be more open; the dining table here doubles as a workspace, and can also be pulled out and extended to create a full-length table to seat more guests. The couple cook with a propane camping oven, which they say works quite well -- they do have carbon monoxide detectors on board and crack a window open when cooking, to be on the safe side.

Bathroom and Bedroom

We Got Schooled

The bathroom is sandwiched between the front and the rear bedroom, and has a rolling door that closes it off from the other spaces in front. The bedroom is spacious, and has under-bed storage and sleeping nooks for the couple's dog and two cats.

Making the Bus Eco-Friendly

We Got Schooled

The bus is equipped for both on-grid and off-grid situations, thanks to its 300-watt solar panel system and two 6-volt deep-cycle batteries that runs the lights, water pump and a few small fans. The bus also has a 1500-watt inverter that allows for the charging of electronic devices. The bus uses a RV-standard water system for holding fresh water, greywater and blackwater. There is a RV-standard air-conditioning unit mounted on the roof.

This school bus tiny home is set up very well, but the couple say that the big changes come from the small daily habits that add up and which help to offset the impact of driving and travelling around:

[T]he most eco-friendly aspect of our bus is that we're much more mindful of our energy usage and use less electricity than we did in our former home. Since we began traveling on the bus, we've cut way back on our media & product consumption. Not having much space keeps us from casually buying things at the rate we used to when we lived in a house. Having a smaller fridge and limited pantry space has resulted in less household food waste and actually improved our diet -- we cook fresh meals everyday! Likewise we no longer spend hours watching T.V., playing video games, or just leaving household appliances running in the background on a daily basis. Further, traveling with our bus has made us much more conservative in our water usage. At present we have a 40-gallon freshwater tank that will generally last us about a week between fill-ups.
Admittedly, driving a diesel vehicle means we aren't being as eco-friendly as we'd like to be, so we actively look for ways to reduce our environmental impact in other aspects of our lifestyle.

The Cost

We Got Schooled

In total, the couple estimates that they spent between USD $13,000 to $15,000, with $5,000 of the total having gone into purchasing the bus and repairing it. It's much cheaper than most mid-range and deluxe tiny houses we are seeing, though on the other hand, regular maintenance costs can also add up.

Living on the Road in a Converted Bus

Since quitting those stressful office jobs, Ryan is now earning income on the road as a freelance computer programmer, and Justine as well as a budding photographer. Since last year, they've travelled quite a bit of the country, and plan to continue their journey further as this year unfolds. To follow their travels and to see how they built their bus, visit We Got Schooled.