Who doesn’t want to see star-gaze from bed? To bring in more natural light, and more of the outdoors, we decided to add skylights to the bus. This involved cutting some pretty big holes in the roof (yikes!). Dan got creative with sourcing the material for this DIY and the results are pretty beautiful. Here’s a video where he walks through the bus in progress and explains how he put these together, and I’ve added a few photos below of the process and result.
Photo: Our empty bus in October, while Dan worked on the ceiling, sealing holes and adding closed-cell spray-foam insulation. He worked into the dark to complete the job before the weather dropped below zero.
As we think about the layout of our skoolie, we are drawing on the creativity and design skills of those who have already tackled this challenge, creating beautiful and functional living spaces on wheels.
There are so many impressive skoolie conversions out there, and so many great ideas for using space effectively. Here are a few links to skoolie conversions that have been particularly helpful/inspirational for us. If you have any to recommend, please comment below!
We loved the clean look and creative use of space in this conversion. We also related to the philosophy behind the conversion: the owner, Michael, focused on designing spaces for others to join him for meals and sleepovers, and using the bus as a vehicle for building community.
This family of three really thought “outside of the box” with their design, creating a sophisticated, beautiful home in a skoolie. The most dramatic change was raising the roof of their bus by 20 inches. I don’t think we’ll be doing any roof-raising at this stage, but this skoolie shows how some ingenuity (paired with skilled handiwork) can go a long way to making a space more versatile and making a school bus feel like a family home.
This is a Netflix documentary made by a videographer/musician couple who travelled to North America from Europe, bought a bus, and converted it. Their plan was to make a film about travelling from Alaska to Panama with their puppy. The beautiful videography captured our imagination and the soundtrack is gorgeous too. I loved how they highlighted the interesting people they met along the way, and side adventures – this really appealed to us both and our vision for our own bus journeys. We also loved how they made their bus so homey, cozy and “hygge”*. This doc inspired us to make the jump from “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” to “Let’s buy that bus, now!”
*hygge: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture). – Oxford online
This is a family of five living full time in a skoolie. Seriously. They make it work with some important modifications: each child has their own (tiny) space in a bunk, and when they aren’t travelling, they have the skoolie parked on a piece of land. There, they have added a shipping container which serves as an office/home-schooling space. Also of note: they live in a warm climate, so they are able to extend their living space outside year-round. Nonetheless, this family’s pursuit of a minimalist lifestyle appealed to us, and we loved the idea of kids learning through the experiences of travel. We have both grown and learned so much through the travelling we did as children and as adults, and we want that for Sophie. Although we don’t plan to pursue skoolie life full-time, their approach did open our eyes to possibilities.
Thanks for joining us on this journey so far! If you have any suggestions, questions, comments or links to follow, please post them below!
In which we explore the thought journey that got us into this
crazy super exciting project!
Photo above: Dan and our new bus, taken in Prince Albert SK. Dan had just driven the bus for the first time after we picked it up from Rilling Bus Company in Humboldt – Sept 2019.
Teaching has its perks at times. A nine week summer vacation is a big one for both of us, especially now that we have a three year-old daughter, and families who live thousands of kilometres away (2,649 and 4,500 kms respectively).
For the past three summers we’ve split our summer holidays between Ontario and Nova Scotia. This has allowed us to stock up on quality time, and (somewhat) make up for all of the time we don’t spend with our families during the rest of the year.
But as lucky as we feel to have this luxurious vacation time, last summer we started to feel a little…squeezed. Moving in with your family/in-laws, at age 35+, for a month at a time, with a toddler, is an adjustment. And while our families went out of their way to make us feel at home, and we loved our holiday, we realized that we needed our own space from which to enjoy all of the family togetherness.
We started thinking about how to carve out our own space so we could feel more carefree and independent on our time off from work. We wanted to share time with our families without being in someone else’s space all of the time. And (perhaps most importantly) at the end of the summer we wanted to feel like we’d had an adventure.
We started brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other. We started looking at tiny homes. We talked about buying a sailboat, or even some property in Cape Breton. Somewhere in the tiny home research we found ourselves in a YouTube vortex watching videos of “skoolie conversions”. They looked awesome. And something just clicked. The ‘skoolie’ lifestyle sounded exactly like what we were looking for our summers.
It took about a month of hemming and hawing to decide to go for it. Dan had been keeping his eye on a bus in Humboldt that was in good condition and was a reasonable price. We offered a lower price, and after an initial refusal, they went for our offer. It was a deal!
So why a school bus?
- We could drive across the country (hello, beautiful Canada!) with the comforts of home (hello, cherished Vitamix!)
- We could have downtime in our own space when we wanted/needed it.
- Our daughter could have a consistent sleeping space which would make it easier to be consistent with bedtime routines
- We could be more spontaneous and go on mini trips more easily – eg. the flexibility to visit friends overnight without imposing on anyone, or explore a new place without needing to book accommodations.
Design & Cost
- It was a totally customizable blank slate, so we could create a space that would suit the way we live and our tastes
- We saw so many beautiful skoolie conversions with lots of natural light, flexible layouts, and plenty of space for a small family, so we knew it was possible, and doable.
- It was relatively affordable in comparison to an RV (we’ll get into the costs in a later post) especially since we could do most of the work ourselves
- Most RVs just didn’t appeal to us (or were way beyond our budget)
- The bus could be a short-term rental in the future and be a small source of income
- We saw that it was possible to live off-grid for short periods of time, with solar energy and a water tank
- A bus is a gas guzzler – but we are hoping to significantly reduce our carbon footprint and gas expenses by converting the diesel engine to run on used vegetable oil (a work in progress)
A family project
- We thought it would be fun to channel our energy and our interests into a project we could work on together, or at least plan and research together
- Dan is creative, very handy, project-driven and confident that he can learn how to do just about anything (or, if needed, hire someone who can). I think I’m pretty creative too, and good at encouraging Dan’s ideas while also being a voice of moderation when needed. So this project seemed to suit us.
- Dan loves a challenge, and an ambitious, slightly crazy one even more. This really is a major factor!
- We sang “The Wheels on the Bus” to Sophie every. single. night last year at bedtime, on her request. The kid loves buses. Perhaps this had some subconscious influence?
Where we are today
So here we are, it’s November and our as-yet-unnamed bus is sitting in our snow-covered yard, waiting for summer. We arranged to have the seats taken out before we bought it, so it really is a blank slate. Since we bought it in mid-September, Dan painted the whole exterior, ripped out the floor and installed vinyl flooring, and insulated the walls. We used painter’s tape on the floor to mark out the kitchen, bedrooms and living space.
Inside our house, we have pages of plans stacking up, a chalkboard wall that is sometimes covered in measurements, and I am fielding breakfast-table brainstorming suggestions like this:
Composting toilets are expensive. I can just make one out of a box and sawdust.
Why do we need a fridge? I can make us a cooler that will keep ice cold for three days! I found a video on YouTube…
I think we can convert our engine to run on used veggie oil instead of diesel. Also I found five local restaurants who will give us their veggie oil for free… and I’m going to go pick it up right now.
As this project evolves, we will try to post our process, Dan’s creations, and our conclusions to the burning questions of skoolie conversion. Thanks for visiting and please leave a comment to let us know you were here!