The Unschool Bus Tour

It’s hard to believe when I look at the video that the conversion took us only two months. And the total cost of the project was around $5500, including the cost of bus. Imagine purchasing your custom built home for only $5500. It kind of blows my mind.

And the thing is we didn’t have that money. We didn’t save for it. We didn’t borrow it. We paid for the bus a little at a time as we got the money from some contracting jobs. It was like it always seems to be the money (or opportunity to earn it) appears just as we need it. Generally it’s, no more and no less than we hope for.

After we got the bus, which was $3000. Jeff started the conversion. The first thing he did was remove the seats. Which didn’t cost a thing but was a whole lot of work on Jeff’s part.

He worked well into the night that first day and much into the morning after.

Until all the seats were removed but one. We kept the little one in the back for what would become my desk. We kept two others on board (but removed) to be used as part of the dinette.

While Jeff was working on removing the seats, I worked a little on the outside of the bus. I sanded down and painted the side strips of the bus with black chalkboard paint. I figured it would be perfect for our artist family. We could write, draw on the side of the bus and change it over and over.

I also added a little flair to the light boxes with some stained glass paint.

Removing the seats proved to be really messy, think of all the ground steal. So, Jeff hosed down the whole inside of the bus.

Then Jeff gets a call from a friend who is converting an apartment building into condos. He has some possible work for Jeff. We go and check it out. There are a few things Jeff can do to earn a little money but even better they are in the process of gutting the apartments and were planning on throwing away all this kitchen stuff.

We get a free kitchen. Cabinets. Stove. Counter.

We decide the best way to proceed is to put a floor in before we start laying installing the kitchen. We pick up the least expensive wood floating floor we can find. I would have loved to get bamboo but it just wasn’t in the budget on this one. We find flooring that suits us just fine for under $200.

So they removed the back heater and got to work installing the floor well it into the night.

Then they position and bolt down the bus seats for the dinette.

They finish up the floor install and we are gifted a fridge.

We start the kitchen layout/build and get a brand new counter top from the same condo conversion job. The dinette table we pulled out of our retired class c motor home. The brown passenger seat you see in the pictures, that was from the class c too.

I painted the front light box and finish the chalkboard paint on the other side of the bus.

Sink gets installed.

We start exploring options for water tanks. Jeff finds a long narrow metal tank that will make a nice gray water tank in the apartment gutting. Another free score. For the white water tanks we decide on food grade barrels and find a place that sells used ones for $8 & $12 a piece.

We pick up some OOPS paints and some plywood. This we buy. The paint is $1-5 a can. The plywood is $25/sheet but we only buy a few sheets at a time, as we find use for them. For the whole project we used somewhere between 10-13 sheets.

The layout of the bunks begin and the first walls are erected.

Everyone checks out Griffin’s bunk room space.

The kids are all excited because the space is much bigger than they were expecting. The mental plans for the bed/bunk rooms begin.

Jeff spends the nights working on the bus and I spend my days cleaning up after all the work. And strapping down whatever needs to be so when we drive things don’t fly around and kill us.

At this point we are still parking at the trailer in Strafford (NH) and the kids are sleeping in the trailer but we are spending our days on the bus. And Jeff is helping out on the apartment conversion whenever possible. The kids find things to do on the bus (and outside) to do while I clean and paint the bus during the day. Sometimes they pitch in on the cleaning and decorating.

We pick up more plywood and a few incidentals (more wood, fittings, screws and such). We add more walls including the bathroom walls and our bed! :)

The night he finished the our bed (in the wee hours of the morning mind you) we slept on the bus and never went back. We moved the onto the bus one by one as we finished each of their beds.

We were gifted some supplies from a good friend. The piano hinges were perfect to make fold-up beds to give some height to the bunk rooms.

We were gifted some chairs from Grampa Ernie.

Griffin’s area was the first we worked on. (Wolfgang decides to try out the bed platform)

Xoey room was next. She even spent some time decorating :)

The hallway is taking shape. You can even see where Wolfgang’s room will be. And, yes, his is next to build.

With the walls all in the view from the front of the bus was completely different! Looking at the photos it’s hard to believe it was filled with bus seats!

We bought the foam for the kids beds. We did it piece meal…because foam is/was insanely expensive. And Jeff just crammed Griffin’s Temperpedic mattress in (until we painted the outside windows it was hilarious, it looked like smushed dough – but he was/is so happy about it!).

We are gifted a magic chair and Jeff installs it as my seat up front. He also replaces his captain’s chair with one from our Class C.

Plans are made for my desk area. It’s built. Then painted.

I extend the painting to the hallway and the rest of our room. Jeff builds a door to our room. Lots of little things are taken care of and/or added, like hooks, racks, a door for Griffin’s room, ladder for Xoey…etc…

I find a cool method of storage. ;) And Jeff starts wiring the outlets all over the place. At this point we can “plug in” when we stop and use all the outlets.

Griffin goes and visits his Nana for a few days and we seize the opportunity to build out his bunk room, working within his parameters of design as best we can. Thankfully, he’s happy with the end result. Yep, that’s a TV and he has an XBox in there too.

Jeff works on the bathroom.

While I work on Wolf’s room. He was visiting a couple of good friends up in Camden, Maine for a week so we thought it was the perfect time to finish up his room.

Then Jeff heads in and builds Wolf’s desk out of some gifted shelving. The chair is from Goodwill, $10.

I start on the curtains. Velcro and fleece.

We park in a friend’s boat workshop/garage for a few days. Jeff works on the underside of the bus. You know, the water stuff. And the indoor plumbing.

I do a little more painting and make some more curtains! I got the idea of using a fleece blanket from doing the curtains in Xoey’s room. I used a little blanket our friends the Martins gave Jeff last year for the curtains in her room. It was perfect. So, I found these mini-fleece blankets at walmart that were 2 for $5. If I cut them in half they were/are the perfect size for the windows. That’s $1.25 per window in the living area for fleece. In the kitchen I added a ruffle so that area was more like $1.75 per window (for the fleece – still had to buy the velcro which was pricey).

We are gifted amazing LED lights from a good friend.

We find a cool rack for $1 @ the Habitat for Humanity ReStore & we buy some baby latches for the cabinets so stuff stops flying out at us as we drive around ;)

We pick up some cool benches at Christmas Tree Shops for a total of $220. They prove to be a great time saving investment. We had to do a little modification to them (and repairs over time) but they no house our battery banks (which are charged off of the running engine), tools and the one even acts as our pantry.

Well, that’s about the gist of it. Now we are traveling around and living full-time on the bus. It’s been a wonderful experience. We’ve been blessed by grand experiences and wonderful people.

Stay tuned…because there is a book on the way.

Peace & Thank-YOU so very much for reading,


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29 Responses to The Unschool Bus Tour

  1. Momma Jorje says:

    I had looked through the pics from your blog, but it is nice to have them all together here to peruse with the step by step included. We have moved into a very small apartment to save money and are hoping to hit the road next Fall. We had decided to do a truck & truck trailer, but I keep revisiting the bus idea in my mind. I have some friends locally that lived in a bus and are selling it, but it isn’t equipped like yours. I wouldn’t know where to begin, but I think my dad might. So thanks again for this post!!

  2. Kristin says:

    That is amazing! My husband and I have thought about doing exactly this so seeing the step by step was really wonderful. I would love to pick your brains a little. How many kids do you have and what are their ages? What did you do about seatbelts? That kind of thing.

    Very inspirational! Happy travels.

  3. Kelly says:

    Been following your blog for awhile now! HI!! So very cool! Love seeing and reading about this transformation in your family! Our family unschools also, and if your ever in the Dayton area….come and park! We’ll drink tea (or massive mugs of wine!), drum, relax and let the teens play!

    Blessed Be!!

  4. Diane says:

    New reader here. Love what you have done with the bus. I have read a few other blogs that have done or are doing the same thing. Seems like a fun and economical way to travel and be with your family all the time. Looking forward to more posts of your adventures in the bus.

  5. momof2boys says:

    Very cool, but are there seat belts for all in case of a crash?

  6. Tara says:

    LOVE! Especially enjoy all the creative storage and chalkboard paint…and your own desk to boot. That’s definitely a wish of mine with our new rig. :)

    Kudos to you all on the hard work!

  7. laura b says:

    wow! great post! you worked hard on this one!

    can we have some details about the electrical? how many batteries? how long do they last? how long does it take to charge them? what are you powering? what size inverter? are you planning on getting solar eventually?

  8. Laura,

    We have two storage batteries (for running the house) hooked up to charge off the engine as it drives. They are marine batteries. The inverter is a 1200 (gifted to us – sort of – actually Jeff bartered for it). We have a third battery that is not yet hooked up. We’d like to have a bench full eventually. We haven’t yet seen reason to go solar. I wanted it but after seeing how well this works…it doesn’t seem at all worth it UNLESS you plan on spending days in the desert watching movies.

    Generally speaking the batteries give us enough juice to do whatever we want. I.E. Griffin runs his TV and plays video games, I use the computer, Wolfgang uses his computer, Jeff uses a computer, Xoey and Griffin both charge their iPods, the water pump runs, the christmas lights we hang around the bus for light. From the perspective of lil old Kelly it’s fantastic…it works great…we don’t run out of juice hardly ever. If we do it’s because we are using everything for many days.

    As far as cost of the batteries. Two were salvaged from the old RV and one we bought new for $85 when we were here in Columbia last time. :) Solar…costs thousands of dollars. At this point if we run out of juice (which I’ve said we don’t generally) we can just run the engine for a little bit and/or go to the store or take a drive and they are charged again. It doesn’t take long.

    If we are parked at a home though we just plug in. Like here at the Lovejoy’s we are plugged in. Which we need to run our little heater which would probably be too much for the inverter and it’s cold here. ;)

    Jeff’s input:

    The batteries are wired in series with a switch in between battery banks (the batteries that start the bus and the batteries that run the house). When we are driving we charge the deep cell batteries. Depending the on the output of your alternator depends on how long it takes to charge the batteries. Ours is a high output, yours may not be because it’s an older bus.

  9. We do have seat belts on the bench. I can’t believe I forgot to add those pictures. Actually, I don’t think I have any photos. I’ll take some and add them. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  10. laura b says:

    what about the fridge? i think the one we are going to use it about the same size as yours.

    i think we are going to have a fridge, 2 computers, a netbook, tv w/ video games, and lights. we are thinking about setting up little tv’s w/ video games in their bunks.

    steven is good at home entertainment wiring (he does cable now). we want to set up a bunch of stuff so people can see what he can do as a possible income opportunity.

    i guess though that just because we have it, we don’t need to be always using it :P

    i have no idea about the alternator. under the hood stuff is steven’s job. you are probably right though.

    i’m not sure what exactly we are going to do but you’ve given us some things to think about! thank you!

  11. The fridge is electric. It’s not a propane one meant for RVs it has worked out very well for us. We don’t have it plugged in all the time mostly we leave it plugged in while we are driving but we DO also run it off the batteries. Everything has stayed cold well enough. We don’t use the freezer part because we don’t keep it plugged in all the time. We both think the electric fridge is way more practical than the propane ones. However, we have not been in serious heat for long periods. Maybe by that time we’ll have more marine batteries for storage.


  12. Momma Jorje says:

    I had thought we’d have to park at RV parks a lot, but you seem to just go where you go. I’m curious about your water tank and toilet. Do you refill at someone’s house? What if you don’t know anyone in a town? And how does the toilet system work? Is it like an RV and if so, do you go to an RV park to “dump” it? (I don’t know how those work, either.)

    Thanks for answering all these questions for us all!

  13. No problem Momma Jorje :)

    We’ve only done RV parks twice. Once for Thanksgiving because we were first on the road and I wanted to make sure we’d have power and water so I could cook…plus I wanted a fire :)

    The other time was in the Everglades. But when we go back we are probably not going to stay in one of the parks because they have * primitive* camping all over the place and that is free.

    We only use the toilet to pee and/or emergency kid poops. We do our best to go to the bathroom when stop places…including pee. So, that cuts down on a lot of waste. We’d dumped (the poopie tank) twice since we’ve been on the road. Once at the Everglades (they have stations right outside the RV parks) and once at an RV store in Brooksville Florida (it was free).

    Now as far as filling up. We’ve done that at a rest stop in Florida, the camp grounds and when we’ve stayed at houses. We’ve not yet gone dry.

    Dumping the gray water much easier…and in some states it’s legal anywhere, SOME. Others it’s illegal so be careful. Honestly, though we’re talking dish water and shower run off…it SHOULD be legal everywhere. :(

    I think we’ve only had to dump four times this month. We did at both campsites. Once at a truck stop where it was legal. And a couple of times we set up the shower like an outdoor shower so it would just drain to the ground anyway and or did the dishes on the steps and dumped the dishwater outside so it wasn’t an issue…because we weren’t dumping from our tanks. Follow?

    We did the laundry outside too more than once we used homemade soap to wash it.

    Out toilet was actually taken right out of our class c. Then Jeff has set up a system (like an RV) that is a big tube, a fat pvc tube that acts as our black water tank. He drains it just like you would an RV.

    Hope that answers most of your questions there. :)


  14. Momma Jorje says:

    Thanks so much! Your answers are very helpful! I hope I don’t become a bother as we work toward our own perfect situation.

    You rawk! Please let me know if you make it Oklahoma way before we hit the road ourselves!

  15. No you are no bother at all. I/we appreciate you reading!

    Oklahoma eh? Do you mind posting that on the *bus sightings* page? I’m trying really hard to steer all the invites there so we have a central spot for them all. :)


  16. Cathy says:

    Hi, I saw your bus yesterday in Slidell, La. I was very curious about it ever since. I am also a homeschool mom, but most likely will always live in my home. Where were you guys coming from and/or going? Where did you all originate from?
    I’d love to hear more about your personal lives. No mean to sound nosey, but, since you have your story published, tell us more. Good luck and Peace to you all.

  17. cee cee says:

    just saw your bus leaving New Orleans. :)

  18. We aren’t leaving! :) We are just heading to the airport to pick up our friend Erica…

  19. Lakshman K. says:

    This is one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in a long time. The idea itself is so incredible; that you were able to bring it to fruition is awesomeness at an entirely different level.

    I’ve read your blog before and your story is very inspiring; I realize every time I read that it’s not how much money you have, it’s the friends and family you have. And that message is so clear in every blogpost I read. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

    I can only hope to be as awesome as you & your family.

    Best of luck and lots of love!

  20. thank-you so much. :) so happy to provide inspiration. our lives are not perfect…far from perfect but there is still so much of it to be grateful for.


  21. My brother sent me this link, I guess he heard you on Free Talk Live? My husband and I, along with our 2 daughters–2 and 4–and our cat! are trying to hit the road at the end of February/beginning of March. We are starting with a 20-ft Toyota Dolphin and are planning to do some renovations—new flooring and paint, mostly. I LOVE the fleece/velcro curtain suggestion! Anyway I will be checking out more of your site and probably asking lots of questions, fair warning :)

    Maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere!

  22. Destiny says:

    I recently saw your bus in New Iberia, LA parked in a bank parking lot next to Starbucks and looked you up to see what it was about. Congratulations on your great find and Good luck on your wonderful adventures! Peace and Stay safe!


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  24. Carol Levine says:

    Hi! Saw your unschool bus in NH at the Shell station today. We were getting gas and I walked our Yorkies while you walked your dog. Looked up the website when we got home. Cool!!!! Great way to see the country and your children will get a phenomenal education traveling around the country. You certainly have more courage than I do. Best of luck to you and your family. Enjoy!!!!

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  26. Lisa Wood says:

    Oh my gosh that is one amazing bus! I have just found you guys via facebook. You built that all in two months? How is that possible!!! We have been building ours for 7 months and we still have so much left to do :)

    Love your bunk beds. They are so cool – and your seats for storing your batteries and pantry. Amazing bus! we are so keen to get on the road, with our boys. You guys are amazing – looking forward to following your journey.


  27. Tara says:

    just thinking…if you ever happen to be in rural IL or IA in late June-July…next summer? You can spend a few weeks “detasseling” corn for a little xtra income and some interesting “experience”. We homeschool. Our 3 oldest have all detasseled corn starting at age 12. Google it. Interesting job…great seasonal job to make a little cash.
    Love the bus tour! Makes me want to start shopping for a bus! :) Thank you!

  28. We’ve been talking about detasseling corn for almost a week now. …since we are visiting Nebraska! Funny how I’ve never heard of it before then a couple of weeks after you post this I hear a second reference to it. :) Cool!!

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