By Abigail Epperson

Prior to beginning our fulltime travels, we were an urban family dreaming of an outdoor life. Living in a 3 bedroom apartment on the north side of Chicago, our kids were more city kids than country kids, and Jason and I were more theater people than travel people. Our lives revolved around the city we’d built our home in, the theater community we’d built our careers with, and the homeschool community we loved. RV and longterm travel talk revolved around “when the kids are older.”

At home in Chicago

But in the summer of 2015 everything changed. Job opportunities presented themselves that allowed us to start our own business, and we knew our time in the home we loved so much, the only home two of our three kids had known, was coming to an end. We were feeling the Chicago crunch, housing costs and general city living costs were skyrocketing. We were facing decisions that would either move our family into a smaller apartment, relocate us to the suburbs, or travel?

Our family in Salt Lake City, UT

I’d be lying if I said that last option didn’t materialize out of the blue and freak me out a little. The idea of selling everything we owned, leaving the comfort of Chicago, our homeschool community, the theater community, trusting we could sustain a nomadic income, and raising three kids on the open road was both overwhelming and electrifying. Could we do it? Would our boys be happy? Would we be happy? Could I survive without my neighborhood Thai place? Big questions with very few answers. So, we tabled the discussion and moved on with our lives.

That is until one cold night in February 2016. Dozing on the couch, kids fast asleep, just about to call it a day, Jason comes over, sits down next to me and says “what do you think about converting a school bus into an RV?” I looked at him, and I mean, I looked at him because I thought maybe I was dreaming. But, no, I wasn’t dreaming. He was serious. Curiously intrigued I said, “no way,” but Jason saw right through me. Over the next few days, as we struggled to find an RV in our price range and had dedicated space for three growing boys, YouTube videos on skoolie conversions started casually (and constantly) popping up. The more I watched the more I began to realize that converting would allow us to design a space to our exact needs at a fraction of the cost. It would allow us the freedom to pursue this dream debt free. It made sense, but could we pull it off? Jason had more than enough experience in construction and electrical having spent over 20 years designing for the theater, but this was a massive undertaking. And the time frame was tight. 6 months to be exact. So naturally, I thought, “what the heck, why not” and just like that, we were on the hunt for a bus to call our own.

Our home on wheels

It didn’t take long before a 2002 Thomas fell into our laps. Fresh off an Ohio school district the bus checked off most of our boxes (flat front, extra tall ceilings, nice and long, low mileage), plus the price was right and the seller was motivated. Problem was, we lived in Chicago, in an apartment with zero space to park a bus. We immediately started scouring Craigslist for a shop, lot, or individual who’d be willing to let us keep the bus and convert it on their property for a small monthly fee. Within a few hours, we’d found a guy about 90 minutes from us in Hammond, IN. It wasn’t going to get any better than that, so we made the necessary arrangements, put the kids in the van, and made the five-hour drive there and back to pick up the bus.

With the bus officially ours, we eagerly began the conversion process, a conversion that we would do 100% on our own. We had to move fast if we were going to turn this project around and have a place to lay our heads. Our lease was up end of August and it was late February, and did I mention our youngest was going to undergo surgery during our conversion timeline? Our cup most definitely runneth over.

One row of seats done

removing the sub flooring
Bye, bye stop sign
Henry post surgery

Looking back, I’m amazed we accomplished all that we did. It may not have been the smartest move, and we certainly pushed ourselves to the physical and mental limit, but we did get it done. In six months we converted a bus into a home, sold 90% of all our belongings and continued to build our business and homeschool our kids. Determination and a hard deadline are incredible motivators.

At the end of August, we officially became a skoolie family. Wander Bus (or Bussie) became the 6th member of Our Wandering Family and we loved her. Over two years later and we still love her. To build a home and customize it to your needs and lifestyle, is an incredibly empowering endeavor. A school bus into an RV, who would have thought it? And yet, here we are, in a home built just for us, with the freedom to come and go as we please.

Home is where you park it

We have traveled to some of our nations most beautiful parks, and we have experienced a host of urban adventures in between, and all of this has been done with a home on wheels keeping us warm and safe.

I may not have my local Thai place or a Starbucks on every corner, but what I do have is a life of travel with the people I love most in a home that was created with our own very hands. It is truly a grand adventure, and boy, am I glad we didn’t wait until the kids were older.

You can find more information on the total cost of our conversion by clicking here.

Want to see what our home on wheels looks like? Check out our YouTube video for a quick walk-through.

This article first appeared on the FMCAdventure Blog. To read the original article click here:


Abigail

Abigail

Coffee drinker, skoolie owner, partner, roadschooler, and parent. Along with Jason, Abby is the co-host of the RV Miles Podcast and America's National Parks Podcast. When not talking National Parks and RV living, you can find Abby talking theater as the managing editor Of PerformInk. Find her on Twitter @abigailtrabue or search Our Wandering Family across all social media.

2 Comments

Jule · February 24, 2019 at 8:41 am

Would love to see how you secure all your appliances down and your seatbelts – that’s the tricky part of the build for me to
Imagine. Nice job. This is a great bus! http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f13/you-need-to-build-safety-into-your-conversion-17053.html

Jeff · March 10, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Have you seen the bus conversion by Justin Rhodes in the Great American Farm Tour movie? Looks a lot like yours. Great movie to watch on their family’s tour of all 50 states in ten months

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