We are Shane, Emily, Sawyer, and Juneau and we travel full-time across North America in a converted Blue Bird School bus! We are a musi-cal duo who play house shows, music festivals, theme parks, and other venues all over.
Our journey into the Skoolie life is kind of unique but then again… if you’re going to live in a bus full-time, I would assume that whatever events took you there, it involves a unique story.
Emily and I met at an open mic in Florida. I (Shane) am from Canada and Emily is from Missouri, so to meet in Florida was interesting in itself. We both each played a song and from that night became best friends.
We started a band together under the name “Shane & Emily” after about three months of knowing each other we started playing cover gigs in the Tampa Bay area almost instantly.
We started growing in that area and were reached out to by Disney World to play twice a week there, which we ended up doing for four years! Now we were only friends at this point and not even dating when we started traveling a lot to play over 100 colleges in two years… which is when we started dating.
We realized quickly that we were both paying rent at two different apartments that we were rarely at. That’s when I decided to buy an RV and we started taking that to our university gigs. I moved in full-time the day I purchased the RV and when Emily and I got married, she moved in as well, and then that was it.
We wanted to travel full-time instead of being in one location. We fell in love with the adventures we were taking across North America and we didn’t want to stop! During this time, we were posting all our adventures on YouTube and Instagram, and of course, living this lifestyle it was only a matter of time that we discovered the Skoolie/Van life movement. We loved the idea of converting something ourselves and honestly, we just thought it looked SO COOL!
Fast forward a bit, we ended up having our first child Sawyer, and during the COVID-19 pan-demic, all our shows were canceled. We figured if we were going to pull the trigger on renovating a school bus, this was the time! We had at least three months before we even had the hope that touring would start up again and so we looked on Facebook Marketplace and found our bus almost immediately!
We reached out to them and drove from Fredericktown, Missouri to some small town three hours away in Tennessee. We looked at the bus, drove the bus, and within about a half-hour paid for the bus. WE WERE SO EXCITED!!! When I woke up the next day and saw the bus in the driveway of Emily’s sister’s house, that was it. From that day on for about three months, I started the conversion process and worked at least ten hours a day on it.
I had NO IDEA what I was doing when I started. I mean, I didn’t have any experience doing anything like this. I think that was another reason
I wanted to do it. I learned a lot about plumbing, electrical, solar, and woodworking. I never thought I would do something like this but I just knew I wanted to live on a school bus SO BAD that I was willing to figure it out.
I know that a lot of people are scared of all the unknowns when jumping into things like this but I hope this encourages someone out there. I can not say enough about how much I had no idea what I was doing! I also had help almost every single step of the way. I had an electrician friend from Canada walk me through everything over Facetime.
I had my mom help me with a lot of woodworking projects and we both laughed a lot about how neither of us knew what we were doing. I had random people show up while I was converting to help with random projects. We moved into the bus within three months of the conversion process because our show requests started coming in again.
So, it was time to hit the road. We had a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet that wasn’t hooked up yet, a fridge that we weren’t even sure worked yet (it didn’t but more on that later…) and our floors were only 90% done. However, we were just SO EXCITED that we didn’t care. Until the second day…
I don’t know if anyone remembers but there was a huge heatwave that went through in July 2020 and it was brutal. Especially for not having an air-conditioner. We bought a cheap Walmart unit that had this tube thing hooked up to the window and after one day it stopped working and we had to buy another one. The second one stopped working as well.
So, we ended up buying a window unit that we placed in the bedroom window until we could install the Mini Split Air Conditioner that everyone was talking about. Oh! It’s also important to state that we didn’t even have solar yet. We had to plug our bus in if we wanted any power. However, we were on our way to a friend’s house and he was going to help us install solar… we just had to stick through it for a few days.
I will say though that during that time we almost wanted to give up because we were so hot and tired and used to the RV life that had all the comfort our bus did not have at that moment. We choose to believe though that it was going to be better once we figured all that stuff out. We thank God that we stuck with it.
When we finally made it to our friend’s house in New Jersey we did A LOT of work and this is where we would say everything came together even though we have changed out and modified a lot of things since then, this is where we took a huge breath and said, “We actually did it!”
We got the solar installed and built out the rest of the flooring. We then started trying to get the fridge to work. We purchased the propane stove and fridge off of Facebook Marketplace for around $300 but that didn’t stop us from being shocked and surprised to find that when we tried to ignite the fridge, it went up in flames… which was terrifying.
We purposely made sure no one was on the bus with John (the guys helping us with everything in New Jersey) and me. We immediately turned off the propane, threw the fridge out, and went to Lowe’s where we purchased our ELECTRIC Magic Chef fridge that runs on only 1.5 amps. We LOVE our fridge even to this day and I think it’s also worth mentioning that our propane stove works wonderfully!
One mistake we did make though was we went with AGM batteries instead of lithium and it did not work well for us. It was okay in the beginning but we found out quickly that once our batteries died the first time, they only went down from there and couldn’t keep a charge through the night.
That’s when we upgraded to 100 amp-hour lithiums and we have not had any issues since! We had to upgrade a few parts, as the parts we had were not compatible with Lithium batteries. It was all worth it.
We have changed a few things as time went on. We used to have a coffee bar instead of the little dinette we have now. We found that it wasn’t that comfortable sitting there, so we changed that up. We also had a pantry that went from the floor to the ceiling. However, we didn’t like how it was built as it looked decent on the outside but really not decent on the inside.
I have made changes to the couch a few times during the build. We started off with an area where we would lift up half the couch and two legs would drop down and we would use that as a bed. However, it didn’t look as clean as I would have hoped and when it was in the couch position, it was too small to fit everyone comfortably.
So, we had a different idea. We took out the folding part and instead of making the couch bigger, we built two different storage bins that would extend the couch out to its proper size. You can also slide those out for extra seating and they each are used as storage containers. The right one we use to store our board games and the left our canned goods.
We also didn’t like how it took up a whole window so we ripped the pantry out and remade a smaller and more durable food pantry and we got our window back! YAY! We also only had half-inch plywood as our countertops so when we passed through Boise Idaho, we had a friend there help us make new ones and it changed the whole look of the bus!
It’s amazing how small little things like that can make a huge difference. We also had flimsy plywood cabinet doors that we did not like the looks of so we ended up passing through my friend Mike’s house in Maryland and he happened to have about 40 pallet boards.
We ripped all the pallets apart and cut them down to size and now that is what our cabinet doors are made out of. We absolutely love the look and it was FREE! It’s also amusing to us that the thing we get complimented on the most was free. I think there is a lot to say about that sentence alone but I’ll just leave that there.
I think I need to mention again that I had no experience before this, so certain things didn’t come to me until after we built out the bus. I didn’t realize that a lot of people go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy cabinets and draws and countertops and all that. That idea never even crossed my mind. I ended up building literally EVERYTHING out of 2 x 3s and plywood. It works well for us though we still don’t have drawers that can pull out. NOT YET!
We knew that no matter what we were going to build in the school bus, we HAD to have bunk beds. It’s interesting because before we decided on a school bus, we were looking into new RVs and we were specifically looking at ones with bunk beds. Instead of buying an RV for $70,000-$100,000, we decided to buy a bus and build one out with bunk beds for $20,000.
When we started building out the bus, Emily had a few things that she wanted to have no matter what. One of those things was a king-size bed. At first, I didn’t like the idea of using up that extra space but then I remembered something I heard a long time ago.
You spend around one-third of your entire life sleeping so you should invest in that portion of your life. When you put it in that perspective, it made so much sense. So that’s what we did and we have never gone back on that. When we have movie nights back there, we all fit and it’s super cozy!
Underneath the bed, we have about two to three feet of storage that you can get to from under the bed inside the bus. If you walk around back outside the bus and open the back door, there are about 8 feet by 5 feet of storage. We wanted to have storage under the bed and this was the most practical way we could think of doing it!
Having a full-length mirror was not an easy thing to do in this build but after we were completed the build, a spot seemed to open right up! The wall we built around the fridge just happened to work perfectly for this and also helped bring a little character to this area.
We keep our guitar hanging up on the wall when not driving so that we are always ready to practice or write something if the inspiration hits! Behind the guitar is a little door that opens up into our maintenance closet. It’s in here where you can find all our solar stuff, water pump, and water heater. We even store our brooms and tiny vacuum cleaner in there.
We had a hard time trying to decide how to make the front of the bus not feel like the front of a bus. This actually was the very first thing we worked on. We painted everything white and put plants all over it. While we were working on the other parts of the bus, we would always look to this area to give us the inspiration to keep going.
The seat however that came with the bus was ugly and torn and just not pleasant. So, we ripped that out and headed to a junkyard down the street and found a van seat that worked great.
We however had to raise the platform underneath the seat so that we could see properly over the dashboard. We ended up using a 2-inch square cut piece of plywood to accomplish this. We also added a little shelf above the windshield so that we could make that area pop a little more.
At the time of writing this, we have lived on the bus for a year and a half and we have no regrets! The adventures we have taken will be in our minds and hearts forever and I love that we get to take our kids with us EVERYWHERE! No matter where we go, whatever show we’re playing, our family is always together and we love that about this lifestyle.
We started the bus life in Missouri and from there have been to thirty-five states. From New York to Florida, Arizona to Washington all the way back to Missouri. We hear about all these breakdown stories, thankfully we’ve only experienced one and that was an easy fix… on the first day of us hitting the road. I would say our favorite experiences on the road have been going to Tiny House Festivals.
We show up to play music and then open our bus up for tours. It’s so wonderful to see people full of hope and inspiration when they walk through our home. I love letting people know that there is a different way to live. I love to inspire those who are afraid to do something they have never done before because we are those people who have done something that we have never done before.
We love meeting up with other nomads while traveling. We end up driving to different state parks, national parks, and other areas and it feels so special sharing this life with other people who live the same way you do. It’s also really cool to have that sense of community even though your home is not in one location because, for us, that would be the only downside to this life.
We miss having that community that you see every day but that’s what the Tiny House festivals do for us. We make not only friends but become family with these people. So, it’s not unusual to all hang out for a month or so after a Tiny House Festival.
Our situation feels a little more different to us than it would your typical nomad. I find that a lot of these people who also travel and live full-time on the road have schedules that are super flexible and they can kind of go wherever they want for the most part. We do not have online jobs. Our jobs consist of us showing up at a specific venue to play music. So, we usually have at least six months planned in advance.
There are a few things we look forward to doing on the bus. One thing we will be doing is getting a roof deck. We’re not sure what will happen but when it does… it will be a glorious day! We have plans to travel to as many Tiny House festivals as we can this year.
We get so much inspiration from these and it reminds us why we love this lifestyle so much. When the festival closes down around 5 or 6, everyone just hangs out at each other’s rigs, enjoying multiple campfires, it’s truly a magical experience and we’re always looking forward to the next one when we have to leave.
I hope as you are reading this, you get inspired to make the jump to do something that you want to do. We believe that if the Lord allows, EVERYTHING is possible. There may be something you want to do but you feel like you don’t have the experience, motivation, money, or resources… you truly can do it.
I see obstacles as the only things that I need to move around. If there is a passion for you to do something and you find yourself up all night and all day thinking about it, I hope that this article helps push you to make that happen.
If it so happens to be living this kind of a lifestyle, it’s easier than you may think it would be. There are many apps that tell you where you can park overnight. There are many other nomads who LIVE off of helping you along your journey, and endless resources to help you get started to carry you through this lifestyle and journey. This very magazine is one of MANY resources within your reach. So, I hope you feel inspired and motivated to start doing something big!