Inspiration to self-convert a school bus and start full-time RVing came in many shapes, forms, experiences, successes, and failures over the years. We had been together for over 11 years by 2014 and had a long history of “roll with the punches” and adaptability. Ryon had served in the Army as an SGT in the Infantry, did a 17-month tour in Mosul and Baghdad, Iraq and was then unexpectedly medically retired. We both had our corporate jobs, owned houses, received our degrees, had babies. We had it figured out, right?
In 2012, we had moved into a new custom home on 3 acres, and just after a few months of living there, we experienced a total loss house fire that stemmed from the chimney while we were having a fire in the fireplace. An “Act of God” was the conclusion the insurance company gave us. Rising from the ashes and rebuilding was such a powerful experience that we swore we would be the ones who built our next house, whenever that would be. After a year, we got our little dream of a homestead up and running with our chickens, turkeys, rabbits and aquaponics farming, we filled our new house with lots of new furniture and “things”.
As we continued to fill our house, there was an emptiness we needed to fill. I eventually lost my corporate job and we both proceeded down a path of entrepreneurship. I started a soy candle and melt company, making my own products, attending street fairs and getting into local businesses. It was fun and a great learning experience. We sold on Amazon and we would fix returns. I delivered yellow pages a few times, we sold fertilized and unfertilized eggs from our poultry, incubated and sold chicks and chickens and always dreamed of other ways to make a living just working on our property. We discovered our dream home would be covered in Monsanto chemicals a few times a year by crop-dusting airplanes and after losing over 50 trees we discovered we had absolutely no nutrients in our soil.
After much self-reflection and thought, we knew there was more to life than keeping up with the Jones’ and having the big house and the debt, but never got to really go anywhere and really enjoy it. We were too worried about money and losing it all, that we really did lose everything. But we still had each other and we had a chance to do something totally different than what we were used to. I think by this point we were used to extreme changes in our life and may be addicted to it now! HA! We began to take more control of our lives and really started doing what we wanted to do. We wanted to explore with our children and watch them grow.
We started learning more about the Tiny House Movement and minimalism. Eventually, that led us to start selling all of our “Stuff” that we really did not need. Every item leaving the house was a weight off our shoulders. We put our home on the market. We thought if we wanted to learn how to build a house, what better way than on a small scale? We had no prior building experience other than our homestead projects and not many tools since the house fire. We didn’t have a truck to haul a tiny house at the time and we weren’t really confident in our abilities to build a tiny house on a trailer from scratch.
Then it clicked. Why not a school bus? It has the frame, can handle large amounts of weight and would be the perfect wagon for our pioneer voyage to find a bigger piece of land to start a new homestead. We literally watched every video on school bus conversions and tiny house builds that existed on the internet, and between February 2015 and the next month, Chitty Bang was in our driveway. Once our house sold 5 months later, me, Ryon, our two daughters and English Mastiff, Mila, traveled to West Texas to stay with a friend while we converted the bus into our home.
Why We Went With A Bus
Once we knew that living in an RV was what we wanted to do, we went with a 1999 international Genesis, Flat nose School Bus Conversion. It’s 37′ interior was fully converted to ourselves! We also drive our 7.3 Ford separate from the bus. We used to haul it behind the bus on a flatbed trailer, but it was too much on big hills! So, I just follow the bus in the truck. We wanted to learn to build our own house and travel…so we figured why not try on a small scale and build our own? We wanted something sturdy, well insulated, well made, and safe in accidents. What better vehicle than a steel bus?!
What We Do while Traveling
Currently, thanks to Ryon’s retirement we were able to downsize enough to just be able to live on his salary. However, we have saved money by workamping and MADE money workamping. I found a gig online where we could manage a pumpkin patch, Christmas tree lot and fireworks stand at New Years and make a decent amount of money so we can add it to our land fund. So for the last 2 winters, we work from mid-October until right after New Years, living in a city in a fenced in lot, on genny and solar power, and mingling with the community. It really turned out to be a great way to get to know a place too! There are all kinds of opportunities out there in the RV world! I also run our blog and use Amazon Affiliate marketing to help generate a small amount to run the site. I recently started selling merchandise for travel/bus life. I sell Young Living Essential Oils, create content for our YouTube channel to get it monetized again one day, and we started a podcast to interview other like-minded thinkers called Talking Chitty!
So Many Amazing Memories
We have had so many favorite experiences! Each place has had its own unique imprint on us. At the beginning of our maiden voyage, we stopped at a Skoolie Meetup and met some amazing fellow bus dwellers, so that was amazing by itself! We were able to workamp at a campground in the Redwoods in California and we actually didn’t have internet service so we just disconnected for 3 months and enjoyed the beauty! We loved being up in the PNW and enjoying its beauty in the spring and summer, but we were ready for some warm sunshine and dry weather in AZ! When we traveled around Arizona this last year, we loved the swimming holes and trails it offered. Also, the experience of meeting so many different people and being presented with so many different opportunities. It is truly amazing.
Getting Out Of A Tough And Muddy Situation
We have a few funny and crazy stories from our first year RVing, but this was our first “ohmagerd” experience. The third stop we made in a 3 week period was on someone’s property with Partial Hook-Ups in East TX near my parents’ place. This spot gave us a chance to check that everything was still where it was supposed to be after traveling across Texas and that it all worked correctly. We pulled in late at night, in the rain, and woke up the next morning with our rear tires half sunken in the mud! We used our 7.3 diesel to tow her out of the mud. It was the first time we ever towed anything out of the mud. In fact, we had just bought those tow straps before heading on our maiden voyage as a “just in case”…and I am so glad we did! After building the bus, we had so much confidence, the way we worked together to get it out was unreal. We had fought almost every day on our build (LOL, definitely takes a strong relationship when you work together every day!), so we pulled the bus out of the mud like it was nothing, I don’t think I have ever been more proud of us!
Homeschooling On The Road
I have noticed a lot more people with younger kids traveling now, and so I love answering parents’ questions about traveling with the older kids. Ours are 10 and 13, and we started homeschooling a year or two before we started traveling. It gave us a chance to have a schedule and know what curriculum and such to use. While traveling, we typically stay in one place for at least 3 months. So I get to work on Facebook looking up homeschool groups via county or city name. I always find at least 1 or 2. There is always a park day, field trip or museum that you can take your kids to so they can meet other kids in the area. My kids have made friends from all over the US and continue to talk to them online to this day. We try to do something once a week or once a month, depending on how active the group is, just to get them to be a “regular” and less shy! Just something to consider when traveling with older kids if they worry about not hanging out with other kids around their age.
Don’t Forget To Disconnect
Don’t forget it is ok to disconnect from the internet and be with your family or yourself. The reason RV Life looks so glamorous is that people are actually living it…. not just posting pictures of it online.
We have always enjoyed boondocking with our amazing solar setup I installed, but we also enjoy staying on private property with full hookups too! Because we have a bus conversion, I always worried we would get turned away from RV parks, so I always would email them in advance when we wanted to stay at one. We have not been turned away yet and have stayed at RV Resorts, 55+ parks during their offseason, and a couple of RV parks. They are pricey compared to staying on a friend’s property for free or paying someone $100 or $200 with hookups to stay. I also feel like you lose your personal space and are subject to talk to people you don’t really want to talk to. If you RV you know what I mean! So staying elsewhere is always ideal for us. Amazingly enough, in the last 2.5 years, we have been living this way. We have met so many people who have offered places for us to stay on their property for cheap or free. Just be a good person and good things will happen.
Staying In A Spot Longer
The more you travel the more cost goes into gas, tires and the need for engine maintenance. You can travel and not spend a ton of money just by staying in one spot for a couple of weeks or a month. That also gives you the chance to really explore the area! You can also save money (and make money in some cases) by workamping.
Our Advice For Workcamping
My main advice to anyone wanting to workamp is to stick to the duties given to you and do not take on more. Working for individuals can sometimes lead to them asking you to do more than you originally signed up for. We saw a few times where people’s duties were getting swapped and more being added on. The person just agreed and worked and worked. Eventually, workamping turned into WORK…and that is NOT cool. It defeats the whole purpose of workamping! Also, don’t forget to relax every now and then. You live a simpler life now!
On The Hunt For Our Homestead
We originally thought we would full-time RV for a year or so, and then be tired of it. Surprisingly enough, after we got passed our first year of learning to live on the road, and after learning how to build a tiny house, one year just wasn’t enough. The second year of traveling was everything we hoped the travel life would be like and more. Our plan was to find a homestead and we made it to Arizona and have really liked it. Our winter workamping gig brought us to Sierra Vista, AZ and the community was so nice we decided to stay and check it out! So we have been looking for properties where we can start a small homestead again and even have spots for a couple of other traveling folks in RVs, SKoolies, Tiny Houses, or just tent camping. Of course, our plans can always change! Right now though, we are exactly where we want to be!