America road trip Travelling chimps UKA2USA Skoolie

Here we go again: back to Skoolie-life!

It has been almost a year since we returned to the UK. A year and no blog. I thought I had posted this one at month 6, but I must have forgotten. Life, as you are about to find out, got a bit busy. Bus life came back to us in a burst of chrome yellow. Only this time it wasn’t parked up in front of the Rockies, the Pacific of the Atlantic oceans, it was right here in the Sussex countryside.

That’s right. We bought a bus back to the UK.

Out with the old and in with the new

Bus in front of mountains
Everywhere looked better with our Skoolie at the forefront

I don’t think anyone was surprised when we announced we had bought bus number two. Every time anyone asked us what our favourite part of the trip was, we all agreed – our crazy home on wheels. Our 14,000 mile road trip would have been incredible in whatever vehicle we’d chosen, but undertaking it in an iconic yellow school-bus elevated the experience. Every amazing place we parked up became even cooler because it was the backdrop to our Skoolie. Americans came to talk to us, intrigued by our journey and choice of vehicle. The Brits cheered us on via social media, inspired by the idea of doing something out of the ordinary. We fell in love with bus-life and knew we didn’t want our return home to be the end of the adventure.

Working the Skoolie magic

Hugging a bus
Goodbyes were hard

Before we left for America, Guy and I hoped travelling would work its usual magic and lead us toward a plan for the future. In the past, all that sitting around drinking beer and looking at incredible views usually ended up in a radical plan to move house or change job, but we knew this time it would have to be a more subtle change. When you travel in your forties you have a whole lot of baggage that you can’t really leave forever, and then there was those two boys we had to think about… they were ready for some normality. They wanted to go back to school and back to our house. We knew that a realistic plan would mean more of a ‘freshen up’ of our suburban lifestyle than a ‘total rebrand’ of our lives.

We weren’t ready to forget about bus-life though. And then it came to us – we didn’t have to. We just needed to adapt it.

UK2USA Skoolie rebrand… to USA2UK Skoolie

Sitting on the roof deck
Contemplating the future

The plan was in place – a UK Skoolie that we could turn into a glamping business (little did we know that Covid 19 was going to propel glamping units to the top of the holiday charts!), with the added benefit that it would give us our own off-grid, rural bolt-hole. Suburbia wouldn’t be quite so bad if we could escape to the countryside and live in our Skoolie once in a while.

There was another benefit to the plan to. We had not had the time or skillset to convert our American Skoolie, so we got someone else to do the job. The longer we lived in it though, the more we lamented not being part of the build. There were things we would have done differently with the layout and although we tried to dress the blank walls with cladding, new curtains and the odd bit of macrame, there was a limit to what we could do with no real tools or crafting equipment. We also felt that if we’d been there from the beginning, we’d have a better understanding of the inner workings of our bus – when things went wrong we would spend hours researching forums to try and work out what to do.

Then we got an unexpected chance to fill in some learning gaps. Covid-19 sent the U.S into lockdown and we quarantined with a Skoolie Community in Georgia and spent two-months living with American families, couples and individuals who were converting their buses to become full-time homes. We put our lockdown hours to good use helping them at all stages of the build. By the time we left, we not only had experience living in a Skoolie, we had the skills and understanding to convert one into a fabulous glamping bus.

Bittersweet goodbyes

Who knew that this was our last day with our Skoolie

When we left the U.S we didn’t fully realise that this new bus idea would have to be a new bus, not our beloved US 2 UK Skoolie. No matter how we worked the figures, shipping our Skoolie home made no financial sense (retrospectively, it would also have been an issue when we tried to title it in the UK – more on that below). It was built to travel the States and it would need a complete overhaul to make it suitable for UK glamping. Newly-retired buses are relatively inexpensive – the cost is in the conversion – so we quickly realised, f we sold out bus in America, we could recoup that money and put it into the new fit-out. And, although sad to think we would never see it again, a new bus would allow us to build from scratch. It would complete our Skoolie C.V.

Despite the positive feeling we had about a new bus, it was hard to put our one up for sale. It took barely 2 weeks to get snapped up and when our buyer’s faces appeared on Skype to tell us ‘we love it so, yes please, send the keys!’, we were not sure whether to have a celebratory gin and tonic or a commiseratory one (we had one of each!). We had them again when our friends who were babysitting the bus sent a clip of her being driven away from the Homestead in Georgia. And again when our buyers posted pictures of themselves lounging in their new bus, drinking coffee (from our cups – we left everything for them). Our bus. Their bus. No bus. Pass the gin. This was lockdown after all.

De ja vu

Behold the new bus…. not so different from the last one!

We expected to feel a sense of de-ja-vu hunting for another ‘newly retired’ Skoolie. After all, this was the second bus we were buying remotely. This time though, it was entirely down to us and it felt a lot more real. When we were buying last time it all felt very abstract, tied up in a the bigger picture of our year away and not really part of our actual lives. The gamble was more to do with packing up our lives and taking the kids out of school to go travelling – a hair-brained plan that might burn up all our savings and leave us homeless and school-place-less if it all went wrong. Buying a bus that would be shipped to the UK permanently, felt a little scarier. That’s 14 tons and 40ft of potential money-pit and ongoing responsibility right there!

We found a great bus in Florida, close to the Homestead and not far from the port. We had it delivered and Brett started on the demolition whilst we awaited a shipping date. Everything seemed perfect. But, as is always the way with the best-laid plans, they never go the way they should! We posted Brett’s progress on Instagram and a Skoolie friend in the UK got in touch: those seats we’d ripped out, we’d need them. And that emergency door? It needed to be on the other side of the bus. WTF??

The swampy land of British rules and regulations

MOT testers have to test as the vehicle is presented to them, so an American bus is tested as a bus even if you never plan to use it as one (hence the need for a minimum number of bus seats). The guidelines for bus MOT’s are very much open to interpretation and don’t neatly fit around an imported bus, so we went online. As you can imagine, we found all manner of conflicting advice – even the DVLA seemed unsure and kept batting me back and fore between departments. It felt like a massive risk bringing over a bus that could never pass because a door was wrong or it didn’t have seats, so we almost cancelled our sailing. Then we found a voice of reason – the wonderful Southern Transit – who had the knowledge and skills we needed. They talked us through it all and the end result was that the door was fine but the seats needed to go back in. Everything else could be dealt with in the UK.

So… after spending a day ripping out seats, Brett had to put them all back. We instructed our shipper to continue.

The arrival of the bus

Engineering the purchase of a school bus and learning how to convert it into a glamping Skoolie kept Guy busy while we were in lockdown. Unfortunately, the rules also meant that Covid scuppered his plans to take the Category C driving test. It rather ruined our plans to drive down to Southampton to collect the bus from the port. In the end a hauler had to do it, taking it direct to the garage for pre-MOT work and then the MOT itself (it passed first time – woohoo!). It was delivered at night to our yard in the South Downs in January 2020 – a journey that had us all on tenterhooks.

A new chapter

And so we are back to being bus owners again. We have already hooked up with a bunch of UK Skoolie owners to form a little community and are cracking on with the build and admin to get it ready for the road and the glampers in June. I shall write a whole new blog about this, charting our progress, as I think it deserves it’s own little story.