Yes, it’s true. We now own a 37ft yellow school bus that until recently was ferrying kids to lessons in Nampa, Idaho. We plan to rip out the seats of our iconic vehicle and turn it into a motorhome, otherwise known as an RV or, to those in the know, a ‘Skoolie’. We leave this summer to travel North America and we will be gone for a year.
A family gap year
For a long time, my husband and I have felt like we wanted to do a bit more with our lives. Climbing the career ladder has never been a priority for either of us; we work to live not live to work. But when you have a family, a mortgage, school term dates to adhere to, you can’t just give up your job and your home and head off into the hills….. or can you?
Yes you can. There is a lot more planning to do, but it is possible to go travelling in your forties without (hopefully) losing all your worldly possessions in the process. We will have to be careful – indeed it won’t be so much a holiday as a time in which we will be living differently – but the benefits far outweigh the negatives, both for us and our kids.
Why take a gap year in America?
Of all the places in the world we want to go, the U.S has never been near the top. Both my husband and I have travelled extensively and America just seems a bit too much like home. It’s not just about us though; we have two little boys to think of.
America offers deserts, mountains, plains, swamps, canyons, bears, whales, snowboarding, kayaking… cities full of great architecture, music and literary history… there’s so much to see and do for two kids that have never been any further than the Algarve. On top of all of this, the language is the same, the culture and food are recognisable and we have friends there, which makes travelling and making new friends easier. We can also get reliable WiFi; the kids can keep in touch with their grandparents and we can continue freelancing.
There was concern about whether we could get on board with a country where the current political climate honestly scares us a little. In the end we figured that we’re coming from a country where the current political climate scares us a little, a Brexit-battered Britain.
Once we decided to start in the U.S we looked into the visa situation. Whilst it may tick a lot of boxes for a family gap year, it’s not quite so easy to execute that plan – the ESTA visa gives UK citizens just 90 days. You also can’t pop in and out of Canada or Mexico to renew – you have to leave Norht America entirely. There are other, more expensive, options though and we are in the process of applying for a B1/B2 visa that will allow us to stay for longer.
Why did we buy a Skoolie?
Because they are so flippin’ cool!
In truth, this was how we justified America. When we visualised a trip around the States from behind the wheel of a big, yellow bus, it became a totally different destination. It became the beautiful America, rather than the political one.
Of course one of the first things we found out is that ‘Chrome Yellow’, the famous particular shade for US school buses, is not allowed on converted RV’s. It’s a shame we have to change it but I guess it would be a bit awkward if you pulled over to take a call and a queue of schoolkids boarded your new home…
I plan to write a whole lot more about how we found our bus, how we learnt everything there is to know about skoolies and how we will convert it in this blog. If you fancy following our journey, sign up for blog updates.
But living in a bus for a year?
I’m sure it will be hard. Sometimes our 4 bed house doesn’t feel big enough for us all! We’ll just have to get used to it.
I’m confident we will. I know it’s not the same, but we know we can adapt to a small space – our campervan quickly becomes home whenever we go away it it. We also know that this kind of travel works for us – heading out in Old Bill (our campers new name since it joined the Quirky Campers website for hire) we get the kind of spontaneity that is hard to find with young children. We can travel anywhere we fancy, sleep wherever we like (more or less!), discover places off the beaten track and enjoy random, unexpected adventures.
Of course a 37ft bus is not quite so manoeuvrable, we won’t be able to ‘stealth camp’, but the roads are bigger in America. The conversions are much more homely as well – proper tiny homes.
How will you convert it?
We did an enormous amount of research into the best way to convert a school bus. Buying a good bus is cheap (about $5000 USD) but the conversion process and storage of a vehicle is not.
We looked at whether my husband could fly out early to do the work himself, but without being in the US this was always going to be tough.
We looked into conversions that people were selling. There were some great value options but, again, we are not in the US so we can’t check them out and store them. We’d have to wait until the last-minute which is scary.
We looked at established companies in the US who do the conversions for you: Skoolie Homes, Colorado Custom Coachworks, Paved to Pines, Chrome Yellow and many more. Prices leaped to the $60k mark.
We even looked at whether it was do-able to bring it to the UK to convert it with a friend over here who has his own school bus conversion company. (Check out Shred & Butta for more on them). It opened up a million import and export issues. There is a whole blog piece I plan to write about our investigations if you are interested (or want something to fall asleep to!).
We’re now working with a company who build tiny homes in Salt Lake City. It’s taken us a while to work out contracts and insurance etc as he’s new to the skoolie conversion process. Everything is in place now though and the team are as excited as we are. Our bus has been collected and is currently sitting with them in SLC.
Will you have to home-school?
Yep, we plan to home school the kids. This scared me at first but it’s totally do-able. Amazingly, you don’t actually have to follow a curriculum if you teach your kids yourself. As we are only taking them out of school for a year, we will try and follow some of what their classmates are doing – just to help with continuity and to help them keep in touch.
We met with the headmaster and he thought it sounded like a great adventure. He said we should focus on maths and literacy but ‘the rest would just naturally come’ with the trip. The only minor concern he had was for the 6 year old who will be at a key learning point – at that age they get a much better sense of how they fit in the social structure of their class and how to interact with other kids. It’s important we ensure he mixes with other children. Another tick for America.
I’ve read lots of forums about schools making life tricky for families that want to home-school instead. We did not get this experience. Our headmaster was happy for us to work with the school and make it interactive and has told us he will sit with us himself to show us the school’s ‘maths philosophy’, which will help us teach the kids.
But yes, before you ask, we have to formally remove them from the school and then reapply when we want them to return. There is no guarantee that either child will be accepted – it all depends on space. Although this is a cause of concern, we won’t let it stand in the way.
How will you fund the trip?
We are going to realise our assets! That means we shall be storing our stuff and renting out our home and campervan. We’ll also continue to freelance – we both have the kind of jobs where remote working is completely acceptable. We may even look at opportunities for sponsorship. Ever fancied seeing your name on the side of a bus?!