Why We Bought a Bus vs. a Van or RV

The choice to live full-time out of a vehicle seemed like it was pretty easy compared to deciding, once we were settled on doing a stint of road life, which vehicle to choose. We did tons of research and a lot of pondering before we settled on a shuttle bus, and while our choice wouldn’t be right for everyone, we wanted to lay out our thinking in case anyone else is going through the same process.

Our criteria: we wanted something reliable and safe, something in which we could stand up, and something with enough space to feel livable for a family of four.

Initially, we were most attracted to vans. We liked the stealth, the gas mileage, and the safety, and there are so many resources for van conversions that we were confident the project was doable. We thought we’d go that route and spent most of our time considering whether a Sprinter or Ford Transit would be best. But in our configuring, we just kept running into problems. The biggest Transit was too small. The Sprinters were a good size, but we weren’t thrilled about getting into a Mercedes: we have family members who own FedEx routes and fleets of Sprinters and they unilaterally described Sprinters as problem vehicles. It seems that once Sprinters get a good bit of mileage on them, they start having a lot of engine problems, and because they’re Mercedes, the problems are super expensive to fix. While we know plenty of people who love their Sprinters, we didn’t want to get into something that would be so potentially problematic.

 

 

We also looked at installing extended fiberglass tops to other types of vans in an attempt to get the Sprinter height with the reliability of another vehicle. But other vans had shorter wheel bases, which meant much less living space.

So we started looking at RVs. They seemed like an obvious choice and still, when we showed people what we were planning with the bus, we were invariably asked some variation of, “So why didn’t you just buy an RV?”

Well, for a few reasons. Safety was a big one, especially with the kids. While buses are basically constructed inside a metal cage, RVs are much lighter and less rugged. The kids’ seats would probably have been hooked to dinette seats, which vary in their construction, but are frequently much less sturdy than typical car seats. We’re not planning on getting into any fiery crashes, but if we did, we want something that will hold up. I definitely don’t think an RV is an irresponsible choice. But knowing how much time we’d be spending on the road, we wanted to be really comfortable with our level of safety.

 

 

We also had a hard time finding an RV layout that made sense for us. We wanted to sleep in the same area as the kids, but probably not the same bed (because we are all giants and sloppy sleepers), which we couldn’t configure in an existing RV layout. We wanted to be able to work comfortably after the kids went to sleep. And we really didn’t want a bathroom, so we were hesitant to sacrifice space to one. It might seem odd that a bathroom was on our list of undesirables, but we didn’t want to deal with a black water tank or a frustratingly tiny sink, and we definitely didn’t want an RV shower. When you are 6 feet and over, RV showers are just a special kind of cruel. (But all this about the bathroom would likely be totally different for someone else. I have strong, experience-borne aversions to RV bathrooms that a lot of others don’t share. So take it all with a grain of salt.) We also wanted solar power, good insulation, and a full-sized sink, along with a bunch of other features that weren’t totally crucial, but would make it more livable for us.

Basically, we knew if we got an RV we’d have to gut it to get a layout we were really happy with, and if we settled on a layout we didn’t love, we’d still want to add enough upgrades that it didn’t seem to make sense to invest in an RV in the first place.

So we were down to buses.

We honestly never considered a school bus because as soon as we started looking at buses, we found a wholesale dealer in Arizona and immediately connected about a couple of shuttle bus gems, including the one we ended up with. School bus conversions look awesome, but we think it would have been a poor choice for us, mostly for time reasons. We had to get our build done in a little over a month and a school bus conversion, because they usually involve grinding out rust, raising the ceiling, and other metal work, would have taken much more time than we had.

So all in all, we are super happy we ended up where we did! The shuttle bus isn’t perfect, of course, but we loved being able to design and build it to fit our little family. And now that we’ve been in it full-time for several months, we can honestly say that the choice has been perfect for us.

We hope this helps, in case you’re considering the bus/van/RV-life for yourself! If you have any questions, let us know! We’re not experts, but we’d love to share our experience.

    1. So nice to meet you!! We won’t be passing through Ohio again for a big, but will definitely put this one on our list! Thank you :).

  1. Hi,
    Just wondering what fuel mileage you’re getting. I can’t tell the year but it looks like you may be running with the 6.0L diesel? With some modifications its a great engine.
    Travis

    1. It’s actually gas! We’re getting about 10-12 mpg, so decidedly not great. We also looked at diesel shuttles, but this one was in better shape—the engines definitely don’t last as long but are so much cheaper to replace it seemed like kind of a toss-up!

  2. This has been so so helpful! My husband and I owned a camper van a couple years back. (1994 dodge) we had so much fun converting it and took trips in it as often as we could. When I got pregnant we sold it because it couldn’t safely accommodate kids and was definitely not big enough. Fast forward… our little girl is 1 and we’re dying to move into a van or bus. Weve been diligently researching and seeing you guys manage this with two kids has been inspiring and you guys have been a great resource for information. I hope you guys post something detailed about all your storage as well as floor plan. But I love the bunk type set up you have next to your bed! Seriously you guys rule!

    1. Ah, thank you so much!! This kind of travel is definitely doable with kids; we really prefer it to flying and/or staying in hotels. It’s so nice to have the kids in the same space every night! We’re working on a post about our build that will have more info. about storage and setup. But we also did a bus tour with Less Junk, More Journey (it’s on our videos page here on the website) and that shows a lot more of where we’ve got things stowed! Let me know if you have any questions!

  3. Hi! I just saw your interview with Less Junk, More Journey. I really enjoyed the video and your input. I started to look into shuttle/school bus conversions but I hit a wall with the insurance. How do was it for you guy getting insurance? Who do you use for insurance? I share the same exact views for choosing a shuttle bus over an RV, especially regarding the safety and floor plan issues. We are a family of 8. We won’t be selling our home and will be touring cities and doing a lot of driveway surfing. I want something a little more nimble than a huge class c but cheaper than a B+. I am looking forward to following you on Instagram. Enjoy your journey!

    1. Hey! So glad you got in touch and excited for your potential bus! We were very nervous about insurance and it worked out easier than we thought. We have two policies: one for liability and one for the bus’s contents (because we travel with a computer, camera equipment, etc. If you’re not full-time, I don’t know how necessary this would be.) Our insurance is Progressive; the trick with this was to go through an independent agent in the state where we’re registered, rather than calling the main Progressive customer service line. Our bus is registered as an RV and insured as one, but we were very upfront about what type of vehicle it is and how we built it out ourselves. No one took issue with it, and though we haven’t had to get anything covered by insurance so far, we feel much better having it!

  4. Your story as I read it just speaks to me. I’m certainly concerned about the cost and all of the things that you describe that you had need of are very similar to mine with regards to height, safety and practicality.
    I would love to converse with you and find out where in Arizona you purchased your vehicle.

    Thank you!

    isstjarnas@gmail.com

  5. What a fantastic adventure! You are capturing memories for all of America. And what a fine way to travel. Your shuttle bus is beautiful. I bought a used shuttle bus a week ago and I have been busy preparing it for an adventure of my own. See http://www.watercolorwildflowers.com. I will keep reading your updates and watching for beautiful photos. What did you name your bus?

  6. Hello! This bus looks nothing but awesome! I was wondering about the insurance you use on this bus as I’ve heard horror stories about getting the shuttle bus’ insured. What was your experience?

    1. We worked through a local Progressive agent in Idaho, insured it as a self-converted RV and it was surprisingly quick and painless! We’d heard horror stories too, so we were super nervous. The key seemed to be getting a real live local person instead of just calling the main number for the company.

  7. Awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. If I may ask, how do you lock your bus and go explore without the fear of your home getting stolen? What systems do you have in place?

    1. Just regular locks! We have an insurance policy on everything inside, but we’ve really been lucky that it’s never been broken into. We try to be smart about not leaving our laptop and such visible, and about where we park.

  8. Can you tell me if your shuttle is fiberglass on the outside? I feel like this is a silly question but this is my main reason for feeling we should have gone with a bus instead. We just bought a shuttle bus but I’m worried about screwing things into fiberglass.

    1. It is fiberglass! We were also nervous about drilling into it, but it turned out to be easy. Self-tapping screws help!

  9. Thank you so much for this info! Helped a lot for my girlfriend and I make the decision to go minibus. We did end up deciding on a 2008 mini skoolie.

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