My Bus Conversion Wish List (The Art of Travel Hacking)

So a question I keep getting asked is how I plan to pay for my bus conversion process.  So far the only money I’ve spent was the $5000 for the bus and roughly $120 to get it inspected and properly licensed, but now I’ve got to compile a list and make a budget for all the components involved in the conversion process.  That’s where my next plan comes in: travel hacking. 

According to

“Travel hacking involves working within the existing rules set up by airlines, credit cards and hotels, and using them to your advantage to earn free travel including flights, lodging and other upgrades.”

There are many ways to do it. You can cash in on membership perks, for instance, or earn points on a travel rewards credit card, or get frequent flyer miles, etc.  For me personally, I love travel reward’s cards.  I use my Capital One Venture Card for absolutely everything and I earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. So, I’ve decided to take out a new credit card to fund my bus. After reading about the best travel reward’s cards I decided to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reward’s Card because it offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account.  That comes to about $750 or so toward travel. I mean, that’s a flight at least! You also get 2X points on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.  The perks add up. 


Now I know what you’re thinking. Spending money to earn points seems a little counter intuitive, and it totally is if you’re racking up credit card debt on useless expenses, but the way I see it, I’m going to have to spend money on this bus regardless.  So I can either dip into my savings, or I can take out another credit card and earn some travel points in the process. Another thing to consider is your credit score. Apparently, taking out credit cards does not hurt your score, but keeping a balance does, so it’s important to make regular payments.  I’m pretty good with money, at least so far, so this is a risk I am willing to take.

Now it’s worth noting that you should read the fine print and make sure your points don’t expire and look into the annual fees, etc. etc. etc. Like anything, it’s important to thoroughly research what you’re doing before you start signing up for credit cards. 

Here are some other useful resources for travel hacking:

So to recap, I need to apply for this credit card and spend at least $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account.  That means I’ve got to have my shopping list together before I apply for the card, so here’s the wish list I’ve started for the bus which I will be updating as I continue my project.  The prices vary for certain items and I won’t have a specific idea until I talk to a contractor. 

Shopping List:

  • Framing (2X3s, sliding door for the bathroom, other supplies)
  • Electrical (solar panel kit, propane generator, light fixtures, wiring and supplies)
  • Flooring and Walls (salvaged barn wood, insulation, and supplies)
  • Bathroom (interior wood, water tanks, plumbing supplies, water heater)
  • Kitchen (sink, cabinetry, mini-fridge, cooker, )
  • Seating (3 – 4 storage ottomans, pillows)
  • Bedding (mattress topper, sleeping bag, pillows)
  • Electronics (projector, speakers, bus radio)
  • Decor Items (will vary)
  • Other

It’s going to be easier to finalize my shopping list as I go step by step in the process, but this is a bare bones overall idea.  Am I forgetting something? 


Living in a Bus Step 4: Clean, Gut, and Design a Layout

The weather is finally warm enough for me to get some work done on the bus! I’m hoping to get this project done by the end of Spring 2018, but with this cold spell, it’s been impossible to do anything.  The project itself can be a little overwhelming, but I keep reminding myself; one step at a time! And fortunately for me, I’ve got a lot of great friends and family to help me along the way.  I was really struggling to develop a basic layout, which has to be perfect if I want this to go well, so I called upon my aunt, an interior designer, to come have a look.


As I suspected, my original ideas were unrealistic; my bathroom was too small, and my plans were too complicated for such a tight space.  I’m dealing with a 12 X 7 foot area and I have to be able to fit the following items:

  • kitchen with sink and cooker
  • counter top
  • bathroom with a shower and toilet
  • seating area
  • sleeping area
  • storage for clothing, belongings, and kitchen accessories

My goal is to keep the furniture as mobile as possible.  I’d like to be able to move things around if need be.  I’m also not too keen on blocking off the windows even though I know it would hold in the heat and the cool.  In order for everything to fit and still feel comfortable, the furniture must be dual-purpose. For instance, I’d like to buy a handful of storage ottomans that I can use for seating during the day and slide together at night to use as a bed. I’ve had a few naysayers, but I like the advice, even if it is negative at times. It’s the only way I’ll learn.


I’m lucky that the bus was already partially gutted by the previous owner who only had a nice storage bench and cabinet with a beautiful handmade counter top.  I have to salvage the counter top.  It’s simply too beautiful to get rid of, but currently everything else is kind of up in the air.  My brother, as always, was happy to provide the muscle to remove the furniture pieces. Where would I be without my family to help me along the way? Here’s the layout my aunt helped me come up with.  It’s not terribly detailed, but I think it will be enough for me to go on and start the next steps: electricity and water.

Bus Layout 3

What do you think? Am I forgetting something important?  My next step will be to see how many friends I can wrangle into this project to help me save money on the electricity and water, but first, I’ll have to make a shopping list and start a budget because I plan on funding this bus through the art of travel hacking (wracking up credit card debt on a travel reward’s card in order to earn points.) We’ll get more into that later. I can’t wait to go shopping!!!



Living in a Bus Step 3: License and Registration

Well, before I can start the actual renovations, I want to make sure everything on my bus is legal.  And I ran into a couple of snags in the process.  My first concern was whether or not I’d need a special license to drive the short bus and this is what I found out from

“A bus will require a CDL permit if the bus weighs more than 26,000 lbs. GVWR. A bus will also require a CDL if it has more than 15 passengers (including the driver) regardless of the weight. A bus will require a (P) passenger endorsement along with the CDL if there are more than 15 passengers (including the driver). These are federal regulations.”

So I’m relieved to know I won’t need a special license. After that my friend raised some concerns about how I was going to insure this vehicle.  I hadn’t even considered that cars and motor homes require different insurance policies. So I contacted my insurance company and there was some confusion about how to insure this vehicle. They tried to insure it as a motor home initially, but they couldn’t get the paperwork to go through without photos and an appraisal.  Well, naturally I haven’t started any of the renovations yet, so there’s no point in getting an appraisal, so for now I have automotive insurance and I’m going to have to change that after the renovations are complete.


I also forgot that in order to register my vehicle I would need certain documentation and let me tell you, that was a bit of an ordeal.  There’s nothing like realizing you’re behind on personal property taxes.  But, long story short, the bus passed inspection, so I’m delighted there were no initial repairs to be done.  And after making the short walk from the DMV to the courthouse to pay my personal property tax, I had everything I needed to register the vehicle: the title, proof of insurance, receipt for paid property taxes, and the money: 100 dollars even.

I was thrilled when it all went so smoothly, and then one of the DMV employees came over with a concerned look on her face and asked how much my bus weighed.  Well, I have no idea, but apparently, my license plates are for a truck and if the weight of my bus is over 6,000 pounds, I could get a big ticket.  I don’t think it’s quite there, but once it’s been completely renovated, I’m going to have to look into possibly changing the plates, and definitely changing the insurance policy.

interior of the bus

But I’m not going to worry about that now. It’s time to start thinking about the electrical and water, but I can’t do that until I’ve determined the proper layout.  And that, my friends, is going to be a challenge!

Wish me luck!

Living in Saudi Arabia: Expectations vs Reality

I recently finished my third year in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and it’s been quite a trip.  I started out at a very stressful vocational school and finished at a much nicer, well-established university.  I had a lot of preconceived ideas about what my time in Saudi Arabia would be like, and I have to tell you, it’s nothing like what I thought it would be.  Here are just a few of my personal experiences:

Expectation #1: I’m only going to do one year.

This is something I heard a lot from others and also believed about myself.  But once I arrived there and started making good friends (and good money), it became harder and harder to leave! I have friends who said they’d do one year and are now on their 5th!


Expectation #2: I’m going to be very uncomfortable the whole time.

I thought I would be living in tough conditions under strict Shariah law, but it wasn’t like that at all.  On the contrary, I was quite comfortable and ended up being more social and active than I was in the United States.  Sure I couldn’t drive and I had to wear an abaaya everywhere I went, but it was pretty easy to get used to those minor inconveniences when it came to all the perks that come with working in Saudi (healthcare, salary, vacation). The expat community is so embracing, and it was very easy to find people who wanted to have a good time. I also befriended a wonderful Saudi family (a former student’s family who I had taught in the U.S.) who frequently treated me to lavish dinners and fun excursions.

Traditional Kapsa Dinner

Expectation #3: I’m going to feel like I’m in constant danger.

Everybody goes on and on about how dangerous the Middle East is, and I can understand why.  We’re constantly bombarded with frightening images in the media, but my experience was quite different.  I actually felt a lot safer there than I ever did here in the States.  Now of course there are real risks anywhere you go, and it’s important to do your research ahead of time and take necessary precautions.  But after living in Saudi Arabia and visiting several other Middle Eastern countries, I can tell you from personal experience, the world isn’t nearly as frightening as the news makes it out to be.  It just goes to show, you can’t believe everything you see on TV.



Expectation #4: I’m totally going to get fluent in Arabic.

I’m passionate about language, not only teaching, but also learning.  I studied Spanish for years and I thought in the time I spent in Saudi Arabia I would surely be fluent in Arabic by the time I came home.  I was sadly mistaken.  Even with the numerous books, Rosetta Stone, online resources, and Arabic tutor, I’m still only a mid-intermediate level (though my Arab friends tell me I’m higher). Part of the problem is the expats are not immersed in the culture.  We’re completely separated out. And I couldn’t practice speaking Arabic with my students in the classroom.  But, I did my best and I’m continuing my studies even now here in the states.

A traditional meal with good friends

Expectation #5: I’m going to be miserable as a woman in the Middle East

The question I get the most from friends here in the States is, “Weren’t you scared being a woman over there?” I can understand why they’d think this.  Saudi Arabia is not exactly a picture for women’s rights. However, being a Western woman in Saudi Arabia has its perks. For instance, I rarely encountered disrespect, catcalling, or other forms of harassment while I was in Saudi (things I have to deal with frequently in the United States.)  I actually got pretty comfortable with the “princess treatment” as well; not having to drive, having doors held open for me, and always being welcomed and treated like a lady.  Now, it’s important to note that my experience as a western woman might be different from women from other countries.  And don’t get me wrong, I would choose my freedom over the “princess treatment” any day, but was I uncomfortable being a woman in Saudi Arabia? Not at all.  In fact, I hope someday to go back and visit all the wonderful people I left behind.







Backpacking Across Europe Step 1: Initial Planning and Overview

Now that I’ve seen most of the Middle East, I’d like to see more of Europe.  I’ve seen Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, but I would happily go back to any of those places.  I’m planning a backpacking trip across Europe for the Spring of 2018, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject. I know it’s not good to cram, and it’s probably unrealistic to try to visit EVERY European country, but that’s what I want to do.  So for starters, as my initial planning, I’m going to do some brief research about Europe to get an overview.


Europe is in the northwestern territory of the Eurasian continent, surrounded by the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, and the Black Sea in the southeast. There are disputes about the number of countries and territorial lines, but it’s commonly accepted that there are 51 independent states.  However, for my own purposes I’m not including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, or Turkey in my travel plans since these countries are geographically and culturally similar to the Middle East. I’m also not including Kazakhstan because I plan to visit all the ‘Stans’ at once.

I’ve narrowed down the list of countries I’d like to visit to 45 and divided them into their regions. I think the easiest way for me to conquer Europe is to go region by region and assess my financial situation from there.



European Countries by Region


East North West South


Czech Republic

















United Kingdom
















Holy See







San Marino





The next step in my plans will be to research each region individually, and start making plans to visit.  If I can budget properly, I could try to conquer more than one region.  I think I’m going to start with the West. Got any advice for me?

Happy Trails, ya’ll!


Living in a Bus Step 2: Develop a Basic Guide

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m pursuing a lifelong goal of mine: to make my home inside a vehicle. And guess what? I’ve found my dream bus! I feel like the hard part’s over. After extensive searching and shopping, I decided that what I really wanted was a short bus or shuttle bus to be converted into my new home.  I knew buying an RV with all the amenities already set up would be so much easier, but I just wouldn’t be happy.  I’m particular about how things are done.  I wanted a bus that was reliable, not too old, diesel, and small enough to drive and park comfortably. And here she is! I haven’t named her yet, but I’ll think of something by the time this project is finished. 


So I’ve started doing the research and I’ve developed a step-by-step “guide” (work in progress) for converting a bus into a home. This is a very bare bones approach to writing up an official plan, but the way I see it, I might change my mind about a few things as the project goes on. Any feedback from those with experience is welcome!

Step 1: Planning and Research

As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research and plan a project before you get started on it.  I now have a rough idea of what I want to do detailed below

Step 2: Buy the Vehicle and Develop a Step-by-Step Guide

I found the perfect bus! I couldn’t plan a lot of the other details until I knew what I was working with.  Basically I have a vehicle that’s already been gutted aside from a few furniture items.  The previous owner used it for camping. 

Step 3: License, Insurance, and Other Legalities

My friend was concerned about insuring the vehicle.  This didn’t even cross my mind until I started doing some research online.

I think I’ll talk to my insurance company in person first and see what kinds of plans are offered. It’s going to be a process getting the bus set up as an actual motorhome, so I’m not sure if I’ll just change insurance types after that or not.

Step 3: Clean and Gut

After I have the bus insured, titled, licensed, and repaired, I can begin the actual conversion process. The seats and other fixtures must be removed.  I have a friend or two who can help me with this process.  I also need to thoroughly clean out the inside and have any rust removed or grinded off.  Finally, I’ll need to apply a layer of primer or anti-rust paint.

Step 4: Bus Layout

I’m going to need to set up the layout in order to determine where all the electrical fixtures, kitchen, etc. is going to be stored inside of the bus. I’m going to need to be able to accommodate the following:

  • A bed
  • Storage for items and clothing
  • Kitchen with mini-fridge, sink, stove top, cabinets
  • Bathroom with toilet and shower fixture
  • Any other furniture can be put in afterward

After I determine the best layout for the van I can start planning the electrical and water system which I think will be the most complicated part of this adventure.

Step 5: Electrical Work

The electrical work is going to need to be done by a professional, or a friend who knows how to do it.  I’m not sure how much power I can get from solar panels, so I’ll need to check into that.  I plan on running everything on solar panels and having a back up generator just in case.

I’m not sure how much it will cost to set up the electrical works in the vehicle, but it looks like I’m going to need a few key items:

Step 6: Water System: Bathroom and Kitchen

I want to have the simplest system possible to have running water, a bathroom, shower, and sink. I’m also very interested in composting toilets, but I can’t figure out why they’re so expensive! I know I have some options:

Step 7: Insulation

Insulating the bus is important if I want to control the temperature.  Here in the Midwest we have brutal summers and terrible winters. My comfort is important to me and I’m not going to live uncomfortably.

Step 8: Flooring and Walls

I want the inside of the van to have wood paneling.  I’m going to have to find someone who knows how to install that.

Step 9: Furnishings

I plan on buying my own furnishings from flea markets rather than custom building furniture for the bus.  Anything I find will need to be small. I’m hoping to get furniture that can be used for more than one person.  For instance, storage ottomans can hold belongs, while providing seating, and be scooted together at night to make a bed.  I’m going to have to get creative with the space. 

Step 10: Wifi

And finally, I have to have wifi for my job.  I hope there’s a good option for portable wifi that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  I’ll research this option more when the time comes. 

Step 11: Find a Place to Park

So far the biggest challenge is where I’m going to park.  My hometown is not exactly known for it’s safety or lack of criminal activity, but I’m more worried about getting into legal trouble.  Some people have suggested I park at Walmart because there are lights and cameras, but I think that sounds awful.  I’m going to have to think about it more.

Step 12: Make it Home 

And finally, the last step will be to add any finishing touches to make my bus my new home.  I can’t wait until I reach the last step!

Let the fun begin!



Living in a Bus: Step 1 Research and Planning

I recently decided to pursue one of my life-long dreams: living out of a vehicle.  I’ve been toying with the idea for years, and now that I have the funds saved up and the freedom to do so, the time has come to seriously explore the option.  I’m currently doing the research necessary to make this dream a reality, and I figured a good place to start would be to write down exactly what I want and don’t want.  If I’m going to do this, I might as well do it right.

Step 1: Overall Goal Assessment

I think a good place to start would be to assess my overall goal which is essentially this:

I want a vehicle that I can live out of independently with all the luxuries needed to live a comfortable life: bathroom, kitchen, bed, etc.  I want the vehicle to be big enough to contain everything I need for my independent lifestyle while still being as small as possible.  My comfort is important to me, so if I can’t stand all the way up inside the vehicle, for instance, or I’m not comfortable driving it, I don’t want it.  The ultimate goal is to have a place to live while saving money, so if the vehicle itself costs as much as a house, or requires hook ups and can only be parked in certain places, I don’t want it.  Are my goals unrealistic? We’ll find out.

Step 2: Type of Vehicle

Of course, I’ve always romanticized the idea of living in a VW bus, but this just isn’t realistic for what I want.  I’ve read about all the different types of RVs and other vehicles that can be converted into a home, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to one of three options: class B motor home, truck camper, or a converted minibus. I’ve chosen these three options for a number of reasons:

  • I’m not comfortable driving excessively large vehicles which pretty much rules out the Class A and Class C motor homes.  I also want to be able to park the vehicle in any parking lot without a lot of trouble. For these reasons, I need something small and accessible.
  • I don’t have a vehicle that can tow large items such as pop-up trailers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels. Plus I’m trying to keep this project as cost efficient as possible, so the vehicle itself must be drive-able.

Step 3: Start Shopping

All the other questions I have about maintenance, remodeling, upkeep, etc. can’t be answered until I’ve found a vehicle, so the shopping process begins now!  I’m definitely leaning toward a used vehicle though I know I might burn a hole in my pocket with the conversion process and maintenance costs.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to buy a shell of a vehicle and customize it or buy one that already has all the amenities and spend the extra. I know it won’t be cheap, but I’m prepared for that, and worse case scenario, I get a vehicle that will be great for road trips and nothing more.  Once I find the perfect vehicle, we can begin the next step: turning it into my new home.

Got any advice for me?  I’ve got no qualms about being slapped with the reality stick, so lay it on me!