I’ve passed the halfway done hurdle and I’m trucking along! The next step in my project is the insulation and the walls. Here’s what I’ve accomplished:
I added some reflective insulation to the walls by taping it into place. There’s gaps because I’m not terribly exact in my measurements. I mentioned this type of insulation on a Reddit thread and a lot of people said it wouldn’t do the trick. so I eventually bought some of the foam insulation and added it over the reflective kind. I sure hope it works.
After laying down big sheets of plastic, I started painting the ceiling. I chose a light blue color which everybody assumes is supposed to represent the sky, but it’s not. Eventually, I want to paint a world map mural on the ceiling, so the blue is actually supposed to represent the ocean.
It doesn’t look like hard work, but man, my arms were tired after doing the ceiling. I also ended up with blue paint all over my hair and clothes.
It’s hard to see on account of my crappy camera, but the ceiling turned out pretty well. After painting the ceiling, I proceeded to do the doors and trim. I followed a template with a color scheme called “Vintage Finds” because I’m going for kind of a Bohemian look. The trim is a pear color and the doors are supposed to be orange, but all the shades came out lighter than they were on the template, but that’s okay.
My six year old niece, Tori, insisted she help with the painting and she did a great job.
Next up were the wall panels which were tricky, but my brother helped a lot. I chose a light gray color because I want the flooring to stand out more than the walls.
Cutting out the windows was no easy task. I used a jigsaw which I couldn’t control very well and my cutting was pretty sloppy. Fortunately, weather stripping works as great trim around the edges.
I’ve done a lot of the work myself, but some tasks were more difficult than others. My brother did all of the drilling when the screws had to go through metal because no matter how hard I push, I couldn’t get them to go through. Curse these weak arms! So my brother drilled many of the wall panels into place along with the shelving.
I was, however, able to put up the medicine cabinet. I sure hope it doesn’t come crashing down on my head while I’m driving.
Now that the wall panels are done, I’m currently working on the trim pieces to cover up some of my mistakes. Once the trim is in, I can’t start putting in my furniture, but I have one more big hurdle to jump before I’m completely ready to move in: THE PLUMBING!!! And my brother and I are going to attempt to do it ourselves. Wish me luck!
I’ve been to a little over 20 countries now, but the longest, most intense, most exciting trip I’ve taken so far would have to be my trip to India in the summer of 2015. My travel buddies were fellow expats teaching in Saudi Arabia: 2 Americans and 1 Canadian. The plan was to spend 3 weeks hiking in Kashmir with a licensed tour guide and then 3 more weeks bouncing from city to city.
We flew from Dammam to New Delhi and from New Delhi to Srinagar in the North of India.
We spent a few nights in Srinagar in one of the house boats on Dal Lake. The scenery and the lodging was absolutely beautiful.
We felt like rock stars everywhere we went. Locals wanted to get their picture taken with us. Sometimes it was overwhelming and we’d find ourselves surrounded by curious locals wanting to ask us questions and take pictures with us.
After acclimating to the altitude for a few days, it was time to begin the trek. I can’t remember the exact route we took, but we had a licensed tour group take us from Srinagar to Leh, or at least that was the plan.
Included in the itinerary: licensed guides and hired workers who set up camp and cooked our meals (they carried live chickens in cages throughout the trip). They had 4 donkeys to carry all the supplies. From the start of our trip, however, there were serious issues:
The meals were not at all sufficient for the amount of walking we were doing. Each of us ended up losing weight. We did on average about 7 – 10 hours of walking a day with a small breakfast, even smaller lunch, and a dinner.
The trek had changed significantly due to climate change. Much of the glaciers in the Himalayas had melted and the river was much larger than when our guides had last done this trek a few decades earlier.
Twice we got lost on the trip and found ourselves in a dangerous situation: soaking wet in the middle of the Himalayan mountains, miles away from the nearest village with the sun setting fast. Fortunately, our guides made due, and set up camp though often times not on the original route.
Along our route, we’d stop through small villages. The people there were incredibly kind and friendly. Many of them had never even seen a Westerner and due to the political strife in Kashmir, tourism was mostly a thing of the past, so we were a rare site for sure.
The scenery in the Himalayan mountains is stunning. We had to go uphill much of the way. We experienced all four seasons: it rained on us, it snowed on us, some days were blistering hot, and others were quite chilly. Somehow we managed to survive.
My travel mates and I had nicknames: Dad Joke, Boner, and Boot Juice. My nickname was Princess Assless Chaps because I kept tearing holes in my pants.
The hardest day of the trek took almost 15 hours of walking and I couldn’t go any further. I have a lot of pride, and I wanted to complete the trek, but by the end of the day I was in too much pain and the guide suggested I ride the horse the rest of the way there. I was reluctant (and by reluctant I mean a bit hysterical) but ultimately, it was a wise decision. After that day, we trekked one more day, another dangerous one, before deciding to finish the trek a week early and hitch a ride to our hotel at the end of our trek.
The trek was equally hard for the hired help. I think they underestimated just how difficult it was. I know I did!
But we survived and spent a few days in a tiny town. There we visited a monastery high up on a hill where Bob helped organize the scripts and we were offered tea and good company.
I was so relieved when we decided to end the trek early. I had no idea just how out of shape I was until attempting the trek. If you’re going to do something like this, make sure you prepare in advance. We hitchhiked to our end location and even though we didn’t do the whole trek, I was still proud of myself for doing as much as we did. We took a treacherous bike ride down the mountain. I only participated a little bit because I was terrified, but I got on the bike and did it.
We visited a small village where the people lived in tiny huts. We also took a trip out to a field full of piles of plastic. We learned that the cows would eat the rubbish in the streets and subsequently pieces of plastic. The plastic would stay in their digestive track until they eventually died out in this field. The hide, meat, and bones would all be gone (from scavengers or scroungers) and all that would be left was the plastic. It was a very eye-opening look at the impact mankind has on nature.
I can’t even remember all the cities we visited, but I know on the list was Jaipur, New Delhi, Agra, Bikaner, and Varanasi (the last place we visited). We went to more than one museum, but my favorite was the Gandhi Museum in New Delhi.
We saw a lot of amazing things in the cities. It’s so crowded and noisy and difficult to navigate. The traffic is slow but crazy and full of cows, bicycles, dogs, mopeds, tuk tuks, and all manner of vehicles and pedestrians. If you don’t like noise, you might not enjoy the city life of India.
We did a lot of fun activities as well. I ate street food and managed not to get sick (though on that note, every single of us one ended up with “Delhi Belly” by the end of the trip. If you’ve got a weak stomach, India might not be for you.) We had henna done. And we sampled a very, very hallucinogenic drink called Bangh Lassi. That was an interesting night.
And of course we dressed up in the local Saris.
The craziest thing I saw by far was the rat temple in Bikaner. It’s exactly how it sounds: a temple full of rats all being fed with bowls of milk and grain. Inside you have to take your shoes off. It’s not for the faint of heart. In addition to that temple was the Monkey Temple, which was much more frightening because these monkeys are not afraid of humans. They’d come right up to you and try to steal your bag. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the Monkey Temple.
We saw the Taj Mahal and it was breathtaking. I can’t even begin to describe it. It’s like looking at a mirage until you walk up to it and see that it’s really there in front of you. Pictures simply don’t do it justice.
We ended our trip in Varanasi on the Ganges river. There we observed the practice of cremation. We saw several funeral processions: people chanting, wearing orange, and throwing flowers. It was so much more beautiful than the funerals in the West, in my opinion. Here, death is a celebration. The Ganges River is quite a sight, one of the most polluted places in the world I’ve read, and for good reason. Yet despite this, the people still swim, play, and drink out of the water, just a few yards down from where bodies are being burned and washed in its waters!
So much happened in the six weeks I spent in India, I’ll never be able to remember it all. But it remains one of the most exciting, exhilarating, at times frightening places I’ve ever been. If you have a taste for adventure, you’ll absolutely love it!
It’s been over a year since my trip to Qatar, but it’s still fresh in my mind as a beautiful getaway in the Middle East. Despite the current political turmoil, Qatar continues to be a destination for travelers and expats alike. Here are a few highlights from my trip:
The city is absolutely beautiful. Especially at night. I spent a lot of time on the balcony of my hotel room just looking at the buildings and the lights.
The architecture in this country is absolutely stunning. Here’s a wonderful view from up above. Sadly, I can’t remember if this was my hotel or the museum. I really need to blog right after a trip and not years later.
Here’s the view from the pool. The hotels here are amazing!
The Islamic Art Museum is one of the highlights of Doha, Qatar. It boasts the largest collection of Islamic art in the world!
Qatar is a rare and beautiful place. My pictures don’t do it justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
So I’m about halfway done with my bus conversion process and boy has it been an adventure! Here’s a breakdown of the steps I’ve finished, the money I’ve spent, and what I have left to do!
The steps I’ve finished:
Step 1: Planning and Research
So I started out this adventure with some basic research. I got a lot of flak from people for not planning out the entire project before beginning it, but that’s just not how I do things. I developed a basic guide and my plans have changed along the way. For instance, I wanted a VW bus, but ended up getting a short school bus instead. I wanted recycled barn wood floors, but chose tongue-in-groove tiles. If you’re going to pursue a large project like this, I recommend getting a basic idea in your head and going from there. If you get too wrapped up in the little details, you’ll just get overwhelmed.
Step 2: Buy the Vehicle and Develop a Step-by-Step Guide
I bought the school bus from a very nice gentlemen off Facebook Marketplace. I had my brother help me with the vehicle shopping because I’m no expert. I think I got a good deal on the bus, and aside from having to replace a starter, it’s given me no trouble so far. It’s a 2001 Ford short bus, 7.3 powerstroke super duty diesel, with 122,000 miles on it and I bought it for $5000.
Step 3: License, Insurance, and Other Legalities
I spent about $13 to get an inspection and an additional $100 to get the tags and license plates and everything updated. It’s currently insured as an automotive vehicle, but once the project is finished, I have to go back to my insurance agent and update the insurance to motor home. I also need to look into the weight and make sure I have the right license plates. Apparently, there are some laws regarding the weight of your bus, and if you get the wrong plates, that’s a hefty fine.
Step 3: Clean and Gut
So when I got the bus it came with some cabinets and an incredible counter top handmade by the previous owner. There was also a storage bench. My brother helped me take all of these out and we did a proper cleaning of the bus. Some people remove the floors down to the base whenever they convert a school bus, but I got a lot of mixed opinions about whether or not that was something I should do. I decided to leave the floor as is. Hopefully, that wasn’t a mistake.
Step 4: Bus Layout
The layout has been a little tricky. I wanted the bathroom toward the front of the bus. And then I changed my mind and wanted it in the back. Choosing where to put the shower has been a challenge, but I think I’m going to have a small section right next to the counter top that has a drain in the floor. With a space this small: 12 X 7 feet, I just can’t afford to waste any room.
Step 5: Flooring and Framing
I wanted barn wood in the bus, but unfortunately, the space from the floor to the ceiling is just barely over 6 feet, so a traditional floor would’ve lost several inches and everybody would have to duck. So I went with the tongue-in-groove flooring and it’s just perfect! You don’t have to glue it down because it just snaps into place which is perfect for a moving vehicle because things are expected to shift around a little bit. The flooring cost me about $340 dollars, but installing it was free.
The framing barely cost me $20 bucks. I just bought some 1 X 2 boards instead of the traditional 2 X 4 and some self-tapping deck screws. My brother did most of the work with the framing which I’m grateful for.
Step 6: Electrical Work
And finally, I just completed the electrical work. I wanted to find a contractor who could do it for me, and I even looked into doing it myself, but I’m definitely no expert, and this is a job for professionals. So I took the bus to Camping World and explained to them what I want, and they did an excellent job. Total cost including labor: $3400, by far the most expensive part of this project.
However, that price does not include solar panels which I still need to get or the generator. I’m currently looking into the best options for both of those.
I also got the windows tinted which cost me about $850. I hope I got a good deal on that. I just trust people when they give me a reference or who to go to.
Total Cost (not including the bus): Roughly $5000.00
What I have left to do:
So the electrical isn’t totally finished because I still need solar panels and a generator, and I need to research the battery and other details because I’m committed to taking care of these items. I tend to learn by making mistakes, and I wouldn’t want to do that in this case.
Step 7: Insulation and Walls
I’ve put up some reflective insulation along the walls, the same that I used on the floor. I asked a guy at Lowe’s which insulation he thought would be best and he said the thin, reflective kind actually works pretty well. I can’t use regular insulation because it expands and would take up too much room. I’ve also purchased the wall panels which ran me about $90. My brother and I are still getting them installed. I’ve gotten a lot of painting done, and I have a little more to do, but so far I’ve spent about $50 on paint.
Step 8: Water System: Bathroom and Kitchen
The bathroom and water is going to be a little tricky. I’m committed to having a compost toilet which I’ve gotten teased about. If you’re not sure how they work, here’s a good video explanation. I’d like to build my own because buying one new is crazy expensive:
I also need to get two water tanks that are small enough to fit under my bus. I want a basic water system, a sink, and a tiny shower space next to the kitchen cabinets. My brother thinks he and I can do it without the help of a professional, so we’ll see.
Step 9: Furnishings
So I’ve already purchased some of the furnishings. I bought 3 storage ottomans which fit most of my possessions. I’m going to use these for seating. I still need to buy a futon, and I’ve picked one out already. I don’t want to move the furniture in until the paint and the walls are completely done. I’m on the hunt for a comfortable lounging chair and possibly a tall, thin nightstand or dresser. It depends on how much room I have. I’m also going to need to install shelves along the windows.
Step 10: Wifi and Other Details
I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do about Wifi yet. I have an account with T-mobile and I’m not sure what they offer as far as internet service goes. I don’t want to get suckered into another “hotspot” contraption that charges you based on how much you use. I have to have internet, so I really need to look into this minor detail.
Step 11: Find a Place to Park and Stay Safe
This will by far be the biggest hurdle. I’m really concerned about where I’m going to park. And not just for the legalities and to avoid getting towed. I live in a high-crime city, and my parents aren’t too keen on my sleeping in a bus. So far, people have recommended Walmart parking lots because they have lights and security cameras. I hate the thought of having Walmart as my front yard, but my safety is important to me. I’m still working out this detail. I also want to install a security system. Nothing fancy. But if somebody tries to break into my bus, I want alarms going off.
Step 12: Make it Home
Finally, the last step will be moving in all my decor items, painting a world map mural on the wall, and putting up the magnets I bought (one from every country I’ve been to). I feel like I’m forgetting something important, but one step at a time. Here’s my updated shopping wish list:
shelving brackets and boards
plumbing, water pump, and parts
Odds and Ends (kitchen utensils, accessories, etc.)
One of the major hurdles I’ve had to overcome is how to do the electricity. There’s a plethora of articles and YouTube tutorials regarding how to set up electricity in a converted bus or van, but a lot of it is over my head. I’m no expert in electricity, but I want this very important step to be done the safest, most cost efficient, most professional way possible. So I turned to my social groups and sought out a few electricians who gave me very useful advice and references.
Disclaimer: This is not a step-by-step guide for installing electricity in a camper van/bus. After doing the research and looking into it, I decided I was willing to spend the extra money to have a professional company do all the work for me. As much I’d love to say I built my own bus, I’m just not going to endanger myself by trying to do something I have no experience doing.
That being said, I’ve developed a basic step-by-step guide that breaks down the electrical process. I admire the people on YouTube doing it all themselves, and I probably ended up spending more money having professionals do it, but at least I have peace of mind.
Step 1: Determine your Amperage Use
So before you start shopping for your solar panels, outlet covers, and wires, you must first determine just how much electricity you’ll be using inside your vehicle. Once you’ve determined the wattage you’ll need to power everything (and I’m talking anything that might be plugged in), you can determine the best electrical system for yourself. Everybody has different needs, since I live in such a small place and I have so few needs, I boiled my list down to the following:
Portable AC/heater (could potentially run on propane)
Water heater (could potentially run on propane)
Stove top burner (could potentially run on propane)
Crockpot (I decided I can live without an oven)
Mini-Fridge (can I power a mini-fridge with propane?
Projector and Speakers (I won’t need a TV this way)
Lamps/Lighting (exact types to be determined)
Laptop and Cellphone (My main source for music, movies, TV, etc.)
“Size your battery and inverter system by the expected numbers of amps that you intend to power through your mobile energy system. Identify the amperage for each device that you desire to power through your deep-cycle battery by looking for the metal plate on each appliance giving its amperage ratings. Multiply the amperage by the number of hours that you intend to run the device. This will give your amp hours figure. Your power inverter should be sized to handle 10 to 20 percent more amperage than the maximum amperage of your system. The battery system should be able to deliver the anticipated amp hours without being drained more than 50 percent of its capacity.”
Items in red could potentially run on propane but I’m figuring them in to be on the safe side:
Stove top burner
Projector and Speakers
Laptop and Cellphone
83,500 – 105, 300
I know this is probably grossly overestimated. In fact, my numbers seem downright outlandish, so I obviously didn’t do it right. Thank goodness for professionals. The people at Camping World needed a basic list of everything I wanted and then they decided to go with a basic system you’d see in an RV. I figure if you’re not good at math, then you probably shouldn’t attempt the rest of the electrical. 😀
Step 2: Pick your Method for Electricity
Generator? Solar Panels? Both? Other?
For my bus I’d like to have solar panels running most of the power and a back-up generator (preferably propane) in case of emergencies. How many solar panels do you think I will need? And how do I hook them up to the regular electrical system? Well, after talking to two friends with experience in solar panels and doing some reading, I decided it might be easier to have the batteries and regular electrical system installed first, and then to find the solar panels that would match.
Step 3: Buy Materials
If you’re the kind of person who feels confident to do this job yourself, the next step would be to buy all the materials needed for the project. Build a Green RV has a great breakdown of everything needed, but I got overwhelmed with the process and couldn’t find an independent contractor, so I ended up trusting the professionals to do it all for me.
I don’t recommend doing the electrical yourself if you’re not experienced with it. Originally, I wanted to find a friend with a background in electrical systems that I could pay directly, but I couldn’t find one, so I went with Camping World and they did a great job. Here’s a link to them explaining my new electrical system in my bus.
My next step will be to find solar panels that will work well with these batteries. Wish me luck in my hunt!
Before I can do the electrical, I need to have the flooring and the framing in place. Originally, I wanted recovered barn wood as the flooring because I think it just looks so rustic and cool. However, the length between the floor and the ceiling is just barely over 6 feet which means a traditional floor with insulation, sub floor, and panels on top would prevent anyone from being able to stand all the way up. So in order to conserve space I decided to go with Option #2: tongue in groove tiles.
My aunt has experience as an interior designer and she joined me in the hunt for the perfect style. I want my bus to feel warm and cabin-like, and so I decided to go with the Blue Ridge Pine which is apparently a popular one. The first challenge I encountered doing the floors were all these rivets that caused the floor to be uneven. They’re here because this was originally a handicapped bus and these kept wheelchairs in place.
I was going to just have them all removed, but that seemed like more work than is necessary and a friend told me that they probably maintain the bus’s structure, so instead, my brother and I decided to lay down an extra layer of insulation to even out the floor and maintain the temperature.
Laying down the insulation was fun. After that, my brother taught me how to install the tongue in groove tiles. They’re perfect for this bus because if I’m driving, I’m going to be shifting around a lot. Traditional tiles would probably crack or become loose, but since these aren’t glued down, they’ll be flexible and shift along with the bus.
I’ve left a big empty space at the side because I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do about a bathroom. I’ll probably just section off a small space next to counter top and install a drain. The framing was a little bit easier than the flooring. My brother did most of the work (thanks Jer), but I helped a little.
Flooring and framing is done! So now it’s time to do the electrical!
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 http://zerototravel.com/trade-for-travel/beginners-guide-travel-hacking/
“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.
Framing (2X3s, sliding door for the bathroom, other supplies)