Mike and Tawny had it all. Their own business, a three-story home, a luxurious car, and great jobs that sustained that lifestyle. What they didn’t have, however, was perspective. It took an overseas holiday in 2016 to realize that what they had were possessions, not a lifestyle and that they were working 14 hours a day to own things they didn’t get to enjoy.
Over the next 12 months, Mike and Tawny got busy. They bought a 2004 International RE school bus for $5,000, which they named Oliver, started selling off their possessions, and sold both their home and business. They also went vegan and expanded their education through seminars and classes.
This dynamic duo doesn’t do anything by halves, so they also ensured they could land jobs they could do on the road and started homeschooling their two children. Within one year, their entire lives had changed – and they loved it.
Their children, aged 13 and 14, would travel on the bus part-time but would spend the other half of their time with their father while they parked up in Montana. Even the family pooch, a Great Dane called Apollo, lived on board the school bus.
The school bus was well and truly a labour of love, and it took $20,000 and a lot of time and frustration to make it everything they wanted. It’s powered by six 100-watt solar panels, a charge controller, 600Ah batteries, and a 1,000-watt inverter. Mike and Tawny even went one step further and installed a Bluetooth monitoring system to make sure everything was working as it should, and a camera system for a full view of the bus as they travelled.
During the renovation process, it also helped that Tawny’s brother and dad were both RV technicians. They helped by building the wood stove, custom-building the front door from two bus windows, and reinforcing the metal floors. The entire propane and plumbing system was developed by her dad and brother as well.
The bus boasts a drinking water system, 40-gallon white water tanks, and two 30-gallon propane tanks for the stove, hot water heater, and fridge. The bus doesn’t have a grey water tank as a space and weight-saving measure, so if they can’t drain it naturally outside, they carry a portable grey tank instead. All the inner workings of the bus that makes sure the occupants are comfortable are boxed off out of sight and out of mind.
Those who enter the bus can put their shoes on the hook and even grab a book for light reading!
The full length of the bus is open plan with Pergo Max laminate flooring, a pull-out couch with storage, and bunks. The bunks have lights, power outlets, and storage bins. There are also baskets for clothing and couch storage for games, household items, and blankets.
The kids soon discovered they would prefer more living space, so sacrificed their bunk beds. They now sleep on a fold-down Murphy bed and sofa.
The murphy bed folds down easily for one of the kids to bunker down for the night.
If guests come to visit, there’s a hook for a hammock beside the driver’s seat.
The kitchen on the bus is L-shaped and runs the length of the couch to the murphy bed. There is plenty of space for a full fridge and pantry.
Cooking is made easy thanks to the three-burner Atwood range.
Feeding a family in a bus has never been easier thanks to the full-sized Dometic three-way fridge that they painted brushed rose gold. They also made the pantry shelf out of an old wooden map that used to hang in their house. Bungee-style railings allow them to access their food while also keeping it secure on their travels.
The feather finish concrete on the counters is a talking point. It’s made with plywood molds, an Ardex mix, and food-grade waterproof sealer. The sink is the same.
There’s an eating bar built into the back of the cabinets, with four stackable stools that fit into the corner. There is also a wood stove which is removable in summer. For safety, this area features cement board with a feather finish, fireproof insulation, and metal surrounds on spacers.
The bathroom is almost as you would expect in a home. It has a small basin sink, stained wood counter, utility closet, and washer/dryer combo.
The wet floor bathroom boasts concrete flooring and walls, a copper showerhead, and shelves for toiletries. The shower curtain allows for privacy.
The composting toilet is located on the wheel well in a private closet. There is also a shelf for paper, towels, and toiletries.
The master suite was a labour of love, and it’s a space that’s both comfortable and functional. The queen-sized platform has pull-out drawers, storage space, and four hatches for access.
The rear engine compartment is often walled off in other bus builds, but Tawny and Mike chose to turn it into a reading nook with an upholstered pad and a lick of paint. They can then make use of the natural light.
Clutter is not a problem, thanks to the open closet with hooks and shelving.
Mike and Tawny faced plenty of battles along the way, with things going wrong and renovations not turning out quite as they had hoped. But their advice to anyone looking to live a similar lifestyle is not to give up. As they say ”with a little determination and hard work, just about anything is possible”. You can follow the family’s adventures on their blog sincewewokeup.com