The Netflix documentary “Expedition Happiness” has made a lot of viewers fall head over heels for the skoolie lifestyle. Among the fans are Austin and Ginnie Miller, who knew they wanted to hit the road and travel after leaving the army. The couple met in 2017 during basic training. They became good friends and started dating after both were stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. By 2018, they were married.
In 2020, while still in the army, the couple purchased a 2001 Freightliner FS-65 bus with a 2000 Allison transmission and 5.9 Cummins engine for $4,000. They found it on Facebook Marketplace and knew it was the one. By October 2020, they were diving headfirst into their brand-new build.
Since Austin and Ginnie worked full time from 6 am to 6 pm, they could only spare weekends for their exciting project. This meant they spent every Saturday and Sunday from 9 am until dark working on their new house on wheels. By the time they had finished, 14 months had passed, and they had invested $30,000.
Austin and Ginnie left the Army after four and a half years, which allowed them to utilize the Army’s GI Bill. It enabled Ginnie and Austin to attend school full-time while the Army covered their living expenses. Discovering they could attend classes online, they knew everything was falling into place. They could travel, study, and not have to worry about money.
The couple sold their 1,400-square-foot home and put their household items into a storage unit for one year. Their original goal was to travel for one year. After that, they planned to settle down and find a house. However, Austin and Ginnie were having so much fun in their new house on wheels, meeting new people, and exploring new locations, that they decided to extend it for as long as possible. Now, it seems like this is a permanent way of life for Austin, Ginnie, their dog, Lucy, and their cat, Ashby.
Army veterans Austin and Ginnie Miller left the Army and purchased a 32-foot-long 2001 Freightliner FS-65 bus with a 2000 Allison transmission and 5.9 Cummins engine for $4,000. The Facebook Marketplace find kickstarted their dream to create their house on wheels.
Building a bus is a colossal undertaking; not everything goes as planned. The paint scheme is proof of that. Austin and Ginnie originally wanted a two-tone paint scheme with light orange on the top and bright orange on the bottom. Sadly, the light orange was more of a ‘pink’ color. And while they’re satisfied with the other orange shade, it still wasn’t what they had in mind.
Still, they decided to roll with it. Austin and Ginnie said the Sherwin-Williams tractor paint is holding up well, especially considering they rolled it on by hand.
The entrance of any property sets the scene for what’s to come, and it’s no different when it comes to a house bus entrance. Ginnie said they used peel-and-stick tiles from Amazon, which have been melting off in the Oregon heat. Their advice to anyone considering using such tiles is to opt for regular tiles. The steps also feature standard welcome mats that are easy to remove and shake off and a cane-webbed cabinet for shoe storage.
Upon first entering the bus, you’re greeted with a very ’home-like’ atmosphere while retaining its functionality as a bus. There’s a TV positioned above the windscreen, viewable from anywhere in the bus. The cabin area is also home to Ashley the cat’s litter box. It’s tucked away out of sight, emits no odor, and is easy to access for cleaning.
Behind the driver’s seat is the couch armrest. While it looks like an ordinary armrest, it’s anything but. It’s a storage facility for excess wires, and the breaker box sits underneath the couch. All cables are routed through this area for easy access.
Austin and Ginnie decided to keep the original metal ceiling in their bus as it was in great condition and already insulated from the factory. As it’s metal, they can hook magnets onto it, hang plants, and use it for their projector.
While the ceiling’s insulation is likely suitable for their needs, they also decided to insulate the bus walls. These are all fully insulated with Havelock Wool, which retains warmth beautifully.
The couch is one of Austin and Ginnie’s favorite features in their bus. It’s an extra-large sofa they made in the heart of the bus that’s the perfect size for relaxing and watching movies. It can pull out into a full-size bed for guests and lifts up for storage. Underneath the couch is where they keep their batteries, extra shoes, and solar system. They have 400 amp-hours of batteries and 800 watts of solar. However, their bus is rated for 1,200.
Austin and Ginnie put a great deal of time and effort into their couch. It was originally all black, which ended up being too much black in one space. So, they cut two-by-fours into strips, stained them, and nail-gunned them to the front. It’s now an attractive feature in an already beautifully-designed space.
The kitchen in Austin and Ginnie’s bus looks similar to those you’d find in a traditional home. They purchased their cabinets from IKEA and reinforced them with RV latches. Their kitchen also boasts an eight-foot polyurethaned butcher block for meal prep and a gas oven for cooking.
To say that Austin and Ginnie’s kitchen is striking is an understatement. The black cabinets work beautifully with the natural wood countertops, exposed beams, and flooring. They’re also quite proud of their spice rack and the little co-pilot chair that Ginnie sits in while Austin is driving. Underneath, there is a great deal of storage for Lucy the dog’s toys and food.
The generous sink in the kitchen makes cleaning up after a meal much easier. Austin and Ginnie can then easily wipe down the Subway tile-patterned stick-on tiles forming the backsplash behind it. Rather than install real tiles, they chose peel-and-stick tiles cut to shape and stuck on. While the tiles in their entrance are peeling off, these ones are holding up well.
Austin and Ginnie’s kitchen has everything they need to cook up a storm, including a fridge and a decent-sized pantry. While many house bus owners opt for 12-volt fridges, they bought a 110-volt version. According to Ginnie, it uses minimal power. They can see its usage in their Victron app. They also believe that 12-volt fridges are much too small for their needs.
On top of the fridge is the pantry. This has plenty of room for all their dried goods and is out of sight and out of mind to reduce kitchen clutter.
The table in the dining area was an afterthought, but now Austin and Ginnie wouldn’t be without it. It’s where they eat, work, and enjoy everyday life. Underneath is where their dog likes to eat and sleep. The ottomans by the table are also a great form of additional storage.
As this is where Austin and Ginnie work and study, they chose it as the ’hub’ for their internet setup. However, they have plans to hide it somewhere else in the future. They purchased an LTE modem and use it with a SIM card from prepaid AT&T. It costs them around $50 per month for 100GB, and they use an antenna to boost their signal.
While orange is present throughout the bus, the real burst of color in the dining room comes from Ginnie’s work of art. Wanting a Boho theme, she drew a shape with a string and pencil and used a small cap to form the orange circles. It looks like a work of art in the middle of the bus. In case you haven’t guessed, orange is Ginnie’s favorite color.
Storage is something that can be seriously lacking in house buses, but that’s not the case in Austin and Ginnie’s bus. They installed a closet, painted it yellow, decorated it with herringbone stripes, and tied it into the overall theme of their bus. They each get two drawers, while the hanging storage is suitable for all their dresses, jackets, and long-sleeved items.
The tiled shower area was perhaps one of the trickiest parts of their entire transformation project. However, it was also the only part of the bus they needed help with.
Austin’s dad helped them with cutting the tiles, grouting, and all the tile work. As the corner at the top was hard to cover, they had to use corrugated metal. They plan to cover it with wood in the future. The deep jade green of the tiles really pops against the contrasting orange and yellow features throughout the rest of the bus.
To both Ginnie and Austin, the shower isn’t perfect. Ginnie is more than satisfied with its size, while Austin finds it a little small. Ginnie would also like to cut out the top and install a skylight for more natural light. However, cutting into the roof provides one more leak risk. The upside is, of course, that any leaks would be directly above an area designed to get wet.
The bathroom area is a dry space separate from the shower. It boasts a gorgeous vanity they built themselves, natural wood, and a charming faucet. Everything is compact, yet it has everything the couple needs.
Adjacent to the sink and vanity is Austin and Ginnie’s compost toilet. Rather than buy a toilet, they decided to build one. The entire toilet project cost around $100. The final beautiful feature in this space is the wallpaper. It ties the whole room together. According to Ginnie, it was challenging to get the wallpaper to work in the corners.
Next to the shower is Ginnie and Austin’s bedroom. While it’s cozy, it has enough space for a queen-size bed.
Austin and Ginnie put much time, effort, and planning into making their bus bedroom their private sanctuary. They built storage into the foot of the bed, installed a projector they use as their second TV, and installed a shelf that lifts to reveal a laundry chute. Their bedroom also has a mini-split that helps them remain comfortable year-round.
You can see why Ginnie and Austin would prefer to watch TV in bed. Their projector turns one whole side of the bedroom into a giant TV screen. With fairy lights surrounding it, it’s the perfect late-night movie setup.