How do we make money on the road? Our Mobile Income Overview…

How do we make money on the road? Our Mobile Income Overview…

One of the most common mobile lifestyle questions we get asked is, “How do you make money on the road?”

I often wondered this myself about how other nomads sustain their mobile lifestyle out on the road in buses, vans and everything in-between. They make it look so easy!

 

The short answer

For Ben and I, the short answer for is with my freelance work in business coaching and design and with Ben’s work on our blog and affiliate income.

We are members of the Amazon affiliates program. We curate a looooong list of favorite products we’ve used in our bus build and every day life on our Influencer page here. We earn a small commission on purchases of our recommended gear at no cost to you. Pretty cool!

 

The longer answer

The longer answer to how we manage this lifestyle sustainably is in part that we paid off all our debt and simplified our lifestyle and expenses therein WELL in advance.

About a year before quitting our full-time jobs, we developed some mobile income skills (my marketing business) and saved up money that we were no longer putting toward loan payments (yay debt freedom!).

The goal was flexibility and to reduce the risk of this (or any) lifestyle leap. We did all of this over the course of five years before leaving our full-time jobs.

Phew. Not to say you have to do it that way, there are so many ways to make this lifestyle work, that’s just how we went about it.

It’s all about YOUR comfort level and tolerance for uncertainty and risk. For us, it was pretty low so we chose to honor that and prepare accordingly.

 

wild drive life ben and meag

 

How do we sustain our nomadic lifestyle in the bus?

Update November 2019: Ben’s industry (woodworking & renovations) required a lot of tools that we didn’t take with us on the road. Ben REALLY missed his craft. This is one of the many reasons we chose to be stationary for a while in New England.

Most of our income while we traveled (Jan 2018 – June 2019) came from my (Meag) marketing business. I’m a business coach and designer. I work with small businesses and personal brands on their marketing strategy, branding, websites and more.

Our Blog!

Another part of our income is generated from our blog (Google AdSense ads and affiliate marketing) that you’re reading right now.

We use Bluehost for domain registration and web hosting. I’ve built countless websites now for clients since 2013 and would highly recommend using Bluehost. They’re one of the oldest, largest and most affordable web hosting companies. Full disclosure I’m a proud affiliate of Bluehost!! Any questions about my experience? Reach out!

 

Google Adsense places relevant ads on our website. It’s pretty easy to setup but you do need to have a steady amount of traffic and content to begin with in order to be approved to display ads on your website. I think a good rule of thumb is to wait a few months after launch at least.

Ben is such a great writer, his how-to and informational posts are actually really fun to read, like our tiny wood stove post or this on on how we insulated our bus. They’re often our most popular on the blog. I write about the financial aspects of our lifestyle and share my plant based healthy recipes.

This percentage of our income is always growing but it took time (about a year) to see anything substantial come from the blog, just as an FYI. It might be quicker if you put your full focus on building an audience and creating content consistently.

Amazon Affiliates

Like I mentioned, we are Amazon.com affiliates which means if you see product links on our website and decide to purchase them from Amazon (at no additional cost or effort to you!) we get a small commission from the sale/recommendation. Thanks in advance!!

Other Affiliate Relationships

We also have affiliate relationships with a few brands like:

Tiny Wood Stove

Berkey Water Filters

WeBoost Signal Boosters

Jackery Portable Battery Systems

We adore and use the above in our bus every day.

We ONLY recommend products we love and use, we want all our readers to know that.

It’s just easier to write about that way and resonates more with us. We’re cheerleaders for brands and products that WORK and are that right blend of useful quality and affordable price.

I’ve been asked by our crew on Instagram @wilddrivelife to write about my experience with freelancing in marketing, how I got started and all that fun stuff.

Since that’s the largest piece of our traveling mobile income pie, I thought I’d dive into some tips and questions to help YOU in your research.

 

 

 

First, a Few Big Picture Notes on Freelancing:

Are you looking for a way to finance a full-time or semi-nomadic lifestyle? Do you have a stubborn desire to be your own boss? Are you looking for a bonus side hustle to supplement your full-time job and add more to your savings?

Freelancing accomplished all of these things for me personally. It’s evolving every day and don’t be scared if you change your mind about what you want to focus on, like I do. Hah.

Whether you aim to write, design, consult, coach or do something creative in-between — there are dozens of options to explore when it comes to freelancing, remote work and generating a mobile income online in general terms. You could even argue there are TOO many options! I certainly feel that way sometimes.

 

CAN I DO THIS?!

The major roadblock for me to dip my toes into work OUTSIDE of the traditional W-2 was basic fear of the unknown, fear of failure and the BIG question of where to begin.

Can I even make this work?! How do I charge what I’m worth and exceed expectations? Where do I find clients that will trust me when I’m first starting out?!

It can be both intimidating and overwhelming. I feel your pain!

I hope that my non-traditional, follow your gut, DIY to freelance story helps in YOUR personal journey.

We all start from a different place and have different skills, but we can all learn from each other’s experiences. Take bits and pieces, shape them to fit your situation and goals and GO FOR IT.

Go for it then write me an email about how you went for it!

 

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is a term commonly used for a person who is self-employed and is not necessarily committed to a particular employer long-term.

Remote-work is typically more of a traditional W-2 employee situation for a specific company. You get to work your job from home or from the road wherever you choose. We’ve met a lot of tiny dwellers and people living a mobile lifestyle who work remotely for a company. They still have benefits, vacation time, etc. they just get to work from anywhere. Amaaaazing, if you ask me!

 

What fields of work can be done remotely?

MOST jobs/tasks involving a computer can be done remotely.

The bulk of my freelance work is in marketing and branding. This includes web and graphic design, print media design, copywriting, consulting and strategy, social media, etc. but so many diverse fields can be applied to a remote working situation.

 

Personal Branding Quick Tips:

  • Be versatile. Never stop learning.
  • Sharpen your intuition.
  • Anticipate needs.
  • Be essential.
  • BE YOURSELF.

Why should someone choose to work with you over the thousands of other freelancers in my field, many times offering a lower rate for the same services? What makes YOUR brand special?

I want people I work with to know that THEY MATTER TO ME because they do. This applies to our approach to this blog and our social media platforms too.

Whether you’re in marketing, hospitality, retail or anything dealing with people, really, you’re in the people business. You should first and foremost hone in your skills of COMMUNICATION, empathy, and intuition.

 

Books you May Find Helpful for Inspiration:

Click the links to view them on Amazon & support our blog efforts!…

 

Alright, let’s dig in to some questions I’ve been asked about freelancing this past year.

 

• Do you have a degree in marketing or social media or were you able to just get started in it organically?

 

I have a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. Not exactly marketing but the foundation of detail oriented, analytical thinking has been a huge help in my career so far.

The love for and skills in marketing came from work experience. There was an opportunity to take on that role within the 350-site southern Maine camping resort I managed and I dove in with a smile.

I taught myself the Adobe Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator) over the course of a few years on the job, very gradually. I wasn’t great at first, learning the programs was frustrating but I LOVED it. That’s the key, you have to enjoy it to keep working at it, especially if it’s challenging.

I observed others, A LOT. I read articles, kept up with statistics and trends in marketing and applied pieces of everything to my personal approach and exploration of branding.

 

Through that journey I was able to grow the campground’s social media following by 300% over two years. I leveraged email marketing and social media branding to raise us from #8 to #1 on Trip Advisor, gaining hundreds of authentic reviews to strengthen our brand loyalty.

 

I learned how important it is to be:

  • Consistent
  • Authentic
  • Creative

 

• What do you do for remote work?

Five years after creating my first print ad for Downeast Magazine in Photoshop (it wasn’t great but I was proud!) I now offer clients a range of personalized marketing services. I focus on tourism small businesses and non-profits since that’s where my experience and passion is too. I love helping small businesses with:

  • Web Design
  • Marketing/Branding Strategy (digital marketing plans, rebranding campaigns, etc.)
  • Print & Digital Design (magazines/layouts, logos, advertising, print media)

I am not a coder. I prefer to leave that to the experts because I don’t enjoy that type of work, to be honest. There are dozens of options to create a customized website for clients without diving too deep into the code. Knowledge of the basics and the ability to problem solve/research has been more than sufficient to date. Some clients want to be able to easily manage and edit their own website. Others are like, “Nope… just make it beautiful and functional, I don’t want to touch it.”

The other services I offer are unique to the client, their starting point and their goals.

 

• Any tips on Getting Started as a Freelancer?

 

  • Learn on the job, if you can. What skills can you gather before going out on your own?
  • Explore free education opportunities.
  • Build a network (even if it’s really small at first).
  • MAKE THAT FIRST PITCH!
  • Choose the right clients (there may be some trial & error here…)

It’s hard to gauge the viability of your self employment dreams before you test things out and give yourself a dang chance.

I learned on the job and tested my marketing skills out for three years before feeling confident enough to pitch my first web design proposal to a tourism related non-profit. I watched A LOT of YouTube videos and read through countless blogs and articles. What more can you learn NOW?

That first project felt like the right fit and right timing. Even then I was like, “CAN I DO THIS?!” If you’re thinking that, trust me… you’re not alone. It’s scary. But what’s the worst that could happen, honestly?

A year prior to that first pitch, I was invited to join the marketing committee at that same non-profit. It helped build the face-to-face relationship and I think, earn me a YES on that first pitch. Having a network to build from is really nice. You can always start with your friends and family

Forging that connection helped spread the word about my energy and personalized approach to helping small businesses and non-profits with their marketing. Word of mouth is SO CRUCIAL. They’re still a major client of mine today and I get a lot of referrals from them.

You HAVE to be willing to try and *gasp* be told, “No, thanks.”. If you’re YOU and you believe in what you offer than you WILL get a yes. Sometimes it’s not so much about getting any client to pick you but YOU seeking out the right clients. Use your gut and do some digging.

 

 

• What were your initial goals with freelancing?

 

My initial goals were to expand my skills in marketing and prove to myself that I could earn income outside of a W-2.

When I secured my first website design project, we were still paying off our student loan debt. We didn’t have the bus or the plans to do what we’re currently doing. I knew the best (least risky) choice was to keep a full-time gig until our financial equation improved. Bonus if I’m able to make this side hustle work and help us reach out debt-free goal even sooner.

At the time freelancing was simply an effort to manifest my inner desire for new challenges/growth; to test things out. I had been with the campground for almost four years, I was itching to expand my experience.

Don’t be afraid if your goals/vision evolves over time. The important thing is that you’re giving yourself a chance.

 

How do you best prepare to freelance in a field?

 

  • Evaluate the market/potential clients/competitors.
  • Evaluate your current skills and toolkit. What do you need to do the work and do it well?
  • Develop YOUR brand. What makes YOU a better choice than the web designer across town or someone offering 1/2 the rate on E-lance?
  • LEARN as much as humanly possible about your field.

You’ll probably still feel underprepared at times but learning is half the fun. Build a foundation of tools, favorite blogs, apps, websites, etc. for information and tips on your field. Google “Best (insert your field of interest here) newsletters to subscribe to”. For example, “Best content marketing newsletters to subscribe to”

 

Any app suggestions for timekeeping, invoicing, etc.?

Get an app and routine down for timekeeping and accounting. You don’t want to have to stress about these things.

I use Toggl for tracking projects and billable hours. About half of my work is project based, half is hourly. This mix will be all up to you, my friends!

I use Wave to create invoices, take payments (fees are comparable to PayPal and the like) and track business expenses for tax time. Wave is free to use minus the credit card processing fees when clients pay you online. I also love their reports (receivables, income statements, etc.).

I’ll add a full list of resources at the end of this blog post.

 

How do you find clients?

Most of my clients come from word of mouth or very casual networking.

By networking I simply mean I meet people in our travels or via social media, we chat and somehow what I do for work comes up and sometimes leads to a job.

Networking events are a GREAT option, too.

My first freelance client was a Chamber of Commerce which is a non-profit made up of a large network of small businesses. This was GREAT because I got a lot of word of mouth referrals as a result and still do.

I can’t speak personally for online freelance job board resources like 99Designs or Fiverr, but I’ll post a few sites like this at the end of this post in the resources section.

You have to start somewhere. My suggestion is to begin with your personal network and branch out as you go.

 

How do you decide what to charge for an hourly/project rate?

First I researched the hourly rate and project rate ranges in my field online. Typically you can get a feel for what you should charge based on the range and where you fall in terms of experience/skill. I charge more now than I did in 2016. As you build your portfolio and credibility, you can increase your rates.

I also ask myself HOW difficult/simple the project will be, estimate the number of hours it’ll take and go from there.

Another thing you could start with is what you’re currently getting paid at your job (are you happy or unhappy with that figure?). There are also other benefits beyond your rate/salary that sometimes we forget about factoring in. Your employer pays half of your FICA taxes (social security and medicare), potentially your healthcare, vacation time, etc. — You are (hopefully) withholding income taxes automatically each pay period as well. All of that valuable stuff will be up to you if you’re out on your own.

This is why a side hustle or remote work for a specific company is are attractive options for flexibility and stability. Maybe these options are a better match to start with or pursue long term. It’s all about what feels right for YOU and what works with your lifestyle and goals.

For now, freelancing is a simple and comfortable option for me as we explore this short-term nomadic leap of ours. This may change in the future and that’s okay! 🙂

I’m just mentioning all this to give you different angles to mull over.

 

 

Is it hard to find Wi-Fi? Is a mobile hotspot sufficient on the road?

 

It’s can be difficult to find Wi-Fi but it all depends on your travels and what type of work you’re doing. There are free and low-cost Wi-Fi options at truck stops, cafés, etc. if you’re near major highways and towns.

If our goal is to boondock for two weeks in the Arizona desert, I’m probably not going to get as much work done because a lot of what I do requires a strong internet connection. If we’re planning to stay with family or friends for a while — SCORE, let’s get to work. We plan ahead for these things.

I’ve used my personal hotspot with success during our travels, but it does get hung up and frustrating with functions beyond the basic email/web search.

CELLULAR SIGNAL BOOSTER REVIEW (updated February 2019)

We recently upgraded our mobile internet connectivity setup with a cell signal booster from WeBoost — what a difference! It enhances our signal strength even in more remote locations. We have their Drive 4GX-RV cellular signal booster.

When you’re in remote locations, there are only so many cell phone towers and everyone is trying to feed off the same signal. It’s not perfect but having our cell booster makes a big difference.

FMI on WeBoost cell signal boosters, read our full product review blog here.

 

How did you find the time and energy to start your own business while working a full-time job? (Before bus life!)

Start SMALL.

Choose one skill or one client to start a relationship with and build from there. Don’t overwhelm yourself right off the bat thinking that you should have a full roster of clients and six figures of income right away. Things take time. Things take effort.

I started with ONE website for a client and gave it my all in my free time outside of my very demanding full-time job at the time.

That job/client led to other work through word of mouth and about 8 months later I left my 50+ hour/week job for another position in marketing that was only 32 hours a week.

This transition and additional free time allowed for me to dip a few more toes into the freelance game. 12 months after that I was full-time on my own traveling this beautiful country of ours in a bus with my BOYS. Ben and Moose, of course.

Be patient with yourself. If you have that voice inside and real desire to work for yourself then work through a one to five year plan to get there. You’re worth it.

 

Staying organized — How do you switch your brain between different projects? Any scheduling tools or apps to suggest?

I honestly still struggle with this a bit and I think the experience will be unique to you and your situation.

The first step is getting to know how long certain projects/jobs take you. That’s where the timekeeping apps come in handy. Once you have an idea you can start to categorize your project load based on priority (deadlines) and time.

I’m a fan of knocking out quick projects that come my way early in the morning when my mind is swimming with the day ahead. That way, I don’t let things slip for weeks because they’re “easy”. I can focus on larger projects for the bulk of my work day.

MAKE LISTS. I’m a fan of simple, personally. I keep a list in notes on iCloud (available on all my devices!) And keep track of quick progress notes, deadlines etc. in there. It’s quick and easy.

There are a ton of project management apps out there to track your clients and the various projects you have going on for them too, if that’s more your thing. I’ll post a full list of resources at the end of this post.

Segment your day if you can, it helps. Just because you’re not going to an office doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a schedule and time limits on certain tasks.

Know when to shut it off, too. Set boundaries with email and text responses. Take days off. Plan around the weather! 🙂

 

Is freelancing enough to cover your living expenses in the bus?

Yes. I was REALLY scared at first that it wouldn’t be. I’m such a type-a budget conscious penny pincher at heart. A risk like leaving our jobs and traveling the country did not come naturally to me.

Thankfully Ben has faith and vision enough for the both of us! We also prepared financially by paying off ALL of our debt, finishing the bus with CASH and saving up a nestegg before departure.

Trust me, you don’t want to live tiny AND stress about money. That’s just no fun.

We started living this way in January 2018 after leaving our full-time jobs a month prior. Cut to now and we’re able to sustain everything and save via freelancing, Ben’s rockstar blogging and our affiliate revenue. How long will we do this? Well, I don’t know, but it’s a neat way to experience life for now.

We also have some REALLY great online guides and apparel designs we’re working on for you guys too to build & diversify our income and offerings further. Always evolving.

 

Final Thoughts

Remember, the hardest part is starting, pushing GO. Give yourself a chance. Especially in a field like something online where there is SUCH little risk or start up cost, why not?!

You can ALWAYS try new things, diversify, pivot, fail, try again, etc. — Nothing about designing your income outside of the 9-5 is easy, I won’t lie to you.

It’s hard. It tests you.

But it’s also a lot of fun.

 

RESOURCES & HOMEWORK from Meag:

 

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF to help hone in your specialty and target market.

WRITE THESE DOWN & really think about the answers.

Keep them safe and review them in a couple of weeks, a month, three months. How have things changed/evolved?

  • Who could benefit most from what you have to offer?
  • What type of business/clients would you enjoy working with? Describe them.
  • What are the top three functions/tasks you’d like to focus on in your freelance work?
  • What are three things you enjoy doing and would do for free? Can any of them be applied to work?
  • What are three skills you would LOVE to learn more about?

 

Few job posting networks to scope out for freelance clients/projects:

 Few free apps for organization, timekeeping and invoicing:

If you enjoyed this post and learned something from it, please consider donating a few bucks to our blog to keep us writing these types of resource rich posts. We’re here to help YOU.

 

Here are those inspo. books again. Get reading & get creating!

Click the links to view them on Amazon & support our blog efforts!…

Sending LOVE and a high five from the road.

xo – Meag

How much did our bus conversion cost? Planning & preparation for a mobile lifestyle…

How much did our bus conversion cost? Planning & preparation for a mobile lifestyle…

How much does a bus conversion cost?

Updated 10.20.20

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, “How much did your bus conversion cost?”

The costs and investment associated with a bus conversion varies widely. It can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to six figure builds. The latter blows my mind! The project cost depends on your preferences, goals and vision for the purpose of your tiny home on wheels. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated or cost prohibitive. It’s all about what works for you and speaks to you.

For us, the answer is multi-faceted and begins with how we prepared financially prior to starting the project. Financial impact is often a CRUCIAL consideration when taking on a bus conversion project. It certainly was for us.

A school bus conversion (or in our case a prison bus!) is no simple task or one to venture into lightly; it requires planning, patience, time and funds if you want it done (and it’s never really “done”) right. At the same time the benefits of experience, skills and memories are so worth it. I can say that with confidence now.

Building this bus completely changed us for the better.

Now we’ll dig into approximately what we invested into our 1989 Chevy prison bus conversion and how we prepared to quit our 9-5 jobs to travel and live in our bus full-time for two years. I kept pretty close track of purchases, but, I did have to estimate on some figures. This should just give a general idea of what it took to build our bus.

wild drive life bus conversion cost summary
The view of our bus conversion from the back to front. We decided to keep the metal gate/door up front and attach the passenger seat to it out front. Handy feature!

Investment Summary:

It took us about FIVE YEARS to buckle down and achieve the following while we still worked our full-time jobs in Maine:

  • We paid off + $100,000 in debt (student loans, vehicle).
  • We saved $50,000 to act as a cushion during a one to two year full-time living and travel period (2018 – 2020). We weren’t sure how the mobile income thing would go, so…
  • We invested $26,500 in bus conversion cost (mostly spent from 2017 – 2019) as we built the bus and prepared to hit the road in early 2018. The bus was NOT fully done but that’s fine!

These were our personal numbers and goals, but people go about things in many ways.

It’s all about what feels right for YOU.

bus conversion cost breakdown skoolie

Alternative Living Roots

Our overall lifestyle design values mobility, health, travel, flexibility and freedom along with financial stability.

Beginning our alternative living journey is not something we did on a whim. That said, we always knew we didn’t quite fit into the traditional set of steps and boxed thinking around us.

In 2013, after Ben and I got married, we shared a combined $80,000 of student loan debt. We also purchased two vehicles together, one in 2012, the other in 2014, adding another +$25,000 to that figure.

We started modifying our lifestyle, working our tails off and paying things off aggressively and strategically. Life is easier without debt, I’ll just say it. It’s a worthy goal to work towards. In October 2016 we made our last student loan payment. You can read more about how we paid off our debt in our free Lifestyle Finance Guide.

In February 2017 we made our last vehicle loan payment and became 100% debt free.

Debt Free Foundation

I didn’t feel prepared or at peace about quitting our jobs and dealing with a period of uncertainty without removing debt from the equation. I’m thankful that we went this way. We didn’t have to stress about making payments while also navigating an entirely new way of living.

Going through this debt payoff process also taught us an extreme sense of self control. It helped us develop habits and a low overhead lifestyle that makes nomadic living sustainable and stress free.

Quality over Quantity

We also learned the difference between WANT and NEED. Sounds simple, but really, are we conscious enough of our purchases and how they affect our goals? Growing our awareness in all areas shaped what elements combine into a unique and interesting life that’s healthy, fulfilling, and meaningful. We spend a lot of time outdoors, and for the most part that’s free. We also don’t drink alcohol anymore, which we estimate used to cost us thousands each year.

Minimalism is not about deprivation it’s about prioritization. Whatever that blend is, build a life around it and find a way to achieve and maintain it.

In the six months leading up to our departure we minimized our belongings EXTENSIVELY. We sold over $2,000 worth of random household stuff that we convinced ourselves we needed for years. Let me tell you something, I honestly don’t miss any of it. We held on to what we use and touch on a weekly basis, everything else isn’t a priority.

CHOOSING and BUYING OUR BUS

how much does a bus conversion cost tiny home

A bus was not originally part of our equation. 

In February 2016, we were more than half way through our student loan debt payment track and feeling like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We also started to build up our savings well over our buffer (3-6 months of living expenses).

We knew with complete certainty that we wanted to live DEBT FREE, travel and experience life on our terms. It was really simple. We started plotting and dreaming about our post-debt existence. We browsed different restoration projects and mobile living options that fit how we wanted to live (trailers, campers, tiny houses, vans, etc.).

We came across an elaborate Craigslist listing for a 31 foot 1989 Chevy retired prison bus and drove to MA to check it out. On the advice of others, we asked a ton of questions, looked under the chassis and under the hood extensively and knew right away we found something great. Check out Ben’s guide for more information on bus buying tips.

It was listed for $10,000, we settled on $8,000 cash.

Pricy for the used bus market, I know. Hear me out. It had a Cummings Onan 8000 generator with only 200 hours on it. It also had shore power and electrical wired throughout with a handful of outlets ready to rock. The body was also in EXCELLENT condition, and it only had 19,000 miles on it. So, overall, well worth the investment in our eyes.

BUS CONVERSION PROJECT EXPENSES

bus conversion expenses wild drive life

Keeping Costs Down

  • Patience and creativity are key with keeping conversion costs down.
  • There are certain things we DID NOT skimp on but other major areas we opted for second hand (and in many cases free) materials as much as possible.
  • Ben managed a reclaimed lumber company which helped with material cost. We also were given a lot of amazing things or through luck and great timing found screaming deals.
  • I managed a campground that helped us TREMENDOUSLY with a place to park and work on our bus conversion project safely. We also found a couple of friends willing to let us park the beast at their place during the summer months; even when it was still scary looking! Others lent us air compressors, their elbow grease and more. They all ROCK! This was HUGE and relieved a great deal of stress. Thanks, Friends!
  • Individual project costs will vary. You do you. 🙂
bus conversion cost tiny home wood stove
wild drive life bus conversion project cost tiny home

TOOLS: $1,000

This was a broad, long term investment and crucial element to all projects; custom carpentry, plumbing, insulation. It could be omitted from the total because we’re KEEPING these tools. We have used them for other things and will continue to use them for life and now (2020) our house renovation!

Depending on your situation, you may be able to borrow or rent tools, etc. Don’t underestimate how many different tools and supplies you’ll need to work on a bus though. IT’S CRAZY!

MISCELLANEOUS SUPPLIES: $850

Insulation, caulking, hardware, etc. the little stuff that somehow adds up to CRAZY TOTALS online shopping or at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

LUMBER: $900

We sourced in bulk whenever possible, planning ahead. We used mostly reclaimed or solid wood; standard plywood and 2x’s for subfloor, framing, built-in carcasses.

PAINT: $900

Exterior & interior. We saved +$10,000 by painting the outside ourselves. The professional quotes to paint our bus were outrageous but understandable given the massive undertaking that is body work and prep.

FUN FACT: It took us four weeks to prep the bus and complete body work and only FOUR HOURS to actually paint it. How crazy is that?!

It took us four weekends to prepare the body, and only four hours to do the actual paint job. We used a three part automotive paint and a spray gun with a compressor to prime and paint. SURE, it could have been done more perfectly, but, saving $10,000 is pretty great.

APPLIANCES, FIXTURES, FURNITURE: $1,600 ish

Our bus is SIMPLE, open concept, everything is custom built by us. That’s the style we like and how we live.

Basically everything you see in the bus that’s not part of a system or a built-in is included here. We thrifted and craigslisted a lot, but some things you just have to purchase new.

Mattress – $600

Lighting – $150

Water Filter – $288

Butane cooktop –$30

Refrigerator – $100

Safety alarms – $50

Fabric (couch & curtains) & cushions – $400

HOT WATER SYSTEM & PLUMBING: $1,450 ish 

We have a reclaimed southern yellow pine tub/shower built over the wheel well (next to the foot of the bed) as well as a double-bay sink in the kitchen.

Please use caution when installing and setting up this part of your conversion, well with everything, honestly. 🙂 Ben did extensive research and planning to make sure we were doing things safely. It’s worth it.

Tankless on Demand Hot Water Heater – $250

Propane regulator – $14

Water Pump – $70

Gray & Fresh Water Tanks – $300 (eBay)

Faucet w/ sprayer (IMO — essential!) – we bought this locally on sale, no link! 🙁 – $75

Double bay sink – only $5 at the local ReStore – don’t knock it till you HAVE ONE, IT’S THE BEST. I had a tiny little hand wash sink at first to be all minimalist about it, that only lasted a week.

Plumbing, tubing, connectors, fixtures, random trips to the store x 10: $700

WOOD STOVE & TILE HEARTH: $1,405 total (includes cost of hearth)

We love our 4kw Dwarf wood stove from tinywoodstove.com. Ben always jokes that he built our bus AROUND the wood stove; it’s our favorite piece. We’ve used it on several Maine nights during a particularly awful cold snap and it kept us cozy with a mid-night stoke. It burns clean.

See more on their website — Tiny Wood Stove

tinywoodstove affiliate wild drive life
Get a free surprise gift with your wood stove purchase!

COMPOSTING TOILET: $1,030

We simply didn’t want to cut corners here – 100% worth it. The toilet fan runs off our solar and it is odorless when we’re parked, seriously. When we drive, sometimes there’s a fun waft of toilet smell if the wind hits the bus just right, but, meh. Such is bus life. Sometimes you have to deal with poop.

I’m amazed that you can buy an awesome composting toilet right on Amazon, with Prime shipping, no less.

Two Year Update (2020): We used our trusty composting toilet full-time in the bus and I have to say, we didn’t hate it. SURE, it requires maintenance that’s atypical of normal house-dwelling life, but the benefit of water savings and not having a black tank outweighs the funk. That said, indoor plumbing is the dream! 🙂

REPAIRS & MAINTENANCE (to date): $4,450

This includes preventative care & maintenance we do ourselves as well as inspection, oil changes, alignment, etc.

September 2018 update: We replaced ALL SIX of our tires. Always check the manufacturing date on your tires if you’re buying/converting an older bus, inspect for signs of dry rot.

Our tires are still in good condition but for safety we decided to replace them. THIS IS NOT CHEAP. They cost $2,500 installed with an oil and filter change (factored into the total above).

SOLAR POWER: $3,900

This is our biggest investment and one we’re thankful for every single day and night. I am CHEAP you guys, but the gift of mobility and functionality ANYWHERE we go is worth it.

As I type this, from the middle of a remote prairie in southern Utah, our bus is alive with music playing on my Bose speaker that I charged via solar. My funky camel lamp, also running off solar, provides the light I need to write. Our fridge is running on solar and keeping our tasty food cool ALL DAY LONG. We’re able to go deep, go remote, ANYWHERE and make smoothies (essential!), charge our devices, light our tiny world.

We went with a tiny house solar kit (two 300W panels, 400ah AGM battery bank, etc.), which at the time was a great fit because we didn’t know what we were doing but if we were to build again I wouldn’t go this route knowing what we do now.

We found a solar wiz and he SAVED OUR BUTTS with the installation. Kits are a great option for first timers but don’t expect the company to help you with the installation.

If you need a recommendation for solar install help in the northeast, email us and I can refer you! 🙂

REGISTRATION: $575 for 16 months (NH is cool like that…)

In Maine and New Hampshire, registration fees are based off of the original MSRP of your vehicle. This is an expensive bummer in the bus conversion world.

As we develop our plans and figure out our home location we may change this to another state.

In our case (and perhaps yours too!) we’re talking about a significant MSRP figure, it’s not your standard Toyota Corolla vehicle registration.

For our bus, we settled on an MSRP estimate of $64,500.

Bus conversions are like an obscure unicorn of the vehicle registration world. “There’s no button for that!” Don’t be surprised if your town hall or DMV is a bit confused!

Other bits of information they need in order to register your bus: GVWR, which should be listed on a metal plaque near the driver’s seat and your vehicle title (if it’s not considered an antique).

Did you need to retitle the bus as an RV? No, we did not need to retitle our bus as a motorhome (yet). Our bus is so old you actually don’t need to present the title to register it. If you have a newer bus it may be beneficial, we’ve heard it is!

What about insurance? Insurance on a self-converted bus is a tough sell to any insurance company. Progressive was handling a lot of bus conversion policies but has since then dropped them, including ours. Check out National General Insurance or contact your local rep to see if they can make something work for you. Keep digging and you’ll find something!

Here’s what the bus looked like when we bought it:

Summary:

TOTAL bus conversion cost to be road ready and livable: around $18,000 +/- $500

TOTAL COST to purchase ($8,000) and convert our bus into the rolling cozy home that it is now: around $26,000

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