The choice between an RV and a skoolie has been an on-going debate, and there are many things to consider. Namely, the cost of maintenance, the cost of the home, and the cost of travel.
So, is an RV or skoolie cheaper?
The short answer:
Building out a skoolie is a much more affordable and an overall cheaper endeavor than buying a comparable RV. Most RVs are unfortunately built cheap and lightweight. School busses are built to transport children so they are built like a tank – heavy and durable. Skoolies can not be beat when it comes to quality, safety, and reliability.
Skoolie vs RV
For the longest time, RVs have been the favorite (and only!) option for those looking to travel in a vehicle. Skoolies have been around for awhile, but they’ve recently grown in popularity, thanks in part to social media platforms. Skoolies are typically built with higher-quality materials and are the safer vehicle when it comes to crashes, due to the metal frame.
William, from the DIY Bus Guy, stated that he plans on going even further and using materials like formaldehyde free plywood, anti-fungal coating, and no VOC paint to make their bus as safe as possible.
Mostly, though, skoolie owners are a fan of the customization and off-grid capabilities that skoolies can have.
Many RVs have cookie cutter layouts and minimal, if any, off-grid capabilities. Skoolies are usually built around the owner’s lifestyle – whether that be a bunk room for large families, a large kitchen for cooking, a large bathroom for getting ready, etc., and often have off-grid capabilities.
Off-grid capabilities are when a vehicle does not have to be plugged into a source of power and/or water to be functional, which is a huge selling point for those looking to escape for a few weeks.
Reasons to Avoid Skoolies
It’s easy to get lost in the glamorous haze created by Instagram. While many skoolie owners can attest to the fact that there are certainly perfect, Instagram-worthy days, the reality is skoolie life can be tough and isn’t for everyone. Drew Parachinni, owner of the YouTube channel Papa Drew’s RV, stated that the stigma of skoolies can be difficult to deal with.
In fact, some RV parks will not let skoolies stay at the campground, regardless of the quality of work. The skoolie movement is growing and the skoolie lifestyle is becoming more popular, but there is still a ways to go before skoolies are fully accepted.
Reasons to Avoid RVs
School buses will generally travel hundreds of thousands of miles throughout their service lifetime. Every mile traveled has a chance that a collision or other mishap can happen. The only way to reduce the chances of injury or death to the school bus occupants is to build them beyond what is the standard for normal personally owned vehicles.
Recreational vehicles are built for traveling between camping spots and made to provide comfort while not moving. They are built to the minimum standard to be sold legally to the public just like all other vehicle manufacturers. RVs do have the RVIA to certify that the RV is safe to live in but they are not subject to crash testing the RV after it has been completed.
Some manufacturers will test the base that the RV is built on but not the fully completed model. You could end up driving something that may or may not survive a crash and that has not been tested to ensure occupant safety.
Which is Best for Full-Time Travel?
A skoolie is the best for full-time travel. Not only do skoolies have on-grid capabilities (meaning the ability to plug into RV parks), but they usually have off-grid capabilities as well. Because of this, it is not necessary to stay at campgrounds and therefore lodging costs are cheaper and/or nonexistent.
As mentioned previously, there is the fact that some RV campgrounds do not accept skoolies, but this can be due to a lot of factors. For example, my husband and I traveled in a nice, 2001 Winnebago a few years ago.
When calling around to search for a place to stay, we found that some campgrounds would not accept our RV due to its age, while others made an exception based on the pictures that I sent. If you take the extra step of sending pictures beforehand, it’s possible that the campground may accept you.
How to Find a Cheap Skoolie Conversion
Skoolie conversions can be found in many places. Potential skoolie owners can choose to purchase an already converted one from places like Bus Life Adventure, Facebook Marketplace, or Craiglist. Another option is to use a skoolie conversion company like Phoenix Skool Buses or Paved to Pines, though custom conversions from skoolie building companies tend to be more expensive.
The cheapest option would be to purchase a school bus from auction sites like govdeals.com or Purple Wave and convert it from the beginning, but this may not be an option for people depending on time and skills available.
How Much Does the Average Skoolie Cost?
Skoolie cost can vary widely depending on the scope of the project. There are so many ways to customize your skoolie, from the length of your bus to the floor plan to the type of materials you choose to use.
Daniel, the owner of Adventure With Thor, states that he has found that building a skoolie ranges from $15K to $35K, depending on the amenities.
To have a skoolie built by a company that is four-season, off-grid capable will vary from company to company, but generally range from $70K to $120K. With the unpredictable market we have right now, that cost could change at any time as prices for basic home building supplies fluctuate.
Is it Better to Live in a Van or Bus?
In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to live the nomadic lifestyle, and many full-time travelers would agree with me. It is simply a matter of matching your lifestyle with your mode of transportation. When deciding between bus life or van life there are a few questions that should be asked.
- Which vehicle would best support the size of my family? A family of 8 could not easily fit into a sprinter van.
- Which is more valuable to me – space or parking availability? Typically there is more parking available for a smaller vehicle.
- Do I care about being inconspicuous? School buses that have been modified tend to stand out, as it is unusual to see a non-yellow school bus with solar panels, mini splits. Etc. Sprinter vans are a more incognito mode of traveling.
There are other things to consider as well, like the amount of money that will be spent on gas, the cost of maintenancing the vehicle, and the cost of the vehicle itself.
Why Are School Buses Safer Than RVs?
All vehicles on the road in the United States must conform to the minimum build and safety standards as set forth by codes and laws. School buses are held to higher standards than other vehicles because they carry large numbers of children to and from school and other school related events/activities.
School districts cannot afford to have the parents of their students lose faith in their ability to safely transport their pupils, whereas RVs are not under the same scrutiny. You’ll find within the Code of Federal Regulations for school buses – the rollover specs, the bus body joint strength requirements, and school bus passenger seating and crash protection regulations.
How Long Does it Take to Build A Skoolie?
The length of time that it takes for a skoolie to be built depends on numerous factors like whether it is being professionally built or DIYed, the amount of experience with construction the DIYer or builder has, and the amount of time that can be committed to building the skoolie.
Eli and Amber, DIYers and owners of the Parish Skoolie, stated that their build has taken them three and a half years so far, and they are still working on completing it. They also mention that building a skoolie is not for the faint-hearted, as the work required has far exceeded their expectations.
If the skoolie is being built by a skoolie building company, it can typically be built in 3-6 months, depending on the amenities. In summary, if you are a DIYer, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the build to take at least twice as long as expected.
By – Sabrina Bosserman
Sabrina Bosserman, a NOAH-certified tiny home builder and MBA candidate, is the co-owner and operator of Phoenix Skool Buses, a tiny home building company. Using her expertise acquired as a nuclear engineer in the Navy, Sabrina has helped over fifteen clients fulfill their dreams of traveling the country in a tiny home over the past three years.
After living tiny on a skoolie–a school bus converted into a tiny home–and an aircraft carrier, Sabrina excels at building a functional, tiny space. When she’s not running her six-figure business, Sabrina can be found educating her thousands of social media followers on the inner workings of her company’s primary build: skoolies.
She has been featured on multiple podcasts as well as tiny house platforms such as Tiny Living and Tiny Home Tours. She was also a guest speaker at the Great American Tiny House Show. Sabrina currently resides in East Texas with her business partner (more specifically, her husband) and two impish cats.
Up Next In Skoolies:
Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Skoolie? (Bus Conversion FAQs)
10 Most Common Skoolie Conversion Mistakes
School Bus Conversion Companies: 10 Crowd Favorites
What Sizes Do School Buses Come In? (Bus Conversion Notes)
Sabrina Bosserman is a former mechanic in the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program. She is the co-owner and operator of Phoenix Skool Buses, a tiny home building company. She’s been to over 20 different countries, and uses those experiences to breathe life into the skoolies that Phoenix Skool Buses build; from the layout to the decor. She has been featured on multiple podcasts as well as tiny house platforms such as Tiny Living and Tiny Home Tours. She was also a guest speaker at the Great American Tiny House Show. She is currently obtaining her MBA and loves to spend her down-time with a good book.