Living in a Short Bus: 5 Full-Timers Tell All

living in a short bus

Short bus conversions hit the sweet spot between tiny but agile vans and comfortable but unwieldy full-size buses. Of course, there are pros and cons to each type of vehicle, but in this article, I will share my experience living full-time in a short bus for over two years and we’ll hear from some other members of Team Short Bus about their experiences as well.

Our Experience Living Full-Time in a Short Bus

My partner Aaron and I bought our bus Stu (@stu.the.bus) in August of 2017 and hit the road full-time in April of 2018. In the interest of continuity, I will share our experience by answering the same questions that I asked my fellow buslifers.

How did you choose a short bus over all other vehicles?

We chose a short bus for a few reasons. We spent a lot of time checking out vehicle options and tour videos on YouTube and Instagram to help us develop a list of our absolute necessities: we needed to be able to stand up inside our vehicle and have space to build in an enclosed bathroom and a permanent queen size bed platform.

We did not want to deal with trying to drive off road or park a full-size bus in cities and even used cargo vans were out of our price range, which left a short bus as our best option. Short buses were generally within our budget and they gave us the extra interior square footage over a van that allowed us to fit everything we wanted.

We also specifically looked for a van-front bus so that things like tires, maintenance, and so forth would be cheaper and easier to find.

Stu has a Ford E-450 front end and light truck tires, so we can easily go to Ford dealerships and other regular mechanic shops that work on diesel engines to get maintenance and repairs taken care of, instead of having to search out a Mercedes shop for a Sprinter or a shop with 40-foot bays for a full-size bus.

Even replacing a single tire on a big bus can cost around $400, but we have purchased lightly used light truck tires for our bus that are about $60 apiece.

What has your experience living full-time in a short bus been like so far?

It has been the best choice we’ve ever made. Sure, there are some trade-offs like not being able to shower regularly and occasionally having to sleep in suboptimal places, but the freedom is unparalleled. Not only are we free to travel wherever and do whatever we want at any time, but we also have significantly more financial freedom living in the bus. 

Previous to buslife, we lived in a $1,400-a-month apartment in the heart of Seattle, both worked 40+ hours per week, spent way too much money, and had no time to spend together or travel at all. While on the surface that may seem like a more stable life than we lead now, we always lived paycheck to paycheck and any major illness or injury would have been financially devastating.

Now, we are technically way below the national poverty line, but we just don’t need that much money. We have very few bills, our bus/house is completely paid off, and we have zero debt. This has all been very liberating.

Finally, it has been such an amazing experience to be able to explore incredible places around North America and meet like-minded people on the road. We can experience places without rushing or having an agenda, as was commonly the case whenever we took rare vacations before buslife. It allows us to slow down, really listen to people’s stories when we meet new friends, and change plans at the drop of a hat.

Overall, our experience has been incredible and we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything.

More specifically, what are some pros and cons of short bus life?

I got excited and already listed many of our biggest pros of buslife in the headings above, but the pros specifically for living in a short bus for us are that it’s the perfect balance between space and maneuverability, easy and affordable maintenance, the cost of the bus and conversion were manageable, and in my personal opinion, short buses are just badass.

We can also fit in normal parking spaces and drive through cities without too much stress.

Some cons are that even though short buses are in some cases actually shorter than cargo vans, buses are wider, slower, and heavier. Fortunately, we are never really in a rush to get places, but sometimes I have brief daydreams about what it would be like to go 60 mph uphill…

Also, the bus doesn’t have a passenger seat, so the person who isn’t driving (99% of the time that’s me) sits on the couch or the bed. That’s comfortable and all, but it’s hard to see out the windshield from there and it isn’t the safest setup in the world. 

Also, the fuel economy leaves something to be desired when compared to nimbler vans – we get 10-12 mpg whereas vans can get up to around 25 mpg (although the big boy buses sometimes get as low as 6 mpg, so at least we can feel good about that haha).

Finally, we are not stealthy really at all. This hasn’t stopped us from successfully “stealth” camping in cities occasionally, but Stu is loud, both visually and audibly.

Has a short bus been different than you thought it would be or what you expected/hoped for?

It has basically been exactly what we hoped it would be. There was certainly an adjustment period as we got used to living in the bus and got all of our systems dialed in, so the first few months were sort of a hectic whirlwind. But, two years later we are (self-proclaimed) experts and things don’t stress us out as much. 

Our hopes for buslife were that we would be able to travel all over, climb a lot, work less, hike some amazing trails, and meet incredible people. So far, the universe has 100% delivered.

If you were to do it all over again, would you choose a short bus or a different type of vehicle?

If we had unlimited money, we would probably get a MAN truck, lift it, and build a custom camper box on the back. If we just had a few thousand extra dollars, we would get a short bus with a 6’5” roof, 4×4 it, lift it, and convert it almost the same as Stu but with a few tweaks.

We definitely wouldn’t go much bigger length-wise. Overall, there are a few small things that we would have done differently in Stu if we had known then what we know now, but these are small inconveniences, certainly not deal-breakers.

Now, enough about us. Let’s hear from some other short bus full-timers.

Alyssa and Dan’s Short Bus Experience

(photo: @regretlyss)

Alyssa (@regretlyss) and Dan (@minigoesbig) live and travel in the Lucky bus and we have been fortunate enough to cross paths with them a few times. Here is what Alyssa shared with me about their experience:

How did you choose a short bus over all other vehicles?

I chose a short bus because it was compact enough to not hinder mobility, while being big enough to be a full-time home comfortably for two people. Larger rigs can take away from the experience of road life, as it can be stressful to maneuver, have more parking restrictions, etc. A short bus is perfect because it allows for a great quality of life without getting in the way.

We can park in most parking spots, and we have a short wheelbase which makes it easy for driving. We took a detour through New York City just fine. 

I considered a van initially, however vans didn’t offer as much creativity and function as a short bus in my opinion. Believe it or not our bus is shorter than some vans, and in my opinion, more functional. Not only that, but in general used short buses are cheaper than vans.

I was also drawn to the short bus over the van because it is made of steel rather than fiberglass or aluminum. The engine is also a tank. We have a Powerstroke 7.3L diesel.”

What has your experience living full-time in a short bus been like so far?

Living full-time in a short bus has been a wild ride. It’s the best. I have everything I need (and more) in my short bus. All the essentials, adventure gear, seasonal clothes, everything fits in 100 square feet. The best part is I no longer have to seek out special moments or adventures, they just fall into my lap as part of the lifestyle.

It has also allowed for a lot of personal growth and development that I think would have taken me decades to achieve in ‘normal’ life. Gaining more insight into myself, my tendencies, areas I can grow as a person, has inspired me to become a better version of myself. The bus life is not easy, effort is required almost every day. But it is extraordinarily rewarding.”

(photo: @regretlyss)

More specifically, what are some pros and cons of short bus life?

The biggest con of short bus life is the lack of stealth. We have our solar on the roof, bikes on the back, and a front door that make us pretty conspicuous. But that’s not a major drawback since we don’t prefer to stealth city camp. It’s also not as small as some vans, but the value makes up for it. 

The pros list is long. Pros that are specific to short buses are the functionality of emergency exit doors and the rooftop space for solar and deck storage. Those features really jack up the quality of living. Another major pro is the space to hold resources. We can go weeks off grid without worrying about running out of food or water.

Another pro of short buses is a lot of them, like ours, are built with a van front end chassis with the same engines that come in some trucks/vans. This makes it really easy to find a mechanic that knows our engine and can work on the bus. I may be biased, but I feel like a short bus is the max potential of usable space without almost any cons. I have a fully functioning home that I own outright.

Not many cons about that.”

Has short bus life been different than you thought it would be or what you expected/hoped for?

Even with all the preparation and research I did, I don’t think it was possible for me to know what to expect. It has definitely exceeded my expectations. It has also been more challenging. The first 4-6 months is an adjustment period, as you begin to rethink almost every aspect of life (safety, resource consumption, budgeting, the environment, etc.).

But once you make it past the adjustment period it’s hard to imagine living differently. I’ve realized that this lifestyle challenges people in different ways. I know my partner Dan and I were challenged differently. It’s really what you make it out to be. I’m more grateful every day to live this life.”

(photo: @regretlyss)

If you were going to do it all over again, would you choose a short bus or a different type of vehicle?

9 out of 10 chance I would stick with a short bus. I definitely would not go any bigger.”

Brittany’s Short Bus Experience

(photo: @whereis_brittany)

Brittany (@whereis_brittany) is a full-time student AND she is currently working on a major kitchen renovation in her bus Domino, but she kindly took the time to share her experience with me:

How did you choose a short bus over all other vehicles?

I initially wanted a cargo van, one I was able to stand up in until I saw my very first Nomadic Movement video on YouTube. I loved the space they had and the fact that it still fit into a regular parking spot.”

What has your experience living full-time in a short bus been like so far?

Prior to Covid, I was living 75% of the time in Domino (that’s her name). I enjoyed it but I wasn’t as adventurous as I wanted to be. Being a solo female you’re always on guard and carry a little bit of anxiety with you while you’re on the road. I think as time progressed towards Covid peak time, I was starting to really get the hang of things.”

(photo: @whereis_brittany)

More specifically, what are some pros and cons of short bus life?

Pros – super wide (8.5 ft x 11ft living space), I can fit in a regular spot, I don’t have a governor so she goes 72 mph comfortably.

Cons – 35 gallon tank with 11 mpg, hard to find mechanics in San Francisco because of her height, she beeps when i back her up.”

Has short bus life been different than you thought it would be or what you expected/hoped for? 

I think I expected a lot of the hardship that initially came with this lifestyle, I watched tons of “why I hate vanlife videos.” I moved in before I had my solar/water set up, I struggled with mechanical issues, and I was too alert to enjoy the lifestyle in the beginning. But now that things are working and my remodel is coming along, it makes all the struggles worth it.”

(photo: @whereis_brittany)

If you were going to do it all over again, would you choose a short bus or a different type of vehicle? 

I think I would keep the short bus, but convert it to 4×4 and lift it up a bit. I’d love to get Domino to more secluded spots.”

Sheena and Nate’s Short Bus Experience

(photo: @the_roaming_home)

Sheena, Nate, and their adorable pup Luna live full-time in their bus Stud (@the_roaming_home). Here’s what they shared about their short bus experience:

How did you choose a short bus over all other vehicles?

“We chose a short bus because of the size. It fits perfectly in a parking space.  We also wanted a five-window to maximize the interior space and for the extra door in the back.”

What has your experience living full-time in a short bus been like so far?

“It’s been awesome. We feel that we are welcomed most everywhere we go. People really enjoy seeing the bus. The living situation is nice. We feel that it’s like a small apartment on wheels.”

(photo: @the_roaming_home)

More specifically, what are some pros and cons of short bus life?

“Pros: We can drive practically anywhere and have a beautiful view right from our bedroom windows. We have our home everywhere we go, like when we go to the beach we just walk a few steps and we are back at home. We feel like we can stay longer at the places we visit and don’t feel like we have to rush to get back home because our home is just in the parking lot a few feet away. 

Cons: Lack of privacy! Pretty much every day we have someone come up to us and ask us about our bus. It’s okay some days, but others we just want to be incognito. The next biggest con would be that we don’t have a conventional toilet. We mostly use public restrooms but when we are off grid we use a camp toilet which means we have to carry our black water with us until we find a place to dump it.”

Has short bus life been different than you thought it would be or what you expected/hoped for? 

“Having done vanlife, buslife has been pretty much what we expected. We just have to be more strategic about where we park overnight with the bus as compared to the van.”

(photo: @the_roaming_home)

If you were going to do it all over again, would you choose a short bus or a different type of vehicle? 

“We would definitely choose a short bus again. We love our little home on wheels.”

Christina’s Short Bus Experience

(photo: @christinahadly)

We have serendipitously run into Christina (@christinahadly) on two separate occasions on the road and have had some excellent adventures with her. Here’s what she had to say about her short bus experience:

How did you choose a short bus over all other vehicles?

“I’d considered vanlife for a few years before I bought my skoolie. When I was looking at vans, the ones I could afford always felt like they required a big compromise: too short to stand up in, no windows in the living space, a low ground clearance, etc. Once I learned about skoolies and how affordable they are to buy, I felt like I could have the van space of my dreams without the van price tag!”

 

Also read:

Van Life As a Solo Female Traveler

Skoolie Floor Plans: 4 Steps to YOUR Perfect Design

How To Get Insurance On a Skoolie | 3 Owners’ Stories

 

What has your experience living full-time in a short bus been like so far?

“Full-time bus life has had vivid highs and drastic lows. 

Full-time nomad life is hard in many ways. There are so many decisions to make each day: where to park, where to sleep, where to get water, where to go to the bathroom, where to get food. I get decision fatigue, which was something I didn’t expect before I lived in a vehicle. 

Last summer and fall was my favorite time in the bus. The weather was great (no worrying about snow!), there were endless dirt roads to roam down, and I got to explore some areas I fell in love with, like Wyoming and Idaho. 

I’ve loved the freedom to roam and to take my home wherever I go, but having everything I own in a moving vehicle that’s vulnerable to wrecks or theft also gives me anxiety sometimes. 

And, as a solo traveler, sometimes I get lonely. For me, life on the road is a fine balance between decompressing in nature alone and socializing with strangers and fellow travelers.”

(photo: @christinahadly)

More specifically, what are some pros and cons of short bus life?

“Pros (compared to full-size buses, specifically): Maneuverable, fits in regular parking spaces, can be fixed by a regular mechanic, parts are readily available (especially for the Ford/Chevy van chassis), can fill up at a regular gas station instead of a truck stop, most drive on standard-sized tires rather than truck tires (which are very expensive), better gas mileage, super cute! 

Cons: Often more expensive than full-size buses, removing the wheelchair lift is a big heavy project, less space means making sacrifices in your living space/layout (do you really need a full-size shower?).”

Has short bus life been different than you thought it would be or what you expected/hoped for? 

Know that I’m a little salty about this, since I’m fresh off a $1,000 repair a few days ago and also spent about $7k last year on bus repairs and upgrades, but I did not expect owning a bus to be so expensive! Being emotionally attached to a vehicle that’s also your home requires some gut-wrenching decisions about how and when to pay for repairs. 

I didn’t expect to develop such strong feelings for a hunk of metal, and I also didn’t think life on the road could be so mentally or emotionally taxing. I thought it would all be beautiful hikes and lazy hammock days in the sun. Try to remember that real life and responsibilities happen on the road too! 

I also thought I could finish my renovation for much cheaper and quicker than I did. My advice for anyone starting a bus renovation is to plan for every project to cost 3x more than you expect and take 3x longer than you think it will.”

If you were going to do it all over again, would you choose a short bus or a different type of vehicle? 

“If I had unlimited money, I probably would have chosen a rig with 4-wheel drive. I spend a lot of time in the snow driving on mountain roads in the winter, so 4×4 would give me peace of mind, and also open up even more dirt roads to explore!”

(photo: @christinahadly)

Up Next In Skoolie Life:

How Much Does It Cost To Live and Travel in a Bus?

How Long is a School Bus? (Conversion FAQs)

Where can I Buy a Cheap School Bus?

School Bus Conversion Companies: 10 Crowd Favorites

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*