We Hit the Road: Life Rent-Free and Temporarily Retired

So we bought a school bus, quit our jobs and decided to live a life on the road. We’re six days into our exciting new experiment and so far, its amazing.

Highway 98 heading into Apalachicola, FL. This was an idyllic way to spend our first full day on the road.

We’ve spent the last 14 months finding, buying, gutting, insulating, wiring, plumbing, building out, painting and moving into this 23 year old Blue Bird International 3800 School Bus. I’ve stressed about every little detail and scenario and tried to anticipate how to make all her systems work under all sorts of different conditions. I’d wake up at 3:00 AM worrying about some little detail. I’d rush from my work as a boat captain over to our storage yard to wire something or frame something or crimp some bits in between boat trips. I swore, I bled, I sweat my ass off and ruined nearly every pair of paints I own. But sitting here in our bus, next to our roaring wood stove by Sarah and Charlie in Kiln, Mississippi, a town I had never heard of before 2:00 PM today, all of that toil and hard work was totally worth it.

Our first night on the road: St. Marks Wilderness Management Area along the Aucilla River in FL.

It was going to be tough to top this spot, we were thoroughly spoiled with this blissful solitude and to wake up to this incredible view.

It took a lot to get us going: we had to move out of and deep clean our rental condo, I had to figure out what to do with all the scraps and leftover bits of building material I had hoarded in the back room of the rental, I had to finish the last 5% of building projects and hang drapes, we had to pack everything we owned into the bus along with our sizeable pantry and then we had to figure out how to keep all that stuff from crashing around when the bus hit potholes, or god-forbid, had to make a left or right turn. In addition to that, the bus is about 23 years old and hasn’t been driven much this past year so that also meant I spent a few hours spread out over a few days tightening hose clamps, topping off fluids, conditioning belts, topping off tires, etc. Honestly I was a little worried about how our big old beast would perform but I resolved to just baby her on the road and accept whatever happened in stride.

Full moon at sunrise and a dog about to leave his comfortable condo in Florida for a new life in an old school bus.

On day one of our bus life adventure, we woke up at about 5 am to finish deep cleaning our condo and pack the last of our belongings into the bus, loaded up, Sarah and Charlie in our Toyota Highlander and me in the bus and headed over to my grandparents house just on the other side of town for a Bon Voyage Breakfast. It’s only a 15 minute drive but apparently Charlie recognizes the bus and that I normally drive it, so he freaked out the whole time he was with Sarah, crying, barking and generally being a pain in the butt anytime he could see the bus on the road ahead. So, it looked like Charlie would be riding with me for the rest of the trip. We had a lovely full breakfast with eggs, biscuits, cheese grits, bacon, ham and pancakes, discussed our tentative travel plans and had a misty good bye.

We hit the road and bid Ponte Vedra Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville Beach an adios. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, working full time jobs and spending the rest of our free time building the bus, this was the first time in about 11 months that we had been able to leave the confines of St. Johns and Duval County. That immobility was horribly claustrophobic for wanderers like us; as soon as we crossed into Baker County from Duval, we both exploded into cheers and celebrated our first travel milestone over our walkie talkies.

The next four hours on the road was a mixture of me re-learning how to drive a school bus, reassuring Charlie that riding in a school bus is a fun thing, Sarah and I figuring out how to convoy together and how to use walkie-talkies and not to step on the other person’s transmission. It was also like driving into a memory; the forests of scrubby pines and oaks of North Central Florida that were increasingly surrounding the more and more rural roads we were driving down evoked strong memories from my high school and college years cruising around North Georgia in my time off. For both of us, it was a tremendous release from the previous 14 months of living in suburbia, it was like by driving into the woods, we were coming back to ourselves and returning to the lives we put on hold months ago to build the bus.

We arrived at our campsite along the Aucilla river and had the place pretty much to ourselves aside from a few fishermen launching their boats early the next morning. Sarah went for a run with Charlie and I stoked the wood fire. We made breakfast and hit the road. The next three days on the road we slowly came to embrace the joy and challenges of our new way of life. Its been great having your full kitchen and bathroom with you wherever you are, its fantastic waking up in a new town everyday and having a whole new set of adventures and things to see ahead of you daily. Its been challenging finding a consistently nice place to park for the night (on our second night out in Panama City Beach, FL we got told to move from our pretty boat ramp camp to a Winn-Dixie Parking lot by a very polite police officer) and managing our grey water tank levels so it doesn’t back up into our shower basin (our freshwater tank is 75 gallons but our grey water tank is only 28 gallons so as you might infer, we fill up the holding tank long before we run out of water). Also our Nature’s Head Composting toilet is fantastic, it never smells and completely eliminates the need for a gross sewage storage tank under the bus but we do have to remember to empty the pee tank every day or else we face the risk of an overflow into the catch basin (its not a huge deal, cleaning it up isn’t really very hard but it does make me a little grumpy). These little house keeping things are really nothing in the grand scheme of the adventure we’re on, I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

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