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How three recent college graduates revamped a school bus

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Inspired by #vanlife, they took their school bus on a yearlong road trip across the U.S.

School bus
“The Cool Bus” starring in a Out There Productions photoshoot.
Johnny Rosa/@jrjdp of Out There Productions

Though a school bus may conjure traumatic memories for some, it was home sweet home for Erin Miller, Johnny Rosa, and Losa Meru—the three founders of the startup Out There Productions—for a yearlong road trip across the U.S.

“There’s just something super romantic about getting a school bus,” Miller said. “Like, let’s live in this movable box that’s super durable and meant to carry children so it’ll definitely be safe.”

Since their road trip, Miller has advised other post-grad adventure seekers about how they can also revamp a school bus for #vanlife adventures. Here are some of her top tips for yellow bus success.

Study up on van layouts

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When they purchased their 30-foot school bus, dubbed “The Cool Bus,” they lucked out in one major way. They had architecture student friends who came to their rescue with a well planned layout for their space. Thanks to this, their renovation only took two weeks.

“Get people that know about layouts to do it for you,” Miller said. “Setting good bones down to know where everything is going to be is super important. If you’re building on nothing, it’s not super ideal.”

If your budget is low, use a whole ton of two-by-fours and nails

Erin Miller inside “The Cool Bus”.
Courtesy of Erin Miller | Photo by Frankie Prijatel

Though Out There Productions raised over $9,000 in an Indiegogo campaign, they knew they had to budget the renovation process wisely to make their funds last for the whole year. As a result, most of their furniture is DIY.

“Our total renovation cost was probably under a thousand bucks since it was basically just a bunch of two-by-fours,” Miller said.

Build furniture with bus life in mind

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Before adding their furniture, they attached side supports and laid down tracking inside their van. The side supports were put in in place to help their kitchenette, work table, and beds stay put. And the tracking, which they laid beneath their bed, helped their luggage also stay put.

In addition, one of their beds folded up so that space could be used for additional storage if need be.

And though she has almost no regrets about any part of their 365-day adventure, looking back, she would have also had a safe for more secure storage.

Know what vibe you’re going for—and stick to it

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The startup went going for a feeling that was guest-friendly yet homey. They knew they were going to have this space be both an office and a living space so they kept the bedding neutral. In addition, they used one of their beds as a seating space for guests.

“As soon as you walk in the front door, you see our only bed that was not a bunk bed,” Miller said. “That’s where our cleanest person would stay so it wouldn’t be super slobby right in the front. Like that’s me, I had to be in the back.”

However, they DIY’d rim-lighting with fairy lights around the back of their van to give the bus some personality. They also decorated their work area with photos of places they’ve been and wanted to go on their trip to round out the rest of their living space.

Ask for advice from those who have done it before you

A post shared by Erin Miller (@erinthemiller) on

Before starting the renovation process, Miller reached out to a group of recent graduates who had revamped a 60-foot school bus to learn more about their process. Also by a stroke of luck, Makerspace, the start-up incubator that they were a part of, had a employee skilled in construction who donated his time to teach them the ins and outs of renovating. After their road trip, it seemed natural for her to pass on her knowledge to other post-graduates starting similar ventures.

“We’ve pulled off our bus project and we’ve become a lightning rod for other people who are renovating buses,” Miller said.