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What Is a Skoolie?

RVs and camper vans aren’t the only mobile homes on the roads today… not even close! Those who feel the call of a nomadic lifestyle can live out of any mobile or transportable object with open interior space. Such is the case for a Skoolie: a unique custom camper conversion that is rapidly increasing in popularity. 

So what exactly is a skoolie? And are they really all that great? Let’s learn more about some of the coolest mobile dwellings on the road today.

What Is a Skoolie? 

A Skoolie, also known as a school bus conversion, is a bus that someone has converted into an RV-style camper. DIYers have made skoolies out of more than just school buses, however. They’ve used many different kinds of buses for skoolie conversions with some impressive results. 

school bus conversion

Bus conversions are typically DIY projects, so the layout and features vary by person. But, many bus conversions feature amenities you’d find in RVs. This includes a sleeping area, a kitchen or food prep area, a sitting space, and even bathrooms in some cases.  

Benefits of a Skoolie Conversion

From complete creative control to budget and more, there are many benefits of a skoolie bus conversion as a motorhome. Most bus conversion owners have transformed their buses in DIY fashion. Let’s look at the top benefits of bus conversion campers. 

Design It Yourself

Being able to design the entire layout of a bus conversion is definitely one of the top benefits. Bus frames can handle significant weight, so you can add elements into a bus conversion that you might not typically see in RVs. These include real wood walls and countertops, tile showers, RV wood stoves, and more. 

Depending on the builder’s tastes, a truly cozy, homestyle space can be created in an old school bus! Social media is the perfect place to look for inspiration on school bus RV renovations.

Pro Tip: Use this guide on How to Convert a Short Bus into an RV Home on Wheels to make the DIY process easier.

Sturdy Bus Construction

Bus manufacturers usually build and sell them for public transport. They’re sturdy, so they’ll hold up well in an accident. School buses transport children, so makers must adhere to stringent safety standards. 

school buses are built for public transportation

Plus, they can support a lot of weight! You can add custom design and luxury elements to a bus conversion RV because of their sturdy construction. And, buses are typically safer in an accident than a mass-produced RV. 

Inexpensive to Purchase

Used school and public transit buses often sell at auction all over the U.S. at very low prices. Alternatively, used buses sell through dealerships and public marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist. You could buy used buses for less than $7,000 depending on condition and location. 

Easy-to-Find Repair Places

It’s easy to find repair shops for buses, especially school buses. Since people everywhere use buses, it’s not hard to find new or used parts or repair shops willing to do the job, no matter where you end up. 

Cons of Skoolies

Bus conversions have their fair share of downsides, too. From money, time, construction, and even acceptance at RV parks, skoolies can be a labor of love that others just don’t understand. Let’s dive into the top cons associated with skoolie conversions.

Requires a Lot of Building Knowledge

Building a home-on-wheels out of a blank bus requires significant building knowledge. If you don’t have prior construction experience, it’s a challenging undertaking!

Along with carpentry, many bus conversions require electrical and plumbing as well. A newbie with access to YouTube could do much of it, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. 

building a skoolie conversion

Time and Money

The bus might be inexpensive to purchase, but you’ll pay more with the materials and time it takes to do the actual conversion. And it’ll cost you…a lot. Building materials can be expensive! Also, “time is money,” and it takes a lot of those precious resources to build a skoolie. 

Some RV Parks Won’t Let Skoolies In

Finally, the RV park issue. Many RV parks and campgrounds deny access to skoolies. No matter the reasoning, this rule poses challenges for bus conversion owners to find camping spots. So, if you’re building a skoolie, consider making it totally self-contained and equipped for boondocking to open up the places you can stay.

How Much Does a Skoolie Conversion Cost? 

While you can purchase a used school or transit bus relatively inexpensively, the conversion cost can build up into the tens of thousands. Used buses can sell anywhere between $2,000 to $70,000 or more, depending on make, condition, and mileage. 

The conversion cost will vary depending on the bus’s size, the conversion scope, the materials used, and whether it’s a DIY or professional job. Depending on your needs, wants, and budget, skoolies can be built on various budgets. If you have minimal needs and desires, you can put together a “no-build” or “minimal build” conversion for as little as $2,000. For a more full-blown bus-to-RV conversion, prices will vary. Many DIYers report having paid between $10,000 to $30,000 or more. 

TOUR | Little Skoolie Bus Conversion | Less than $2000 Build | OUT OF OFFICE CAMPING

For example, Skoolie Livin’s bus conversion cost came out to $28,593. Ben and Meag of Wild Drive invested around $26,000 in their conversion. Then there’s the Traveling Red, who spent around $33,000 on their conversion.

Keep in mind that if you need to hire help for building, plumbing, or electrical, you’ll pay more. In conclusion, skoolie conversions can cost as little or as much as you want, depending on your desired features and how much you spend up-front for your bus. So, while converting a school bus may end up being cheaper than buying a pre-made RV, it is possible that it’ll cost you more if you go overboard on your budget.

Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Skoolie? 

You shouldn’t need a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) to drive a skoolie RV. Although buses are manufactured and sold as commercial vehicles, once a bus is sold and registered to a private seller, it’s no longer commercial. 

For this to apply to you, you must register it as an RV or personal vehicle once you take possession of your bus. If your bus remains registered as a commercial vehicle, you will need a CDL to drive it.

Also, if it’s carrying more than 16 passengers or weighs more than a certain amount, you may need a CDL to drive your bus from the place of purchase before you have it registered as an RV or personal vehicle. If you don’t have a CDL, you could hire a driver for this transport. 

Some states require RVers with heavy rigs or air brakes to have a non-commercial special license class too. Licensing requirements vary by weight, brake type, and state, so check your state’s requirements for more information regarding your situation.

How Many MPG Does a Skoolie Conversion Get?

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), school bus fuel economy averages around 6.2 MPG. This means your skoolie conversion will likely average between 6-7 MPG depending on any after-market modifications you do to it. Short skoolies will do a little bit better, with an estimated 10 MPG. Before you get discouraged, remember that Class A motorhomes average in the 5-10 MPG range. So when you compare drivable RVs of similar length, you’ll find similar performance.

driving a school bus

Would You Drive a Skoolie? 

Skoolies are some of the most unique motorhome campers on the road. If you’ve ever seen one, you’d agree! They’re custom homes-on-wheels that you can purchase and build to suit your budget. If you love DIY, want to design your own RV or just love projects, a skoolie conversion might be perfect for you!

Do you think you’d make the time and monetary investment? Let us know in the comments below.

Interested in DIY camper building? Then check out our How To Build A DIY Truck Camper article.

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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