Travel Confessions: Road trip USA in an old school bus
We’ve all seen the motivational posts on social media, but how many of us actually act on them? Toowoomba school friends Charlie Green, 24, Gerard Martin, 24, Lindsay Crawford, 24, Chris Crawford, 22, Matt McIver, 24 and their uni friend Olivia Murdoch, 21, did. After a season working as lift operators at Mount Norquay in Banff for a ski season and inspired by the website www.hankboughtabus.com, the six Aussies decided to do something similar and travel around the USA in an old school bus. Cassandra Laffey caught up with the Moose Ryders on the road to get the lowdown on their epic road trip that's seen them travel through more than 20 states since April.
Where did the idea for the road trip come from?
Matt found a website called Hankboughtabus and ideas were thrown around that we could potentially do something similar. We all had the plan that 2014 would be a year for travel and the prospect of doing the States in an old school bus was too great to pass up.
Once you sourced the bus, what modifications did you make to it and how long did that take?
The bus's interior is almost unrecognisable, save for the driver's area and three seats we left intact at the front of the bus. The bus was gutted of the old heaters, walls, most chairs and part of the ceiling.
We installed a plywood roof, walls and floorboards. To provide privacy, a sliding shutter system was devised that allows plastic shutters to be slid up and down and held with magnets. Two bunk beds were installed at the rear of the bus and two couches at the front of the bus double as the fifth and sixth beds with storage underneath.
An RV fridge was installed that includes a handmade exhaust system that expels heat from vents cut into the side of the bus. A kitchen- two kitchen benches including a sink and tap with shelves and storage under the bench. Water for the tap is drawn from a tank and pump installed in the bus storage compartment. There are LED strips that run the length of the interior on both sides to provide light.
A utility box at the front of the bus houses 12V batteries, a sound system, a power inverter that allows us to run appliances without plugging into electricity and switches (lights, subwoofer, sound system, water pump, fridge). The top of the box also serves as a platform for books and, when a new Game of Thrones series is released, a TV for bus movie nights.
The exterior of the bus was painted as USA state law doesn't allow yellow school buses to be used for private use, for obvious reasons! To prepare the bus for painting, we hand-sanded the bus with fine sandpaper and cleaned the surface with acetone before using two coats of white paint and three coats of green. It took us around three days in total to paint the entire exterior.
How much did you spend on the cost of the bus and interior conversions?
We spent $CAD 3,500 for the bus itself and approximately $CAD 10,000 on modifications and kitting the bus out with cutlery, crockery, pots and pans and a barbecue etc.
When did you start your trip and what was your start point?
We started the trip in Banff, Alberta. Our first destination was Coachella and since we finished work at Mt Norquay on Sunday April 11, we had to drive over 1,200 miles in four days to make it to Coachella by Thursday for check-in.
Did you have a route in mind or are you taking it as you go?
We had a rough map drawn up and must-see destinations to visit, however things have changed in certain cities or states mainly due to us absolutely loving a place so much that we stayed longer, or disliking a place and leaving early. We've also been told about a couple of cities we wouldn't otherwise have visited such as Santa Fe, Jemez Springs, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon.
Where do you stay overnight?
More often than not we have stayed in RV parks. We also stay in State and National Parks that are not only beautiful but very cheap ($US15 per night between all of us). There have been a couple of instances where time was of the essence and we pulled up at random stops eg. a Kmart carpark.
When staying in big cities such as Washington DC, Austin and New York, we park the bus where we can (at a storage facility or very cheap RV park) and stay at an Airbnb property, which is essentially a short-term home rental service where homeowners lease their properties to travellers while they are not staying there. It's been fantastic and great to have some homely amenities every now and then.
What has been the highlight of your trip so far?
That's a very loaded question! We'll try and break it down into favourite city, favourite place and favourite thing.
Favourite City - Austin truly was the surprise of the trip. We had been told by several people along the way that if we head through Texas, we should spend as much time in Austin as possible - and we're glad we did. The university gives the place a youthful exuberance and together with trendy boroughs and rich history, it really ticked all the boxes for us.
Favourite Place - The Grand Canyon
Just awe inspiring. No words or pictures do this place justice - you just have to see it.
Favourite thing - The people.
This trip has been a great eye-opener for all of us. Never has the saying: "Don't judge a book by its cover" been so appropriate to so many situations. Countless people, some that look like they would sooner rob you than help you, have really altered our perception of how far you would/should go to help strangers and that judgements of character based solely on material and physical appearances are often misplaced.
There's been a couple of times we really didn't think we would make it to the next fuel stop and be stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also a couple of minor mechanical problems, but nothing that has stopped us enjoying ourselves for more than a few hours at a time.
What are some of the quirkier places you've been to?
We've been through dozens of very small towns in the South that we absolutely loved. Plenty of ghost towns, abandoned truck stops, a petrified forest, deserts, and roads that are so dark at night you swear you're the only living thing around for miles. We stopped at a gas station in West Texas run by a son, his father and his granddad. They couldn't believe we were from Australia, we may as well have said we were from the moon.
Any interesting characters along the way?
On the way to the Grand Canyon, we met a couple at a gas station in Arizona who were prepping for doomsday. After explaining to us that God had created the Grand Canyon in six days, they invited us to a gun show in Phoenix followed by a church service and provided some literature on how we can repent and leave the road of sin we have chosen and begin to follow the path to God.
Have you felt safe driving in the US and Canada? Any accidents or repairs?
We've felt safe 99 percent of the time. There have been a couple of neighbourhoods we would rather not drive through again, but that occurs anywhere in the world. You just have to know the suburbs to avoid, which most locals are happy to explain if you ask.
There have been a couple of repairs but thankfully nothing major. For a 1986 bus, it's very reliable considering we've travelled around 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometres) in three months.
What's next on the trip?
What did you hope to get out of the trip and has it exceeded your expectations?
Above all else, we knew an opportunity such as this would likely never present itself again in our lives; we were all single, had been saving for a while and were young enough that our careers wouldn't suffer too greatly from a short break.
America just seemed to be the logical destination for us since most of us had decided to follow Matt's lead and spend some time in Canada at the snow. The great American road trip is something we had all dreamed of doing. You grow up as kids watching American movies and TV shows that feature some of the most incredible scenery, roads and cities in the world; how could anyone not want to see that!? There's really few places on the planet where you can see such diversity in landscape, people and culture in one country. It has far and away exceeded our expectations and I would recommend travelling here to anyone. If you do your research, there's a holiday here for any budget.