We often travel as a method to get from point A to point B. Sure, there are all the clichés about the journey and not the destination, but I don’t think that was in reference to a modified short school bus.
Will Sutherland, his girlfriend Sabrina Hartley, and his dog set out on a 3.5 week, 8,000 mile journey across the United States and back after modifying their short school bus named “Woody.”
Will Sutherland grew up in the tiny, quaint town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia where he currently resides. He’s best known for his array of dog photos, YouTube videos called Junction Junkies, and his hobby of modifying school buses. One of which — called an “8-windower” — is modified for guests of AirBnB. In fact, Will’s profit from the inn on wheels has been used to pay off his school debt as well as fund his most recent “skoolie” adventure. Costing only a total of $2,750 with the original cost plus modifications and insurance, he was able to pay off his investment within only four months and invest in his short bus, or, his “4-windower.”
I had a chance to chat with Will about his recent adventures, travel photography gear, and future aspirations in the skoolie community.
How did you get into the hobby of remodeling school buses?
I was interested in tiny houses. I had almost four acres of property, and I was looking for a way to escape my own home. I started building a tiny house, and then a really bad storm called Drecho… Draco… however you pronounce it. It blew through and knocked all these trees down in my yard. I ended up doing tree work for the rest of the summer that I was planning to use to build the tiny house. I’ve always thought about how a school bus would be cool to have, do whatever you want on the inside. I just happened to browse Craigslist every day at work. Sure enough, I found one for $1,000.
Then how did you get into the mini school bus? Is that what it’s called, or is it a short bus? I think it’s a short bus…
I try to be upfront with them about the process of picking a bus that suits your life financially, driveability-wise, all of the above. The short bus was best for me, and as I met Sabrina, I was ready to do another bus project. We loved the idea of having a short bus, so we did that together. That was our project, and that was a good proving grounds for us early on in our relationship.
Then driving, spending almost a month together in 76-square feet, that was also a good test.
We pulled out of Shepherdstown, and we drove pretty much straight to Ft. Collins, Colorado. From Ft. Collins, we spent a couple days there, then we headed up to the Oregon/Washington State line, which is beautiful because you’re in the Columbia River gorge and that’s their spring, technically. We were just at the beginning of it. It was gorgeous. Then we motored our way down through California and did all the nice sights and sounds. Went to San Diego, and then we kind of went back into the middle of the country, into the Grand Canyon and powered our way back through Chattanooga.
More of a southern route back?
A little more of a southern route, just so we wouldn’t repeat our own steps. We had this map where you have state stickers. That was my personal desire, to acquire as many state stickers as possible
There seems to be quite the community of couples who travel in buses. Did you reach out to anyone who had done a similar trip for tricks or tips or any sort of advice?
There’s a ton of people on Instagram. There is a great community of people who follow the hashtag “schoolie” Pretty much we are all in contact daily with people asking me questions or I’m asking them questions or we’re talking about different ideas.
Often times traveling limits our ability to pack some of our favorite gadgets for cameras. Did you find yourself able to include more gear and not having to pack a suitcase to get on an airplane?
I did. It was awesome. I have a little shelf over the bed in our bus, and I kept a 35mm 1.4 prime lens, my 85mm 1.4 prime. I had a wide angle, a fish-eye lens, it’s a Tamron or a Sigma I forget. It’s a 10-20mm. Then I had a small tripod, like a tabletop tripod. I also scored this beautiful aluminum tripod at a Goodwill in Colorado.
How did you help finance the trip?
Airbnb financed the whole thing. Without Airbnb we’d live kind of check-to-check with my income. The AirBnB pretty much funded, literally, the entire bus.
Were you able to save more money than if you had driven a standard car? This is under the assumption you weren’t using any hotels.
I saved a ton of money. We averaged 12.5 miles per gallon, which sounds terrible I know, imagine if those 20 days we were on the road if we’d had a motel every day, that would have been, who knows. Then also, the convenience of being able to just get into nature and be places.
Were you worried about any sort of malfunctions, robberies, temperature changes, or confused children climbing aboard?
I was more concerned about possible mechanical issues because the bus was I hadn’t driven it more than about five hundred miles before we dove into this trip. We were mentally prepared for the possibility of having to leave the bus somewhere, rent a car, pack the dog in, and continue our journey. People leave us alone.
It’s a school bus. People tend to respect that, move out of your way on the highway.
Did you meet anybody that surprised you with their interest, anybody that would not seem so intrigued by the school bus? Was it pretty much travelers and some hip kids interested in the school bus?
I’ll tell you who is a surprising common type of person who likes a school bus and is interested is your retired man. Less kids. I think kids either are into it or you’re not. If you’re into it, that’s awesome. They’re all about it. They’re not really surprised as much. I think Instagram has kind of washed people’s minds to where there’s less amazing things because everything looks amazing.
View this post on Instagram
We really enjoyed making friends with some of our Instagram followers who spent a night on our Airbnb bus during their trip from Florida to Maine! Couldn't ask for better company!!! Thank you @mytiresareflat and @kelservi !!! #willsschoolbus #campfirelife #skoolie #airbnb