People ditch homes to live in school buses

Dozens of people rolled into Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville on Feb. 17 to show off their tiny homes on wheels at the inaugural Florida Skoolie Swarm.

The trend of abandoning traditional homes for remodeled school buses called “skoolies” is gaining popularity. Some want to reduce their cost of living, while others crave a nomadic lifestyle rooted in simplicity.

“It’s people who really wanted to just maybe change things up in their lives,” said Sandy Blankenship, a Skoolie Swarm coordinator. “For me, I wanted to move into a bus to simplify things.”

The idea of living with less is appealing to some people who are working, but struggle to stay financially afloat. Many of the buses are rigged with solar panels and accumulate their water from hoses and other outside sources, meaning no electricity or water bill.

“It feels good, you get rid of stuff,” said Roger Scruggs, a teacher at Florida Virtual School who lives in a bus of his own. “I still have a job, I still have an income. I just live in a bus.”

A group of “skoolies” are in Brooksville with their remodeled school buses. Photo by Zach Wilcox.

School buses are commonly purchased online or at an auction for a few thousand dollars and then renovated to support day-to-day life. Renovations include installing a bed, toilet, sink and storage space. The cost of creating a skoolie may be expensive, but for people like Scruggs, it’s worth it.

“I bought the bus for $4,000,” said Scruggs. “I’ve put in roughly $7,000 into it, which isn’t bad for an RV.”

Some roadblocks on the path to mobile living include understanding where it’s legal to park skoolies and dealing with code violations.

“Homeowners associations and zone and code enforcement, when they see a school bus in a driveway or parked at somebody’s house, they consider it a commercial vehicle a lot, and they’ll tell them that they have to move it or get fined,” said Travis Mattson, one of the skoolie owners at the Skoolie Swarm. “Some homeowners associations don’t want you to have that kind of vehicle in your driveway, and you have to get it titled as a motor home in order to legally park it there. So there is a little bit of struggle while you’re building it when you’re getting ready to go full time.”

Despite some of these struggles, many skoolie owners have found the transition to be very efficient and rewarding because they get the chance to see places some traditional homeowners never will.

“My regret is not doing it earlier because there’s so much out there to see that you just want to be able to get out and explore the country,” said Scruggs. “And this is the best way to do it.”

For people interested in downsizing to a tiny home, local tiny homes festivals are a good place to start. The next upcoming one in the Tampa Bay area is the St. Pete Tiny Home Festival.