He Quit His Job and Took a 95-Day Road Trip In a Converted School Bus

A smiling man sits in the doorway of a short, bright blue, school bus.
Phil Risher sits in the doorway of the "skoolie" he bought for $5,000. Photo Courtesy of Phil Risher

Phil Risher had dreams of traveling. In college, he visited Italy and China while studying international business. But six years after graduating, he realized he hadn’t gone anywhere notable.

In fact, he realized he hadn’t even been to the West Coast of the United States.

See, Phil spent those six years paying off $30,000 in student loans, saving $60,000 to buy a condo in cash and putting $70,000 into his 401(k) — all by his 27th birthday on a salary of less than $50,000.

With no debt, no mortgage and enough saved to take a few months off, Phil asked the logical next question: “Why don’t I just quit my job?”

So he decided instead of a vacation, he’d take an epic road trip — in a tiny home.

Unfortunately, his 2010 Hyundai Sonata wasn’t able to pull a tiny home. That’s when he learned about skoolies.

Old Skoolie

The inside space of a short school bus that was converted into a living and sleeping space.
Phil spent $2,000 to outfit his bus, including $650 for a composting toilet. Photo courtesy of Phil Risher

A skoolie is a school bus converted into a tiny home. People gravitate toward school buses over motor homes because they’re often less expensive, fully customizable and more durable than RVs.

Phil had a wish list when it came to his bus:

  • Non-diesel engine
  • Under 20 passengers (i.e. short bus)
  • Under 100,000 miles
  • Under $6,000

To find the right bus, he gave his wish list to a sales representative from Buscrazy.net. Every time the rep found a bus that met some of the wish list, he’d give Phil a call. Some were OK, but none met all his specifications. Luckily, he was patient. After five months, his sales rep called him with a bus that met all the criteria and cost $5,000.

It’s hard to find a car under 100,000 miles for $5,000, much less a bus. His friends told him he was lucky, but Phil disagrees.

“It’s really not luck,” he said. “You have to have the money so that when the deal comes, you’re ready to go.”

The True Cost of a 95-Day Road Trip

a kayak floats near an unusual rock formation
A Kayak floats by Turnip Rock, an unusual geological formation in Lake Huron, near Port Austin, Mich. Phil made videos along the way of his 95-day road trip around America, which landed him a paid speaking offer. Photo courtesy of Phil Risher

Phil planned and saved for his trip for 18 months before he hit the road. He saved for the bus, renovations, gas and parking fees. He put away an extra $9,000 for HOA fees on his condo back home and living expenses after his trip.

His budget for outfitting the bus was $2,000. He spent $450 on wood, nails and screws; $450 on paint, flooring and interior furnishings; $650 on a composting toilet, off-grid water system and fixtures; and finally, $450 on taxes, tags and inspection.

That brought his total bus cost to $7,000.

For the build, Phil found a free layout on Pinterest and used YouTube to learn how to do everything, including removing the bulky heater in the back of the bus.

He and his dad taped build lines on the floor for the furniture and installed the frames along them. They used tools they already had to like a circular saw, hand saw and a few power drills.

It took them three hours to take out one bench, unscrewing it by hand. They finally broke down and bought an angle grinder and the rest came out in two hours.

He made a budget for the trip, too. He predicted the bus would get eight miles per gallon. Gas was averaging $2.50 per gallon, so his goal was to stay under $1,500 per month for gas. To his surprise, the bus got 12 mpg, so he came in $900 under budget.

On the road, Phil stayed at as many free places as possible. He found free and low-cost activities through apps like The Outbound and AllTrails and found the lowest gas prices through GasBuddy. In total, the trip ended up costing around $6,000.

Support Yo Self

A panoramic view of Bryce Canyon.
A panoramic view of the spire-shaped rock formations, called hoodoos, at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Phil’s adventures included hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and swimming in glacier water. Photo Courtesy of Phil Risher

But Phil didn’t want to just rely on his savings to support his trip. Since he wasn’t renting out his condo or working, he figured out some creative ways to make passive income.

He put $5,000 of his savings into a mutual fund, which generated $500 over the trip. He also made about $300 from his blog, Young Adult Survival Guide.

“None of it offset the full cost of monthly living, but it helped out some,” he said.

And the trip itself generated some income, too. Phil made videos along the way, which landed him a paid speaking offer.

A man sitting on a rock formation and his dog stands obediently next to him.
Phil and his dog Tuney rest during a hike at Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. Photo courtesy of Phil Risher

In exchange for all the planning and saving, Phil got to experience some amazing adventures. He hiked the bottom of the Grand Canyon, swam in glacier water in Oregon and learned new things about the world.

“I learned that tumbleweed is a real thing,” he said excitedly. “In Texas, [there are] actually weeds that go across the highway. That was actually mind-blowing to me. I thought it was only in movies.”

Now that he’s back from his trip, Phil’s using his newfound free time to pursue his passion of helping young people learn about personal finance.

“I don’t want to go into something just for a paycheck. I want to find something that I actually really enjoy.”

He’s doing workshops with a nonprofit and speaking at the local jail. He’s looking for work at one of the D.C. area universities to help college students transition financially from college to real life.

Jen Smith is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.