Midwest Wanderers: This Family Renovated a Bus to Travel America

Do you consider yourself an adventurous person? Have you ever dreamed of quitting your 9-to-5, packing everything up, and hitting the road? Well, that’s exactly what the Davis family did. The young couple decided they were ready to mix things up and start a brand new adventure together.

Luke, Charlotte, and Rachel posing in front of a Mountain View / Charlotte and Abraham sitting at the kitchen table
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

With their young daughter in tow, Luke and Rachel Davis packed up their belongings and moved into a yellow school bus they renovated themselves. Not only was the converted school bus livable, but it was also a work of art. Luke and Rachel documented it all, from the first day of construction to views of beautiful national parks around America.

Let’s take a look at how the Davis family traveled around the US in a renovated, yellow school bus!

Decisions, Decisions

The year was 2015, and Luke Davis was living with his wife and daughter in Illinois. Unemployed at the time, Luke decided to do the unthinkable and spend $4,000 on a school bus. Yes, I’m talking about a stereotypical, yellow school bus that we all grew up riding to and from school. With their friends’ and family’s help, Luke and his wife Rachel completely renovated the bus’s interior.

Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

In total, it took them around a year and a half, which isn’t that long considering what the bus looks like today. “At first, it seemed like such a crazy, far-out idea, the kind you only dream of doing,” Luke said in a blog post. “Then, the more we talked about it, the more we realized we couldn’t shake the desire for this lifestyle of freedom.”

Where to Begin?

The first step of their renovation was to take out the bus seats and gut the entire interior. Luke also decided to raise the roof another 20 inches so they wouldn’t feel so cramped. Luckily, Luke had previously worked as a pipefitter, so he had some useful handyman skills up his sleeve. Even if he didn’t know how to do something, he learned on the job.

The inside of the bus empty with wooden flooring
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

“I’ve definitely done a lot of work in the trade: welding, fabricating, and all that, but we had to learn a lot to do all the components, including the electrical, the solar,” Luke said. It must be nice to have these skills and not have to rely on anyone else to do the heavy-duty work.

Too Many Options

Once Luke gutted the bus, he had to design the layout of the interior. Luke and Rachel tried many different versions until they found the one that they liked. They moved the kitchen to the back, and then to the front, and then to the middle while moving everything else accordingly.

Luke using a drill
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

In the end, Luke and Rachel decided to keep the kitchen in the middle of the bus. They even made the kitchen fully functional by installing gas and electricity. It was also important for the Davis family that their renovated bus be as green as possible, so they decided to install a solar-paneled roof. This provided the bus with enough solar energy so they could go off the grid for two weeks at a time if they wanted.

Smart Design

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even begin to imagine fitting just my shoe collection in such a tiny space. But Luke and Rachel were very conscious of minimizing the amount of stuff they had while making sure they had enough storage space for the few things they decided to take with them.

A photograph of the inside of the bus with raised ceilings and wooden frames around a sleeping area and an area for the bathroom
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

To not take up too much room, Luke was forced to get creative. He put some storage space behind the stove, as well as under the couch, bed, and stairs. While it may not seem like enough storage space for you or me, it was just the right amount for the Davis family.

Beauty in the Details

Going into this project, Luke and Rachel knew that their living quarters were going to be snug. To save room, they stacked their beds in a bunk bed style. They even installed a set of stairs to make crawling into the second-level beds easier.

Rachel painting the walls white
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

But the project really came together when the Davis family started adding little details. They painted the walls white, added wooden flooring, and installed kitchen drawers. Towards the end of the project, Luke realized that they had some extra room, 18 inches to be exact, so he added a small end table. After months of work, Luke and Rachel’s school bus was beginning to feel like a home.

Raise the Roof

To raise the roof 20 inches, Luke replaced most of the exterior walls. He was then able to replace and move the windows, giving him more control over the amount of natural light that could enter the bus. Since their living space was so small, it was important for the Davis family to maximize the number of windows and natural light, while still preserving their privacy.

Rachel standing inside of an empty space where they will put a window in
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Once Luke and Rachel finished the bus’s interior, they started renovating the outside. They weatherproofed the roof; However, the couple did not paint the outside of the bus. They decided to leave it two-toned. When it was finally completed, the bus looked brand new. The Davis family was finally ready to hit the road.

It’s All Coming Together

Luke and Rachel worked very hard to convert a run-down school bus into a suitable living space. The former school bus now features a wood burner and even fitted kitchen units. The polished wooden floors add warmth to the home, while the light blue ceiling reminds us of a blue sky on a sunny day.

The interior of the school bus with a beautiful kitchen and living room
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Luke and Rachel’s bus looks nothing like what it used to be. It’s amazing to see how the Davis family put this home together. The colors and fabric all came together so perfectly. They even added a houseplant and decorations on the walls. I don’t know about you, but looking at this transformation makes me want to sell my home, buy a bus, and hit the road.

The Family Bedroom

The bedroom also turned out fantastic. The bed looks comfortable, and the black bedding contrasts very well with the white walls. Luke and Rachel used a queen-sized mattress for the second-level bed but cut off six inches from the bottom end to make the stairs functional.

A photograph of the queen bed on the top of a set of stairs and a kids bed downstairs
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

While Luke and Rachel took the second-level bed, their young daughter Charlotte took the lower-level “bedroom.” Since Charlotte was so little, Luke made sure to install a wooden barrier on the side of her bed so she wouldn’t fall out in the middle of the night. While the Davis family’s bedroom looks small, it was just the right size for the young family.

High School Sweethearts

Luke and Rachel dated all throughout high school. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, the couple married in 2009 when they were only 19 and 20 years old. Luke and Rachel believe that their little project brought them closer together and ultimately contributed to the success of their marriage.

Luke and Rachel posing in their kitchen
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

They also believe that if you’re ever presented with a similar opportunity, just go for it. “We lived in a 1,400 square foot house for six years before converting our bus and moving into it,” they explained. “We have been able to do a lot of traveling. It was a blessing to be able to travel the country, and we highly recommend it should an opportunity ever arise for you.”

The Great Outdoors

While living on a bus, the world is your playground. If you want to park your home and explore the surrounding area on foot, you can. If you want a change of scenery, you can just pack up and start driving until you find something that you like. Sounds amazing, right?

The bus parked in the middle of the wilderness
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Well, this is exactly what Rachel and Luke did. When they found an area that they liked, they parked their bus and stayed for a while. When they wanted a change, they packed up and hit the road again. Can you imagine having the entire American outdoors as your back yard? Luke and Rachel turned their day-to-day life into one giant adventure.

Ultimate Freedom

Rachel, Luke, and Charlotte continued living like this for about a year. While it may be hard for people to understand how the Davis family quit their jobs and moved into such a small place, Luke says that it gave them the freedom they desperately needed.

Luke, Charlotte, and Rachel posing in front of a mountain view
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

“We are a family who loves Jesus, coffee, healthy things (and sweet things), meeting new people, and doing life together,” Luke said in an Instagram post. “Adjusting to life in 220 square feet has had its challenges, but ultimately we love it and the freedom that it gives us. We have seen more of this country than we ever thought possible and are dreaming big for our future.”

A New Addition!

After being married for eight years, Luke and Rachel decided it was time for them to expand their young family. After visiting 32 states as a family of three, they were excited about the new adventure that laid ahead: the arrival of a new baby!

Rachel and their new baby
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

While designing the bus’s interior, Luke and Rachel didn’t take into account the potential arrival of another baby. But their cramped living space didn’t deter them from living on the road. Finally, on October 28, they announced on Instagram, “Meet our new wanderer! Abraham William Davis. This little guy doesn’t have his own spot on the bus, but that’s not going to stop us from living the skoolie life!”

Life as a Family of Four

Can you imagine having a newborn baby and a toddler while living on a renovated school bus? Well, life slowed down for the first few months after Abraham’s birth. Luke and Rachel wanted to spend as much time as they could with their newborn baby. While life was still an adventure, the Davis family mainly focused on making coffee, reading books, taking naps, and spending quality time together.

Rachel taking a photograph of their new baby in a basket with a fuzzy blanket while Charlotte sits on the couch
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

With two young kids, the David family spent a lot of time exploring national parks and local areas near where they parked their bus. They also met up with like-minded families to explore national parks along the way. “Having visitors always makes us get out and do new things,” Luke said.

An Amazing Mother

As time went on, Luke became very appreciative of everything his wife was doing to take care of the family. “Rachel is a natural mother and is strategic in every facet of raising our kids. The proof is in Charlotte, I wouldn’t change a single thing about her, and I’m proud of how she is turning out thanks to Rachel’s love, grace, and patience,” Luke said.

Charlotte and Abraham sitting at the kitchen table
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Although the family was on the road, the Davis kids never missed out on anything. When they weren’t playing outdoors in nature, they were drawing or working on puzzles at the kitchen table. It was also important for Rachel to keep things homey, so she constantly baked cakes and cookies for her family. “I love the smell of fresh baked goods,” Rachel admits.

New Places to Play

Charlotte and Abraham discovered a small area on the bus where they liked to sit and eat Rachel’s baked goods and other snacks. But unlike the small places you and I probably crawled into as kids, the Davis kids love to sit on the front dashboard of the renovated school bus!

Abraham and Charlotte sitting near the front of the bus eating snacks
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

While it wouldn’t be safe to sit there while Rachel or Luke is driving, it’s a great spot to play when the bus is parked, and their parents are closely watching over them. “When Abraham started crawling, all he wanted to do was go up there, so I constantly had to block it because I never put up a gate, but now they both go up there every day to sit and snack and play,” Luke said.

Accommodating the Kids

Luckily for Luke and Rachel, their kids love to read. It was important for the couple to accommodate Charlotte and Abraham’s love of reading, so they made sure to make enough room to store all of their favorite books. “Both of our kids love reading books, so book storage is a must,” Rachel wrote on Instagram.

Charlotte and Abraham reading a book
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

When Charlotte was younger, Luke and Rachel stored all of her books under her bed. But as she got older and began to read more, the Davis family realized that they would need to clear out some extra space for all of her books. “Sometimes you gotta rearrange. When we moved into the bus, we put hooks and a cord across [the basket] to hold them in place. And the wire basket is actually screwed to the counter so that it is always road-ready.”

Time for a Paint Job

After driving around America for a year and a half and visiting over 30 states, Luke and Rachel decided that it was time to finally paint the exterior of their renovated school bus. “We didn’t paint our bus until after we did all of our traveling. [Only] until we resettled, we decided to paint the exterior of the bus. It got to the point where the two-tone silver/white became our look, and people thought we did it on purpose,” Luke wrote to his followers on Instagram.

The bus painted white with some silver
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Luke said that the bus’s lack of exterior paint was not on purpose; it just wasn’t a top priority on their long list of things to do. It took some getting used to, however, since the couple was used to a two-toned bus.

Who Needs a Washing Machine?

Luke and Rachel completely renovated their school bus, they thought of everything. A bedroom, wall decorations, and even a full kitchen. But what they didn’t add, however, was a washer and dryer. Rachel reached out to her followers and fellow nomads on Instagram to ask if they had a washing machine and dryer on their own renovated buses.

Rachel at the laundromat
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Rachel then told her followers, “We don’t have machines on the bus. We have never found it to be too much of a bother to spend a few hours at a laundromat.” Considering that laundromats usually have free Wi-Fi, it does seem nice to sit and reconnect with the world while your dirty clothes are being washed.

A New Career

The Davis family marked three long, adventurous years living on their renovated school bus. Oh, and what a journey it has been! Charlotte started to grow up; Abraham was born, and Rachel and Luke celebrated three wedding anniversaries. They traveled to the United States, explored national parks, and made some friends along the way.

Luke, Abraham, Rachel, and Charlotte
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Luke and Rachel also discovered a new career: renovating school buses for other families who want to live a nomadic life. Their experience building their house on wheels made them into experts. They now specialize in van or bus conversations, carrying out welding, woodwork, and roof raises. Luke and Rachel also rearrange the windows, making sure that as much light as possible can enter the bus. It makes the living space seem less cramped.

An Unexpected Purchase

In an unexpected surprise, the Davis family purchased a piece of land! But don’t worry, they’re still interested in unconventional living spaces. Wanting a stable place to raise their kids, Luke and Rachel decided to build a different kind of home: a yurt! For those who don’t know, a yurt is a portable, round tent that is used by several nomadic groups in Central Asia.

Luke and Rachel holding their plans for a yurt
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

“We recently bought a 30-foot yurt, and it will be here in July. We will be going from 220 square feet to 705 square feet! We are so stoked and will keep sharing the process,” the couple wrote to their Instagram followers. Even before starting construction on their yurt, the Davis family parked their bus on their new property and lived there for a little less than a week.

Building Their Dream Home

Almost immediately after purchasing their land, the Davis family got straight to work building their new yurt. They made sure to document their first few days of construction for all of their Instagram followers. Even the little ones got involved! Since Luke and Rachel had a lot of practice in construction, it only took them 48 hours to finish the flooring and framing of their yurt.

The base of a home being built
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

It looks like their dream home is finally coming along. Luckily, Charlotte and Abraham love playing outdoors, so it looks like they’ll transition into this new living space very easily. But what will they do with the bus? “We can’t believe we’re about to say this, but we will most likely sell the bus,” Luke said. Don’t worry! They have a good reason.

Baby on Board!

In February 2020, the Davis family announced another exciting addition to the family: a new baby! The couple revealed they’re expecting the arrival of their third baby towards the end of July 2020. Luke and Rachel admitted that they kept the pregnancy news under wraps for the first few months, but Rachel joked that it was getting harder and harder to hide her growing belly.

Rachel holding her baby bump
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

She admitted that everyone who saw her knew that she was expecting. While the arrival of a third baby might make their alternative lifestyle a bit more challenging, Rachel and Luke admitted that they aren’t intimidated. They love living so close to the outdoors, and they are happy that their kids love it too.

Leaving Nomadic Life Behind

While the Davis family is very excited to move into their new home, they still have mixed feelings about leaving behind their house on wheels. They spent almost three years on their renovated school bus and already had their routines. Rachel would always start her day by sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, and watching her kids play.

Rachel sitting on the couch with her coffee while Charlotte reads a book and Abraham naps
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

“It’s just goodbye to this couch, and we’ll nestle into a new routine in a new spot soon,” Rachel writes. While Rachel was a morning person, Luke admits that he is definitely not. The Davis family is going to have to make some new adjustments in their new home, but they know that good things await their family in the future.

Living on a Bus Is Challenging!

Living on a house on wheels was great, but life wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies. The Davis family had to make some sacrifices while living on a renovated school bus. They didn’t have a washer or dryer, and they were forced to improvise and get creative. The couple admits that they didn’t have a drying rack and hung their wet laundry up wherever they could.

Abraham taking a bath in the sink
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

Luke and Rachel also didn’t have a bath, so they washed their little ones in the kitchen sink. The kitchen sink also kept their kids occupied if Rachel and Luke ever needed to clean up. “Bubble baths make a great distraction while I get some cleaning done, especially since I never have to even leave the room,” Rachel wrote.

Always Cleaning

Another downside to living in a tiny home was that if just a few household items were misplaced, the entire home looked messy. This meant that the Davis family had to clean up more than usual. With two little kids, Luke and Rachel admitted that they had to clean in the morning, afternoon, and evening to make the house livable.

The inside of the bus that is a mess and dogs are walking around
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

The mess inside their house on wheels was especially amplified when the Davis family first moved in. During the family’s first five months of living on the road, their school bus was still under construction. Luke and Rachel worked on the bus whenever and wherever they could, including at friends’ houses, bus stops, and campgrounds.

Self-Sufficient Bus

After the Davis family moved into their converted school bus, they decided that they wanted it to be self-sufficient. “We built our bus to be off-grid capable because we knew we wanted to take advantage of beautiful spots like this and not be dependent on campgrounds.” They installed solar panels on the roof, allowing them to convert sunlight into energy.

Solar panels on top of the bus roof
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

This meant that they didn’t have to rely on campgrounds for electricity. The Davis family could live comfortably in totally remote areas across America, including the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming. This sounds like a dream. After living like this for three years, I can’t imagine suddenly owning and settling down on a piece of land. But this didn’t bother Rachel or Luke. With the expected arrival of their third baby, they are ready to put roots down.

What’s the Password?

Although the Davis family of four were cohabiting a tiny home, it was still possible to get some privacy. Charlotte created a fort by hanging a white bed sheet from the bottom of her parents’ bed. As all little kids do, Charlotte blocked off her sleeping area and only let people in who knew her secret password.

Charlotte peeking out of her fort
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

It’s nice to see that even though the Davis family lived on top of one another for three years, the kids still had their own space to be kids. Charlotte’s fort creation also blocks out the light and allows her to get some much-needed shut-eye while the grownups are still up and awake.

A Sight to See

Luke and Rachel were so happy with how their school bus conversion turned out that they showed it off at the Tiny House North Carolina Street Festival. While at the festival, attendees roamed around the Davis’ family home on wheels and got an up-close look at all of the details that Luke and Rachel spent so much time perfecting.

Luke sitting on the kitchen counter while people admire his bus
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

In 2020, the Davis family’s creation was chosen by the popular online publication The Spruce as one of the best tiny homes featured on Instagram. Luke and Rachel’s home was profiled in the article, along with 15 other tiny creations from all around the world. It looks like the Davis’ aren’t the only ones with the dream of financial freedom.

Starting a New Project

While living on the bus an adventure, it was time for Rachel and Luke to focus on their next project. “What a journey, bus life and the skoolie community has meant so much to us,” Luke wrote to his Instagram followers. “It has launched us into a different life than we ever dreamt we’d have.”

Luke and Rachel with the kids playing in a large grassy field
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

While the purchase of a new piece of land may have surprised their fans and followers, Luke and Rachel thought about the purchase for a while. “We looked for our property for over a year and a half and almost made offers on a few others,” they explained. “But we are so happy to have found this one.”

A Beautiful Piece of Land

It’s easy to understand why the Davis family is so happy with their new purchase. The piece of land is not only 1.43 acres, but it is flat and buildable. Nearly the entire property is covered in grass, yet completely surrounded by trees, giving them some much-needed privacy.

Rachel, Abraham, Charlotte, Luke, and their dog inside of the rented apartment
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

The piece of land also has a stream and a barn, which gives the kids a great place to play. Even better, the new piece of land is only a 15-minute commute to Luke’s work. Unlike the school bus renovation, the Davis family revealed that they are renting an apartment in a stone home while they work on building their new yurt.

And the Construction Begins

With a large Instagram following, almost 23,000 to be exact, Luke and Rachel make sure to keep their followers updated about the progress of their yurt. They seem to be making progress, and in just a few short weeks, they already had a solid structural foundation. The family installed lattice walls and insulation, as well as extra snow and rain kits to protect them from extreme weather.

The yurt with the lattice siding and a half-built deck
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

The yurt has double wooden doors and five windows in total. Unfortunately, it started to rain before Rachel and Luke could install the walls, but Rachel says some mishaps are to be expected. In this picture, their front deck is almost finished too! Can you imagine living in a space like this?

Love for Nature

While the family and their friends work on finishing the yurt, Charlotte and Abraham love exploring the surrounding nature. “We love watching the kids play outside when we’re here,” Rachel explained. “They are just in their element, they’re drawn to the stream, and the dirt and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Charlotte playing on a bed of rocks in a creek
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

The kids’ favorite activities are climbing trees, finding butterflies, and creating their own concoction of hot chocolate (also known as red dirt and water from the stream). Luke and Rachel have gotten pretty good at coming up with excuses not to drink it. Luke and Rachel’s parents also help out with the kids so that the couple can continue working on the house and have some much-needed alone time.

Excited for What’s Next!

Just like their renovated school bus, Luke and Rachel decided to also raise their yurt’s roof another two feet. This hardly comes as a surprise, seeing how much they loved the extra headspace on their bus. Now, from the floor to the top of the ceiling is almost 16 feet.

The inside of the yurt looking up to the ceiling / Luke with the children playing in the sandbox
Source: Instagram / midwestwanderers

The couple decided that this extra two feet would give them enough room for a decently sized loft that they are planning on sleeping in. As of August 2020, the yurt is yet to be completed, and with the expected arrival of their third baby, they are not sure when they will be able to move in. We can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like, as well as the newest addition to their family.