Want to Fly to the USA, Buy a Van and See the Place? Here’s my Advice

USA Road Trip Advice
On Our USA Road-trip my Friend D-Red and I saw Danny DeVito in NYC

An Australian Friend Had a Question:

If you guys know anyone or see a small van that might do the trick let us know!

Just wanted to pick your brain because you guys have travelled so much more than us. Is sleeping in a van in the states relatively safe? Any suggestions on how to transfer money from Australia to USA? We missed out on burning man tickets but are still trying. 

USA Road Trip Advice

Well, I’m an expert on this. I’ve made my response to my friend public here so that someone else hoping to fly to the USA, buy a van and drive across the country (maybe even go to Burningman) has access to this information too.

USA Road Trip Advice - New Orleans
We bought our car in Miami, FL and drove to meet friends in New Orleans, LA

Living out of a van in the USA

Living in a van in the USA is considerably more challenging than in Australia.

USA Road Trip Advice - New England
We drove from New Orleans to Connecticut

In Hawaii it’s nearly impossible and I would NOT suggest it. California is easier than Hawaii, but it’s a nightmare compared to Australia. The non-California western states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, etc…) are perfectly fine.

USA Road Trip Advice - BLM land is free camping
We rode horses in Nevada. Nevada is 85% BLM land which means you can camp for free

You can always park in land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Those lands are public land so you are legal to park there any time. There are some rules against staying a long time, but you’re going to be moving around too much to worry about those rules. By the way, Nevada is like 85% BLM land so you could boondock for years there.

USA Road Trip Advice - Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is in South Dakota which is more than half way between New York and San Francisco

How to Trasfer Money From my Country to the USA

TransferWise.com is my favorite for transferring money from Oz to USA. I wrote about my experience in detail by clicking here.

If you use this link, you’ll get your first transfer for free (under $600). Also, I’ll get credit for referring you.

USA Road Trip Advice - Glacier National Park
We stopped to visit family near Calgary in Canada

Buying a Van – Living in it – Selling it

The USA is fine to live in a van. But the California coast isn’t as hospitable as the Gold Coast or other Aussie spots. The worst thing that will happen is the cops might knock on your door and tell you to keep driving.

The USA isn’t a dangerous place, we just have a really ridiculous news system that makes it seem like the sky is constantly falling.

If I were in your shoes, I would buy a van from a private party. In the USA, we use CraigsList.org.

Everyone uses in the USA. Los Angeles has killer deals on cars. New York and Miami are also great places to buy vehicles.

USA Road Trip Advice - Yellowstone
Drove Across the Country, this is just outside Yellowstone National Park

Use Specific Search on Craigslist.org

Craigslist is great for finding specific parameters for your purchase decision.

Here’s an example search that gets really specific when buying a car.

This search finds you a private party van between $1,000 USD and $6,000 USD which was produced before 1995 and has less than 90,000 miles on the odometer.

Don’t go CNG in the USA. Diesel and Gas should be your only options. CNG is natural gas. You’ll find those cars hard to sell and hard to fill up.

Also, CraigsList is full of sketchy folks. Be careful meeting someone sketch-ball in a non-public place with a hand-full of cash. Make sure to jump on the phone and get a good read on the person before heading out there. Also, their post will tell you a lot about who they are.

Great photos? Well-written description on the vehicle? Probably a good sign.

Two bad photos and the seller can’t spell well? Keep looking.

Cell Phones for Travelers in the USA

When you get to the USA and are looking for a cell phone, go with a PrePaid AT&T SIM card and use your unlocked smart phone.

AT&T has the best service when you’re driving across the middle of nowhere. T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint all offer prepaid plans, but they won’t work in the mountains or anywhere rural. If you’re staying in New York City and you want to spend an extra $5 a month, go with T-Mobile…. but that is silly.

I suggest AT&T prepaid for $45 a month. You only get 6 GB of data at fast speed, but you’ll just be throttled back after that and have slow internet after 6 GB per month. You’ll still have unlimited talk and text and the throttled speed is still good enough for emails.

That’s the best deal in the USA right now.

Make sure your cell phones are unlocked before leaving your home country too.

USA road trip advice - Napa California
We visited Napa, California for an amazing wedding

Want to Go To Burningman?

For years I bought my ticket in the last week before the Burn.

It’s possible that living in Reno made it easier. Reno is the biggest city near the event so we get almost everyone coming through town. I never had a problem finding a ticket as the event drew closer. Craigslist.org always paired me with someone. We talked on the phone, confirmed identity and expressed a commitment to meet and make the deal. It works all the time.

USA road trip advice - Sedona, Arizona
Our latest road trip adventure was to Sedona, Arizona.

Man! I like talking about this stuff. Please let me know below if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Mt Rose 2017

Mt Rose is sort of like my home away from home. I’ve been a pass-holder there since 1992, which is probably longer than I’ve ever done anything in my life.

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The Mt Rose Crew

Every once in a while the stars align and everyone is up there. Today was a pretty astonishing day because we had an epic group.

mt rose trail map

Here’s the trail map that was marked up for the making of the video.

mt rose trail map

The Chutes at Mt. Rose are pretty incredible. They almost never get much sun so the snow stays really soft. The thing that makes them extra fun is that they are really steep. Not approved for first time skiers.

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School Bus Conversion Electrical

School Bus Conversion Electrical System

Today was hard to explain. We tested continuity of wires. We wanted to know if a wire runs to a light we didn’t need. If the controls to that wire attached to the fusebox (for lack of a better word) in a way that was no longer necessary, we knew we could take out that component.

The end goal was to wire the bus to run as a vehicle with road legal lights and take out everything else.

school bus conversion electrical system

Two School Bus Home Electrical System

We have two separate electrical systems:

  1. The Vehicles Electrical System – Charged by the engine
  2. The Houses Electrical System – Charged by the solar energy system

Electrical Removal Decision Process

Knowing that the bus’s electrical system would be separate from the vehicle’s system empowered us to take out a lot of wires, relays and other devices. That helped move the project along all day.

“Is that element essential to the bus for regulations or driver comfort?”

If no, get rid of it.

If yes, label it and move on.

Honestly, about 15 pounds of wire was removed after everything was said and done. Some of the wire is this awesome 12 gage copper wire that we can use for lights and whatever else. That’ll save us running a lot of wires later into the build.

school bus conversion floor removal

Moving the Floor

The floor turned out to be pretty easy to start. We just used really big crowbars and razor blade knives to cut the plastic on the top of the existing floor.

We’re ready to have a big day of existing floor removal tomorrow. Please feel free to watch that.

School Bus to Tiny Home – School Bus Electrical Disassembly

School Bus Electrical Disassembly

Today we spent the day removing things that are generally part of a school bus. Things like the kid gate, the stop sign and the internal heaters for the bus.

The back exit (emergency exit) had some sort of a short so we decided to take all the electrical aspects out it. Now the back door doesn’t have running emergency red light or the buzzers if someone opens the emergency door.

There were two heaters that warmed up due to the engine coolant running through the bus. To take those out, I got a little dirty crawling under the bus and reconnecting all the coolant hoses. We have a lot of nice coolant hosing now. That was a really dirty afternoon.

School Bus Electrical Disassembly

The New Fuel Pump Problem

It lead to a fuel problem. Now when we start the bus, the fuel filter pours out diesel. So I’m seeking a solution to that problem.

Big Thank You

Big thanks to Erik for being our sparky. We couldn’t have done it without you buddy.

School Bus to Tiny Home – Flooring and Floor Insulation

If you’re reading this, I’m in the process of designing the flooring system. So my notes and ideas are shown in real time in this blog.

Once I commit to a strategy and implement it, this blog will explain of the floor’s design and the implementation process.

Later, once we spend more time in the home, I’ll share my results here. Thank you for reading.

To Remove Existing School Bus Floor or Not to Remove

From the looks of our existing floor, it seems like we might not need to take it out. I can’t see any places where the flooring is in terrible condition.

school bus tiny home conversion floor removal1

school bus tiny home conversion floor removal2

school bus tiny home conversion floor removal3

That said, we’re building something that we want to last for at least 100 years. I can’t make the assumption that everything is fine under there. We’ve decided to take the existing flooring out so that we can seal the existing metal floor with anti-rust paint and rebuild a bulletproof strategy for going forward.

Rust Proofing the Existing School Bus Metal Floor

I’m going to experiment with bondo and epoxy to plug any existing holes in the floor. We want to the bus to be water tight. All the holes made to secure seats will need to be sealed in a bulletproof manner.

Once the floors are all sealed up, we will be using Rust-Oleum 7792 Gloss White paint  to seal the metal school bus floor.

The paint we will use to seal the floor

Flooring Insulation and Finishing

Choosing School Bus Conversion Insulation

We would like this bus to be rated to live in Lake Tahoe in the winter so we are going with the upper range of Zone 5 as recommended by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

School Bus Conversion Insulation Guide
US Department of Energy Insulation Guide – We will build for Zone 5

This means the following insulation ratings for our walls, floor and ceiling if we’re to spend much of our time in the Lake Tahoe area:

  • Floor – (R25 to R30)
  • Ceiling – (R49 to R60)
  • Walls – (R15)

So it turns out that in order for us to get that DOE rated insulation, we will need to extend the roof of the bus. To get simple R15 insulation, the best thing I could find is 3 1/2″ inches deep which is too little insulation in too thick of a space.

I couldn’t find any R50 insulation that is 2 inches or less in thickness. Indeed, we would need another foot in the roof to get close to the reccomendations suggested by the DOE. This doesn’t seem prudent to me.

Also, the DEO is writing these requirements for relatively large homes. The heating expense of this bus will be a fraction of what a normal house would require.

School Bus Roofing Space

School Bus Roofing Space2

The Plan for the Ceiling Insulation

We are very lucky with our bus. The existing insulation is in excellent condition. There isn’t a drop of mold on any of the main parts. The biggest weakness to the existing insulation is that it doesn’t fill the roof cavities entirely.

To solve that, I plan to buy some spray insulation to fill the gaps left from the regular insulation. I’m exploring the following products:

* This spray foam could be used on the bottom of the bus as well as the product brags that it adheres to metal

Floor Material Design

We don’t want to build up with floor height much as there is limited vertical space in the bus. That said, the bus needs to be as comfortable as possible. Here is how I see the plan for floor materials:

  • Vinyl Plank Flooring (1/16″ – 5/16″) – Floor & Ceiling
  • Plywood (3/4″)
  • 1.5″ Insulation (link) + Framing (2×4 s are actually 1.5″ thick)
  • Existing School Bus Steel Painted with Rust-Oleum

I Hope You Found This Useful

Please let me know any thoughts or comments you have in using the links below. I’m done on the computer for the day, it’s time to go out and remove the rest of that floor in the bus.

First Panel – School Bus Conversion

How to Remove a Stripped Screw

When you’ve got a phillips head screw that is stripped beyond repair, what I like to do us use a grinder to cut a slot in the screw. Then that defunct phillips head becomes a straight, fresh metal slot head screw.

Removing Ceiling Panels From a 2001 Thomas School Bus

Then it’s easy to take out with a nice fat flat head screw driver.

How to Take Ceiling Panels out of a 2001 Thomas School Bus

Use the impact drill. In the movie above, you’ll see me using the regular drill almost the whole time. That was a dumb waste of energy. I was also using the impact drill head with the regular drill, which was also a waste of resources.

After we stopped filming for the day, I started using the impact drill and it worked great. I actually removed more than 50% of the ceiling panel screws. It goes fast when you know how.

Contemplating the Future of the Bus

Aside from a general design idea, I don’t have a specific plan for the build. So today I started working with SketchUp to do some accurate drawings of the bus. More design ideas will come. For now, we’ve got this Pinterest board which contains a lot of ideas for what we’re thinking will guide the aesthetics of what we’re building.

Final Seats and Spray Painting the Tools Gold

So one of my favorite YouTubbers is a guy named Jimmy DiResta. In one of his videos he talks about how he uses white spray paint on many of his tools as a way for him to engage his audience. I think this is genius.

My Favorite Gold Spray Paint

Rust-Oleum 1910830 Metallic Spray, Gold, 11-Ounce

Can I Spray Pain My Cordless Drills

Also, I’ve never been a big fan of rocking brands. No matter if it’s skiing, running, programming, fashion or anything else. At the end of the day, I like having no logos on my stuff.

Finally, I think having golden tools will inspire some more interested YouTube audience people who like the idea or hate it.

So in this video we spray-paint the tools gold and cut out the rest of the seats in the bus.

Gold Spray Painted Grinder

Thank you for watching, I hope you enjoyed it.

Even More Seats

School bus seat removal is harder than you might think…

Today was the big seat day. We were able to take out 12 seats which is half of the total seats. We expect one more day of seat removal for your viewing pleasure.

Penetrating Oils to Undo Rusty Bolts

We used two types of penetrating oils to increase the chance that we would be able to unscrew the bolts rather than grind them out. The two penetrating oils are:

I think blaster is the better product for this project. Their oil would be the first thing I would order when deciding to embark on a new bus conversion experience.

If at all possible, I think it makes sense to unscrew the bolts. It’s just cleaner.

High Leverage Wrench + Pipe Trick

If you get a really heavy pipe, you can use it to create a lot of torque with less arm power. To do this you just insert your wrench inside the pipe and pull on the pipe to turn your bolts.

Torque Wrench using a Heavy Pipe - bus seat removal

In the video above, I use an angle grinder to cut an old pipe I found laying around the land. Then we use that old pipe as a torque wrench in our bus seat removal effort.

Grinder Blades Get Destroyed During Bus Seat Removal

I killed two grinder blades today… but I’m not worried about it. That’s what they are for.

Thanks for watching. Please share this series with someone you know who would appreciate it. It helps more than you know.