Article by Nate McRoberts Photography by Nate McRoberts | Owl Staff
Most imagine a school bus transporting students to and from school, but not Matt and Kara Tennyson. The idea of converting a bus into a fully functional home became what is known as the “skoolie.” Owl Magazine had the opportunity to talk with Matt and Kara Tennyson about their journey into the skoolie process and why they want to turn a school bus into their home.
With big dreams of converting their school bus into a comfortable living space, the Tennysons currently reside in an apartment in Towson.
Matt Tennyson, a former HCC student and Journalism instructor, works as a freelancer in video and audio production. His wife Kara Tennyson works in the outdoors as an organic farmer, enjoying the “on season farming and friends with nomads.”
When asked about friends’ and familys’ opinions Kara states, “Parents [are] in support, intrigued, [and my] sister thinks I’m nuts!”
Their plan to create a mobile home was put on hold when the pandemic struck.
With restrictions still holding people back from their everyday activities, the Tennysons’ skoolie project has not been without some struggles of its own. Being a freelance worker, Matt mentions how “work has evaporated during the pandemic.”
With fewer jobs becoming available, it made the process a bit tougher. Currently residing in their apartment, Kara and Matt started off discussing tiny homes, but eventually decided on the skoolie.
After their plan went out the window, Matt and Kara looked at other options such as tiny homes. The skoolie became the final choice and the journey began. With the pandemic in full effect, it began a long process to start up the skoolie operation.
The process of the skoolie takes about six months to a year to fully complete. There were several steps the couple had to take to get things started: buy a bus, gut the inside, work on construction and design and more. The project would take a good amount of time to perfect and complete.
The time for their skoolie project’s completion is leaning closer towards a year, with many steps of the process taking more time to complete because of the COVID implications in place.
So far, Matt and Kara have purchased a bus and completely gutted the inside. Matt says they purchased the bus in Colorado and drove it cross-country 1,700 miles back home to Maryland.
The trip took about three days to bring the bus to Maryland and they managed to gut the inside which is the first step in the skoolie process.
A unique part to the skoolie lifestyle is the unlimited ideas for design. The opportunities are endless with different flooring, cabinets, bedroom, and kitchen ideas.
“We weren’t certain on any interior design ideas at that moment,” states Kara.
Kara also mentioned implementing solar panels for cleaner energy use in the home, while also using a wood stove as a heating source for the skoolie.
“Creating a design that gives everything two to three functions” is the goal, Matt says.
One example is a couch that falls out into a bed, which also has cabinets underneath for extra storage space. With limited storage available in a skoolie, the Tennysons might end up selling some of their current belongings to have space for the items they each deem necessary for everyday living.
When asked about the financial benefits of the home, both Matt and Kara agreed that it will be an expensive transformation, but a money saver in the long run compared to home owning.
“It’s not all about the money; it’s about the freedom,” states Matt.
At the end of the day, the skoolie lifestyle has some benefits. It allows a large amount of freedom and supports a minimalist lifestyle. The lifestyle is certainly not one for everyone, but it’s great for simple living people who like to travel with the luxury of doing it in their own home.
Matt and Kara advise anyone looking to start a skoolie project is to do a lot of research, join support groups, and don’t buy the first one you find.
“This is a slow process, and [it’s] better to take your time and find exactly what you’re looking for,” Matt says.
A good place they mentioned to start is government auctions to help find what you’re looking for while finding it at a suited price for you.
There is a lot of research to be done with the skoolie, with bus models, interior and exterior design, energy and power sources, location, and who is going to help you build and construct it all.
One can research more information about the skoolie lifestyle at Facebook groups like Tiny House Group-Maryland and Washington for more information.
With no end goal in sight for the skoolie, Matt and Kara look to live out the skoolie lifestyle for as long as they can, travel where they want, and surround themselves with the community they find best suited for them. The skoolie lifestyle has no limits or restrictions on freedom.