We sold our home to live off-grid in school bus – after giving it stunning £7k makeover’
How’s this for a busman’s holiday? A savvy couple have turned an old school coach into an incredible mobile home – and plan to go completely off-grid to travel the world.
Gregoire Thoby, 33, and Fabrice Delaure, 52, are so committed to their nomadic lifestyle that they have even sold their house in California and have “no destination” set, apart from adventure.
“We lived in an off-grid RV for some time in France and Spain and absolutely loved being nomads, the freedom of it,” says Gregoire, who moved to LA from Paris with Fabrice in 2015.
“We wanted to let go of things: our apartment, most of our belongings, our upstairs neighbour’s phone calls in the middle of the night. Work less, earn less, live more.”
Working as special effects designers for shows in Las Vegas, the French couple are able to get on with their jobs from home – or on the road – and recently gained US citizenship.
After penning an upcoming novel inspired by their travels, Gregoire was keen to get back out with their RV, but hit a stumbling block.
“We originally thought about importing our European RV here, but with all the red tape and paperwork, it sounded way too uncertain and expensive,” he tells The Mirror.
“Instead we looked at all kinds of motor homes here in the US: vans, campers, RVs… but we couldn’t find the right fit for us, and so we decided to look for a short school bus to convert into a tiny a home on wheels and found one. We called him/her Kiki.”
Snapped up ‘perfect’ school bus for £3.6k
The couple snapped up the 2009 short school bus for just $5,000 (£3,600) and set to work in July 2020.
Ripping out out the seats, they found the vehicle, which stretches back a total of 6.7m, was in “perfect condition” for renovation.
“We were able to build everything we needed in the small space,” says Gregoire.
“A fully-equipped kitchen, real shower, composting toilet, elevator queen size bed, dining table and sofas turning into guest bed, separated desk, solar system… and even a rotating passenger seat.”
In particular, designing the innovative ‘elevator bed’ and settling on a shower hardy enough to survive America’s bumpy highways proved the biggest challenges.
“The electric elevator bed took us more than a month to complete,” says Gregoire.
“We tried a lot of different techniques before finding the right one. Fabrice came up with the idea and solution, he’s a genius, really.
“The galvanized shower was also a little tricky. We didn’t want to use tile as they can easily break while driving on dirt roads, and fiberglass panels didn’t sound appealing, so we came up with the metallic shower.
“It’s supposed to be rust-free! We think it looks like a little time machine.”
Feeling the heat in scorching US desert
There was also another problem: the heat.
For more than a year, the pair were working from their desert home in southern California.
Just this week, temperatures in the state have become so scorching that wildfires have ripped through its northern region, gutting historic gold rush towns.
“Converting the bus in our yard in the Mojave desert during the summer, where temperatures can get up to 50°C, is not fun,” admits Gregoire.
“We’re only 4 hours from Death Valley, where the heat kills everything! I love it here, but cutting wood outside all day literally made me hate the sun for months. I dreamed of rain and grey skies.”
After more than a year, however, Kiki is now ready to go.
Over the last few days, Gregoire and Fabrice completed the final job – spraying it a dusty desert tan colour – and estimate the total conversion set them back around $9,000.
“We’re best pleased with the layout, and how everything found its place. And the design, all the little details here and there that makes Kiki special,” says Gregoire.
“We sold the house and are getting ready to hit the road in a couple of weeks. Full time nomads again, totally off-grid. We have tested Kiki, and everything works great!”
Off-grid adventurers expecting the unexpected
In true nomad style, the couple don’t have any set plans for their travels and hope for the “unexpected”.
“We’ll probably start with the north-west if the weather is nice and the wildfires not too serious this year,” says Gregoire, who will be charting their adventures on his Instagram page.
“Then, we want to travel all across the US, Canada and South America when the pandemic is over. So much to see!”