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Mom Living In A School Bus Conversion With Her Two Kids

Meet Jessica Rambo, a Marine veteran who is helping other veterans with her traveling art studio (that doubles as her home!).

Her 501c3, the Painted Buffalo Traveling Studio, has a mission “to enhance the quality of life for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their community by providing alternative tools in art and art making.”

She and her two children live on the bus together, along with her cat and dog! It’s an amazing work-in-progress that she has built herself. We got to do a Q&A with her about the studio and #buslife, so be sure to read it at the end of the post!

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Mom’s Traveling Studio School Bus Conversion

This cute kitty loves to “help” Jessica with her art projects.

The color combination in this Skoolie is my favorite! The teal, dark wood and white accents. Love!

Here’s a look at the other side of the kitchen area.

She has an awesome oven set-up here under a butcher block. Maybe I need tacos for dinner, too!

Here’s her son, Liam, learning online via Zoom because of the quarantine.

This is Liam’s bunk. Jessica’s daughter, Skyler, lives with her dad during the school year and didn’t like the upper bunk. She decided she wanted to sleep on the couch, so Jessica made the upper bunk into storage.

This is one pretty cool “room” if you ask me!

At the front of the bus there’s this gorgeous garden shrine area.

Jessica and Liam — so cute!

Wow she even fit a tub into this bus! How adorable.

Talk about an amazing bus and a great mission.

Just one more picture of the bus and her two furry friends!

Q&A with Jessica Rambo and Family (Liam, 9 years old Skyler 12 years old)

How many people (and animals) are living in your tiny house? We have 1 adult 2 children 2 dogs and a cat on board

Tell us about your bus studio: Was it always a part of your plan? What do you do? Who do you help? How long have you been doing this?
In the beginning of designing the bus I had planned on putting studio space in the living room area of the bus. Although my plans changed a little bit and the studio space grew, its better than I originally planned. I run a non-profit out of the bus called “Painted Buffalo Traveling Studio.” We provide art classes and art supplies to Veterans who are ready to tell their stories.

Where do you live? How long have you lived tiny? We have lived in the bus full time since August 1, 2019. We are currently near Atlanta, GA.

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time? I am medically separated from the Marine Corps, so I do not work a full time job. Although I do sell my artwork, tee shirt designs, and other freelance work to make up the cost of living bus life.

Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny? I had been dreaming of tiny living for the last 5 years before I actually bought a bus. While on Active duty, I would plan out different types of tiny living options and work with illustrator and Sketch Up to make things seem more realistic.

When I transitioned out of the Marine Corps I went to art school. Originally for art education, but soon changed my major to sculpture and ceramics. During that time I realized that bus life was an option for my family. It was time to get rid of the excess we had been collecting in our lives, and get back to gather with the things that meant the most: each other. So on a whim, I bought a bus and my children and I started building. We haven’t looked back since.

How did you first learn about tiny houses? Like most people, I was obsessed with HGTV, DIY network, and YouTube. Different tiny house kept popping up in the show I was watching and I was hooked. It wasn’t till after I bought the bus that I was welcomed whole heartily into the bus life family. Our first Skoolie friends we met were from @deliberatelifebus. They were living in our same town in NC and we had mutual friends in town. That was the first Skoolie we had ever been on.

How long did it take to finish your tiny house? I bought the bus in May 2018 and started gutting in July. (I don’t recommend gutting a bus by yourself in July, in North Carolina. It was hot!) Although I was not completely finished with the bus, in August 2019 we moved in. We had the basics of furniture, and my kids had their beds and we had electric and water. That was the most important part. We have been building while living in the bus, its not 100% but we are almost there. We would love to add a roof deck and solar to the build soon!

How did you build your tiny house? Did you have any help? Did you do it yourselves? Although we had a lot of THOW friends help here and there, majority of the build was done by me.

Are you comfortable sharing how much your tiny home cost? What are bills/utilities like compared to before? I bought my bus in New Jersey for $5,000. Looking back now I probably didn’t do bus buying research well, that now that seems like a lot. But I haven’t had much trouble with the bus itself so it was worth it to me. All together I have invested about $15,000 into the build. That doesn’t include solar and a roof deck coming soon. Some people really invest a lot of cash upfront for their build or have a company do it for them. For us, I did the bus project by project when I had the money. It saves you a ton if you do it yourself, you get to learn every aspect of your bus and if something breaks, you put it there so most likely you know how to fix it. Majority of the work was learned through YouTube University.

How did you find a place to park and live in your tiny house? During the bus build, I had the bus parked at a local Veteran owned business who let me park there and build. The day we moved in, we hit the road.

Before going tiny, what was life like? Before going tiny we were in a modest apartment while I was going to art school. We slowly got rid of things we didn’t need or want anymore, and I sold just about every bit of our furniture or gave it to friends. Slowly we all were sleeping in one bedroom and living life small, to get ready for bus life. It was an adventure, and I hope one day my kids will look back on it and think it was fun!

Is there anything from your old life that you miss? I don’t really miss much about our old life except my kids miss their friends. But thanks to technology they can keep in touch. They also have mad a ton of other friends.

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny? The best part of bus life is the experiences I get to have with my children. I am home all the time, I can participate in their lives. We get to learn together and grow together, and there is no comparison to that.

What about some challenges? Some of the challenges in bus life is day to day parking; finances are pretty tight for us, but we live within our means. Because I am the only adult on the bus, all planning and “adult like” things are on my shoulders.

What makes your bus special? My children and I did this together. They know what they built or designed on the bus and during tiny house shows they love to show their house off. It makes me happy that they love it too.

What is your favorite part of the bus? Not having to clean thousands of square feet. I also love that no matter where we are our back yard is millions of acres that we can roam.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny? Do your research first and for most, but also don’t think so far in advance that you lose sight of the fun of building. Take a ton of photographs, learn new skills, and breathe!

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.

Latest posts by Natalie C. McKee (see all)

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • April 21, 2020, 8:38 pm

    Quaint and cozy and inundated with character!! Her story is uplifting and inspirational. I sense a book in her future. She should definitely share…perhaps do some speaking. So much soul and love in that bus, indescribable.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 22, 2020, 1:30 pm

      A book would be fantastic!

  • Claude
    August 3, 2020, 3:06 pm

    Good for you lady, you are doing a tremendous job for your family and yourself. You will without any doubt succeed in whatever you try! Best of luck.

  • Marsha Cowan
    March 31, 2021, 10:34 am

    Amazing bus and even more amazing story. I love the color scheme, too, of the dark wood, teal blue, and white. Very cozy! It’s well organized and kitty seems to love it. That blue box under that oven might be easier to use if you turn it over the other way so the handle is at the top and it opens down instead of up. That way you can see and reach everything easier and not have to get down so far to reach into it. Just a thought. It’s lovely and warm and wonderful. Safe travels : )

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