The Best of Bus Life vs Van Life Which Is Better?

Bus Life vs Van Life Which Is Better? We think too much thought goes into this very question. It is a legit question though for those trying to decide between bus life vs van life.

There is a legitimate question that is always hovering around the Nomadic community.  Bus life vs Van life which is better?

I suppose we could equate that argument to just about any nomadic vehicle, bus life vs van life vs RV life.  It just so happens though, we have done both.

We have built our own DIY skoolie.  We lived and traveled in it for a year.  Caroline, our skoolie was sold and we purchased a Sprinter to convert.  

The build took 5 months to complete.  So far, we have lived in it for less than a year.

We have a unique perspective on bus life vs van life as we have converted both vehicles. Traveling across the United States in both vehicles, we know intimately what it is like to live in each.  

So, which is better?  Bus Life vs van life?  Which one is better than the other?

Bus Life vs Van LifePerception

Perception may mean more to one person than another.  There are also misconceptions about each lifestyle.  However, when it is all said and done, bus life vs van life is the same lifestyle.  

It doesn’t matter if you are in a van conversion or a skoolie conversion, the lifestyle is the same, but the perception is different.

Van Life

The perception of van life is that of the stereotypical Instagram posts from millennials.  You know the ones we speak of.  

Young, hard bodies barely dressed awkwardly posing on a bed with the ocean or mountains in the background.  

Easy living cruising from one iconic and epic landscape to the other.  Fresh ground pour-over coffee every morning with organic fruit and hemp smoothies for lunch.

The video just happens to be recorded when the young couple wakes up in the morning, and oddly, the girl's hair and makeup are perfect,

Van life certainly does seem to be magical, doesn't it? 

Bus Life

All the while the stereotypical bus lifer is stoned out of their mind while laying in a hammock with one end attached to the bus and the other to a tree.

Bohemian decor and incense burning on a live-edge countertop.

Well, let us enlighten you on both fronts.  While both perceptions are sometimes spot-on accurate, for the most part, there is no difference between bus-life people and living and van-life people and living. Bus life vs van life is no different at its core.

bus life vs van life

Many of our friends have gone from one to another.  

Perceptions are a dangerous notion.  

Trying to take such a diverse group of people who live and travel in a van or skoolie is no different than categorizing a group of people based on their race, heritage, or religious beliefs.

For keeping score, we are going to give this category to van life.

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 1
Bus Life – 0

Bus Life vs Van LifeBuild Cost and Time

There is definitely a difference in build cost and build time when comparing a Sprinter 144 wheelbase and a 40-foot diesel pusher skoolie.  

If you'd like a clearer idea of what it costs to convert a school bus to a skoolie, here is a piece we wrote on

Bus Life

When we built our 32-foot skoolie back in 2018 and 2019 it took us 15 months.  Granted, we were both working full-time jobs and it was our first DIY of anything like it. 

The bus itself was only $4,500 and we spend approximately $20,000 on the build.

Van Life

Compare that to the van. We spent $15,000 on the van and just a little over $25,000 on the conversion.  

Surprisingly to most, the van and conversion cost more than the bus which is twice its size. 

In today's market, you aren’t going to spend anything less than $25,000 on a bare cargo van.  Regardless if it is a Transit, Promaster, or a Sprinter. 

Conservatively add an additional $20,000 to $25,000 on the conversion materials, appliances, and solar.

You will still spend more on a 19-foot van than you would on a 40-foot bus.  

The materials are going to be less because there is less to buy.  The cost of the vehicle itself is the main variable for the total cost.  

So, for build cost and time, we are going to give the advantage to bus life on build cost but a point for Van life on build time.  

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 2
Bus Life – 1

Bus Life vs Van LifeGas Mileage

Oh, we can certainly attest to the difference in gas mileage between a bus and a van.  With the ridiculous cost of fuel, particularly diesel, these days, gas mileage is certainly a dividing point.  

Bus Life

In our 32-foot diesel pusher, we were getting 6 to 8 miles per gallon.  Closer to 6 on flat land and maybe 8 mpg going downhill.  Going up that hill mind you was probably closer to 4 mpg.

So, to be fair, we will say she was getting on average 6 mpg.  With a 100-gallon fuel tank, we might get 600 miles on a full tank. Mind you, we had that bus loaded from bottom to top.

my life changed in a skoolie

She was in all fairness, a little heavier than she needed to be.  

Van Life

Our van is a completely different story when it comes to fuel efficiency.  Good Lord, driving our van across the country is like giving ourselves a multi-thousand-dollar raise in income.

Our van, over 32 states, and over 20,000 miles have averaged 20 mpg.  Our best so far has been 22 mpg and our worst tank was 18 mg.

The fuel tank in our Sprinter holds 26 gallons.  At an average of 20 mpg, a full tank of gas would take us 520 miles.  

Considering our fuel tank is about ¼ of the size of our bus tank and relatively the same amount of miles per tank of gas.

We will have to give the edge or advantage to van life for fuel mileage.

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 3
Bus Life – 1

Bus Life vs Van LifeDriving

Driving a van or driving a bus is like comparing sitting in a lazy boy recliner or an elementary school desk chair.  

It’s such an unfair comparison.  This is based on our experience of course.  

Van Life

The van is like driving a really comfortable car.  Cool A/C blasting in your face.  Comfy bucket seats with lumbar support and any kind of music at your fingertips or even better, voice commands. 

Driving the van was as easy and pleasurable as driving any car we have ever driven.

Both of us were comfortable driving the van, so it made no difference who was driving. 

Bus Life

The Skoolie however, was a different note.

First of all, the skoolie we had was a flat nose diesel pusher.  That means that the driver sits and steers in front of the front or steer tires.

It’s a different driving experience than driving where the front wheels are ahead of you.

Don really did not enjoy driving the bus.  There was constant worry and anxiety.  He did a great job of driving it, but he didn’t enjoy it at all. 

Nat has no interest in driving the bus at all.  Besides, we had a car that we chose not to tow as well.  So, Nat drove our car either ahead or behind the bus.

That created a whole other set of stresses and anxieties for both of us.  

The advantage on this one, once again, goes to Van Life.

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 4

Bus Life – 1

Bus Life vs Van LifeAre There Limitations?

There certainly are limitations to living and traveling in a bus vs a van.  You can’t pinpoint one or the other.  There are some limitations that favor bus life while others favor van life.

We will talk about the imitations that stuck out the greatest to us while living and traveling in a skoolie bus and a van.

Bus Life vs Van LifeParking and Stealthyness

Parking is something you have to do every single day.  Whether it is at night after a long drive or going to the store to stock up on food and supplies.

Most people don’t give it a second thought when they have to go to the grocery store or Walmart.  That may not always be the case for bus life.

Bus Life

Parking a 32-foot bus that is over 10 feet tall may be more difficult than you might imagine.  Especially if you have never had to do so on the fly.

It’s not so much parking as much as it is being seen.  It reminds me of being in the 8th grade and it’s the first day of school.  

You’re getting dressed to make that impression on all of the new kids and you look in the mirror.  Overnight, a big, greasy, nasty zit pops up, right in the middle of your forehead.

There is no hiding that sucker!  Everyone who walks by is going to see it.  Just like a skoolie, everyone who walks by it is wondering what is inside of it.

Want some good tips on how to make you Skoolie not stick out like a sore thumb so much? Give this post we wrote on How To Make Your Skoolie Not Look Like A Skoolie.

Van Life

Even with bikes on the bike of our van and a roof covered with solar panels, most people never gave our van a second look at night.  After dark, with its paint job, it almost disappeared.  Stealth or cloaking technology.

During the day, it caught people’s attention because it was a bad mamma-jamma-looking son-of-a-gun. Parking was an absolute breeze.

Doesn’t matter if we parked in a hotel parking lot, Buccees, truck stop, or on the side of a residential street.  We never, not once, got the dreaded knock on the window in the middle of the night.

The advantage here definitely goes to Van Life!

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 5
Bus Life – 1

Bus Life vs Van LifeHaving Guests

Whether you are living and traveling nomadically in a van or a skoolie, the one common thing between the two of them is that you are going to meet and make some amazing friends.

Depending on what you live in will have a direct impact on how you hang out with and socialize with your friends and family.  Hell, it will determine how you interact with your spouse or partner.

Bus Life

One of the things we loved so much about living and traveling on our bus was having friends and family come in for a visit.  We have shared meals, played cards, and just hung out and talked about all kinds of stuff.

We always had plenty of room to hang out and socialize inside or outside of our bus.  There were a few times when we had friends inside as well as outside of our bus for a barbecue.

With over 200 square feet of living space in the van and another 80 square feet of 2nd-floor roof deck space, we had plenty of room to live, love, and lounge.

Van Life

Wanna hang out in the van?  Um, sure.

That is just about the gist of it.  Hanging out in the van gets old, really quick.  Unless Nat and I are laying in bed, the van is pretty much a one-person hang-out space.  

Sure, we have a sofa.  But when the dogs want to sit next to Nat, that pretty much leaves me with either sitting in the passenger seat, on the toilet on one of the little 15” ottomans.

The van is not a social environment. 

Just with the two of us, when we need to get by one another it’s pretty damn close to having sex.

The advantage here is not even close.  Points to Bus Life!

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 5

Bus Life – 2

Bus Life vs Van LifeMaintenance

Maintenance costs are going to come up whether you want them to or not.  Doesn’t matter what kind of van you are in, you are going to have costs.   

It doesn’t matter what kind of skoolie engine you drive, it costs money to maintain.

Bus Life

Maintaining a skoolie is not as arduous a task as some forums might make you believe.

It can and will be expensive, but a bus engine is going to serve you well if you treat it nicely. 

A typical oil change for a skoolie is going to cost you around upwards of $250 or more.  That is if you do it yourself.  Want to pay someone else to do it for you?  Double that price and call it a day.

Tires for a skoolie are going to cost you between $250 to over $500 each.  When it comes to tires, you will get what you pay for.

Chugging down the road in a 27,000-pound bus going between 50 and 70 mph, what kind of tires do you want underneath you?

Cheap $250 Chinese tires?  Or, a good set of Good Year, Michelin, or Firestones?

Don’t go cheap when it comes to tires.  The price may sting a little, but it’s better than sitting on the side of the road waiting for roadside assistance that is going to cost you an arm and a leg.

Van Life

It doesn’t matter which way you flip here, van life maintenance costs are going to be cheaper overall than bus life.  Oil changes, filters, hoses, tires, and even coolant.  

All in all, when comes down to dollars spent, Van Life has the edge on this one.

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 6

Bus Life – 2

Bus Life vs Van LifeSafety

Feeling safe and being safe are two different animals.  That being said, feeling safe to us is almost as important as being safe in performance.

Van Life

Today's vans are nobody construction.  On an impact, regardless of the direction of the hit, they are designed to absorb the energy and transform it around the passengers.

That being said, they are going to perform just like any other private passenger vehicle on the road.  

As far as safety from others approaching or trying to break into the van, it is not more or less safe than any other vehicle on the road.  In fact, we felt less safe sleeping in the van than we did in the bus.

Bus Life

One of the things we both loved so much about living and traveling in a skoolie was the safety factor.  A bus is built for one main purpose.  That is to deliver children to and from school safely.

There are no other vehicles on the road that takes safety as seriously as a school bus.

This was one of the main reasons we decided to build a skoolie.  A school bus can roll down a hill and still maintain its structural integrity.

The fact that the floor of a school bus is almost at the level of someone’s head makes us feel safe from anyone trying to break into a skoolie.

As far as safety goes, there is no question that the advantage is Bus Life!

Bus Life vs Van Life
Van Life – 6
Bus Life – 3

Wrap-Up To Bus Life vs Van Life

Bus life vs Van life?  They are both amazing, adventurous, and sometimes challenging lifestyles.  We really can’t imagine living any other way.  Going back to living in a neighborhood of sticks and bricks is unimaginable.  

For some people, it’s van life or nothing.  For others, it’s bus life or nothing.  We have enjoyed both, but have a definite preference overall.

We really love the stealthiness, ease, and comfort of driving and parking, and especially the low cost of fuel.  For us with two dogs, it’s just too damn small inside of the van for us.  We spend 75% of our time outside under the awning. 

When it is too cold or raining though, we are forced to make the best of a very small space together.

Our next build is going to be another skoolie.  Our van is for sale, and we know the make, size, and engine of the bus we want next.  We are going with a 7-window mid-size bus.

Now, we know what you may be thinking.  Why would we choose to build and live in another bus when our own evaluation of bus life vs van life shows van life is twice as good as bus life?

Our honest response to this is that even though the cost of maintenance and fuel is much less.  The stealth factor, driving experience, and parking ability are so much better in a van, the living, comfort, and overall experience of living in a skoolie is far superior for us.

So, there you have it.  Bus life vs van life?

Yo ho, yo ho, a skoolie life for us.

What is your preference, bus life vs van life?  Have you lived and traveled in a van or a skoolie?  Leave us a comment below. 

We’d love to connect with you!

Have you dreamt about living a nomadic lifestyle full of adventure, exploration and freedom? You should read this post from NatnDon in the Wild!

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