When the Lawsons began thinking about a grand adventure of living out of a bus with their kids for big chunks of the year, touring the backroads of the United States, hitting national parks and everything else of interest along the way, they had the nearly ideal situation. The Lawsons, based in Florida, own their own photography business, so had no need to quit location-based day jobs. They also homeschool their kids, so no worries about pulling them from classes. Although, there was one wrinkle: The Lawsons have seven children. That’s a whole lot of child to restrict to a vehicle for months on end.
So Steve and Michelle Lawson decided to find a bus big enough to hold the whole family and make that their home base for exploration. Steve’s mother had recently passed away and expressed that she’d always wished she’d bought a touring vehicle to explore the country. She always figured she’d get to it one day, but that day never came. Steve and Michelle wanted to be sure they didn’t have that same lingering regret. When they found a bus for sale that seemed to fit the bill, they jumped at it. The bus ran them about $14,500, the modifications were another $4,000 or so. Friends chipped in to help with the build and six months later, in September, 2017, the Lawsons rolled away for their first adventure on the bus.
Year, make, and model of the bus?
2005 International IC300 school bus
Does the vehicle have a name?
The Wild and Free Lawsons.
One and half years.
How old are all your kiddos?
We have seven kids, six boys and one girl: Caleb 16, Jacob 14, Joshua 11, Matthew 7, Liam 6, Charlotte 3, Owen 1.
How did you find and buy your bus?
I started off by calling private schools and churches and had no luck. So I switched to Google and searched for school buses for sale. I found a guy in Miami who actually sells buses to churches and schools, and I talked him into selling me a bus. We homeschool so bam—still a school bus!
What kind of modifications have you made?
We remodeled the entire bus, 100 percent. Took all the seats out, of course (12 rows), and built sleeping situations for nine. We have two triple bunk beds, a king size bed, and a small side bed next to the king size bed for the baby. We also have two couches, a bathroom, and a kitchen. We have a plug-in stove that plugs into our power inverter for cooking. We have a dry flush toilet which is absolutely amazing and no running water is necessary for it to work. We stay at campgrounds for hot showers regularly and we have two portable showers on the bus. You know, for emergencies.
How many states have you and the bus visited?
We’ve driven the bus all over the place—I’ve put almost 40,000 miles on it in a year and a half. We’ve been to: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington State, and Idaho. We have plans to drive up the entire East Coast to Maine. Then next we have plans to drive to Alaska.
Is this a full-time living situation?
No, we don’t live in the bus year-round. We are out on the road about 4 to 6 months out of the year. The rest of the year we live in a house in Plantation, Florida.
With so many people on the bus, how do you decide where to travel? Is it a dictatorship? Democracy? What’s the strategy?
We all kind of decide and vote. It’s a lot of fun and we love the kids to be more involved in making the decisions.
What are the pros and cons of the bus?
Pros: It’s 100 percent custom built for me and my family, whereas a traditional RV would be almost a fixed setup and not very customizable. Also, an RV would cost three times the price. So bus life is the way to go.
Cons: It’s a lot of work to get the right buildout. You either need to know about building or know someone that does who will help. But the process is fun for sure either way!
How long do you foresee doing this?
Forever! Life is too short.
Photos courtesy Steve and Michelle Lawson