Interview: Cynthia ” Whimsical Cyn” Gianturco

Why did you decide to live in a skoolie? 

I started working remotely and moved into a travel trailer for a couple years after my divorce was finalized and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t like being tied down to campgrounds and resorts. If we wanted to stay someplace longer, we couldn’t because the next place was booked… and if we didn’t like a particular area, that’s too bad, because we already paid for the campground. I thought a bus not only would allow the extra freedom of not having to book places, but it would also save us the cost of the rent I paid to stay at those places. I picked a shuttle bus over a van because it’s bigger, and I wanted to have room for my sweetheart plus my sewing stuff and our musical instruments. I picked a shuttle over a schoolbus because stealth was really important to me, since we planned on going to a lot of populated areas on the east coast as opposed to boondocking in nature all the time, and I figure a shuttle bus looks more inconspicuous than a painted school bus in a parking lot.

Did you travel with the bus or were you in one place? We bought the bus in Colorado where we did most of the conversion. We finished all but the plumbing and some electrical in Arkansas and we finished it up entirely in central Florida over the winter where my sweetheart finally got to go to Disney World for the first time (we’re both huge fans. I used to work there). We dipped down to Key West and then we took it up through Georgia (We saw the Georgia Guidestones only a couple weeks before they were blown up!) and South Carolina to Asheville, North Carolina. We followed the Appalachians north and then dipped east to visit Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, then we came up to Maryland and Pennsylvania and that’s when we finally decided the lifestyle just wasn’t working for us.

What was your favorite part of living in one? Least favorite? By far my favorite part is the way we built it. I see so many buses and conversions out there that look similar or incorporate so much white. After living in a trailer, I know white is pretty in pictures, but a hopeless endeavor in reality. I really enjoy the natural feel, so having natural wood tones and the stone-look on our floor and bathroom walls just made the bus feel so incredibly cozy to me. I also love the freedom it gave. We got to do a lot of things we hadn’t planned on doing, just spur of the moment, because we could. It was also nice always having everything with us all the time – no worries about packing or forgetting anything. But that’s kind of a draw-back, too, because everywhere you want to go, you have to drag everything you own, pretty much your whole house, with you. That isn’t always convenient or easy. I think my least favorite thing, though, was the parking lots. Because we decided to start on the east coast, I knew it would be a lot of parking lots, but I didn’t think it would bother me so much to be cooped up inside so much without being able to just go out and be amongst trees or even go for a quiet walk. I know we could have gotten a campground some of the time, but I was nervous about people bothering us (not being a problem, but out of friendly curiosity), and it kind of defeats the purpose of being 100% off grid. Surprisingly, finding parking was never a problem and we only got a knock once when we happened to be parked in some manager’s favorite spot so he called the cops on it. She said we were find and just asked us to move to the other side of the parking lot and all was well.

You said it was unique. What made it that way?

Mostly the materials we used and the way it looks is different from most conversions I’ve seen. Also, since we are musicians and crafters, we didn’t put in a couch or a sitting area, really. Instead, we put in a piano stand and a sewing desk, which is actually an antique writing desk my sweetheart already had… But the cool thing is that those things come out very easily, and in their place there is easily enough room for a couch, another desk, more storage, or whatever is important to the next owner. I don’t think many conversions have that option.

Why did you decide to sell it? 

When we started out, the companies I worked for were at the top of their game, and I was making more than enough to support both of us just contracting as a Virtual Assistant, but the market kind of crashed shortly after we started traveling, investors pulled out, hours got cut, pay got cut, and finding more remote work has actually been pretty difficult. On top of that, I’m the only one with a driver’s license since my sweetheart had a DUI back in 2018 and Colorado is no joke when it comes to DUIs. Doing all the work and all the driving has absolutely destroyed me. My sweetheart, was actually able to get sober because of this lifestyle, but I can’t say he’s not had a tough time of constantly moving. He’s had trouble misplacing things, he misses his friends and doing the things with them that he can’t really do when constantly on the road (marital arts, archery, music with familiar people, etc), and he has no remote work or computer experience. Basically, he’s a very hands-on kinda guy and he’s been bored out of his mind. I’ve tried to help him get into some easier remote jobs, but he’s just so uncomfortable with it, it’s completely killed his confidence and I honestly feel awful about it. We just need a good, long break to regroup and figure out what’s important and we support each other in that decision. Surprisingly, I feel our relationship has gotten stronger through all of this.

What are some qualities about the bus that would make others want to buy it?

It’s only got 99k miles on it so plenty of life left on a strong engine. It’s 100% off grid with 300ah of LiFePo4 (Lithium) battery and 960w of solar panels on the roof. We did set up a way to hook up to 20amp service, but I honestly don’t know if it works – we never had to use it once! It’s 100% (from floor to ceiling) insulated with 2″ of sheep wool, so no chemicals and it’s sound dampening. If we stayed inside with the windows shut, you’d never know we were in a parking lot, it was very quiet. We’ve also put a ton of mechanical work into it with a new radiator, new alternator, new belts, all 10 new spark plugs, new A/C system, new emissions system, and 6 new tires. It’s only 25 feet long, so it’s surprisingly easy to maneuver and only a few feet longer than the cargo vans out there, but it’s taller than the vans and skoolies. From floor to ceiling is exactly 6’1″. It also has a folding passenger seat bench, so two people can sit up front with the driver. It has engine powered A/C in the rear and two fans. Another huge thing is it doesn’t leak. We coated the roof and made sure every window was sealed tight and we even moved the emergency windows around so they’re all accessible. We also treated the entire undercarriage for rust, though there wasn’t very much since it spent most of it’s life in the high desert of Colorado. It’s finished, livable, off grid, and has room for customization, and I’m asking less than the cost of the unfinished vans on the market.

Take me on a tour of the bus. What was the set up like?

When you first step inside, you’ll see the passenger bench (probably folded up so it’s easier to get inside!). As you walk toward the back of the bus, to the right behind the driver’s seat is a space where my sewing desk was, which looks out a little port window. I loved that window, it’s so cute, and one of the main things that drew me to buying this bus for our conversion. To the left is my sweetheart’s wood piano stand with a cover that lifts off. It not only protected the piano, but also provided us with more desk space or a bar-like table where we could eat and look out the two full windows. We also used that topper as a “buffet table” of sorts in the bed for movie nights. Just beyond the desk on the right side is the shower/bathroom with an actual bi-fold custom wooden door on it. We both like our privacy in the bathroom, so just a curtain wasn’t going to do. The toilet is a composter, and we set it up so that the urine can be diverted into the grey tank or into a separate jug. The toilet is also on wheels, so it can be rolled out to make more room for the shower. The shower is another unique thing.. The bathroom has a little round hobbit door on the wall where the kitchen faucet can be pulled through. We also installed one of the old railings in there for extra stability if you need to use the bathroom while we’re moving. Just behind the bathroom, then, is a huge, deep kitchen sink. The window behind the faucet is an emergency window, so it can be opened for outdoor showers as well. Above the sink and countertop is small storage shelves where we kept all our tea, spices, and cups. Under the sink is an electric hot water heater and space for our camping stove, propane, and trash. Under the countertop is a huge 2-tiered metal Lazy Susan which we used as a pantry and to store our bigger pots and pans. Across from the kitchen area on the left is the 85qt Whynter chest fridge. It rolls out so you can access everything easily and rolls back in so it’s out of the way and our closet is above it. Our electrical system is also mostly in the closet as well. Next to the closet/fridge is our battery storage and breaker/fuse boxes on the floor and a little “seat” which was built in for my dog so he would be able to get up and down from the bed. There’s also a full window there so he could look outside, and that’s also an emergency window. And, finally, the queen bed in the back with TONS of storage space underneath it which can be accessed from inside, through the top of the bed (the platform lifts up), and from outside through the wheelchair lift doors. The water system is under the bed, too, with a 55 gallon fresh water tank, water pump, 2 gallon accumulator tank (so the pump doesn’t run more than it has to), and two water filters. Anywhere there isn’t a full window, we left the tops of the windows accessible for light and airflow. The window in the back is also an emergency window, and was fantastic to have open when we were parked in nature.

Once again, I’d love to hear any extra information that makes you unique. While it was hard on him in other ways, I don’t think my sweetheart could have gotten sober without this lifestyle. It’s really hard, being stuck in that grind of hard work all day, passing by multiple liquor stores on the way home, and not stopping in to sneak a sip of vodka… Without a need for a coping mechanism to deal with that hard work stress, he was able to get out of that bottle and he’s been sober for a year now. It’s really amazing, to be honest, and I am so incredibly proud of the strides he’s made. For me, I’ll never stop traveling. Since we decided the skoolie/van/bus life was a bit too much traveling for us right now, we’ve settled temporarily in Maryland where we’ve made some really great friends, bought a low-top cargo van, and threw a bed in the back of it so we can still do weekend trips while the bus is for sale and after we sell it. Depending on how work goes, we may consider moving into another travel trailer or maybe even another bus. That’s the long-term goal, for me at least.

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