Campus Life

Bus-to-tiny home transformation part of student's career-development plan

For senior Sam Reiser, transforming a school bus into a tiny home makes all the sense in the world

Sam Reiser's plan to create a tiny house on wheels started with a typical-looking yellow school bus. Credit: Felipe Rosario / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Sony a6000 camera, a white 2001 Blue Bird International 65-seat school bus, and a passion for people and the outdoors are all that Penn State senior Sam Reiser needs.

Reiser, born in the United Kingdom and raised in Australia, is majoring in journalism in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications with a minor in psychology. A member of Penn State’s track and field team, Reiser has found more to be passionate about than just his athletic and academic success.

Having developed a love for the outdoors at a young age from family camping trips and a year at an outdoor adventure high school in Australia, Reiser has been developing skills that can turn his passion into a career and lifestyle. In each of his three summers while studying at Penn State, Reiser has traveled with friends across the United States, visiting both easily-recognizable and off-the-beaten-path destinations and becoming a self-taught adventure photographer. His academic focus is print and digital journalism.

With three coast-to-coast trips under his belt and just five states left to visit in the U.S., Reiser has seen and photographed more of the country than most people who have lived here their whole lives. One of his favorite aspects of traveling is bringing along people who would not have taken a trip on their own.

“That’s been a really nice portion of it, just taking people outside of their comfort zones and just showing them what they’re capable of,” Reiser said.

Though Reiser’s adventures keep getting larger and more ambitious — with each journey he finds himself packing less. Living minimally on trips has inspired him to do the same in his everyday life.

To do so, Reiser is currently transforming a school bus into his own tiny home. By essentially eliminating rent for himself in the future, Reiser said he will be able to focus less on material things and more on what he is constantly looking for in his travels and life: experiences.

Penn State senior Sam Reiser, born in the United Kingdom and raised in Australia, is majoring in journalism in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications with a minor in psychology — and transforming a bus into his very own tiny home. By essentially eliminating rent for himself in the future, Reiser said he will be able to focus less on material things and more on what he is constantly looking for in his travels and life: experiences. Credit: Penn State Bellisario College of Communications

Reiser turned one of these experiences — his summer 2018 road trip from Mexico to the Arctic Circle — into a for-credit independent study with assistant teaching professor Curt Chandler. Professor John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and faculty partner to the track and field team, connected Reiser and Chandler after seeing the senior’s high-quality photography from the trip. 

Chandler worked with Reiser throughout his fall semester to turn his photographs and drone footage into a multimedia storytelling piece with a written essay, photo gallery and video component.

“Sam is just so eager to get better at this. He’s got a lot of natural ability; he’s a terrific photographer,” Chandler said. “It’s really fun to work with somebody who has this much energy and passion for what we’re doing.”

The two have enjoyed working together on the project, a dynamic that Reiser has found both productive and meaningful. He said receiving feedback from a professor who treats him as an equal has been a great learning experience.

The storytelling piece will be honed with the intention of submitting it for the Hearst Journalism Awards Program and potentially trying to pitch it to different publications. Chandler said he hopes he and Reiser will continue to fine tune it in the spring while further developing Reiser’s adventure photography skills. 

The independent study has a shorter timeline than the bus project, which Reiser plans to complete by graduation in May. Learning as much as he can from friends, family and the internet, actually transforming the bus has been its own adventure for Reiser, who has no prior experience in construction.

“From people that I don’t know to people that I’ve known for years, everybody’s been awesome about getting around it,” Reiser said, crediting more than 25 friends and community members who have come to help him bring the bus to life. “Everyone’s been super stoked to get on board and work on something that I think a lot of them think is unattainable, but as they work more and more some of them are now talking about building their own tiny home or getting their own bus or traveling more, so it’s been cool to see perspectives shift.”

Reiser’s tiny home will be completed with all the necessary amenities — bathroom, bedroom and kitchen — and that’s just the inside. The roof will have solar panels, along with a rooftop deck and tent, all accompanied by a deck to house a motorcycle on the back of the bus.

“If you want to live tiny and make those sacrifices of comfort, which I would argue isn’t even uncomfortable — you have hot water, electricity on demand, a full-size bed, kitchen — everything that you’re going to need, and you’re going to be a homeowner straight out of university and you can start putting that money towards whatever you want,” Reiser said. “Why is that seen as uncomfortable?”

With 13 track and field training sessions per week on top of a full course load, it has been challenging for Reiser to find time for the passion project, though he said it has helped to keep him grounded and enhanced his time management skills. Working through rain and snow, he has made it out to the bus’ temporary parking spot in Boalsburg almost every day. Focusing on the project between the fall and spring semesters was especially productive, he said.

He’s continued to contribute well to the track team as a member of the 4x400 relay, which placed first at the recent Nittany Lion Challenge. He also posted a team-best 49.21 during the men’s 400-meter dash at the event.

If all goes to plan, Reiser hopes to find himself on another cross-country trip after graduation, this time in his newly renovated bus, to wherever his future job will take him. He hopes to work for an outdoor company, combining his love for nature and adventure with his skills in communications and photography to inspire even more people to get outside.

Reiser is optimistic about the project, especially with the constant support of his family and friends who have always been eager to support his adventurous dreams. His long-term plans include a cross-country motorcycle trip with his mother and a trip from London to Australia with a friend from home. Reiser said while his plans are getting more ambitious it has always been the people who have made the experiences worthwhile.

Especially the experience of building the bus.

“Everyone thinks that I’m doing this for travel, but I’m doing this to live out of it; I’m going to have a 9-5 and I’m going to be commuting every day. That’s the plan,” Reiser said. “This bus isn’t built specifically to travel the country, that’s just one of the benefits of having it.”

Those interested in keeping up with Reiser’s adventures can find him on Instagram for travel photography (@_justroaming_) and for bus/tiny home updates (@bus.roaming). Or, for a bit of both.

Last Updated June 02, 2021