Alumni Profiles

Two for the Road

Photo of a woman doing yoga on top of an RV

When vast portions of America went into social distancing mode, Shelby Vertes and David Schmidt had just arrived in Lake Tahoe, California—not a bad place to be, in normal times. Unfortunately, all the resorts and lodgings in the area were closing. Tourists who rely on hotels and B&Bs might have succumbed to a sense of crisis, but Vertes SEBS’17, GSNB’19 and Schmidt were well prepared.

For the New Jersey couple, it was just another chapter in an epic road trip launched last September. Spanning 10,000 miles of Canada and the United States, their adventure has taken them from Niagara Falls to the Arizona desert, from a cheese farm in Ontario to a crystalline hot springs in Utah—all in a vehicle not usually associated with fun and freedom. You could call it a school bus, but that wouldn’t do it justice.

Their 28-foot, 2002 Thomas Built skoolie is a veritable home-on-wheels. It even has a name: Charlotte, because they bought her in North Carolina. Charlotte is complete with a composting toilet, recirculating shower, propane stove, and radiant floor heating. Converting her into a living space for two adults and a dog took $30,000, ten months of work and extensive research into plumbing, wiring, and solar-panel installation.

As that long preparation phase suggests, the decision to break from a traditional lifestyle was not made overnight. Well before the coronavirus forced most of the world to self-isolate, Vertes and Schmidt had both felt stuck. He hated his 9-to-5 tech job; she was nearing her Rutgers graduation but wasn’t sure what came next. Ultimately, their sense of wanderlust won out.

On the road, Vertes has freelanced as a résumé writer to help cover their monthly expenses while Schmidt builds his web development business, Big Chimp Creative. Their website,, offers a colorful chronicle of their journey. It also showcases the school bus conversion process and shares guidance and information for anyone eager to get out and about in unconventional ways. “I’d love for more people to realize that it is possible to pursue a dream no matter how impossible it sounds,” says Vertes.

Now that they have survived more than six months on the highway, learning to negotiate everything from bus maintenance to relationship stress, Vertes reports that initially skeptical friends and relatives have become supportive. Her Rutgers master’s degree in business helped her develop “a mindset where I don’t have to be doing everything that everyone else is doing,” she says.

Of course, there’s the elephant in the school bus: the COVID-19 pandemic. With rolling digs like Charlotte, you can’t shelter in place if you have nowhere to park. So how did they deal with the Lake Tahoe problem? “We went about two hours east into rural Nevada,” says Vertes. “Our rig is completely off-grid capable, with 1400 watts of solar and 135 gallons of water. However, once campgrounds, RV parks, and public land began closing, the need to hunker down became real for us.”

Thanks to a Google doc circulating through the road life community, Vertes and Schmidt learned of a couple in Bend, Oregon, who had kindly opened their property to travelers. “We thought, ‘Bend seems like a cool spot to be hunkered down in, lets go there!’ ” says Vertes. As of this writing, that’s where they are. “We’re pretty used to staying in remote places without much social interaction. Of course, we’d both love to be with our families in New Jersey during this time, but traveling just isn’t safe.”

For now, they’re okay with being in neutral. And, like all great road trips, theirs will end when the time is right. “I don’t see myself raising a family in a school bus,” says Vertes. “Eventually, I think we’re both going to get to the point where we need some type of stability. For now, we’re just trying to enjoy being on the road.”