Hey there, before heading into a rant on the topic you've put forth let me answer your questions directly and then give some general thoughts, that are unique to me (and everyone will have their own).
How long did it take?
It will take me twice as long as I'd like. I've had spurts of motivation, time, and mental energy. When things progress, they feel like they really progressing and it makes for even more momentum. When you aren't doing anything, the bus project / dream are easy to put on the back burner. Sometimes simply talking about it to your friends may seem like its more a reality than it is, but it is not true. Doing work (not research) will create more work and get the job done. Just f%$*#'n do it.
What did it ultimately end up costing you?
My budget is about $10k. I think I will get to about $12k or $13k. This can vary widely if you're able to do work yourself or not, having the tools, and of course how complicated/simple you make the build out to be.
Would you do it again, given the choice to do so?
No, I don't think I would. But, I knew this going in and that's part of the reason why I'm doing it. I'm creating my first home, one that will last me until I absolutely need to change my lifestyle.
What was the most surprising thing that happened while doing the work?
Ha! Umm, everything. I have two motto's with the bus. One is that change or the unknown is a certainty. I don't believe in "security", the only security I know to be true is that there is always insecurity, some call this "change", but insecurity is the only reality. So, my point is that there will be nothing but surprises, things you didn't know before that come up, and obstacles that will need your attention. Your will be unique to you and you should expect it.
This leads me into my second motto. "Rely on your F#&%k'n Self! I have to constantly remind myself of this, because I know that I can learn, grow, and progress the bus project if I continue to learn for myself, trust myself, and just try expecting to make mistakes. This is, of course, part of the journey and fun. Leave it up to the RV folks who want the easy life with no character ;). This motto progresses the bus to keep momentum up while at the same time helping me to realize exactly what I need to tap my friends for or paying a contractor.
Do you live in it full-time, part-time, or just vacation in it?
I'll be living in the bus by the end of this month. It will be rough'n it, but I'll make it sexy as I live in it and test it out. It's been painted, I have water hooked up, I have propane fridge, stove, and water heater, I have a composting toilet. All the other sexy details will come in after a couple months of living in it.
My relatively sage advice is to continue to expect the criticisms and then ignore them. Say thank you, and use it as motivation to enjoy your life however you'd like and not have to live theirs or what most people in society default to. The default, typically, is more like a puppet on strings and those people will always have something critical to say. I think this is why everyone is so helpful and nice on this forum.. we've all enjoyed some deep love and pain throughout our builds and whether it is "successful" or not, experiencing those depths of emotions is what life is all about!
I was once at a dinner party with a few women that seemed fancy. My best friend brought up my bus and was excited to hear me talk about it. A bit reluctantly I started to detail the plans and motivations (knowing that I'd have to deflect some small* criticism, boy was I wrong), and I of course got really into talking about it. As I surveyed faces, everyone was smiling and curious.. everyone except one girl. Her face looked liked she had just been pooped on (without having the fetish for it)... and I'd never experienced such disgust when explaining how plumbing, propane, and (oh boy) the composting toilet would work. You would have thought that I completely disrespected her entire world, maybe I did(?). She asked question after question that challenged my whole lifestyle, I smiled and answered politely (her attitude quickly became comical). Needless to say, the smile we exchanged from across the room earlier that night, which might have said "hey I think you're cute and we should make out", was now a massive frown - and I thanked my bus for being the best filter ever(!!) for my future girlfriend.
the end (and beginning)