Taking a gap year to travel the world and “find yourself” has been a popular exercise for generations of young people who feel listless after graduating college, when they will never be younger or freer. But as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Three recent Clemson University graduates decided to take that notion to heart and flip the script by doing the unexpected with their post-academic energy — selfless service.
Cain Compton, a 2020 construction science and management graduate from Charleston, South Carolina; Davis Linscott, a 2021 plant and environmental sciences graduate from Raleigh, North Carolina; and Josh Haddad, a 2020 financial management graduate from Colorado Springs, Colorado, spent the last year traveling the country in a retrofitted 2009 International school bus and volunteering for community service in whatever locality they found themselves each week. They’re back in Clemson for Homecoming Week to continue that service at a local church.
They call it the LOST (Lending Our Services Traveling) Bus, and their adventures in the big blue behemoth — designed by 2021 Clemson University graphic communications graduate Natalie Dowling — have been worthy of a Mark Twain novel.
“We’ve traveled about 25,000 miles to this point,” says Linscott. “And we’re a 501(c) nonprofit totally funded by people we’ve met along the way who believe in us.”
The three friends bought the bus in January 2022 and spent nine months gutting and rebuilding it from the inside out on Compton’s family property near Charleston. When they finished, they had 280 mobile square feet of work and living space they could bring anywhere in the U.S. where there was need. They hit the road in October 2022 and haven’t looked back.
“A big part of our background is we have building skills, so that’s been the biggest blessing we can offer people,” says Compton, who took part in the Homecoming Habitat for Humanity build on Clemson’s campus when he was an undergraduate. “We don’t invoice them or charge them labor, and when we have a surplus of money, we won’t even charge for materials.”
The original LOST Bus journey began in Holland, Michigan, when three childhood friends bought a 1996 International school bus and took it on a 16-month journey to “seek adventure, simplify our lives, defy convention and serve others.” The bus kept rolling with four additional crews before it was retired from service in 2018. Five years later, Compton, Haddad and Linscott resurrected the concept with the new bus.
The idea came from Compton, who met the original crew of three in 2011, when he was in middle school, after their bus broke down near his home in Charleston. His best friend’s mother happened to meet them in a grocery store and was so impressed by what they were doing that she invited them over for dinner.
“She invited my whole family over, too, so that’s when I met all three of them,” says Compton.“One of the three guys, Derek Evenhouse, returned to Charleston after the trip and wound up working with my family. I got to spend a lot of time with him, and he told me all these stories that got me to thinking, ‘Man, that would be really cool to do myself someday.’”
The thought of traveling the country doing good for others never left Compton, and he brought Linscott and Haddad on board while they were all students at Clemson.
The work hasn’t been glamorous. They’ve offered their skills and time for free to any person or community in need and have wound up digging mud out of houses after floods in California and Vermont, working at a refugee center in Tijuana, building a radio station for the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico, and repairing roofs in Florida after Hurricane Ian, to name a few projects.
“Meeting so many different, amazing people in different places has been the biggest reward,” says Haddad. “We’ve worked with a lot of different local nonprofits impacting their neighborhood, and most of those start with someone just loving the people around them —loving their neighbors, and from that, a nonprofit will come because it’s more efficient.”
The trip has been funded by donations from people they’ve touched along the way. Food and gas have been the only genuinely essential expenses, aside from the occasional repair and new front tires in Denver, but the issue of food has frequently taken care of itself.
“People will often bring us meals, make us meals or pay for our dinner,” says Linscott. “Random acts of kindness like that have really kept us on the road.”
Putting on so many miles in so many states has lent the three friends wisdom in many areas. For starters, they all claim to know now for sure that Voodoo Chips are the best potato chips in America, and “if you want a hot dog wrapped in bacon, go to Tucson, Arizona.”
In August, their expedition took them through Holland, Michigan, where they met up with the original three LOST Bus crew members. Original crew member Ben Tucker wrote about how meeting the new crew made him feel in the LOST Bus blog:
“Whenever the news tries to convince me that this country is divided and everyone is in opposition, I know not to believe it because this is the love and kindness I’ve been seeing and experiencing from Americans for over 12 years now through The LOST Bus, without fail. People helping people — a beautiful equation where everyone wins.”
Rolling to the finish line of their journey, Compton, Linscott and Haddad hope to hand the LOST Bus over to the next three troubadours and keep the good deeds going.
“We would not have done this if we had not gone to Clemson,” says Linscott. “If you’re 22, 23, and you have a little bit of college and work behind you, and you’re still unsure, you will learn a lot and see what’s happening in other parts of the country. Once you have an experience like this, it sets you off to where you aren’t going to fall into the normal cracks anymore. You’re always going to be thinking of ways to make things better.”
After they step off the bus for the last time, the three plan to go back to their jobs in Charleston but continue serving.
“At the end of the day, the bus is kind of irrelevant,” says Compton. “It’s cool and flashy, but you don’t need a bus to go better your community. It’s something anybody can do.”