When my wife, Shari, dropped her plan for quitting our university jobs, renting out our house, and rediscovering North America on an extended road trip, I was immediately intrigued. One tiny little detail became a sticking point for jumping on board; I just wasn’t an RV guy.
As an outdoor educator, I probably spent two months each year sleeping in a tent. Shari loved tents as well, even at home we preferred to slumber beneath our covered porch rather than in the bedroom between April and October. So, why would we want anything but the most minimal shelter between us and the great outdoors? Reality struck; I imagined setting up, taking down, and storing away that small wad of nylon into its storage sack day after day. The image of living like that for more than a month through wind, mud, rain and snow, made me think twice, three times even. Perhaps I’m not as hard core as I thought?
As usual, my wife of 12 years was way ahead of me. She surprised me with an impulsive bid on a vintage camper on eBay one evening in 2010. Upon first seeing that listing, its vintage look, cozy feel, and handy-person’s dream “solid floor with no soft spots,” she was sold and ready to go all in. Her vision and confidence that we could repair, replace, recover, or hide everything needing an update on this old classic was contagious. But, what really won me over was her argument that the RV could become a rolling adventure wagon, our basecamp if you will. During the remodel we’d plan our storage out for all our adventure toys, including a special space for the well-loved tent. I didn’t have to choose between being an RV guy or tent guy, I could be both!
SOLAR POWER GOES EVERYWHERE YOU GO
Solar power was always part of our remodel plan, but this was 2011 and 2012, and DIY solar resources weren’t that plentiful unless you studied engineering. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore and the wealth of resources available will guide almost any handy person through building out their own system.
For us, solar power is the key to making this lifestyle work financially. By not needing more expensive electrical hookups at campsites, we’ve been able to live, work, and play from anywhere. Staying in expensive and jam-packed RV resorts wasn’t our idea of getting away from it all in the first place. We dreamed of getting off the grid in remote and beautiful locations without having to worry about whether we had enough battery power to keep the lights on. With lower overhead expenses, we can spend most of our time simply living instead of always working.
There is so much DIY solar information available online, it’ll make your head spin. As life-long educators, it’s our goal to help boil the complex ideas down to basic, understandable concepts so that you can figure out what you need to thrive off-grid. Through our installation and solar education videos available on our YouTube Channel, we strive to do just that.
Our 200W solar powered system (with optional 100W Folding Solar Suitcase for low sun conditions) is super straightforward and allows us to both live and work from our mobile adventure basecamp. We specialize in small, efficient systems that make life possible -- check out our 6 Simple Strategies for Maximizing a Small Solar Powered System video for how we’ve done it for so many years. To learn what you may need based on your personal energy demands, check out our Solar 101 video.
When we are away from our RV on outdoor adventures, we bring some simple portable solar gear with us to keep our gadgets topped off, including our smartphone, headlamps, bike lights, GoPro batteries, etc.
YOUR RV AS A BASECAMP
Airstream already knows this, they even market their “Basecamp'' model to a younger, more active and outdoorsy crowd. The reality is that you don’t have to spend $43K, any small home on wheels can become your basecamp – be it a gear trailer, van, or RV. For the past 9 years, in our restored 1957 Sportcraft “canned ham” camper, we've found ways to balance our mobile work life while pursuing our backpacking, bikepacking, and expedition sea kayaking passions all over the continent. People tell us “You are living my dream!” but our question is always, “Why are you letting us live your dream?” Get out there and do it!
Having an RV basecamp means that you have adventures on your way to your adventure! You may have dreamed of visiting Yellowstone National Park, but the journey will be so much more epic if you drive your adventure wagon there rather than fly in with a heavy gear bag. The relative comfort of our tiny RV is even better than returning to a traditional home…because the adventure doesn’t have to end.
Our Favorite Resources for Adventure!
LEAVING THE BASECAMP BEHIND
With the increase in popularity and accessibility of mobile work, we are seeing more and more RVers with the similar mentality and storage space for their outdoor toys. From folks pulling large toyhaulers stuffed with OHVs, to vanlifers with bike racks on the back and kayaks on top, we’re all figuring out how to blend the best of our work and play worlds.
No matter what region of the country we’ve traveled, we’ve found safe places to park Hamlet while enjoying epic human-powered adventures. Here are just a few examples to get your planning juices flowing:
Pacific Northwest: You know you’re off to a good adventure when the Backcountry Ranger issuing your permits wants to tag along. This multi-sport adventure across the North Cascades ecosystem in Washington was certainly one of the best months we’ve spent outside. After completing a work season at the North Cascades Institute, we enlisted some friends to help us with the logistics of a 150-mile adventure bikepacking, backpacking, and sea kayaking from the western side of the Cascades (Diablo) to the eastern side (Chelan) under our own power. We stored Hamlet at the friend’s house from which we embarked.
Southwest: If you want to know the best place to get away from the crowds, ask the Ranger, “What would you do if you had a couple of free days in the park?” After telling hundreds of visitors the same three most popular hike options, her eyes will suddenly light up and ask, “What kind of vehicle are you driving?” This quick exchange at the Visitor’s Center led us to an amazing canyon two hours' drive along 4x4 roads away from the safe parking lot in Capitol Reef National Park where we left our rig. We spent a few blissful days hiking, exploring, and wandering among arches, petroglyphs, and desert seeps in this remote wilderness.
Midwest: Bikepacking along the Cuyahoga Valley National Park towpath in northwestern Ohio is one of the best Midwest cycling adventures. Our friends in Cleveland happily stored Hamlet in their backyard driveway while we embarked on a 200-mile biking and camping journey along the towpath. We connected this with several Rails-to-Trails paths through Ohio Amish country as well as a stay at Mohican State Park.
Southeast: Early in our RV adventures, we wandered down to southern Florida and got onto island time in a whole new way. The islands of Everglades National Park, and nearby Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, offer some of the most remote, pristine and private beaches along the Gulf Coast. Within a few hours paddle, we could enjoy our own island for as long as our supplies lasted. The camper was safely parked at the expansive boat launch on the park’s north end visitor’s center for the whole week, free of charge.
Northeast: Bikepacking along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath Trailof Pennsylvania and Maryland (334.5 Miles from Pittsburgh to D.C.) had been on our bucket list for nearly a decade. We finally took the time to ride it this fall, and the logistics could not be more straightforward. We parked our rig at a friend’s house in suburban D.C., rode our bikes with all our gear to Union Station where we took the Capitol Limited Amtrak train route to the other end of the trail in Pittsburg. We made only one reservation for our first night’s lodging at The Traveler’s Rest Hostel, which offers bike and gear storage for its guests and is within an easy ride of the train station.
START LIVING YOUR DREAM!
I wasn’t an RV guy; I am one now. Our experiment in solar RV living was only supposed to be for 18-months, maybe 2 years, but 9 years later we’re still not slowing down. We sold the house, got rid of nearly everything that cannot travel with us, and discovered how to keep it on the road. What’s stopping you?
In 2012, Shari Galiardi & David Hutchison left behind careers and a comfortable home in North Carolina to travel with the vintage camper trailer they lovingly restored, outfitted with solar, and named "Hamlet." What began as a short break from careers and responsibility quickly turned into a love affair with roadlife. They have parlayed their higher education backgrounds, desire for life-long learning, and thirst for adventure travel into writing, photography, video production, and public speaking gigs from coast to coast. Known to their friends as simply Shari & Hutch, you can learn more about their full-time, solar-powered adventures on their website at freedominacan.com. Or, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as “Freedom in a Can, LLC.”