Solar Road Warriors Share Their Stories

It’s all about FREEDOM and flexibility. One of the things I love about RV travel is being spontaneous and not having everything mapped out; I like to be able to change plans and go where the road takes me, and I can do that more easily without having to rely on reserving sites with hookups. ” -Joe Soave

Our social media handle, as well as our business, is “Freedom in a Can.” This name attempts to capture what we found when we left behind our traditional living and work situation and hit the road with our vintage “canned ham” travel trailer in tow. The freedom to roam, the freedom from expectations (not to mention a mortgage), and the freedom to follow our own path revealed themselves to us in a way we’d never experienced before. Our journey over the past 10 years hasn’t always been easy, certain, or straightforward, but nothing in life worth doing ever is…right?!?

While preparing for this roadlife back in 2011, remodeling our vintage RV, downsizing all of our belongings and preparing to rent / sell our house, we had no personal role models who had ever done this, but somehow it felt like a natural next step for us. We knew we wanted to live more sustainably and wanted to experience our own country at our own pace, but we had never heard the term “full time RV lifestyle,” didn’t know that people worked remotely from the road, and weren’t even sure that this lifestyle would be for us; but, we knew that one key ingredient to our success would be solar power!

There are plenty of role models out there now – just check out those hashtags. We caught up with a few of the people whom we’ve helped to go solar over the past couple of years. Their rigs run the gamut from Joe with his Escape 5th Wheel, Davi with her Ford Transit Van, Jenny & Jim with their vintage Detroiter travel trailer, and Gerard & Lisa with their Northwood Artic Fox travel trailer. The number one overwhelming response they gave to our questions was how grateful they were that their solar powered systems increased their feeling of freedom!

Some of these fellow road warriors did their own installation, others hired a professional, and others took a hybrid approach. These stories serve as role models for wherever you may be on your journey toward solar independence – whether your home rolls, floats, or is completely stationary. We hope that you’ll find your own situation within theirs. We’ll cover not only what they installed, but how they did it, and most importantly how their RV increases their sense of freedom and wonder about the world instead of the pressure of running from one reservation to the next. Travel is supposed to be relaxing and freeing, not stress inducing – and we could all use a little more of that right about now!

Meet Joe & his Escape 5.0 5th Wheel Trailer

We met Joe when we signed up as a customer with the accounting firm in which he is a partner. Just a few weeks later, he reached out to us about integrating solar into his RV’s electrical system. As a CPA, Joe has some predictable patterns to his annual work schedule. Just before the holiday season in the winter, his office closes down and every member of the company he works for hits the road in their RV’s for a brief vacation right before returning to dig into tax season. Then, as soon as all the columns are totaled, all the t’s crossed, they close down again for another 2 week hiatus in April. During these seasonal breaks, Joe and his family love to get away in their Escape 5th wheel travel trailer they’ve named “Rocinante.” In addition to these seasonal work breaks and the occasional weekend getaway, they typically do at least one major road trip a year to the mid-west or east coast, before returning to their home in California. A good solar charge and a data signal are all that he needs to keep up with work while on the road.

Joe integrated three 100W Monocrystalline Rigid Panels, 40A Rover MPPT Charge Controller, and a 500A Battery Monitor into the existing electrical system, and connects a 100W Solar Suitcase on an MC-4 extension cord to keep the batteries topped off when the rig is parked in the shade, or on a cloudy day they need more solar gain.

Prior to adding a solar panel system to the rig, they camped mostly in state parks, or other campgrounds with full hook-ups. They could squeak out a day (maybe two) in between plugging in by being ultra conservative with battery power, or using their tow vehicle to trickle charge their two 224AH AGM batteries. Joe knew that solar power would increase the time in between campsites, but he was slightly intimidated by the installation process. Being a numbers guy, we helped him look at the installation as a math and physics problem. First step is to calculate what you need to power on a daily basis, then design a system robust enough to handle your average daily need.

Download our Solar System Sizing Worksheet to calculate your own energy needs!

With some other great assistance from an online forum of fellow Escape owners, he was able to find a solution to his biggest installation hurdle, securing the rigid panels down to the fiberglass roof without having to drill through it. He chose a glue down method which required no screws. The project definitely took longer than the weekend that he’d set aside for it, but once completed they’ve been super pleased with the outcomes and have had virtually no problems.

“I love not having to rely on electrical hookups. I can camp wherever I like, even if there’s no hookups, and be able to run everything. This has become extra valuable recently, as the latest boom in the RV industry has made RV parks and other campsites with hookups much harder to find and reserve, and also I can escape all the crowds by venturing further away to more secluded and less traditional spots! Also, with the ever-growing wildfire threat here in CA (we got evacuated twice last year alone!) we love having the RV ready to escape in, knowing that it’s a safe little house on wheels with all the amenities for us and our pups. And finally, I love being able to camp in my friends & family’s driveways and yards without having to ask to connect to their power.”

Meet Davi & her Ford Transit Cargo Van

We first met Davi at a Solar Open House event that we offered at an REI store in early 2020, just a couple short weeks before the lockdown. As a retired minister, she had been contemplating roadlife and had a ton of questions about our mobile lifestyle. After struggling to find a van builder and solar installer, Davi enlisted the help of her brother to both install the solar system in her van conversion project as well as complete the rest of the build. Since she knew that she wanted solar power from the beginning, they tackled that installation first (after doing all her solar homework!) and then constructed the bed and kitchen cabinets around that system. They installed a 100% Renogy system, including two 100W Monocrystalline Rigid Panels, Rover 40A MPPT Charge Controller, two 200AH 12V Hybrid Gel Batteries, 2000W Inverter Charger, and a 500A Battery Monitor.

Prior to going solar she hadn’t camped in the van, but after only a few months of roadlife, she’s committed to going full-time! She recently told us, “I think eventually I will settle into traveling the southern states in the winter and northern states in the summer, catching the good weather year round. I loved the Everglades and could spend all of my time there. Ultimately, as long as I’m outside in nature, I don’t care where I am.” Being fellow Nature Nerds, we can totally relate to this sentiment!

The only problem that they experienced during the build was with the inverter, they had accidentally grounded it twice and couldn’t make it function. After consulting with a friend and going over the system again with a fine-toothed comb, they found the double ground and rectified the problem. It’s been problem free ever since.

“I love my solar powered system because I don’t have to worry about where I land each day. I have all that I need even when there is no other power source around. I can boondock easily, and it’s one less thing to think about.”

Meet Jenny & Jim and their 1959 Detroiter

Early in 2021, our dear hometown friends approached us about purchasing an RV. They had started looking, but like so many other people getting into the market, were frustrated by the manufacturing delays and shortages. They wanted to get out sooner rather than the 18-month lead time they’d been quoted.

We asked them one important question, “How do you intend to use the camper?” They wanted to go to some remote campgrounds, enjoy some Harvest Hosts, do some boondocking, visit family, and maybe even occasionally use their camper as a mobile office so they could combine their jobs with their passion for travel. In essence they wanted to do what we do, without necessarily committing to full-time, year-round. They didn’t express a huge need for a built-in bathroom and so we suggested going small, and possibly vintage. After we hung up the phone, Jenny jumped online and found a fully-restored vintage camper for sale in their area – within two weeks they drove “Mo” (short for “Mo-town”) home to their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jim and Jenny immediately got started on figuring out their solar powered needs, even before taking Mo out on his maiden voyage. While they were both crafty and resourceful, the thought of doing all the necessary wiring seemed a little overwhelming; so they turned to a friend in the sustainable design industry for help with the installation. This was the very same friend who helped us figure out what we needed to install in Hamlet back in 2012.

Together, the 3 of them tore out the old battery and converter and installed a complete Renogy system that would take advantage of both an engine charge (via a 30A Dual Input MPPT Charger) while driving and two 100W Eclipse Solar Suitcases with MC-4 extension cords while hanging around at camp. They took our advice and bought a 100AH 12V Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery, 700W Inverter, and a 500A Battery Monitor. Having a knowledgeable friend supervising the install gave them the confidence to clip the wires, make the MC-4 connections and hook up the battery. Their system has been super effective in helping them enjoy their travel goals. “We are flush with power!” they recently told us.

“It is fun to use our brain a bit related to our energy use, and also it just feels way better in terms of sustainability. I guess because we never used a generator, the thought of using (one) feels just kind of strange when such an easy, sustainable, and QUIET option is available.” Even with a small solar powered system, they have all the power that they need to run their lives and even catch up on work with their consulting business.

While the duo don’t imagine going full-time anytime soon, as they have family close by (plus a brand-new grandchild) and a thriving consulting business, they admit to catching the off-grid RV traveling bug after having recently returned from a trip from North Carolina to New Mexico. “We have already started to feel antsy if we go too long between outings.”

Choosing solar to power their adventures seemed completely natural to them as they’ve always tried to minimize their environmental footprint, and leave a place better than they found it. “To us, solar also generates good feelings, both in ourselves and other people… Generators, while practical, do not seem to generate good feelings either in the people using them or the people who are in their proximity… So, if you can increase your sustainability, your knowledge, AND your good feelings, why not do it?”

Gerard & Lisa - Northwood Artic Fox 25R Travel Trailer

Gerard and Lisa attended our virtual “ RV Solar 101” seminar that we presented during the 2021 Grand Rapids Camper, Travel & RV Show. A few days later, Gerard reached out with some specific questions on planning out his own system. While they worked through the planning and design of the system, they chose to hire a professional to do the installation.

They purchased a Solar Panel Kit from Renogy which included three 100W Monocrystalline Rigid Panels and a 40A Rover MPPT Charge Controller, as well as added a 100W Solar Suitcase on an MC-4 extension cord into the mix to keep the batteries topped off when their rig is parked in the shade or on a cloudy day.

The folks at “ Sol Seekers Solar” integrated all of the new solar components into their RV’s existing electrical system. In the same week Gerard reached out to us for help, the folks at Sol Seekers Solar also reached out to us letting us know of their services. And as luck would have it, they were all in Texas, and relatively close by – by Texas standards, of course. We connected them together and they had the installation completed within a couple of weeks!

Gerard and Lisa are now retired, so they use their RV for weeks to months at a time, especially to get away from the Texas heat in the summer. They do a reverse snowbird migration by heading up into the elevations of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest coast, as well as the gorgeous coast of Maine. Their longest summer trip was an amazing 5 month journey to Alaska, stopping in British Columbia, Banff, Icefields Parkway, and the Yukon. “It’s all part of the great adventure of exploring our beautiful country!”

“We absolutely recommend every RVer to get solar because it gives you peace of mind that your batteries are being charged, even if your RV is in storage. We use solar every single day, giving us the ability to camp off grid while taking in the spectacular beauty of our country.”

Spreading the Solar Love! We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

When we got into this road lifestyle, we were just one of a handful of people we met on the road who were using solar power, and we simply couldn’t be happier to see that pattern turn around over the past decade. We never would have gotten off the ground by ourselves if we hadn’t had some assistance from a friend in the business, and it’s become one of our major goals to help remove the obstacles for others!

Whether you’re living and working from the road or just getting away on short outings, you can go solar without breaking the bank. Solar does not have to be expensive if you do your homework by calculating your daily watt hours and follow some key strategies for making the most of a small solar powered system And, don’t forget, you can also take advantage of some sweet federal and state solar tax incentives if you get your system installed before the end of 2023!

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, InstagramInstagram, and YouTube as “Freedom in a Can, LLC.” Note: All links contained within this blog contain affiliate links provided by Freedom in a Can.