Freedom in a can: Q&A with full-time RVers Shari Galiardi and David Hutchison

Marie Havenga • Mar 4, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Shari Galiardi and David Hutchison had promising careers at a university, owned their own home and seemingly were living the American dream.

But the 40-somethings dreamed bigger. They dreamed of leaving life as they knew it, and exploring the country.

They've lived in a 12-foot travel trailer full-time for the last five-plus years, traveling to almost every state in the union, staying in campgrounds and boondocking in the wild.

The married couple recently presented several workshops at the Grand Rapids Camper, Travel & RV Show.

They took time from their travels to talk with Grand Haven Tribune travel writer Marie Havenga.

Q: How did you get started RVing full-time?

A: In 2010, we decided to take a major break from the traditional Western lifestyle – two careers, two cars, two and a half baths – and explore our country while living in some sort of mobile dwelling. We settled on a vintage camper trailer because of their simplicity, style, size and price. We knew we could a lot of the work of bringing it back to life by ourselves. Honestly, we were just thinking very practically, we needed a place we could live out of for a year and a half, and it couldn’t be a tent we had to set up each and every night. After about a year on the road we realized that we didn’t miss our old house, or our former lives and we decided to keep it going, and now it’s been over five and a half years, and we haven’t looked back.

Q: How many square feet do you now call 'home?"

A: Our tiny home on wheels, aka Hamlet, a 1957 canned ham camper is 12 feet long and just over six feet wide, giving us a total of 72 square feet. When we started this lifestyle five and a half years ago, our goal was to live outside as much as possible as we had spent too much time in the four walls of an office and home. We say that we live large by living small! This idea of living small not only refers to our square footage, but also our smaller ecological footprint and the amount of money we need to make us thrive. We saved for this lifestyle prior to leaving and can easily live very well on about a ¼ of what we used to make, and still save for retirement.

Q: What do you like most about living in your RV?

It is the perfect compromise between a tent and a comfortable house, and it goes everywhere we want it to. We love the freedom to be on the move, explore new places we’ve never been before and see friends and family all across the country in an inexpensive and hassle-free dwelling. In the past five and a half years, we’ve had to do very little repair on our home and our cost of living is so incredibly reduced. Along the way, we’ve visited every state in our nation but Alaska (it’s on the list), traveled to four other countries, and volunteered. I also love the fact that everything we own is tucked away neatly in its place. It’s so easy to keep up with everything.

Q: What is most challenging?

This is such a hard question because we’ve adapted so well to living this lifestyle it doesn’t seem like a challenge anymore. One of the biggest challenges has been being far away when family members pass on and being unable to return home for a memorial.

Q: What do you do for income?

It depends on the year. We work about a third of the year and travel and volunteer for the other two-thirds. We do motivational speaking, writing, photography. We also help people out with house and yard projects. We’ve worked at environmental education centers, wineries, and have done numerous online projects for friends and colleagues.

Q: What do you do about mail/packages?

We keep a mailing address in North Carolina, for sake of registering our truck and camper and voting, but receive mail all around the country. If we know we’ll be somewhere visiting a friend or relative, we’ll provide that address. Or, if we are going to spend a season working, we use that local address. We’ve even had things sent to “general delivery” to a post office where we know we’ll be soon. Somehow, it all finds us. But honestly, most of what we need comes electronically now so mail is often an afterthought.

Q: What do people find most interesting about your way of life?

Living in such a small space seems to intrigue people quite a bit. People also seem to resonate with how we “chucked it all away” and hit the road. Who doesn’t want to pick up their lives and seek adventure from time to time?

Q: Do you pay for campsites? Where do you stay?

Yes, when we are in a developed campground we always pay. Many state and federal organizations provide camping at very reasonable rates and they need our fees to keep these services running. We usually try to find a blend of both campgrounds and do some boondocking in national forests, BLM land, or at friend’s houses. We’ve also stayed the night in many a Walmart, truck stop, rest stop, and simply along the side of a road in a safe place. We try not to “stealth camp” and prefer to “hide in plain site” in places that are perfectly legal to stay for a night or two.

Q: Where do you shower? Fill up with water?

We shower at campgrounds, and at friend’s houses. State parks and recreation centers often allow the use of their facilities for a small fee. YMCA allows showers for a small donation. And, when we are camping for awhile and need a shower, we break out the “pocket shower” and fill it with warm water. We can both shower and wash our hair with 10 liters of water, which is about the amount of water which comes out of most home showers within 3 minutes.

Q: What do you use for power?

Our camper can run on both shore power and solar power. Ninety percent of the time, we use solar. We have a 100-watt solar panel from Renogy and one 12-volt deep cycle marine battery, along with an inverter. This is all we need to run lights, fan, charge our laptops, phone, and other batteries.

Q: How many miles do you travel in an average year?

We travel as much as the average single driver, about 12-15,000 per year. When we are in a place for a season, we do as much walking and cycling as possible.

Q: What are some must-have tools/gadgets you would recommend?

We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our solar panel. It has just freed us up in terms of having reliable power without having to listen to the noise of a gas-powered generator. We also rely heavily on our water filter to provide us potable drinking water when we’re far off the beaten track in an undeveloped area.

Q: What are the most important things people should know before following in your tire tracks to a full-time RV life?

Start downsizing now using the five-pile method — Bring, Sell, Donate, Store or Trash. Pay off debt and don’t go into debt buying your rig. There are a phenomenal number of used RVs out there, all in varying states of repair. We thought we’d live in ours for maybe 18 months, and after five and half years we have no end in sight.

Q: What do you miss most about owning/living in a home?

Honestly, not too much. We had a hot tub on our back deck which was great and we miss having our own pets. Many people travel with animals, but since we spend weeks to months away from our camper (long-term backcountry travel to volunteering in Africa), this would be too hard on animals and us to miss them for that long. If we ever settle down again, maybe we’ll adopt a dog.

Q: Do you plan to continue full-time RVing for as long as you are able?

This is a question we get a lot, and we have no idea how long we’ll keep this up. But if you’d have asked us if we would be living this life 10 years ago, I probably would have told you that you were crazy. So, we don’t know what the next 10 years will hold for us. We know many people who have committed their retirement to this type of lifestyle and love it. As long as we’re enjoying it, we hope to keep on moving and exploring new places. I know one thing for sure, we will never go back to the size of house we had before or the lifestyle we lived now that we have seen how well we can live on so little.

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