This Couple Lives for Free in a Small 100% Solar Powered RV

Meet couple Ching and Jerud, the proud owners of the 100% Solar Powered RV named the Toaster.

In this interview, they share their wonderful travels and adventures. Read on and find out how their RV life started, their road-life benefits and difficulties, a sneak peek inside the Toaster, how they manage to bring their dogs, how they finance RV life, their favorite gear, and much more!

RVers Ching and Jerud
Photo credit: Places and Platypie. Ching & Jerud in Tucson, AZ

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We are Ching Fu & Jerud Crandall. We’re from NY and NC (respectively), but we were living in Asheville, NC before moving into our fifth-wheel, the Toaster, that we rebuilt ourselves. We’re currently spending the summer back in the southeast before we head back out west.

How and why did you get into adventuring and living full-time in an RV?

I think we got tired of being envious of others who were living that kind of lifestyle and realized there weren’t any reasons why we couldn’t make it happen for ourselves. I know we were unfulfilled by our annual two-week-long vacations and we agreed that waiting to live on the road as retirees wasn’t quite that exciting. We were both very excited by the idea of living full-time in an RV, but even then it’s a hard change to make. What may have pushed us to make it happen was “accidentally” buying our fifth-wheel long before we were actually ready to go. Having it sitting there in storage, costing us money, really kept us motivated. Of course, that was not a very safe approach but it got the job done for us!

RVers Ching and Jerud

What have been the best and most difficult parts of your adventures?

Realizing how much happier we are and how little we miss from our conventional lives. We’ve also been able to live a lot more sustainably since we moved into the Toaster and that makes us so happy. It’s been very rewarding to know that we’re minimizing our contribution to ruining the planet, especially since nature is such a big part of our lives.

We don’t have steady jobs like we used to, instead we’re dependent on patchy freelance work. Weather used to be one of our road-life difficulties. Our home-on-wheels is powered only by the 1,220 watts of solar panels on our rooftop, so long periods of cloudy/rainy days makes it a bit stressful. We’re able to go to an RV park to plug in if we absolutely need to, but we like to stay away from grid electricity for as long as possible. We upgraded to lithium batteries this past April and think we’ll be able to handle continuous days of clouds and rain better than before.

Why is adventuring important for you?

Being in the outdoors has become an integral part of who we are. We don’t do book clubs, festivals, cruises or visit historical sites. We’re happiest pushing our bodies and challenging our minds when we’re mountain biking, rock climbing, or hiking.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Photo credit: Places and Platypie

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Everything we need is inside the Toaster! (Except a washer and dryer.) One reason we do like a full-sized RV over a van is that we can be comfortably self-contained for several weeks without making any significant lifestyle changes. We have a full kitchen, running water, shower, Air Head composting toilet, queen size bed, and room for all our gear inside our rig. The coolest part is that our entire set up is 100% powered by solar energy. Aside from our truck that tows the Toaster, we are fossil fuel free! We don’t use any propane inside our rig and we don’t even own a generator for backup power.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Photo credit: Kevin Nasman. Ching, Jerud, Tybee, Tyki in WY

Why did you bring your dog?

Our dogs are our family members. Not bringing our dogs would be like parents leaving their kids behind (although I know some wish they could). Our two dogs, Tybee and Tyki, haven’t made our life on the road any more difficult than if we were living in a stationary house. We would’ve had to deal with the same problems and elderly issues no matter what.

Our girl, Tybee, passed away April of this year at 14.5 years old. She spent two years on the road with us. Living on the road has been the best decision for both our dogs’ sake: It’s allowed us to spend so much more quality time with them, especially Tybee, and it’s given them so much more freedom to roam around in the outdoors. One of Tybee’s favorite things was to be in the water, and she was able to constantly explore new lakes, rivers, and even the Pacific Ocean! Things definitely got difficult as her health declined, but in ways our lifestyle made it easier to deal with. Working from the Toaster meant we were always around to take care of her.

Having a dog often provides an icebreaker with strangers, which works well because life on the road means being around strangers pretty much all the time. So it’s easier to have casual, natural conversations when we’re in town for supplies, at local trailheads, or meeting new campsite neighbors.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Photo credit: Jerud Crandall. Ching at Valley of the Gods, UT

What is your best advice for new adventurers?

  1. Don’t wait for everything to line up perfectly before hitting the road. You’ll be waiting forever.
  2. Remember to be flexible. Nothing is going to go the way you planned.
  3. Don’t over research. Too much information can paralyze your ability to move forward and it can minimize the surprises of an area. But that also doesn’t mean you should be under-prepared, which leads to my last piece of advice.
  4. Be prepared. Anything and everything could go wrong. Having an idea of how you’re going to deal with those issues before they happen will decrease the stress of a situation.
  5. Pace yourself; don’t try to do it all right away. One of the main advantages of road life is being able to do things at a more enjoyable pace.

How do you prepare for your adventures?

If we’re visiting national forests or national parks, we like to talk to people who know their stuff – park rangers. We visit local bike shops when we’re looking to mountain bike new trails. We also get in touch with other full-time travelers who’ve been to an area that we’re interested in for tips. Having limited space in our rig and trying to stay thrifty, we don’t purchase guide books or paper maps very often. But we do use a handful of apps that are very helpful, such as MTB Project, Mountain Project, and Avenza Maps. Otherwise, we do our research online.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Jerud at Salida, CO

How do you finance your adventures?

Mainly by being thrifty. Our lifestyle doesn’t require a lot of spending. We boondock for free the majority of the time and rarely stay at RV parks or paid campgrounds. Since our rig is 100% solar powered, we don’t spend a lot of money keeping it running. If we want to do an activity that is expensive – such as snowboarding for a winter (which we did last winter), we find seasonal jobs that let us do it, like working at a ski resort. Otherwise it’s putting our heads down and working.

How do you balance normal life with adventuring?

The two main “normal life” things we try to keep a balance is work and our time together. It’s easy to spend too much time together when we live in 200 sq. ft. and are usually boondocked in the middle of nowhere with no one else around! Since we share almost all of our outdoor activities, we really do spend a huge amount of time together. Frankly, we’re still working on balancing that, especially with work.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Wild camping in Jasper National Park, Alberta

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

What other favorite gear do you have?

Ching – Nikon D5300 camera. I love documenting our outdoor adventures and life on the road.

Jerud – Surly Long Haul Trucker (modified): Tough and versatile, I love how having a bike opens up options for travel, exploration, exercise, or just running errands. My mountain bike is a lot more fun, but the LHT can do more.

RVers Ching and Jerud
Ching & Jerd in Carcross, Yukon

What will the future bring?

We’re terrible planners and most of the plans we make fall through for one reason or another. This summer has been filled with (unexpected) personal projects that have kept us from being in the outdoors as much as we like. We hope when fall/winter comes, we’ll get to go mountain bike, paddle, and backpack more. We keep talking about spending a month or so in Baja one winter – perhaps this’ll be the one.


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