Many a friend has asked how we manage to do anything other than drive and eat during this trip. As if there were more worthwhile pursuits??
But yes, we do work, and study, and plan, and all that. It’s actually embarrassingly easy, thanks to the internet. New to the internet? Allow us to give you the grand tour.
Step one of using the internet is, obviously, having it. The easiest way to stay connected — as of very recently — is simply to have an unlimited data plan from your mobile phone carrier.
We both have Verizon, and turning our phones into wifi hot spots for our computers kept us internet-accessible in all but the most remote parts of the U.S.; that said, Verizon doesn’t fare as well on the west coast, so if you’ve got two phones, it’d be smart for one of them to be on AT&T so you can bail each other out. West coast interwebs will still stink, but with AT&T they’ll likely stink less.
Now, the obvious follow-up: how much of the U.S. is “remote”? Less than you think, and usually in pretty predictable chunks. We used a great website from Sensorly to plan our travels around conference calls and heavy working hours. This tool is incredibly accurate and perfect for travelers, overlaying a map with estimated signal strength from dark purple (great signal) to light purple (poor signal.)
We highly recommend this site, or something similar. On several occasions when video meetings were looming on our schedule, we’ve hustled Odie to a dark purple pixel on Sensorly’s map and gotten exactly the signal we were promised.
Of course, there will be large swaths of land with no signal. You can use Sensorly to find them, and plan to take vacation during those portions. If you don’t have vacation days, you can always schedule your emails to be sent over the course of your absence, and see how long it takes before your company fires you.
So, we’ve established that in most cases, you can work from anywhere your phone is as long as you’ve planned ahead. But working from Odie isn’t all that comfortable, and the allure of free electricity, bathrooms, and air conditioning is strong. To that end, we often find ourselves in cafes, libraries, and university buildings.
As far as the work we actually do… well, remote work is its own story. The people who can hack it get things done far faster than being in an office, mostly because the people who can’t get things done are the ones always bothering you when you’re in the office. As a result, a lot of our time is freed up that, in an office, would usually be spent dozing off in meetings or hearing people complain about their spouses.
Speaking of work, here’s Hailey with some serious headphones, heads-down in some serious job-related task. Wait, what the hell… is that a dog on the screen? Ya got everybody fooled, babe!
On an unrelated coffee shop note, Mitch still hasn’t stopped laughing at Starbucks’ seasonal slogan… great motivation for frivolous lawsuits.
Cafes cost money, and in that sense, they’re not the smartest places to post up. But, they’re plentiful and open early, so we lazily gravitated towards them — especially on the West coast, when our companies’ relative working hours started at 6am. Libraries are really the best bet for cheap, quiet work. We really should’ve done more libraries, and plan to in the future. The universities offer everything except wifi, which is typically password protected by student ID. Nevertheless, if you need a place to work late and/or pass out, nothing beats college for camouflage.
Then again, you have to deal with all the socially maladjusted students, like this LSU co-ed who decided to sit down right next to us in a building that was otherwise completely devoid of human life. This is an actual thing that happens to us all the time.
Planning The Route
Once you know where the internet is and how to get it as needed, you’ve got some good guide rails for route planning. This is where all the tips from our family and friends come into play! Using Google Maps — which is easily the most useful travel tool on the planet at this point — we 1) bookmark all the spots you’ve recommended, and then 2) drag the route around on the map to see which jaunts can be chained together to make a reasonable trek, and which ones take us too far astray. Voila, you’ve got 3) a multi-stop tourism route.
From there, we actually spend a bit of time using Google Maps like a sort of treasure hunt, searching for a short list of keywords like “waterfalls.” Plus, if you see green or brown areas on Google Maps, you’ve got some potential gold in them hills. Oftentimes we just zoom in on the map manually until we see cool stuff.
If you’re lazy, a Google search will actually give you a pretty good tour guide based on how much time you’ve got to spend in a region, and even how busy it will be during that season. You can stumble upon this through regular googling, or just go to https://www.google.com/destination:
Roadtrippers.com is another gem for road trip planning and discovery. Mitch is more of an obsessive planner, but for anyone who doesn’t enjoy the manual labor involved in all the Google Maps advice we just gave, Roadtrippers is probably your best bet… and certainly if you just want to find out what’s interesting between Point A and Point B as quickly as possible. Give it a go:
That’s not the only way we get our recommendations. A few have come from fine strangers along the way, such as Meg in Louisiana who rattled off this entire list of suggestions while sitting next to us in a coffee shop!
And then, there’s the rest of the internet. Never underestimate the amount of work that others have put into the collecting of useful information, especially when it comes to travel. A bit of googling can get you local gems such as:
Atlanta Trails: an aggregation of Georgia state hikes
Idaho For 91 Days: yep, exactly that
Roadside America: a magnificent and long-standing resource for wacky finds like the Muffler Men…
Driving A Route
You’d think this would be the obvious part, but roads west of the Mississippi can get hairy in a snap — especially the good ones, roaming through mountains thousands of feet up. If you’re anywhere near the Rockies, for instance, you’ll have road closures through at least half the year. Every state has an online resource for this kind of stuff, and you’d be well advised to check it before taking off.
Then, of course, you’ll want to check the general weather situation. Ya never know when a natural disaster might be ambling across your route. Here are a few of nature’s greatest hits during Rogue Trip 2017, courtesy of the extremely reliable NOAA Weather mobile app:
So, the coast is clear (literally), and you’re ready to shove off. Now what? Load up your fave playlist? No way! Local radio is a unique and glorious slice of Americana. Your precious playlist would never help you find Laura C., the hysterical lady you’re hearing here, who never once stopped to take a breath over the course of the 47 minutes we listened to her. In fact, her “show” simply ended while she was in mid-sentence. Just as well, since she was repeating herself over and over. Take a listen!
Having a dedicated navigation tool like our Garmin is helpful for many reasons, not the least of which is showing us the lay of the land as we drive by it. To that end, our last piece of advice on driving your route is that you should always entertain the winding road diversions you spy in the corner of your screen.
Finding The Local Scene
Here we are! That place we’ve been heading towards! Aaaaaand we’ve got nothing planned. Solve that one, Sherlock.
No problem! There’s plenty to be found for those willing to look. We use 1) Instagram Stories and Snapchat to see what’s happening at this moment, 2) Google Maps (yep, again) to browse popular attractions, and 3) Facebook to find local events people have created.
The insights don’t stop once you get to your local attraction either; Foursquare/Swarm and Google Maps reviews often provide useful deets on what to do/see/eat at a given location. Or, sometimes they’re just entertaining…
All that said, ain’t nothing wrong with getting off your phone and biking through the mean streets for some real detective work. Among the goodies we spotted while pushing pedals: Red Bull Flugtag in Pittsburgh, Abita Brewery on the Abita Springs Trail, and Traverse City’s Film Festival.
Passing The Time
All that being said, when you live in a van there is absolutely no shortage of thumb-twiddling hours — especially when the weather turns. If you don’t know how to entertain yourself, you’re gonna have a bad time. We’ve got a few go-to moves on that front, once the well of local attractions runs dry.
Regular movies (often this empty considering the times of day we attend them):
Making stuff! Here’s Mitch’s remote control bracelet design. It’s sellin’ like whatever the opposite of hot cakes are.
And here’s a card game we’ve been working on creating… still in progress:
If you’ve taken all the steps above, and still find yourself wallowing in boredom, then perhaps you’re no Vincent Van Go. Keeping busy and productive is a bug you can catch, but there’s still an innate sense of restlessness you’ve got to have in you. Some people make a game out of eating licorice in a van, and some folks… well, they just don’t eat licorice at all, and that’s a shame.