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We've Been Nomads For Almost A Year. Here's What I've Learned About Taking An Extended Road Trip

Ashley Shaffer, USA TODAY Fri, July 9, 2021, 11:31 AM·5 min read

My fiance, Spencer, and I have driven to 31 states in the last year on a road trip across the country. He became fiance on New Year’s Eve, so we’ve dubbed our journey the “engagement tour.”

We've hiked through ice melt in Zion National Park (a thumbs-out hitchhike was involved).

We got trapped without power in a historic storm in Texas (boiled-pool-water showers, anyone?). We ate alligator on the shores of South Carolina (honestly, it tastes like chicken).

We did it all while working remotely. And you can, too, if your employer is continuing to let you work virtually.

Planning your own long-term road trip? Here are a few tips we learned along the way: How far are you willing to go? Kayaking the Cumberland River wasn't on our bucket list, but we sure are glad we made a stop in Nashville, Tenn.We took the whole road trip thing to the extreme. Completely over working out of our tiny Los Angeles home amid the pandemic, we packed our apartment into boxes, hauled them off to a storage unit and told our landlord we weren’t renewing our lease. Instead of dumping money into rent, we chose to explore the country. We've been nomads for nearly 11 months now.

While your road trip doesn't need to be this extreme, it's worth considering. A weeklong or even a weekend trip will still be a treat.

Pro pack-up-your-house tip: Storage units further outside of cities have much lower monthly rates. It's worth the longer haul to get there.

Map your road trip route

Whether you want to hit the road for a few weeks or a long haul like us, spend some serious time with a map to get an idea of where you want to go. We based our initial path on national parks we were dying to see: Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon and Acadia – California to Maine! The parks did not disappoint.

Once you have a destination in mind, find a few midway points along the route – as many as you want.

Pro map tip: A gift from the travel-by-car gods is the Roadtrippers app. It's clutch to find landmarks and sites to check out along your route. Google Maps works great, too. We use that to estimate driving times, especially when we have multiple stops.

Things to pack for a road trip

Space is a gift on road trips, and you’ll thank yourself later for packing light. We made the mistake of bringing heaps of clothes we haven’t touched. Knickknacks we haven’t used. I swear to you, I thought it was dire to bring multiple pairs of heels. Spencer said he must bring juggling balls. Yes, juggling balls. We are the clowns.

Don't think: I might need this later. Think: I need this now.

But do sneak in a few comforts from home. My fiance brought his guitar and fishing poles. I brought two “children” – my sourdough starter and our dog, Coconut. Spencer makes any place I go feel like home, but these essentials made every stop along the way feel a bit more like "ours." Coconut inspects a bass Spencer caught in Perryville, Md.Picking your vacation home(s) Airbnb and other vacation rental hosts often offer both weeklong and monthlong discounted rates – a gold mine for people like us hopping around from city to city. Monthlong stays can be offered at a discounted rate of up to 50% of what they normally cost (say no more, right?).

Last-minute tip: If you're making a quick, one-night stop between locations, check out HotelTonight to find last-minute hotel deals.

Remote work life

Living that sweet, sweet remote work life? Always ask your rental hosts for Wi-Fi speeds before booking. Repeat after me: "What is the Mbps download speed at this location?" Hosts can check to figure this out.

Before learning the importance of Wi-Fi speed, Spencer and I found ourselves in Seadrift, Texas. Population: 1,181. Cellphone service: Nada. I had assumed I could use my cell phone hot spot on the fly if I ever ran into shady internet. Not in Seadrift. I spent a few days working from the car outside of the local library. Don't be like me.

How low can you go? We work comfortably – and take video calls – with speeds of at least 5 Mbps. That's very low. But you'll probably survive. (We could somewhat connect in Seadrift with a whopping speed of under 1 Mbps).

Pro Wi-Fi tip: Check for a Starbucks, Dunkin', McDonald's or other easy-to-camp-out-in chains with free Wi-Fi near your stay. If your internet goes down, at least you’ll have a backup.

Make room for computer monitors: While they are a pain to lug around, it’s worth it to work comfortably. When booking your Airbnb stays, look through the listing photos to ensure there are enough desks or tables to set up a temporary work desk.

Pro desk tip: Ironing boards make decent makeshift desks, but a real table is best. Figure out drive times

We shoot for four-hour driving legs with stops in between for sanity (and safety). Base your driving times on distances you're comfortable with and (this one is important) how much you like your travel companion(s).

We pushed 10 hours in one day driving from New Mexico to San Antonio. Would not recommend it. But we're still engaged, so it's survivable. We came face to face with Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist boat tour in New York. We were soaking wet by the end of it, despite the rain ponchos they gave out. Absolutely recommend.Leave room to wing it

While most of our trip was relatively mapped out, we’ve spent many nights not knowing where we'd sleep the next day. As I write this, we check out of our Airbnb in Vermont in the morning, but I have no clue where we'll end up tomorrow night. Niagra Falls, perhaps?

Canada, if border crossings weren't still restricted? It’s all part of the adventure.

This trip has allowed my Type A, overplanner self to chill out a bit and go with the flow. There’s always going to be a room available at some hotel that allows dogs. And if one city truly has no vacancy, drive to the next town and change the course of your journey entirely.

The possibilities are endless. This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Road trip planner: What to know before driving cross country

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