Resources for a remote road trip workation, US version.
February 5, 2023 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Hatching a plan for an 8-10ish week, self-contained, van-based cross-country solo journey in 2024 while maintaining a work schedule that absolutely requires me to be connected and on video for scheduled calls every workday. Now in the brainstorming and resource-gathering stages and open to creative ideas and tools.

The short version:
Because I’m a worker bee and cannot take all of this time off, I feel like anything like this needs to be fairly well structured, with a good idea of where I plan to land most of the time. This is a really non-specific post, and I welcome all thoughts around apps (e.g., Google Maps with pins, VanAlert, iOverlander, Facebook groups) or other online resources or advice, that will help me plan and execute this.

In brief, the 39yo vanagon has a 100ah LiPo aux battery, a WeBoost cel booster, a fridge, propane heat, a kill switch and good mountain tires. She has a new-ish engine and my dearly departed husband was building her out for work-travel. I’m already set up to plug in and work comfortably from the back seat for a couple of days at a time.

The nitty gritty…
About trip planning:
-starting in the PNW and hoping to route thru New England and California;
-no specific time frame in mind, though I would like to avoid intense heat (no a/c) and extended days below freezing… off the cuff and since summers in the PNW are beautiful, it might be great to stay here and enjoy it while working out kinks with the van, and leave mid August. Loosely aim for a New England fall, down to the Carolinas, return (also loosely) via TN, KY, NM, AZ, and then San Diego and north;
-I’d like to largely avoid interstates, driving in the dark and more than 300-mile days;
-I plan to develop a rough itinerary around the results of outreach to my friend network via social media to ask who would like a visit. Something like: “hey friends, I’m exploring the idea of a big road trip in 2024 and want to know if you’d like a visitor.” I would include some language around the fact that I have to work, and probe for what kind of visit they would like, if they could accommodate me and the van, if I could stay/play/work in their house, and if not do they have flat and safe off-street parking, access to an outlet, etc. Your ideas welcome around the framing of that post;
-for the parts of the trip that don’t involve friends, I will seek out safe and beautiful camping destinations, stealth camping as needed, forest/BLM land, options that wrap in nature and beauty and hiking and making new friends, iOverlander solutions, driveway camping invitations (I know of just a couple van and women’s networks that encourage this), etc;
-I really have zero interest in camping at Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, casinos, truck stops, etc., but I know it’s a thing and I will if that’s my best and safest option in the moment;
-I have an iPhone and general comfort with tech… is my best bet to create a Google map with pins, or is there something better? Any additional considerations if I would like to wrap in social media to share about my trip?
-I’d kind of love to learn more about driveway camping networks, where people add themselves to a map and welcome travelers to a safe camping spot and a friendly connection. I like meeting people who like meeting people;
-I am aware of networks like and would be open to engagements like that as I move about.

More about the van:
-I have been setting aside a little fund to add things this year like a suitcase solar panel that trickle charges the auxiliary battery. I don’t quite know how that all works, but there are lots of resources out there to figure this out;
-Starlink? I can never not be available to connect for a video call on a workday, I pay extra on my cell phone to use it as hotspot, but that relies on excellent cellular connectivity (the WeBoost typically gets me one extra bar, but often that’s not enough. I don’t really know if it’s supposed to do better than that).

About security:
-the van has a kill switch to reduce the chance of vehicle theft, but of course this does nothing to prevent breakins, theft and vandalization. There is a locking strongbox between the seats to hold my electronics and cash, and a hitchsafe to hold extra keys, ID and cash. I’m thinking I should hide an AirTag or have some other kind of tracking mechanism;
-I don’t carry a gun and really don’t want to. I have bear spray. I have thought that a trip like this might call for a small InReach or some other gps tracking device;
-as much as I would like to explore urban areas, I would be worried about the van. in the absence of a safe place to park, probably I will base the van outside of a city and take public transit in to be a tourist.

About me:
-50s, fairly extroverted, lover of outdoors, adventurous, though still new to widowhood and discovering a new timidity around taking risks without my adventure partner at my side;
-have driven solo across the country three times, but that was more than 25 years ago and all in less than 10 days;
-not self-employed. I work full-time from my laptop, with a balance of heads-down work and regularly scheduled calls. I also have a fair amount of flexibility in scheduling my day. I’m planning to stretch my PTO around 3- and 4-day weekends when friends have time to play or if I am wanting to linger and explore. I can also imagine on occasion driving for a couple of hours between meetings in the day and making up for it after it’s dark and I’m parked;
-not a mechanic, though I can change oil, tires and filters, look up YouTube solutions and follow basic directions (like yesterday, changing an o-ring on my power steering pump). I do plan to take measures in the next year to learn more of the basics of mechanical troubleshooting;
-possess general common sense around safety, and want to take precautions. No plans to install an alarm system or a dash cam.

This is an unreasonably long post, I know. But I figured it couldn’t hurt. Seeking your favorite resources for such a trip, your best advice, what do I need to know, what should I be thinking of, etc.
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Travel & Transportation around United States (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently wandering around camping in my minivan, very minimalist, but I'm retired so don't need elaborate stuff to be able to work on the road. I've been mostly staying in state parks because, as an older woman alone, I feel safer there, and like you, refuse to have a gun. A lot of parks have public wifi, at least at the ranger station. I have in the past done stealth camping on city streets, but I was familiar with those cities and wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't. I drive very inconspicuous soccer mom minivans, your van would not be as inconspicuous.

I just spent some time camping in Texas and bought an annual pass which reduced the price of camping considerably. I'm a member of two women-only facebook groups that you might like, assuming you're a woman, Road Trip Her and Nomadic Sisters. The first one even has a map of women who let others camp in their driveways, yards, or fields.

The best place to find wifi is McDonald's. I park right outside of them and use the wifi while sitting in the van.

Feel free to memail me with questions.
posted by mareli at 4:38 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]

Consider joining whatever is the most active online vintage VW owners/enthusiasts group. In addition to camaraderie, many niche car groups also have a national member directory of owners who are happy to offer anything from a coffee to tools and a garage. They also probably keep a list of mechanics able to work on a vintage VW, so once you know your route, you might pin any of those along the way in case the van gives you any trouble.

Also, I recommend having a US road atlas in addition to whatever digital/maps approach you take. My preferred way to choose an atlas is to go to a major bookstore and compare them by looking at an area I know really well, and get the one that reflects what I think is the most helpful scale, level of detail of that area, etc.

Last, since you're planning to avoid interstate roads, consider capping your days at a certain amount of drive time rather than miles. I find when I've divided driving days based on mileage, I can get cornered into longer drives when I'm off of major roads. There are many, many places where 10 miles equals 30 minutes of driving--because of either topography in remote areas or traffic in dense areas. A few "300 mile" days like that and you're off base. The good thing is that google maps tends to be fairly accurate about time, at least based on a recent experience of mine in a fairly remote area. So, again, once you get your route set, consider plotting out driving times rather than simply chunking days into 300 mile legs.

Enjoy the planning and the trip - sounds awesome!
posted by cocoagirl at 5:58 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]

Look into Harvest Hosts; you pay a yearly fee and have access to a bunch of wineries, breweries, distilleries and similar properties that will allow you to park on their property for free - the general agreement is that if they have a retail store or something you make a purchase in exchange.

I love, love loved my Jackery portable power station for back up electricity when I had my van. There are less expensive brands now, but I don't know which ones are worth recommending. But my Jackery has been rock solid.

Since you're hoping to camp off the beaten path, consider getting a second data plan on the opposite network (ie if you have AT&T, look into Verizon, etc) Their coverage maps differ, and when one is flaky the other may be more reliable.
posted by cgg at 8:36 PM on February 5

Hmm. My initial thoughts:

* 8-10 weeks is very ambitious for a cross-country trip. Consider staying in the PNW or at least West of the Great Divide. You'll have plenty to do up there. New England is tough for RVs anyway!

* Yes to multiple data plans and 5G hotspots. Use the "Coverage?" app to plan your coverage and the Allstays "Camp and RV" app to plan campgrounds. Campsite wifi is useless, btw.

* Maybe just travel on the weekends. Harvest Hosts and Walmart are good for overnights, nbd.

* With a 39-year old vehicle you might plan to spend a few nights in a mechanic's garage. So it goes. It'll be fine.

* For security, you should be fine while in campgrounds. Maybe avoid urban boondocking, and carry redundant credit cards and nothing you can afford to lose (since more likely you'll just ... lose stuff).

* Slow and steady wins the race.
posted by credulous at 9:13 PM on February 5

Response by poster: Great advice so far. Yes I am a woman. A vanagon is like a minivan, not an RV (but stealth camping is still hard because she does look like an adventure vehicle). Was hoping to not have to carry an external power source like a Jackery because of my auxiliary battery and the solar I’m hoping to add, though I appreciate the mention because it does make me think that having some sort of emergency backup for work purposes isn’t a bad idea—plus I can work at a picnic table that way. As for duration and destination, I’m flexible as long as I can work. Route TBD and based on how I can link the pins (friends) on the map. I want to explore from pin to pin to reconnect with good people around the country who actively want me to come (I’d get too lonely otherwise). What comes of my outreach will dictate a lot. Could be more weeks.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 10:17 PM on February 5

I made a laptop stand out of an old tripod, i saw the idea on amazon first. The key is the second shelf for your keyboard/mouse (scroll down to user reviews, not sure why they pulled all the images). Makes it way more ergonomic to work on the laptop and still is very very portable.
posted by aeighty at 11:32 AM on February 6

Hi! I circumnavigated the country alone in a tiny camper in 2017 and 2018. What I found that may be useful:

* RVParky was by far the best app I found for campgrounds. I never really did figure out the boondocking / free camping thing but I think it would be much easier in a van than it was towing a camper. State parks charge money but they are by and large really great. Related, Corps of Engineers campgrounds were overall the best campgrounds / parks out there but they're concentrated heavily in the southeast / missouri / arkansas and don't really seem to exist elsewhere. Also related, staying in a WalMart parking lot is actually kind of fun! Cabelas often has actual hookups and bathrooms, so it's even better.

* Internet connectivity outside of urban areas is (was? I hope so) a real problem. I took a Verizon hotspot and it was rare that I had enough bars for uploading pictures; there's no way it could have handled a video chat. Public wifi is not usually enough bandwidth to handle much beyond checking email and as noted above, campground wifi is a joke. I think that will be your biggest issue and the one to address first.

* My security was an aluminum T-ball bat I kept under the mattress. I never pulled it out. I did get paranoid a few times - ask me about being the only camper in a deserted western Iowa state park while random cars appear to drive slowly slowly around the loop for no apparent reason and a whole pack of coyotes howl nearby! - but nothing ever happened. If you have secure door locks, rest easy. Also, you can always drive away.

* I took the Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1 in CA, 101 in OR) all the way from San Diego to Astoria in January and February, staying at state parks all the way and it was wonderful. Highly recommend. Keep in mind as you plan your route that the southeast stays hot longer into the fall than you would believe and the midwest stays cold and snowy longer into the spring.

* KOA is kinda gross and expensive BUT! I recommend buying the discount membership anyway. They have good wifi and on site laundromats and on some rainy days when all you want to do it lie in bed and watch movies, get pizza delivered and just wallow, it's worth it. They are also everywhere.

Feel free to memail for specific campground recommendations! Have a great time! I hope to do it again someday.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:21 PM on February 6

Oh yeah and it sounds like you are pretty flexible WRT dates and time, which is good. I also found it was really helpful to build a rest day in at least every four or five days. Being on the road every day gets old and it's super nice to have days where you don't actually have to get up and dismantle your campsite but instead can explore, go for a hike, etc: just relax.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:28 PM on February 6

My home base is Nebraska and I'm not sure if you're coming through the center of the country, but around here I find things vary so much from state to state. Nebraska has a huge amount of public land, where you can just go and be there for free, no park permit required or anything. Our favorites are called WMA (wildlife management areas). The best way to find these is to pick up the "public access atlas" at a sporting goods store. They're made with hunting in mind, but I'm a vegetarian and the same maps work for me too.

Often, but not always, the Verizon network is available in these areas. The other cell networks generally aren't. When I've absolutely needed internet on a trip, I've traveled with a verizon hotspot AND a tmobile hotspot. I think some more modern setups (google fi??) can use all the towers.

When I cross into Iowa or Colorado there doesn't seem to be as much in the way of public land, but it's possible I just don't know the secrets. I suspect every state has its own secrets and sometimes you won't find them online. You might want to think of ways to at least stop by places where hunters go in each state and talk to people.

I always hear about camping at Walmarts, but my actual lived experience is that by policy it's allowed, but each Walmart individually disallows it. It's worked out for us zero times. Don't plan on it being available.

Places like KOA are super expensive and are amusement parks for kids, and just aren't peaceful to us.

In 2021 we traveled through arkansas, and camped on public land, and we were "patrolled" by a gang of men flying huge confederate flags from their pickups. If we had to travel through the deep south again anytime soon, even though it's more expensive we'd consider state parks etc, with offical RV sites/pads, where there are more people around. Different parts of the US are super different, be sure you're open to adjusting your plans according to what you find. I have spent some time wondering whether certain bumper stickers (etc) would make us safer in those situations. Our plates definitely say that we're outsiders, but maybe it would be easy/good to give off some hunter/biker/whatever vibes.

We have enough solar to keep our batteries charged, and it's super nice and totally worth setting up.
posted by fritley at 5:10 PM on February 6

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