For the winter of 2021, we stayed in Steamboat Springs, Colorado as digital nomads for a season of much needed space and fresh air. Since we wanted to have a vehicle with us for our winter season, we needed to drive from our homebase in Greenville, SC all the way to Steamboat. The 1,700 mile trip is a full 26 hour drive and covers 3/4s of the United States. We knew the trip would take us 3 days to complete, so we decided to turn the drive out to Steamboat into its own adventure.
Planning Our Cross Country Road Trip
In order to break up the 3 day trip out to our winter home, we hopped online to research points of interest along our drive.
Because of Coronavirus, we focused on attractions that were outside or would be sparsely populated. In previous drives we would have opted for fun and interesting cities to explore, but Covid broke us out of that habit and pushed us to look for state and national parks, landmarks or other outdoor attractions.
First we used Google Maps to plot out several potential routes from Greenville to Steamboat. This gave us a list of states and areas that we could travel through depending on which route we decided to take. With this list, we switched over to the traditional Google search to look for points of interest along our potential routes, and in the states we would pass through. We relied on searches like “state parks in Kansas” or “best hikes in Alabama. We also utilized the “Search Along Route” feature on Google Maps which can help you find things like parks, museums, campgrounds, restaurants and more.
The Search Along Route feature can be found under the "More" button on Google Maps once you've established an initial route. Once we found an attraction that interested us, we added the stop on our route to see how much time it would add to our overall trip.
We settled on three primary stops along our route. We frontloaded these stops in order to break up the initial part of the drive, knowing that reaching our final destination would be a big enough reward on our last day.
Heading Out For Our Road Trip
With our route outlined, we packed up the car and left Greenville to start our three day trip out to Steamboat Springs for the winter. Ultimately, we decided to take the southernmost route, helping us avoid snowy and icy road conditions and allowing us to see some sites that we had not previously enjoyed.
Cheaha State Park, AL - Bald Rock Trail
Our first stop on day one was the Bald Rock Trail in Cheaha State Park. After traveling through the Atlanta metro area we continued south into Alabama, eventually detouring from our primary route about an hour to check out Cheaha State Park. The park is the oldest operating state park in Alabama and is home to the tallest point in the state. For a small fee, you can drive into the state park and park right at the Bald Rock trailhead entrance. The 1 hour detour was well worth the time as we were able to get out and stretch our legs with a nice 1 mile hike. We made our way out to the scenic overlook, spent some time taking a few pics, stretched our legs and then headed back to restart our road trip.
If you’re in the area, Bald Rock Trail has a beautiful overlook and is a short walk from the parking lot. The scenic drive into the park winds through tree-lined and hilly highways and is only a short distance from major highways. If you’re passing through it’s a great stop to break up a drive, but not a destination to build a trip around.
Mildred B Cooper Memorial Chapel, AR
On the second day, we started our morning with a few hours driving and then another stop to get out of the car and stretch our legs. This time we visited the Mildred B Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista, Arkansas. The chapel is mostly used for ceremonies and as a wedding venue, but is open to the public and we knew from the images online that it was something we wanted to see. After parking, a short walkway leads you to a large glass enclosed chapel in the middle of an otherwise wooded area. The chapel both stands out from the surrounding area due to its modern architecture, while also blending in thanks to its largely transparent construction.
Once inside the chapel, we were taken aback by the beautiful flowing arches and the feeling that we were still outside in nature. We had a hard time pulling ourselves away, but after about half an hour of drinking in the views and grabbing a few quick pictures we had to hit the road again. For those driving through the area the Mildred B Cooper Chapel is 100% worth the stop. There are no other attractions in the area, but the chapel itself is worth a 30 minute to 1 hour detour. Just be careful not to plan your trip to the chapel during a ceremony or wedding.
Teter Rock, KS
Later in the second day, we took an even larger detour through Kansas to see Teter Rock in Cassoday, KS. I say “in Cassoday” loosely as we did not see any semblance of a town or city anywhere near Teter Rock. In fact, our detour, which on Google Maps looked like a normal and reasonable route, took us on a gravel road for over an hour! We had driven through Kansas before on I-70, but this made us feel like we had gotten the real Kansas experience. Just miles and miles of rolling fields aside our gravel road. We watched our step as we only saw one other car the entire 1+ hour detour and sliding off the road or having mechanical problems would have been a HUGE problem as there was also no cell service.
After an hour or so we saw Teter Rock rising up out of a hillside and started getting excited for the views. We turned off the “road” and after a short 4x4 adventure arrived at the scenic lookout point.
The views were amazing, and the Teter(ing) Rock, pun intended, made for excellent photos. Teter Rock is pretty far off the beaten path, so unless you’re looking to break up a drive when coming through the area, it would be tough to justify the detour. But we were more than happy with the full Kansas experience adventure as a chance to see more of a state we’d driven through many times, but never gotten the feeling that we’d experienced the state.
Road Trip Essentials Digital Nomad Style
Road trips as a digital nomad are a little different from your traditional road trip. As a digital nomad, the world is my office. I can start the work day in one area of the country, and with the help of my wife driving, end the work day in a totally different area. It’s an amazing freedom and means that my “vacation” usually doesn’t start until I actually reach my destination, saving a couple days on the beginning and end of each trip to rack up extra time to explore.
Along with the freedom that the digital nomad lifestyle provides, comes responsibility though. There is an expectation that if we’re not taking the day off, we will be available during normal business hours. In order to pull this off, we needed to make some preparations and rely on key digital nomad gear to ensure we could consistently work remotely during our road trip.
Working on my laptop, playing music, using the GPS and generating wifi all require electricity in a place where there is no wall outlet to plug into. To keep our electronics running we rely on 3 key power sources:
- 12V Outlet to AC Power Converter. A power converter that plugs into your 12V outlet (formerly the cigarette outlet) and converts to AC power can be a life saver. There are several great options and we’ve opted for one that has both a 3 prong outlet and a USB output so that we can charge multiple devices at once.
- Laptop Power Bank. The 12V Outlet in your car does use your car’s battery (albeit slowly), and that’s why it’s a good idea to have an alternate power source to use when you’re not actively running the car. A high capacity laptop power bank can help bridge the gap when you need a charge, if you’re at your next point of interest, or if you have more than one device that you need to charge.
- Vehicle AC Outlet. Our SUV actually has a built in AC outlet. This is obviously not standard on all vehicles, but is a particularly nice feature for a road trip car! On our SUV that AC outlet is located in the trunk area and can be operated while driving the vehicle. With some planning, this outlet is particularly useful, but we usually don’t use this option unless we’re in a pinch since it is a bit inconvenient to get to while driving.
Along with power, we need connectivity. My wife and I both have built-in hotspots on our phones and have data plans that allow for a high data usage through the hotspot. This is not always the case and you should check with your cell phone provider before using your hotspot for long, continuous periods. Alternatively, you can purchase dedicated mobile hotspots from multiple cell phone providers.
Having all of your gear at your fingertips when in a car is not an easy task. Having a laptop backpack with plenty of organization and/or an electronics organizer that can hold all of your necessary gear for the day is key. Having to dive into your backseat and find the one charger, cable or headset you need multiple times a day is distracting and exhausting. Having one bag or case that can serve as your mobile workstation keeps you focused and on task while the world is zipping by outside.
On our road trips, we like to keep this bag separate from our overnight or weekend bag that contains all our clothes, toiletries, etc. This gives us our daily driver (in the car) daypack, and a separate overnight bag that we use to live out of in the hotel each night. We usually still bring our daypack bag into the hotel to charge our gear and keep it out of the elements, but the overnight bag goes back into the trunk and out of our way during our drives. On this trip, we used the Ascentials Pro Meta Laptop Backpack along with the Thule Subterra Electronics Organizer to keep us organized for work throughout the day. We utilized the DamnDog Over Gear Duffel as our overnight hotel bag.
On this trip, we took our organization and preparation a step further by packing for each night in separate packing cubes. We packed our Tripped Travel Compression Packing Cubes as if they were going on separate trips with one cube packed for day 1, another for day 2, etc. So we only needed to pull out 1 packing cube and our toiletry bag each night.
Arriving in Steamboat Springs
When we arrived in Steamboat on the final day it felt like we’d already been on vacation for 3 days. I had worked from the car each day, allowing me to save up all of my vacation time, but we had planned just the right amount of sightseeing and leg stretching to make the workday (and mileage in the car) fly by. We got to our accommodations refreshed and excited to tackle all of the amazing things to do in Steamboat.
If you want to learn how to turn the world into your office check out our digital nomad resources including How to Become a Digital Nomad. If you're already working remotely and want to keep it that way after Covid, How to Continue Working Remotely After Covid has all the details.
About the Author
|Stephen Gary is the co-founder of Flashpacker Co. He’s been a digital nomad for the past 5 years traveling all across the globe exploring new cities, languages and new passions. Find more from him over on our travel blog.|