On June 30th our Manhattan lease expired and we began our lives as “digital nomads.” Most of our boxes had already been moved into storage (aka our parent’s homes – thank you, we love you). All that remained were the “essentials” to get us through October, our next planned trip to NYC.
Our Tesla Model 3 was fully charged, and the moment had finally arrived: we would find out if all our stuff –including laptops and second monitors, camping and backpacking supplies, workout gear and zoom appropriate work attire, spices and kitchen essentials, winter coats and bathing suits, small sentimental items, first aid kits and a cooler – everything we would need for the foreseeable future, would actually fit into the car?
Packing the car
Comly’s goal was to pack everything into only the trunk spaces leaving a clear backseat. While I supported his ambition, I’m also a realist and had been staring at the “take with us pile” over the last month as it slowly grew. The reality was, I was worried whether it would all fit in general, let alone neatly in the trunk.
Well, it did indeed all fit in the car, though the back seat was far from empty. We packed strategically. Frequently used items in the frunk (Tesla’s have no engine, allowing for a small front trunk, aka a frunk). For us, this mostly includes hiking items like poles, daypacks, headlamps, and a few “in case of emergency” items that we hope not to need, but if we do need them, they’d better not be buried in the trunk.
Next, the back of the car. In a Tesla Model 3 are two storage spaces in the back – an under trunk which is where we opted to store our winter gear – including 0 degree sleeping bags, winter coats, hats, and mittens, gaiters, etc. You may be wondering why we packed these items for a road trip in July – we’ll be mountaineering on some glaciers on the West Coast and are sure to encounter snow. Plus, I run cold.
In the regular trunk we packed our clothing bags and backpacking packs. Over the trip Comly managed to add items from the back seat to the trunk one at a time: yoga mats, sleeping pad, hanging clothes, and more.
Then there’s the backseat. Of course, if you know me personally you know it’s a requirement that I have snacks within reach. So, we had our snack pack and cooler, plus all our kitchen supplies in the back seat. Regular backpacks, spices, bear cannister, basketball, and a few other miscellaneous items lived here.
It’s been 13 days since we left the skyline in our rear-view mirror and headed west. We’ve heard people talk about different cross-country routes – the northern route, the southern route, etc. Well, we went the Wilson route – designed on a combination of our preference to stay in Airbnbs that aren’t necessarily typical, to be close to nature, visit people we love, and ideally near a supercharger.
Our destination: our first long-term Airbnb rental (28+ day stay) in Iona, ID.
- Day 1 – 59 miles: left NYC, packed the car and went to visit family in Clinton, NJ
- Day 2 & 3 – 54 miles: more family visits in Quakertown, PA
- Day 4 – 228 miles: Camping in Somerset, PA (4th of July weekend)
- Day 5 – 622 miles: Peoria, IL with stops at Indian Mounds outside of Colombus, OH, and dinner in Indianapolis, IN.
- Day 6 & 7 – 530 miles: Sioux Falls, SD with a stop at Maquoketa Caves State Park in Eastern Iowa.
- Day 8 & 9 – 407 miles (not including day trips): Hot Springs, SD with a stop on the way at Badlands National Park and day trips to Sylvin Lake, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore
- Day 10 – 7 miles: Wind Cave National Park
- Day 11 – 206 miles: Casper, WY
- Day 12 – 120 miles: Riverton, WY
- Day 13 – 247 miles: Iona, ID!!!
Total: 2,400+ miles traveled.
Many people reacted with trepidation when we mentioned our plan to drive a Tesla across the country. Even more so when we mentioned we’d also be working full time along the way. Yes, it does require a little more advanced planning, but we’ve found it totally manageable. Our long-range model 3 can last about 350 miles at a full charge. Importantly, it’s not typical to charge an electric vehicle to full capacity because it’s healthier for the battery to stop around 80%. However, it can be done occasionally for long trips, and in our case was necessary on a few occasions.
We charged at a combination of charges: 110V outlets like you’d plug your phone into when we were staying somewhere residential with an outdoor outlet within reach. This works but is slow – like really, really slow. Think 24+ hours for a full charge. If we had to rely solely on this method our 13-day trip would have taken much longer. We mostly relied on Tesla Superchargers.
You’ve probably seen them by now, sleek red and white stands with no buttons, lights, or places to insert a credit card. Simply pull up and plug in, the machine knows your car and charges you automatically. A supercharger can take 30-50 minutes to charge. At first this might sound like a hassle, but all superchargers are near food, bathrooms, and a WiFi connection and the car can last just about as long as we can before we need these essentials. So, on some stops we would do parking lot yoga, other’s were the perfect lunch break, and still others the beginning of a longer work block in a hotel, public library, Whole Foods, pretty much any place we could find a relatively quiet corner and strong connection we would make the most of it. For when we were less ambitious, we watched Vikings on the screen of the car – not bad.
The final type of charger we utilized was a “destination charger” – there are both Tesla and general destination chargers. We use Plug Share to locate these as opposed to the Tesla map or Tesla app since those only locate Tesla specific chargers. Destination chargers are more powerful than regular outlets but not as fast as superchargers. They’re great for a workday or an overnight charge, taking about 8 hours to fully charge.
Our longest drive between superchargers was in Wyoming, from Lusk to Jackson with an overnight in Riverton in between. A 382 mile stretch with no superchargers. While in Riverton we stopped at a destination charger briefly and plugged into a 110V outlet at our farmhouse Airbnb overnight (the farm was powered by solar!). We reached Jackson with 13% battery – no big deal!
Our tips (so far) for a road trip in a Tesla:
- Map out a few days at a time to ensure you can plan for each stop, while you might be able to make the next leg on 50% battery, you may need to fully charge up anyway to reach the subsequent destination.
- Think about charging when you pick your overnight stops – it does not need to totally dictate your trip but should be considered. Staying in locals with supercharges was a big relief.
- If you’re near an outlet, might as well top off, for example charging overnight at Airbnbs.
- Drive slower if you want to conserve battery.
- Enjoy the power of regenerative breaking when driving in the mountains – you’ll watch as your battery recharges itself on downhills.
We have one major requirement for week-day accommodations: reliable WiFi. Ideally, there’s also the ability to close a door in between us so we can conduct simultaneous zoom meetings. In addition to the work-related necessities that make up the “digital” component of digital nomad, we like unique stays and experiences and love to spend our time in the outdoors. These factors weigh in on our selection, recognizing that just about anywhere we land there is a yummy cuisine to try, and a locally made ice cream cone to lick.
The first few nights of our journey we stayed with family. Enjoying Comly’s aunt’s beautifully curated gardens and delectable cuisine and getting in as many hugs as possible from our God Daughter before we left. Then we were camping with friends in Western PA. It was a perfect 4th of July, celebrated with hot dogs and burgers cooked over the fire.
Our next stay was an Airbnb in Peoria, IL. Peoria, called the River City, is along the Illinois River. Our stay was in the Roanoke-Randolph Street Historic District, a neighborhood of Victorian homes built in the years following 1877. The road outside was made of brick and lined with lamp posts straight out of another century. We always love a bright and cozy stay after camping – some place with a nice shower and a comfy bed. Our Airbnb was just that, a castle-like home split into multiple units, decorated with lovely fixtures and a perfect place to start my workday on Monday.
Comly had the day off, so after getting our start in Peoria we hopped in the car, me working from my phone’s hotspot (surprisingly great service!) in the passenger seat, and Comly behind the wheel.
On to the next Airbnb. This was a kitschy place in Sioux Falls, SD. Tin ceiling, Astroturf carpet, red refrigerator. Yes, I said Astroturf carpet – like a football field. It was located walking distance from a Japanese Garden, and only a short drive to Lalibela, a fantastic Ethiopian restaurant that was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2020. Of course, this was a weeknight stay, so our priorities were work-related and these digs more than sufficed. Plus, we enjoyed the uniqueness.
As we moved across the state of South Dakota we changed up our accommodation style, checking in to the Flatiron Inn, a historic inn in Hot Springs for two nights. We also booked this stay through Airbnb, and to stay within our budget in a more touristy area we rented a room with a shared bathroom (the cleanest and best decorated shared bathroom I’ve ever experienced, I might add). It had one small desk which was only manageable for our work demands because there were plenty of other spaces to work throughout the Inn, including a beautifully maintained courtyard. Hot Springs is in the region of South Dakota that attracts tourists to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands, and other treasures in the Black Hills while maintaining a very quaint small-town feel. Our host tipped us off to two local swimming holes in addition to these better-known attractions. On the Friday morning of our stay, we drove 15 minutes to Wind Cave National Park to reserve first-come first-serve campsites for our last night in the beautiful region of the country.
Wind Cave was awesome, we set up our tent and made steaks over the fire. When lightning clouds started rolling in we hopped in the Tesla and watched a few episodes of Vikings on the dashboard screen as the storm passed through and then safely retreated to our tent to sleep. In the morning, we went on a guided tour of the massive Wind Caves, more on that here.
From South Dakota we continued West into Wyoming. We opted for a Hipcamp in Casper, WY to remain well within budget. To our delight, it happened to be the Central Wyoming Fair & Rodeo. While the rodeo was the following weekend, Saturday night showcased a monster truck show – it was absolutely a highlight of the road trip. So much fun laughing along with the very friendly crowd as the trucks pulled off ridiculous stunts.
Our second night in Wyoming was the quintessential Airbnb experience. We stayed at Doyle Family Farm in Riverton. While at the farm, we enjoyed the outdoor shower and outhouse, and even a taste of farm life. Our host, Steve took us out to move the cows from one pasture to another, educating us on his sustainable farming techniques along the way. It was utterly delightful.
Unfortunately, we were up before the sun which meant we weren’t able to enjoy a farmstead breakfast, but we had to continue on, it was check-in day at our long-term rental in Iona, Idaho! We drove to Jackson, WY before the workday, where we posted up before the work day. We charged our car at the Whole Foods and were so delighted by the reliable WiFi and mostly quiet working areas in the store that we opted to work there for the day. Following work, we popped over to Moo’s Ice Cream – it was INCREDIBLE. The huckleberry and oreo are apparently their two most popular flavors and my goodness they were worth the wait. After ice cream we still had some space in our stomachs and grabbed some pizzas around the corner. We’ll leave out details other than to say it wasn’t bad – Comly is a born and raised Brooklynite, need I say any more about his pizza standards?
With fully bellies we finished our journey to our first long-term stay – a one bedroom in Iona, ID. The drive through eastern Idaho was a delightful change of pace, swapping the mostly brown landscape of the last few days with the forests of the Tetons bleeding into lush green rolling hills.
We arrived safely on Monday night, delighted by our new accommodations and ready to unpack the car.
Road Trip Highlights
Just a few words about our favorite stops along the drive – each of which should probably get its own post.
Crazy Horse Memorial – Crazy Horse, SD
You’ve heard of Mount Rushmore, but have you heard of Crazy Horse? Just 35 minutes from Mount Rushmore this mountain carving is still being built. Already the face of Crazy Horse is larger than those of Mount Rushmore, and when completed his hair will flow in the wind, arm extended and pointing to the horizon, while riding a horse. They aren’t sure when the 3-sided mountain carving will be complete but learning about the processed history was absolutely fascinating. We took the bus tour which included loads of facts by our guide, but in hindsight wish we had opted for the more expensive trip to the top of Crazy Horse’s arm ($120PP) though we were short on time that night. We’ve decided that someday we will take our grandchildren to Crazy Horse, and maybe by then it will be done – or maybe not.
Wind Cave National Park—Custer County, SD
Quite honestly, we hadn’t even heard of Wind Cave National Park before we started planning this trip. Like most of our highlights, it was an unexpected delight. Comly and I love a good sign and the map of the cave system may have been the most captivating sign we’ve ever seen. It included a map of the currently known caves, including the size of the tunnels and the depth below the surface. To date, over 150 miles of cave have been mapped, and scientists suspect they’ve only discovered between 5-10% of Wind Cave! We went on the 2 hour long “Fairgrounds” tour that included information about the early explorers, traveling through caves with box and popcorn formations, and experiencing total darkness. For those traveling through South Dakota, we would absolutely recommend it.
Moo’s Ice Cream – Jackson, WY
Let’s talk about Huckleberries for a second. Before traveling to this part of the country we had never had anything huckleberry flavored. That’s because the berries haven’t been successful grown domestically. Instead, they grow in the mountains in the middle of the US and are rather stubborn. This makes them an expensive berry, and one that doesn’t often make it into cuisine outside of the region where it originates. But here it’s huckleberry everything all the time. Now, I can’t say whether huckleberry ice cream is a good indication of the deliciousness of actual huckleberries, but I can say this for sure: the huckleberry ice cream at Moo’s was totally next level delicious.
We’ll be stopping at Moo’s every time we pass through Jackson over the coming weeks, which is actually quite a bit since we’re flying in and out of there to get to a wedding in DC. I’m already excited for the next lick.
Maquoketa Caves State Park – Iowa
Picture this: you’re driving through Iowa. You’ve been on the same road for 100+ miles. There’s the occasional farm and a few trees, but it’s mostly corn. Then, you turn down a road and drive slowly down a slope – giving way to a forested area and a state park. Steps into the park you’re inside a vast cave system. Mind blowing!
Doyle Family Farm – Riverton, WY
One of the differences between the nomadic lifestyle and “vacation” is the need to build connections and experiences along the way. At our Airbnb in Riverton, WY we connected with our hosts, Steve and DeeAnn, who were kind enough to show us around their farm and educate us about the sustainable practices they are using to restore the land. Steve even took us out on the farm and had Comly and I help move their cows.
You may not know this about us, but one of our dreams is to have a farm someday, or at least enough land for Comly to experiment with different plants and to have a few animals. So obviously this educational experience was awesome for us, but beyond that our conversation with Steve also transcended to macroeconomic concepts, history, and community development theories that Comly and I often passionately debate together. We exchanged book titles and podcast recommendations before retreating to our beautiful little cabin, complete with an outhouse and relaxing outdoor shower.
Monster Truck Show – Casper, WY
This was the opposite of a tranquil evening watching the sunset over the farm by my gosh was it awesome. We piled into the stadium at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, I popped in earplugs, and we toasted our $4 alcoholic beverages as the sky started turning shades of orange and pink. The monster trucks came roaring out, and instantly the entire crowd was happily cheering for their stunts, grunting and turning away at their mistakes, and laughing hysterically together. We conversed with the others sitting in our row and screamed for our favorite truck as it amped up the crowd. Of course, we got ice cream and walked through the fair games too, but the monster truck show was the highlight, and the comradery that came with it.
The only lowlight was our brief time driving through the state of Ohio – within the first 10 minutes in the state a pebble struck our windshield and cracked it – the crack eventually spread to two-thirds of the windshield before we could have it repaired in Idaho Falls. Moments after the pebble, I was pulled over and received a speeding ticket. Womp. It put a small damper on our travels through the state (only a matter of hours), though we enjoyed Newark Earthwork Indian Mounds.
A note on Tesla Model 3 windshield replacement while traveling – we thought we may need to take the car to a *special* Tesla repair center which would have been unfortunate because it would have required us to go quite far out of our way. We were delighted to eventually read in the depths of a Tesla board that the Model 3 was equipped with the ability to recalibrate its own cameras, meaning we could get our windshield replaced anywhere. We took it to a Safelite 10 minutes from our long-term Airbnb and the results were quick and awesome!
So… What now?
Now we’re hanging at our Airbnb in Iona, ID until August 9th. In that time, we’ll visit Yellowstone National Park for a weekend of camping, backpacking in the Grand Tetons, a quick trip to DC, and a fly fishing excursion in Driggs, ID (because why not try everything at least once?!). Of course, we’ll be working the whole time and figuring out how to optimize our lives of remote work.
What do you want to hear about in our next post? Comment or email to let us know.