Staying connected on the road is one of the biggest campfire discussions (right after the always fun black tank conversations) and it can be a total deal breaker for many travelers. Cell phone service and mobile Internet are extremely fundamental to our personal livelihood (yes, we really do work) and it’s also how we keep in touch with friends and family, watch movies, get the news and listen to music.
Welcome to Our Mobile RV Office
Smart, Simple and Efficient
We like to keep everything as simple as possible while also being incredibly efficient and affordable. This allows us to work smart, not hard. After four years of working on the road we have tried, tested and dwindled our mobile internet collection down to a pretty sweet set up (or at least we think it’s sweet). We edit lots of video and photos (see all of our photo/video gear here), update our website, manage our social media accounts, watch the occasional Amazon Prime or Netflix movie, have video and phone meetings with clients and handle all of our bookkeeping online. So what works best for us, may not be ideal for you. Keep in mind its always a matter of budget and what you want/need to accomplish with your mobile, wireless internet set up. With that in mind, here is the scoop on what we use to get internet on the road!
Get A Hotspot
There is really only one true mobile internet option, a hotspot. Whether it’s a hotspot created from your cell phone by tethering (which is what we do) or a designated device, this is by leaps and bounds the best way to go (in our humble opinion). Not only because we say so but most any travel blogger out there worth their domain will say the same.
The two most common hotspot recommendations are Verizon and AT&T. Recently plans are the cheapest they have ever been and they are pretty darn reliable. We prefer Verizon because right now they have the best nationwide coverage.
There are other hotspot options, and there are satellite internet options, but honestly these two are the best bang for the buck with the best coverage, so why bother mentioning anything else?
Cell Phone as a Hotspot
We are currently locked into a Verizon contract and that’s ok, because from our experience Verizon has the best overall coverage (we used to have 1 phone with AT&T and 1 with VZ) and I (Nikki) am grandfathered in on the unlimited data plan. We use the PDA.net app to tether (or create a wifi hotspot) with our phones. Technically, the app is a violation of the terms of service with Verizon so I wouldn’t go shouting it from the rooftops…like I am right now but it is a legitimate app that we (and thousands of others) have been using for 5 years now. We try to be respectful of the amount of data we use and don’t go over 20-30GB a month (because that’s what we would be willing to pay for without the unlimited plan) and we don’t want to raise any red flags on our account by sucking up any more bandwidth than a ‘normal person’.
We recently (8/21/14) were able to upgrade my unlimited account thanks to RV Verizon specialist Ryan Maharg ([email protected]). He understands the needs of RV’ers and knows all the great loopholes and discounts. If you ever need any Verizon help he is the man!
Why have less bars and G’s when you can have more?
Wilson Sleek 4g doesn’t require any installation and is the least expensive… We have the Sleek 4g and like it because it’s affordable and it boosts both voice and data. The phone (or hotspot) must be in the cradle to boost. This was once our only booster and it got the job done but as time went on we realized we needed something more powerful for our very remote wild camping needs. Now we keep this booster in the car (very handy) and use a more powerful booster inside the RV. If you decide to go with the Sleek in your RV, you may want to purchase the home accessories kit as well.
A bigger boost…
The Mobile 4G Vehicle Cellular Signal Booster Kit is the newest Wilson booster (now branded as weboost) on the market and is the overall best bet. It boosts voice and data for all U.S. carriers (except clear wire). This booster is powerful enough at our current wild camping location in Michigan to take us from 1 bar “1x” signal to 3bars “3G” signal. For us, this is huge! This boost takes us from not being able to make calls or work on the internet from the RV to doing just that, we’ve even able to stream movies with the boost. I couldn’t have updated this article from our current location without it. Wilson launched this larger, more powerful antenna to mount on the RV roof. Also know that new FCC Laws went into effect at the beginning of 2014, so now you are required by law to register all boosters. Not a big deal but you may want to read Technomadia’s guide before you go calling your carrier.
Capturing and Boosting Free WiFi
We use the Wifi Ranger Elite Pack and think it’s worth the investment if you want to use free public wifi (campgrounds, nearby businesses with free WiFi (like Lowes, Starbucks, etc), public parks, Harvest Hosts, Friends driveways, etc…) inside your RV (or boat). We use the WiFiRanger to boost the signal and tune into the various free WiFi spots as we travel. Coolest part is the Ranger allows us to make a private wireless network inside our RV for a little extra security. The WiFi Ranger Sky is installed on the roof for maximum line of sight, boosts any accessible WiFi signal from up to 2,500 ft. away (however there is no compensating for crappy internet, this device just allows us to boost the signal, not the service itself) and the wifi ranger broadcasts the amplified network inside of our RV. The Ranger works well for us and helps us stay under that 20 GB cell phone data usage.
We don’t recommend satellite internet for a host of reasons.
I am sure there is someone out there that likes it but everyone we have ever known with satellite hates it, home based or on the road. It’s slow, expensive, you can’t park under trees, you can’t use it while driving, it has major usage limits and will punish you by down-throttling. Plus, do you really want to carry around that stinkin’ bulky dish that you have to align to the stars each time you park?
Why FREE Wi-Fi isn’t Really Free
Finding a place with Free Wi-Fi is a seriously daunting task for us. This is also where I feel the need to note that not everyone’s definition of “hi-speed” internet is equal. Sure there are apps like Wi-Fi Finder that help, but not every spot that has Wi-Fi is always listed and hotels don’t count if you aren’t a registered guest. We have learned to call ahead and ask questions such as; do you have free Wi-Fi, is it currently working and if so, does it work decently fast (i.e. can I load a video on YouTube)? The answers to all of those questions vary each time, and help us find the best place to work.
The question you have to ask yourself is do you want to spend your time at a library, book store, coffee shop, pub, restaurant or café? Once you arrive at said location….you now have to purchase something so you don’t become the leach sitting in the corner asking for free bread and water. 2 hours and 4 drinks later the Wi-Fi is not really free anymore. Not to mention that coffee shops can become distracting when filled with hipsters swapping stories about last night’s debauchery, pubs tend to make us utterly useless after beer one (yep, we’re cheap dates) and restaurants are only good for about an hour or two (or as soon as you stop ordering food/booze). To be perfectly honest we do prefer to work in a social atmosphere vs. the Library, so when we have the choice we happily order another beer…to share of course!
Then there’s the safety concern.
You know, those creepers in the corner drinking cheap whiskey attached to the same network you are. If they really wanted to, they could connect to your computer and intercept credit card numbers or worse, your deepest darkest internet searches! We all know we should never use a public network to log into bank accounts, or check your credit card balances…but what if that eBay auction on the elf slippers ends in five minutes? Do you risk it??? We don’t really worry about these sorta things but if it’s on your brain you can look into creating a VPN.
We don’t watch much T.V. and don’t have satellite or cableish types of devices.
We love movies and a few series which we stream online. We haven’t paid for traditional TV in over ten years and don’t plan on it anytime soon. So, if you are looking for the best options on how to get 690 channels 24hrs a day, we are clueless. However, if your RV didn’t come with a Jack TV antenna, get yourself one. This antenna works much better than the others we’ve had over the years. We can usually pick up some of the major networks (cbs, nbc, abc, fox…) and a few extras depending on where we are (seriously this antenna works 10x better than the one installed on Windy). No matter where we are it seems the Spanish channels and the christian channels come in crystal clear
You have reached the end of the internet.
Or at least the end of our mobile internet collection. If you want all the nuts and bolts on mobile internet options, boosters and other such gadgets we suggest getting a copy of the new Mobile Internet Handbook and joining the Mobile Internet Aficionados group.
What’s working for you? If we’ve missed something grand please let us know. If we’ve saved you hundreds of thousands of dollars…buy us a beer. Either way, tell us how you increase your G’s on the road!
Disclaimer – as always don’t just listen to us, we are not experts, do your own research and find what works best for you. We did not get paid for any of the content on this article…but if you purchase from one of our Amazon links we’ll get a few pennies too, thanks in advance :).