If you’ll be working remotely from your RV, mobile internet may be one of your most critical amenities. For some, it’s as important as water, power, or sewage hook-ups – maybe even more so.
For many who are working on the road, getting online when you need to can be absolutely essential to earning the money that keeps your travel dreams a reality.
Working and traveling is completely doable if you’re willing to plan ahead, be flexible, and build up a solid internet arsenal. Your travel style, your internet needs, and your budget will all be factors in creating a set-up that works to support you.
We’ve been RVing full time and working remotely since 2006 and have gathered a bounty of tips and tricks we’ve learned for keeping connected in our own travels.
Here are some of our top tips for keeping connected while nomadic:
Redundancy - Maintain Multiple Options of Mobile Internet
There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to what is the ‘best’ mobile internet option. What works best is what works best at your current location. Having multiple options for connectivity on board is important.
Redundancy in options for getting online is the key to success.
Don’t jump out of an airplane without a reserve parachute. Don’t try to work online from the road without at least two ways to get online.
Examples of a redundant mobile internet approach:
- Having two or more cellular carriers on board
- Having options for enhancing a weak signal
- Having back-up gear to deploy
- Having adaptability to seek out a library, cafe or coffee shop for Wi-Fi when all else fails
There are so many variables impacting connectivity on the road – from signal strength, to congestion, to hardware that fails – that you’ll be thankful for the extra options you carry with you.
Understand Your Mobile Internet Needs
We all have different requirements for our mobile internet and the tasks we need to accomplish online.
When considering your setup, there are a variety of needs and desires to contemplate:
- What is your style of traveling? Short- or long-term stays? Urban or rural? US based or International?
- How critical or flexible is your work schedule and deliverables for needing to be online?
- Does your employer require a wired internet connection (and just what do they mean by that?)
- What minimum download and upload speeds are needed to do your job? Does your job require frequent video conferencing or large file transfers?
- Will you have special security & privacy requirements?
For more in-depth information on this topic, take a look at our article on Assessing Your Mobile Internet Needs.
Public Wifi Not Always Ideal
Often the cheapest, and easiest way to get online is to use public Wi-Fi networks such as those offered at campgrounds or cafes.
It may not necessarily be the most reliable or the fastest internet option, however. And working from a loud cafe may not be the most conducive work environment.
If you have high-bandwidth needs for working remotely, relying on public Wi-Fi likely won’t be your jam.
But there may be times that the option surprises you and becomes your best way online in a particular location. Look at public Wi-Fi options as a pleasant back-up plan, not your primary way online.
Cellular Data - Your Likely Choice
Cellular data is probably the easiest and most accessible option in most places across the USA. Most working RVers depend on cellular data as the core of their mobile internet connectivity.
Cellular is truly mobile, can be extremely fast (sometimes even faster than cable modems!) and is much more secure and reliable than public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Cellular can be a confusing topic, however. There are just so many options and ways of connecting via cellular.
You’ll need to:
- Choose the carriers you want in your arsenal (AT&T and Verizon are top options).
- Find data plans that give you the amount of data you need. You’ll want to pay particular attention to mobile hotspot restrictions, as this is the feature that will allow you to get laptops and other devices online.
- Choose the gear you’ll need. There are smartphones, mobile hotspot devices, routers and signal enhancing gear like boosters or antennas.
Boosting Your Cellular Signal
If you are depending on cellular, getting the best signal possible is imperative.
You will likely find that cellular signal strength can vary quite a bit while traveling. This can impact the speed and reliability of your data. You can sometimes improve the situation using cellular boosters or antennas.
Enhancing cellular signal and data performance is a tricky subject, and sometimes requires trial and error at each location and for each type of device & cellular carrier. It helps to understand a bit more about frequency bands, decibels, signal to noise ratio and MIMO to help decide on your signal enhancing strategy. To help with navigating these issues, we put together Understanding & Optimizing Your Cellular Performance.
Travel Planning - Research in Advance
Before heading out to your next location, do a little (or a lot) of research in advance to understand what potential connectivity issues you might have there.
Checking campground reviews (we’re particularly fond of Campendium) and coverage maps (we wrote an app for that – it’s called: Coverage?) can help in picking your next spot – and make sure that it is one that you can work from. There is also a blog from us and Xscapers on this, called Planning Your RV Travels Around Cellular Coverage.
Balance Your Time Between Work and Travel
If you have a big deliverable, a webinar or an online task – do not arrive the same day that you need to be online. It can take time to figure out which is your optimal connection in a new location, and travel days can sometimes take more time than you anticipated (traffic, delays, construction, break-downs, serendipitous encounters with other Xscapers,etc.)
Don’t assume you will be ready to pop open that conference call or upload that big file immediately upon arrival to a new location.
Save yourself a lot of stress and arrive at least a day before a big work day, so you have time to optimize or to come up with Plan B.
Performance - Not Bars: Testing Your Internet
Save the bars for happy hour. Don’t focus on the cellular bars on the home screen of your device for evaluating how decent of an internet connection you’ll get.
After all – two bars in one location may perform better than 4 bars in another.
Instead of focusing on bars, run some speed tests on each of your options or configurations to determine what is working best at your current location. And don’t always assume that just because one option is performing great now that it will continue to do so for your entire stay.
What works great mid-day might slow to a crawl during prime-time congestion, so test your backup plans too.
We have put together a handy guide for testing your mobile internet at a location.
Using Your Back-Up Plan
So, you’ve built a redundant mobile internet arsenal to meet your specific travel style and mobile work needs. You’ve done your research and planned around reported signal coverage and strength. You’ve left yourself plenty of time to set-up and test your connectivity after moving to a new location.
You’ve just dialed in to your daily conference call on a strong, fast connection, when suddenly… nothing.
That’s right, your connection has given out in the middle of your work day. Maybe you’ve lost power and your hotspot has shut off. Maybe the network you are on has crashed. Maybe a giant rig has pulled up next door, blocking your signal enhancers.
→ Have your back-up option accessible and ready to pop into action!
And know when it’s time to explore an alternate option like seeking:
- Co-Working Spaces
- Cable Internet at Campsites
- Satellite Internet & Communicators
We can’t repeat this enough. There is no one option that will keep you online everywhere you go fast and reliably.
The key to successfully keeping connected is redundancy. Having multiple options on board can be a job-saver. Know the options you have on board, know how to use them, and check in periodically to see if gear or plans in your setup need an upgrade.
The options for keeping connected are constantly changing – so at least once every year or two evaluate your plans and devices, and your backup plans too.
We did mention redundancy and backup plans, right?
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy of Technomadia.com have been living and working full-time on the road since 2006, and Internet connectivity has been essential to them every step of the way. To help other RVers with the challenges of staying connected, they co-authored The Mobile Internet Handbook, and in 2014 they launched RVMobileInternet.com to provide unbiased information, reviews, resources and tutorials to help us all stay better connected on the road.
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