While many travelers may enjoy their unplugged, relaxing, and liberating travels without the interruption of the internet, many others rely on the internet for their job, to connect with their family and friends, or for their daily news and entertainment. Internet connectivity may have once been considered a lavish accessory which exceeded a reasonable price range, but today there are a number of ways frugal RVers can stay connected without breaking their budget.
The most important thing most RV travelers want is an internet connection that will not fail them and will work even in the most remote places, like the Mojave Trail. There are three main ways to get internet today in RVs: Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite. You can rely on just one way to get internet service across the country, or you could even consider some combination of the three so that you can be sure you’ll be able to get a connection no matter where you are.
Wi-Fi is a technology that allows devices to connect to the internet wirelessly using radio waves. Campgrounds, local libraries and coffee shops all commonly offer Wi-Fi hotspots which will allow you to connect to the internet for free -- you may need a password to connect to the hotspot, but you usually need to stay within a few hundred feet (usually 100 to 300 feet) from the hotspot or you’ll lose the connection. There are guides online which can help you find free Wi-Fi hotspots by state, which can be helpful when you are traveling and may help you determine where you stay each night.
Alternatively, you can create your own personal mobile hotspot. You can do this by either buying a small device from your cellular service provider, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint or AT&T, and connect your devices to the Wi-Fi, or actually turn your device, such as your smartphone, into a personal hotsp
Personal hotspots are a great way to remain connected while traveling and can usually be added to your cellular plan for an inexpensive price. The downside to this is that you rely on being able to reach the signal from your service provider’s nearest cell tower for your connection -- if you are out of their range (say, in Cow Island, Montana) then you will lose your connection. You can check a coverage map to see if your next location will get service.
Cellular internet service providers also have an option for data cards, which you can plug right into your computer. This option is relatively inexpensive depending on the plan you get, and the data card itself is compact, can work while in motion, but you cannot solely rely on this alone if you need internet connection 24/7 while on the road. Being able to connect does not ensure that you will get high speeds, it all just depends on your location.
If you are traveling somewhere that is nowhere near a cell phone tower or a Wi-Fi hotspot, satellite dishes are the only way to get an internet connection. You can be anywhere in the U.S., and all you’d need is a clear view of the southern sky to receive internet via a satellite thousands of miles out in space.
There are two types of satellite dishes - automatic roof-mounted dishes and manual tripod-mounted dishes. An automatic roof-mounted dish is assembled one time by your satellite internet provider, and after that you are good to go. You don’t have to point the dish in order to get a signal -- it is automatic. Having the dish stored on your roof is also a great option for saving space within your RV. While many may say satellite is too expensive to set up for an RV, most commonly they are referring to the automatic roof-mounted dish, which has all the convenience you could imagine but a hefty price tag.
Purchasing a tripod-mounted satellite dish can greatly reduce the costs associated with satellite internet for an RV. They do take about 30 minutes of assembly time each time you park, and take up space in your RV, but they are the most reliable way to ensure you will get a signal no matter where you are staying so you can, say, get high speed internet in Fairview Utah. Even when you may not get cell service, you will get internet with this setup.
All three options for internet service have their pros and cons, so you’ll need to decide for yourself how important your ability to connect to the internet while on the road actually is, and how reliable a connection you’ll need to have for your traveling lifestyle. If you’re fine with occasional connectivity, relying on the Wi-Fi connections you can find in most campgrounds and other public spaces might make sense, but for others who prefer the great wide open desert or backcountry when it comes time to make camp, cellular or satellite may be the better option.
About the Author
Kate Voss is an entertainment and technology blogger from Chicago who grew up traveling out west in an RV. On that trip, she got to see all the big American landmarks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. Her favorite place to travel to is Annapolis, Maryland.