For some, recreational vehicles may seem antiquated or bring up memories of forced family bonding, but for others — particularly Millennials — RVs evoke the thrill of the open road.
Whether you’re planning the great cross-country trip you’ve always dreamed of, or hoping to live a more mobile lifestyle, there are ways to bring recreational vehicles into the 21st century so you can go off the grid while still staying connected.
What’s the appeal of RVs and #vanlife?
If you check out #vanlife on Instagram or Twitter, then you’ll see millions and millions of posts of people who travel in recreational vehicles and even use them as a tiny home.
In the past few years, RVs have seen a boom in sales with two of their best years ever — a record-setting 504,600 units shipped in 2017 and 483,672 units in 2018, the second-best year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
What’s more, this vehicle, previously associated with family trips and retirees, is gaining popularity with a younger audience. The New York Times found that Millennials make up 38% of the 75 million active camper households.
For Holly Priestley, a writer traveling across the U.S., the idea of living in a vehicle was first introduced to her years ago when she met a man living out of his Camry. It took her a few years after that to finally get a van of her own.
“Now I travel and live in my van with my mutt and we both love the freedom it provides,” she said. “Because I’m a freelance writer, I can work anywhere I have cell service and/or Wi-Fi.”
Priestley, who also blogs about her travels and van life, uses her phone as a hotspot when necessary or takes advantage of Wi-Fi connections at coffee shops and truck stops when passing through a town.
“I’ve been considering getting a cell signal booster so that I can increase my adventuring radius but so far the signal I get with my provider has been adequate,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges though is balancing where she wants to go with where she needs to be. This requires some planning to avoid having any conflicts with her work schedule.
“Often, I want to go further into the woods and the mountains and the canyons to explore more but I also need to stay where I can get cell service fairly easily,” Priestley said. “I do still venture out without cell service, but I plan these trips ahead to avoid having a deadline conflict.”
Carol Kubicki, a travel writer based in Manchester, U.K. with her own blog, Back on the Road Again, had a similar experience to Priestley where meeting two people living the van life inspired her as a teenager to later try it out for herself.
“They described a relaxed lifestyle full of new and interesting places that appealed,” she said. “It took a long time to get my own van, but I held on to the dream.”
Kubicki also uses her phone to stay connected while on the go, opting for a 12 GB data plan that she can use all across Europe. She also makes use of free Wi-Fi at campsites.
“The biggest challenge is getting a signal in remote areas,” she said. “I love Scotland, but the mountains make phone signals difficult to access sometimes. I’m typing this [response] on a wild camp in a remote Scottish glen and having to hold the phone high to reach the one spot where it picks up a 3G signal!”
How to stay connected while traveling in an RV or van
Before you start living the #vanlife, there are a few things to consider so you can find the best internet solution for you.
Ways to get internet with an RV:
- Rely on free Wi-Fi hotspots
- Invest in a cellular data plan
- Set up a satellite internet connection
Rely on free Wi-Fi hotspots
Perhaps the easiest — and cheapest — way to get an internet connection while traveling in an RV is to rely on free Wi-Fi hotspots. This solution is probably best for anyone who’s traveling for a shorter time, not necessarily using their RV or van as their home since it’s not a reliable connection.
If you have internet at home and are traveling for a few weeks or months in an RV, then you may be able to take advantage of your internet service provider’s hotspot network. Providers like Spectrum and Xfinity offer thousands to millions of Wi-Fi hotspots all across the country.
In cases where your provider may not have a Wi-Fi network, you can take advantage of free hotspots in larger cities as well as some campgrounds. For instance, in Seattle, attractions like the Space Needle and coffee shops like Starbucks offer free Wi-Fi. The obvious downside here is that you’ll need to be in a specific location to take advantage of these internet connections.
While not a perfect solution, making pit stops in locations with free Wi-Fi hotspots is one way to stay connected while on the go. Just make sure to let your friends and family know you won’t be readily available online all the time.
Invest in a cellular data plan
By investing in a cellular data plan, you can either turn your phone into a hotspot or purchase a mobile hotspot to take your connection with you on your travels. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all offer both cellular data and mobile hotspot plans.
If you already have a wireless plan with one of these providers, you may already have a data plan. Check with them to see if they allow you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot or tether to create a Wi-Fi connection. Not all plans will allow this.
Alternatively, if you don’t want a full-blown wireless plan and just want the Wi-Fi connection, you can purchase a mobile hotspot and a data plan ranging from a few dollars a month to $100 or more each month depending on how much data you want.
And when it comes to data, think long and hard about how much you may need. Going over your data plan may cost you more than bumping up to a higher plan. If you’re just trying to send a few emails and post to social media, a few gigs may be all you need. But if you plan on streaming Netflix for hours on end, spring for the higher plan.
Set up a satellite internet connection
For those who plan to make their RV their new home, you may want to consider setting up a satellite internet connection. This is definitely a more permanent solution, though, and would be best if you plan to park your van in one place for a long time — not if you’re driving around regularly.
Out of all of the options, satellite internet has the highest cost with plans starting at about $50 per month. Additionally, it is prone to weather-related outages. However, unlike cellular data that relies on nearby cell phone towers, it’s a great connection type for hard-to-reach areas since your signal comes from satellites above.
Another thing to consider is that satellite internet has been improving, and over the next few years we can expect a major investment from tech billionaires to make it even better.
While going off the grid and disconnecting feels good, sometimes you may want to chat with friends and family or post to Instagram while on the road. Consider these options for staying connected while traveling in an RV during your next outing!