Since a lot of people have asked me how the heck I manage to almost always have a decent signal while living on the road, I have been wanting to write about this topic for a while. Now, after almost 9 months of experiencing plenty of successes and challenges, I believe that I am ready to provide such advise. According to my calculations (very thorough ones I must say), it boils down to the following 3 tips:
1. Buy the Right Gadgets
When you look this up online, you’ll likely find the following three most commonly used gadgets:
- Wireless Hotspot
- Your Cell Phone Hot Spot
- Signal Booster
- Satellite Internet
Based on my experience (at least within the US), the best solution is a Wireless Hotspot. You can get a wireless hotspot from any provider, but given that Verizon has the most coverage throughout the country, the Verizon Wireless Jetpack 8800L 4G LTE Advanced might be your best bet in remote locations and National Parks. For only $200 bucks you can buy it on Amazon without a sim card and a contract. Then all you do is go to a local Verizon store to buy the sim card with a plan, which will run at $80 bucks per month for the plan with the most high speed data (30 GB).
30 GB of high speed data has been barely enough for Alejandro R. (aka insane destroyer) and myself (aka expert bandit) when we use it exclusively for work (zoom calls and emails mostly). If you are by yourself, you’ll have more than enough fast speed data every month. Keep in mind that once you run out of those high speed 30 GB, the lower speed will make your hotspot useless for any work related activities 😦 You can then but 3 extra GB at a time to survive for the rest of the month.
If you are planning on going to Mexico or Canada, I would encourage looking up data plan rates for AT&T’s Hotspot: NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile Hotspot 4G LTE Router MR1100-100NAS. Also available on Amazon for a similar price, you might find better international deals with AT&T, given their free roaming packages for Canada and Mexico. Furthermore, AT&T’s coverage within the US in not much worse than Verizon’s.
To save your Mobile Hotspot’s limited fast speed data and get it to last you as much as possible, you should always try using your Cell Phone as a hot spot for work if your signal is strong enough. I have T-Mobile on my phone and I use it to connect my computer to the internet every time I can. However, we still mostly rely on the Mobile Hotspot because most remote locations will only get you Verizon or AT&T signal.
The famous Signal Booster is not an internet source, but rather (as its name implies) an antenna that amplifies the signal strength from the nearest cell towers. Nevertheless, it makes a great addition to all your cell phones and Mobile Hot Spot devices inside the vehicle because it will add 1-2 bars to your signal strength and subsequently make your internet faster. Since we started using it, it has several times made the difference between good and crappy zoom calls. I have this Weboost DriveX RV I bought for $479 bucks. If you are not in a Van or RV, and just camping in your SUV, I’d recommend you shop for their products made for passenger vehicles. Keep in mind that the DriveX RV is a 2 ft long Antenna that requires a nifty installation with a cable to run through your roof, which you connect to a little control panel inside your RV or Van, a smaller inside antenna, and a cable to power it. The antenna only comes with a ladder mount, so I was forced to drill it on Camelia’s (my RV) roof using this marine antenna adapter, and two fittings I got in a local hardware store to be able to screw the antenna to it. That adapter works like a charm; it has a little lever to lower the antenna when you hit the road, and I have it installed on the edge of the roof to be able to reach by standing on an upside-down bucket. Hence, no maniacal primate jump is required to set and lower the antenna.
Lastly, the most reliable option abroad is probably Satellite Internet. I honestly haven’t looked deeply into this given that it requires a hefty installation and a couple thousand dollars. But if I were to take Camelia outside the US, I would definitely look into its reliability and data plans.
2. Find the Right Spots Ahead of Time
An essential step to having good internet while you work from the road is finding the right spot when you are planning your route. Anytime I research future homes for Camelia, I look for two things:
- Wi-Fi availability
- Signal Coverage
If you choose to pay a bit more and stay at an RV resort with amenities, they will likely offer free Wi-Fi. However, never rely on their Wi-Fi; after almost 9 months on the road and more than 10 RV resorts, there have only been 2 or 3 that offered Wi-Fi fast and stable enough to handle email and zoom calls. So always make sure your RV resort is located in an area with coverage for your Mobile Hot Spot provider. When choosing your ideal RV resort, make sure you look up reviews about their Wi-Fi, and call them ahead of time to ask them about their Wi-Fi reliability. If they claim it is good, ask them to place you in a location close to the signal source.
The most important factor in landing good internet is scoping for signal coverage ahead of time. When I’m looking up potential campsite candidates, I normally mark them with a “star” on Google maps. Then I use the precious Coverage App to use its map feature and zoom into all of the “starred” locations (you’ll need some geographic memory to then find the starred locations in this app by locating nearby highways and rivers for each location). Once you locate the campsites in the app, press the button for your provider (in my case “Verizon” and “T-Mobile”) and a different colored layer will appear for each provider.
In addition to using the Coverage App, look at the reviews of your selected campsites in the following websites. These sites (listed in order of helpfulness) provide cumulative reviews on signal strength of the different providers.
3. Scope for the Right Site Upon Arrival
Last but not least, scope for the spot with the strongest signal upon arriving at your selected site. Signal strength within a campsite can vary a lot depending on location of natural obstacles, like trees and hills. Usually somewhere flatter and away from tall trees and hills will get you a stronger signal. But when that does not seem to influence your signal strength, you should just drive or walk around your campsite with your Mobile Hots Spot on until you find one that gets you the most bars.
One more tip: If you do park your Van or RV near trees, make sure the vehicle’s roof is not touching any branches. Otherwise, sneaky rodents may climb up there and find their way inside through one of your roof vents (we learned that the hard way!).