RVing: seeing the beautiful sights, getting away from cities and traveling this vast, incredible earth. For some of us, RV traveling is the perfect way to get away from our daily lives and disconnect from the internet. A ‘Social Media Detox’ – as some people would say.
For others, (and there are more of us than you think!) we travel full-time and the RV life IS our daily lives… so a connection is required. For many of us unretired full-time RVing folks, connection to the internet is what allows us to work and make money to keep the gas tank full.
Being connected to the internet isn’t just a luxury anymore! And it’s not just the full-time remote workers that need it. Nowadays, you can pay bills online, check your bank statements, keep in touch with friends and family, and more.
Whether you’re working online or simply want to stay connected on the road for personal reasons, you can! With some planning and preparation, of course. Read on to learn the most popular ways that RVers and travelers stay connected from the road.
Staying Connected on the Road
There are a few rules to staying connected from the road that you have to keep in mind in addition to the tips outlined in this article.
This type of travel typically requires more planning, because there are some places you will never get a signal… no matter what kind of “RV Internet and Cell Phone Arsenal” you have.
To get a solid wifi or cell phone signal you have to do your research before heading off into the vast unknown. If you are relying on signal for important things such as work – you absolutely cannot skip this step.
Many campgrounds advertise free wifi, but you have to be wary of these claims. As a full-time RVer and remote worker myself, I have experienced this first hand. There have been countless times when I’ve chosen an RV park or campground because they advertise free WiFi, but when I got there it either didn’t work at all or was such a weak or overloaded signal that I couldn’t get any pages to load. Always ask before you go. Always. Even then, you might be getting inflated information, so be sure you have a backup.
I’ve been told a campground had great WiFi that I couldn’t load a webpage on once I got there. On the other hand, I have had campground owners go out of their way to give me a campsite right next to their WiFi router so I could get the best signal possible. WiFi boosting devices can help with a poor campground WiFi signal, but they aren’t perfect and won’t always be able to boost the signal enough to work with.
In many of the most beautiful and wild places in the US, cell phone signal will be extremely limited or non-existent… no matter what carrier you have. Verizon typically has the best coverage and is a popular choice among remote-working RVers, but many of us have AT&T plans as backup as well.
When looking for a campsite, be sure to use the websites and apps listed below in this article to check for signal reports from RVers, and always have a backup plan. Know where the nearest coffee shop or library is and plan to work there if you cannot get a signal in your campsite. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works!
Even if you’re using a cell signal booster, you have to be mindful of your campsite’s existing signal. A booster can only boost an existing signal – so if you don’t have any, your booster won’t work.
Wifi and Cell Connection Options for RVers:
There are a few ways you can stay connected in terms of having adequate data to use for your mobile internet needs, and there are tools to help you make those connections better.
The main ways of getting a connection are:
- Camping at campgrounds with WiFi
- Hotspotting off your cell phone or tablet – you typically need unlimited data for this
- Using a dedicated mobile hotspot
- Mobile Satellite Internet
For hotspotting off your cell phone or tablet or using a dedicated mobile hotspot, you need to be mindful of your data needs and plans. You will also need to be mindful of coverage areas – not all carriers have the same coverage. Verizon boasts the best nationwide coverage, but there are instances where AT&T works better. Many RVers have multiple cell phone plans with multiple carriers for backup.
You can boost your existing connections with:
- Cell Signal Booster. These devices use an external antenna to pick up existing cell phone signals and amplify them to make them stronger, with an internal antenna inside your RV that broadcasts the amplified signal to your cell phone.
- WiFi Booster. These devices pick up existing WiFi signals (you can only connect to WiFi that is open or that you have the password to) and amplifies that WiFi inside your RV for your devices to connect to.
In my personal opinion, both of these options are necessary – you can never have too many “backup” plans. Even with unlimited cell phone data and boosters, you may still be unable to access the internet.
Patience and adaptability are of utmost importance – and planning, planning, planning! Always have multiple options and multiple backup plans, and if all else fails, be prepared to head to the local coffee shop or library to get your important work done.
Hotspot Using Your Cellphone or Tablet
No matter what cell phone carrier you have, most carriers allow you the ability to use your phone or tablet as a hotspot. Hotspotting enables you to broadcast your signal to other devices, like your computer or smart tv, to connect to the internet via your cell phone plan’s data package. You can hotspot wirelessly or connect your device to your computer or TV with a usb cord. Some plans come with a certain GB of hotspot already allotted, and for some companies or plans it is an additional fee.
This is arguably the easiest way to stay connected while you are on the road, since it requires no extra equipment or setup.
The only downsides to hotspotting off of your phone or your tablet are:
- Typically, there are data caps on your phone or tablet’s hotspot – meaning once you reach a certain amount of data usage, you can’t use it anymore until the next billing cycle.
- This only works if you have great signal on your cell phone. If you have only spotty signal, you’re not going to be able to do anything with your hotspot.
- This can be bad for your devices overall battery life if used constantly.
Mobile hotspots are provided by your cellphone company as an additional data plan and phone line to your bill, and the only thing these little devices do is broadcast a wifi signal for your devices. You may have heard of them referred to as a Jetpack (Verizon) or a MiFi (AT&T). These are rechargeable devices that you can carry with you like a phone, and they only work when you turn them on (and have cell phone signal).
Mobile hotspots are easy to use and portable, making them a popular choice for many RVers.
The downsides to a mobile hotspot are:
- Limited Data. It is incredibly hard to find a mobile hotspot plan with unlimited data, and if you do – even the “unlimited” data plan can have a cap on it.
- Expensive. This can be a more expensive route, as it usually requires you to purchase an additional data plan and phone line to your existing cell phone plan.
- Only works where you have great cell signal – whether you’re using a booster or not. A booster can help boost your mobile hotspot’s signal if there is signal available, but it’s not always foolproof.
Mobile Satellite Internet
Mobile Satellite Internet exists, and it can be a good choice for you if you have the money to invest and are technically inclined.
Mobile Satellite Internet requires a roof-mounted satellite dish and hardware (usually a few thousand dollars to set it up) and some network management when you arrive to new places to get it working. You will also have to always have a clear view of the sky – it won’t work camping in forests or on really cloudy days.
With all it’s caveats, it can be a great choice that enables you to get online anywhere in North America, Mexico and Canada – even where wireless connections don’t work… provided you have a clear view of the southern sky.
Using Devices to Boost Signal
There are many different devices on the market today that you can use alone or together to boost existing signal – whether it’s cell phone signal or campground or public wifi. It is not uncommon for an RVer to have a cell signal booster and a wifi booster in their mobile internet arsenal.
- WeBoost. By far the most popular and widely used and talked about cell signal booster for RVers, WeBoost has many different options for boosting cell signal on the road. This company makes cell signal boosters specifically for RVs.
The signal booster works by placing an outdoor antenna on top of your rig that picks up any existing signal, sends it to a transmitter inside the RV and broadcasts it to nearby cell phones and tablets. It is super easy to install and use – you can set it up only when you need it. This is a great option for when you are picking up a little bit of weak signal. If you don’t pick up any signal at all, then it’s likely that the booster won’t be able to find any, either.
The WeBoost Connect RV 65 is the most powerful RVing cellular booster offered by WeBoost – with a telescoping pole and a powerful outdoor antenna. Other cell boosters come with a small, 4 inch magnetic antenna that doesn’t pick up much signal at all.
The PDQ All-Pro Wifi Range Extender and Hotspot is a great choice when you need to boost an existing weak or slow wifi. You will encounter weak or slow wifi signals when you are parked outside of locations with free public wifi or sometimes in campgrounds that have wifi. A lot of the time, the campground wifi isn’t strong enough to handle everyone in the park trying to use it at the same time – or you might just be situationed too far away from the router. In this case, a wifi booster is your best friend. It picks up existing wifi signals and amplifies them so you get faster speeds and can work more efficiently.
This device has a multi-purpose roof mounting option and a router with a max coverage of 50 feet, ensuring that no matter where you place it inside your RV, you’ll pick up the signal with your devices.
This product boasts the ability to pickup wifi from 15-20 miles away – although this will be dependent on weather conditions and geography.
The All-Pro Wifi Range Extender is one of the most powerful wifi boosting options for RVers on the market. This device is simple to install and use, and can be set up and taken down whenever you need it instead of mounting it to the roof (if you don’t like the idea of permanently mounting it).
Winegard ConnecT 2.0 Wifi and 4G LTE. Another option for boosting wifi signals or amplifying cell phone signals is the Winegard ConnecT 2.0. Instead of boosting existing cell phone signal – this device requires you to purchase a data plan or you can use your own data plan and insert a sim card into the roof mounted device. It will then pick up and amplify existing cell data signal for you to use for working or streaming video. It also amplifies existing wifi signal for the same purposes. While this seems to be an interesting device since it combines 2-in-1, it has it’s downsides. The data packages purchased through Winegard are incredibly expensive and they do not currently offer an unlimited option.
This device is also incredibly easy to use and install – it is all one piece.
Apps and Websites to Check for Signal
There are a few apps and websites that you can use to check for cell phone signal along your intended travel route and in the locations you plan to camp. These apps and websites are a mixture of coverage data provided by cell phone carriers and personal reviews and uploads from travelers.
A personal favorite of mine, OpenSignal is an app that is constantly updated by users – all of the information about cell phone signal on this app has been provided and uploaded by users of the app. You can use this app to check for areas where great signal has been reported and upload your own reports as well.
If you don’t have signal, simply open the app and a helpful “cell phone signal” compass will point you in the direction you need to go to get coverage. It’s really handy! You can also do a internet speed test and find your data usage information, all in the app.
Since this app is user generated information, not all areas have reports yet. You can help that by uploading your own information as you go along!
OpenSignal is free to download and use.
Coverage? is an app developed by the creators of RVMobileInternet.com and features coverage maps of different phone carriers like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and TMobile. Since these maps showcase the carriers coverage data, they can sometimes be optimistic or inflated, but still a great indicator of what way to head when you find yourself without signal.
Campendium.com is another personal favorite and it’s helpful for so much more than just cell signal or internet access. Campendium can be accessed on their website or they have a free app for iOS.
Campendium is a campground review repository that is updated by travelers. You can filter by type of campsite, and in each campground review, there is an area for cell phone signal for Verizon and AT&T. Not every campsite has a review, and not all reviewers leave cell signal information. But, for most campgrounds and campsites, you will be able to find some kind of indication of what signal was experienced.
This is also a great app to see photos of campgrounds and learn about rig size requirements and road conditions.
Allstays is another campground review app that you will sometimes find cell signal information on as well as campground reviews, rig requirements and road conditions. It is free to use the website at Allstays.com – or you can buy the app for $9.99! If you love it, I recommend buying the app to support the people that put this awesome resource together.
Creating a Mobile Internet Solution that Fits Your Needs
Once you know what your data needs are, you will have a better idea of what kind of “mobile internet arsenal” you will need to build.
If you are going to be streaming a lot of videos or playing online games, you will need a much heftier data plan and more high-tech devices.
If you are working online answering emails, compiling reports, etc – this can be done with a simple hotspot.
No matter what your budget is – you can easily create a solution for yourself. If all else fails, you can plan to just use libraries and coffee shops wherever you go to get your work done.
A mobile internet arsenal doesn’t have to be built all at once, you can start with something as simple as a cell signal booster and build on it from there.
Just remember, no plan or boosting devices are going to be perfect and staying connected with this type of lifestyle is going to require a lot of planning, preparation, and patience when things don’t go to plan.
Regardless of what plan or devices you choose, always have a backup and stay flexible in your plans to allow for necessary changes at the last second.
For more information about staying connected on the road, check out the resource RVMobileInternet.com – created by two longtime RVers, Cruisers and remote workers, providing the best and most up-to-date information on all things Mobile Internet!