How to Stay Connected on the Road: The RV Road Warrior’s Guide To Connectivity
You are living on the road and exploring the North American highways in your RV. You have an online business to run and it is essential that you have an internet connection. You are boondocking in a remote area and your 4G LTE signal is weak, or doesn’t exist at all.
What Options are Available to Stay Connected on the Road?
When you’re on the road, you may run into times where it’s difficult to stay connected to the internet-especially if you like to boondock in remote areas. The variety of solutions I use to stay connected to the internet will be the topic of this blog post.
The first step is looking at your connectivity options.that are available to you. If you want to work remotely, you’ll need a reliable internet connection. It’s best to choose a service provider that offers unlimited data and has a good network coverage. IMO, Verizon and AT&T seem to have the best 4G LTE coverage. I have Verizon and have been happy with the connection coverage provided by them.
Common 4G LTE and Wi-Fi Connection Solutions for a RV
Cellular Data is a type of network which allows mobile devices to connect to the Internet. Cellular data has been around for over 20 years and it is now the most used form of data communication.
If you ‘re a weekend camper who likes to stay in full service RV parks or a campground or RV park that you know has a strong signal, a cell phone and/or tablet is all you need to connect to the Internet.
Public Wi-Fi is a convenient way to connect with people and the world around you. They can be found in many places that require wireless internet access, such as coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, and airports. What is even more amazing about the Public Wi-Fi is that they are free to use. This means you can connect with your friends, family, and business associates without having to worry about the cost of data charges.
Tethering and Portable Hotspot
Most of today’s cell phones and tablets have a hotspot option available. Using your phone or tablet as a hotspot is a great way to connect your portable devices, such as your laptop, smartphone or tablet, with the Internet. Basically, this means you can use your smartphone as a hotspot to share data between other devices within range.
A disadvantage is that data usage is battery intensive, making it impractical if you plan on using the hotspot all day.
Another solution would be to purchase a dedicated cellular hotspot. A cellular hotspot is a small stand-alone device that connects to the cellular data connection and allows your laptop, cell phone or tablet to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. If it has an antenna option (most do,) pick up a Mi-Mo antenna that attaches to your RV window via a suction cup. It could mean the difference between finding a 4G LTE signal or not.
4G LTE Signal Booster
With more and more people choosing to live the RV lifestyle, many RVers are discovering what it’s like to live off the grid. One of the challenges faced by digital nomads is maintaining a strong internet connection. A 4G LTE booster can help you stay connected on the road when boondocking in remote areas.
Wi-Fi Signal Booster
A Wi-Fi signal booster can mean the difference between getting a Wi-Fi signal or not in a full-service RV park that has spotty service. I’ve also used this booster when we’re dry camping overnight in a Walmart or a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
Satellite Internet is another way to stay connected when you are in a place with limited cellular service. This technology allows you to connect to the Internet using a satellite dish or antennae. In most cases, you will need to purchase this type of Internet service in order to use it – and it can be quite expensive. While not nearly as fast as cellular data, it’s a great alternative if you want to stay connected in places with limited cellular service.
(But wait, look what’s the best new thing that is coming soon to RVers…)
SpaceX Starlink Satellite Internet Services
(UPDATE: Starlink is here NOW! Read about it here.)
SpaceX is working on a specific antenna that will wire vehicles like semi trailers and RVs to its internet network. Elon Musk said in a tweet, “This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs.” Source: Elon Musk wants to connect RVs and trucks to the internet through SpaceX’s Starlink satellites (msn.com)
It’s easier to maintain than actually connecting a traditional cellular connection and much faster than your average home Internet. I know that when the Starlink Satellite Internet Services is available for RV’s I’ll be one of the first customers in line!
Finding a Connection in an RV Park
There are many benefits to staying at an RV park, one of the main being the amenity package. Amenities vary depending on the campground, but there will be nearby shops for groceries and gas, laundry facilities, parks and activities for the kids to enjoy, and other amenities including Wi-Fi.
That said, one downside of RVing in some campgrounds is the lackluster Wi-Fi service many park and campgrounds are known for. I’ve tried some campgrounds that offered me a connection only to find an unserviceable internet connection upon arrival.
Wi-Fi boosting devices can help with a poor campground Wi-Fi signal so they’re worth considering to avoid technological frustration. They won’t always provide the boost of service needed, but they will at least improve your current signal if you’re in a really remote area.
Finding a Connection at Your Campsite
It can be hard to keep in contact with people while exploring some of the United States’ most beautiful and remote places, especially since cell phone coverage varies from one area to another – even when you have the best carriers.
When looking for a campsite, be sure to use the websites and apps listed below to check for signal reports from RVers, and always have a backup plan. Even if you’re using a cell signal booster, you have to be observant of your campsite’s existing signal.
For example, we were en route to our new campsite in Kings Canyon National Park when I learned that there was a hotel that had a signal and it was the only place that had a signal for miles around. When I got there, I checked the Wi-Fi on my Android cell phone and it indeed had a strong Wi-Fi signal. I checked with the front desk if it was all right to do some online work there and they said I could stay there as long as I want. And so I did!
Add a 4G cellular signal booster to your RV for better connectivity
If you are traveling and need to stay connected, consider using a 4G LTE booster. There have been times where my booster turned an unusable signal into a signal that was fast enough I could do my work.
Boosters work only for existing signals and can’t boost weak or dead ones. Use your “The Cell app” for a 4G signal – any 4G LTE signal, even if it is ½ of a bar or less. If there’s a whisper of a signal, I have a chance of making it useable simply by turning on my 4G LTE booster. Doing so will usually add one or more bars to the 4G signal – which can make the difference in getting my work done.
Full Service RV Park
Another option is to find a full-service RV park which has a strong Wi-Fi signal. Unfortunately, RV Parks in general have a bad reputation for Wi-Fi and the signal can be weak or non-existent. As a general rule, the closer you are to the park office, the better the Wi-Fi signal.
Find a Connection in a Nearby City
I love to camp in remote locations. For example, when we were in Alaska, we found a place to boondock that surrounded us with mountains on both sides and it had a river running through it! It was like we were living in a postcard. We were completely cut off from civilization and I was in boondocking heaven!
Unfortunately, we were so remote that our communication with the outside world was also completely cut off. Since I had a Zoom meeting with my boss later that afternoon, I had to figure out a way to get online.
I checked my cell app again for a signal. Nope. Not even a whisper of signal. Our 4G signal booster is good, but it can’t make something from nothing.
What to do? One option I have is I can drive to the nearest town and seek out free Wi-Fi in coffeehouses, restaurants, libraries, and visitors centers. Sometimes I don’t even have to leave my vehicle, as the signal is strong enough to reach the parking lot.
Also, many Wi-Fi businesses leave their Wi-Fi on after hours.
*Note that many public hotspots require that you know the hotspot’s password. Hotspots are also sometimes available in parks and visitor centers, but again, they may be password-protected. The hotspot service provider often provides the password upon request.
Argh! There are no nearby cities…
We’re boondocked along the Dempster Highway in the Engineer Creek Campground, 130 miles from the Arctic Circle. As expected, my 4G LTE booster reads nada. The nearest city is 235.0 km away—time to kick back, relax and have a glass of wine!
LOL Not really. Fortunately, I had researched this destination, and I knew there would be no options to get online (big surprise!) so I let my web-team know I will be offline for “X” number of days and they will respond to anybody who contacts Dora Kay Design.
This doesn’t mean I’m sitting around doing nothing. I simply take my design work offline. I have all my design software on my laptop and I use a WordPress emulator called Local to work on a copy of the WordPress website projects I’m working on. Google Docs also has an offline option, which is nice.
Fortunately, we are rarely out of options unless we are in a remote area like the North West Canadian Territories or remote areas in Alaska.
Do Your Research Online to Find a Signal Before You Arrive at Your Destination!
Research, Research, Research!
Boondocking while traveling in an RV typically requires more planning ahead of time. Most campgrounds and RV parks have Wi-Fi, but cell service may be spotty or non-existent when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Learn about your next destination before you leave for your next boondocking site.
Here’s what I do:
- The first thing I do when researching our next boondocking destination is to go to the Compendium website. We’ve found some real nice boondocking places to stay at on this site and it’s an excellent starting point to find nearby boondocking sites. I check out all the photos, read the info and all the reviews to find out the details about the campground, so we will have a good idea of what to expect when we get there. Compendium even shows if there are any 4G LTE signals available and how strong the signal is. Nice!
- Once I decide on a boondocking site, I go to Google Maps and zoom in on the area in satellite mode to check out the roads and surrounding terrain. And since we have solar onboard, are there any sites not covered with trees?
- Next I call the forest ranger office nearest to the site and find out if there are any “gotchas” we need to know about before we get there. Is the area closed? Are there any nearby forest fires? Are there any other boondocking areas available for RVs?
When looking for a campsite, be sure to also use the websites and apps listed below to check for signal reports from RVers, and always have a backup plan!
Apps & Website Tools I Use to Find Places to Boondock
Compendium website (IOS / PC)
freecampsites.net (Android/IOS/ PC)
This app is excellent for finding boondocking sites to stay at. For the most part it is accurate but sometimes we got to our destination it wasn’t what we were expecting so I use freecampsites.net to get a view of the area I am interested in boondocking and then use the website Compendium to verify my findings.