One of the most common questions I get about van life is how to access the internet on the road. Fortunately, there are several options for staying connected, and it’s not as difficult as you might think.
In this lesson, I’m going to cover all the ways you can get the internet on the road. Some travelers like to spend a lot of time off-grid, which is awesome and one of the many perks of van life. I like to use the time without phone service to turn everything off and connect with the environment. But, I understand that it’s good to know where and how you’ll be able to get on the grid when you need to.
If you’re planning to work from the road, then knowing how to get online is an absolute necessity. The internet is also a game-changer for easily being able to find parking, water fills, dump stations, laundromats, wifi, and directions, as well as things to do.
Cell Phone Hotspot Options for Internet Access
Cellphone Data Plan
Your cellphone data plan is the easiest and most cost-effective method for van life internet access. Smartphones have a hotspot capability that allows you to tether devices to your phone, utilizing the phone’s data plan as the internet for your other devices.
Depending on your carrier, reception quality varies across the country. Download the OpenSignal app to see the signal strength of wherever you’re heading. It’s an interactive map that shows you where your carrier has a signal and how strong it is. This is a great tool for remote workers that will help you plan ahead and find an office with a view.
Mobile Hotspot Device
A second option for cellular data plans is to purchase a mobile hotspot device. These are small devices that work similarly to your phone’s hotspot. They can run off the same plan on your cell phone, or you can purchase a separate data plan, depending on your carrier.
The advantage of a separate hotspot is that multiple people can use the hotspot connection at the same time.
Cell Signal Boosters
When using your phone’s hotspot or a hotspot device, it’s important to know that you need at least a 3G connection in order for it to work, which is still pretty slow. If you have less than 3G, you’re basically out of luck.
For added signal strength, there are cell signal boosters available for RVs, vans, and cars that boost an existing 1x, 3G, or LTE cell signal. These do not create a signal from nothing, though, so if you’re in a No Signal zone, it won’t do anything for you. It only works if there is some signal, and it will take that signal and boost it a bar or two. So if you are at 3G, it might turn the signal into LTE.
WeBoost by Wilson Electronics is a popular signal booster that many people have success with. If you’re interested, I suggest you contact the companies directly to ask about which product would be best for your rig before purchasing. Some of them require more advanced installs, so you’ll want to consider this as you are building out your van. They typically cost between $400-600.
Other Options for Van Life Internet Access
Public WiFi is another option for staying connected on the road. Typically, coffee shops, libraries, Walmarts, and grocery stores have free WiFi for customers. These are all great options, but if you’re frequenting coffee shops for WiFi, the beverage bill adds up pretty quickly so you need to weigh the options between upgrading your data plan and coffee shop expenses.
Libraries are the best bet for a reliable, fast, and free connection. Plus, you might meet some locals from the community which is half the fun of traveling through new places!
If you want to jump around to other lessons in Module 4, here are other van life topics we cover (more coming soon!):
- Lesson 1: How to Find Free Campsites
- Lesson 2: Stealth Camping
- Lesson 3: Finding Things to Do on the Road
- Lesson 4: Finding Important Amenities on the Road
- Lesson 5: Van Life Internet Access & Staying Connected (current lesson)
- Lesson 6: Leave No Trace & Van Life
- Lesson 7: Managing Relationships on the Road
- Lesson 8: Finding Community & Solo Travel
- Lesson 9: Safety & Van Life
- Lesson 10: Pets & Van Life
- Lesson 11: Van Life in Winter
What is your most trusted and reliable way for getting internet on the road? Share your questions, tips, and experiences down in the comments, and make sure to sign up for course updates here.