Van Life Internet: How to Get WiFi on the Road

Wondering how to stay connected when traveling and road-tripping? This guide to van life internet shares how to get WiFi on the road.

One of the most common questions I get about working from the road is about van life internet. How do I get WiFi when traveling, and is it expensive? I usually spend more than half the year on the road living, traveling, and working out of my converted Sprinter van, so staying connected and getting internet on the road is essential to my ability to make money and maintain a career.

While getting off the grid and away from it all is one of the perks of van life and camping, if you’re planning to work from the road, then knowing how to get online when you need to is an absolute necessity. The internet is also a game-changer for easily being able to find parking, places to camp, water, dump stations, laundromats, and directions, as well as things to do.

Luckily, there are a lot of different options for van life internet, and it’s not as difficult to stay connected as you might think. Whether you are a full-time or part-time van lifer or simply want to take a few weeks off to road trip, these tips for getting WiFi while traveling apply to you.

In this guide to van life internet, I share how to get WiFi on the road and tips for stay connected while traveling.


Cell Phone Hotspot Options for Getting Internet on the Road

The easiest and most cost-effective method for van life internet access is your cellphone data plan. 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 including your laptop. It doesn’t cost you anything beyond what you normally pay each month, and anywhere you have service you can get online with your computer.

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.

To determine how big of a data plan you need and to find ways to cut back on data usage, you can use an app called My Data Manager to see how much data you use on a daily basis.

Tips for reducing data usage and making your high-speed data last longer

  1. Turn off the background refresh on your apps. What is background refresh? Let’s take Facebook. If you have background refresh turned ON, even when the app isn’t actively running on your screen, Facebook will be fetching status updates, so as soon as you open the app, you see the latest news. This constant pulling of the latest headlines eats through your data. On the iPhone, you can turn off background refresh by going to your general settings.
  2. Turn on the “Use Less Data” setting on Instagram. Instagram preloads videos and photos before you scroll down, which means you’re consuming data for videos that you might not even want to watch. To prevent this from happening, go to your Instagram settings on your profile page, then scroll down to “Cellular Data Use” and turn on the “Use Less Data” setting.
  3. Download music and movies only when you’re on WiFi. That means waiting until you’re at a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or the library to download that new Netflix series you’ve been wanting to see.
  4. Wait to get on WiFi to upload large files online, like a new YouTube video or a bunch of high res photos to your website. That will help you avoid quickly plowing through your data plan.
  5. Turn cellular data off on all the apps that you don’t use all the time. You can always turn cellular data on for each app as you use them.
Wondering how to stay connected when traveling and road-tripping? This guide to van life internet shares how to get WiFi on the road.

Mobile Hotspot Devices for WiFi on the Road

A second option for cellular data plans is to purchase a mobile hotspot device. These are small, external devices that work similarly to your phone’s hotspot and are a way to get WiFi when traveling. 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 and they don’t drain your phone battery.

For example, if your traveling companion is on a different carrier with a weak signal but you both need to get online, a WiFi hotspot will come in handy. Both you and your friend/partner can use the mobile hotspot at the same time, even if they aren’t a customer of the same carrier as you. All you have to do is share the hotspot password, and they can get online with your data plan.

Trying to use your phone as a hotspot for more than one device at a time really slows your signal down. Using your phone as a hotspot also drains your phone battery pretty quickly. That might not seems like a big deal for sporadic usage, but over time, the more your drain and charge your phone battery, the worse your overall battery life becomes.

A mobile hotspot is a helpful way to get WiFi on the road

WiFi Signal Boosters

When using your cell phone data plan or a mobile hotspot for van life internet, the thing to keep in mind is that you still need a 3G connection at a minimum in order for it to work. If you have less than 3G, you are pretty much 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. There’s really no such thing as off grid internet, at least not yet!

These boosters are a bit pricey, and if you think you’ll need one in order to get better WiFi when traveling, plan in advance, as some require drilling holes through your van or RV roof.

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. Again, 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. 

Wondering how to stay connected when traveling and road-tripping? This guide to van life internet shares how to get WiFi on the road.

Other Options for Van Life Internet Access

In today’s society, it’s not often that we have a chance to fully disconnect, so I actually look at the times when I am off grid as a chance to turn everything off and take a break from my phone and my computer.

If you really do need to be connected 100% of the time and always need WiFi when traveling, you’ll need to spend more time near cities and less time traveling in remote, rural areas and in National Parks and campgrounds where cell signal is scarce.

Here are a few additional ways to find WiFi on the road.

Public WiFi Options on the Road

Public WiFi is another option for staying connected on the road. Typically, libraries, coffee shops, Walmarts, malls, 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!

Wondering how to stay connected when traveling and road-tripping? This guide to van life internet shares how to get WiFi on the road.

As technology advances, I’m sure that my simple travel WiFi setup will become even more effective. But for now, an unlimited data plan paired with a mobile hotspot has been an easy way for me to get online and maintain my career while traveling full-time in my van.

Got questions about van life internet and how to stay connected while road tripping? Leave your comments and questions below, and make sure to sign up for van life course updates here.

23 comments on “Van Life Internet: How to Get WiFi on the Road

  1. T Mobile One is only $75/mo and is truly unlimited (no fine print like Verizon on caps/throttling). Coverage is really good too.

  2. Thanks so much for the info! Perfect timing. Heading out in ~ week and trying to figure out my Internet plans. I’m confused about not needing a plan for the Jetpack. Does it use your Unlimited plan? And you don’t have to pay anything extra per month for it or the data?

  3. Thanks, this was really helpful, especially the tips at the end! We have one phone on Verizon and one on AT&T and we agree Verizon is the best option. 🙂

  4. Visible wireless – $40 / month with no data limit, no throttling. In my area I get between 8 and 20 Mbps. They use the Verizon network. I’ve not used it outside with ConUS.

    1. Thanks for the tip Tyler! Hey, BTW for some reason I can’t access the original article. I only get the comments. I’d love to see the post itself. Is there a mis-link (I know, made-up word)?

      1. Patti – are you using an ad blocker? For some reason, people with ad blockers have been having that issue. Perhaps you can try turning it off on my website?

  5. Hi Kirsten! Are you using the Data Manager app to track data usage on your phone or you computer? What is your average data usage per day and per month? What types of things do you do on your computer when you’re using data? Thank you!

    1. I have unlimited data on my phone, so I don’t really track usage. I mainly using data to work while I’m on the road.

  6. Elon Musk’s new ISP company, Starlink Wireless might effectively raise the bar to a new apex.
    His system is designed with its own blanket of lower-orbit satellites which Elon states will provide a better internet signal, basically anywhere on the planet. It’s $499 for the modem and tripod, then $99/month but if your vanlife travels brought you to a mountain in Tibet, having your own WiFi network would be really, really cool.
    It’s not officially launched, beta testing is still happening but with that new tech, imagine a rolling hotspot that never lost coverage, even getting signal where a cell phone, normally would not.
    Wow!! The future is bright!!!

    1. So far you have to be stationary to use it but hopefully they’ll have a mountable unit for RVs and van life.

    2. Per the FAQs at Starlink, the service is assigned to a geographic cell and will not receive internet if the device is moved out of that geographic cell location. Not a mobile service unfortunately.

    1. Hi Brad, Kristen doesn’t use MIFI to stream Netflix because it consumes a lot of data. She downloads Netflix (phone/tablet app) at libraries or other places with free wifi and then she doesn’t need to use her data to watch them

  7. Hey there! I’m currently in a work situation where I have to be on zoom calls for about 6 hours per day. Starting van life, I learned quickly that I go through Verizon’s 15GB on the MiFI within 1 day… wild. Then the slower speed doesn’t support video calls.

    Any recommendations on other things to use? Really hoping I can figure this out so I can maintain the job on the road!

  8. HI! My question is less about Wifi and more about charging your devices. How do you charge your laptop when not connected to shore power? Thanks!

    1. If you have solar power, you can charge electronics off of your battery bank. You can also charge devices while the vehicle is running.

    2. Pick up a cheap 200 watt “INVERTER” anywhere from an auto supply store like auto zone to Walmart. They plug into you cigarette lighter plug and convert it to a 110v household outlet.

      This would be the easiest and simplest way if you’re only looking to charge a tablet cell phone or laptop.

      Later on if you find your needle more power, throughout the day you can look into a separate battery and a larger inverter. A larger inverter and a separate battery Bank ( especially with solar ) can power multiple items without the car or generator running.

  9. I saw one Commenter mention Elon’s Sat-based internet that isn’t out yet, but I think there are some currently-available solutions that way worth exploring and mentioning. If you’re in the middle of nowhere with no cell service/library/Starbux and need internet access then Satellite is really only way to get it!

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