Fine Tuning Connectivity While Traveling
First things first: roll or cruise in and set up that mobile internet!
Maybe you scored an awesome site right on the beach, or maybe you snagged one with amazing mountain views. Or maybe you’re in a crowded RV park or marina, but in a city or location that you love.
No matter where you’ve parked your home, one of the first things you probably do is get set up. Put the levelers out, hook up the electricity and water, and get your mobile internet optimized for this location.
Heck, if you're a digital nomad, you might even skip the other stuff and just go straight to making sure you can get online.
You might get lucky, and whatever mobile internet configuration you used at your last location works great at this new one. Score! You're ready to surf (or maybe go surfing).
But what if things are different at this location - the signal is weaker or just not providing the speeds you want? In that case, you may need to optimize your setup.
If you're traveling with an arsenal of mobile internet gear to try at each location, how do you go about determining what will work best at each new location?
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Whereas your electricity and water hookups are pretty straight-forward and you generally follow the same process at each location, the steps you will take to establish your internet connection may vary more from location to location.
Each location is likely to present its own unique challenges for establishing a reliable connection, and you're likely carrying with you multiple cellular plans, antennas, modems, routers and boosters in your mobile internet arsenal.
Which means you might need to try them all, experiment with different configurations, or even consider your back-up options.
Basic Steps for Setting Up Your Internet Connectivity
While the actual steps you take each time may vary, there tends to be a general order of operations in figuring out which of your mobile internet arrangements will be most usable at a particular location.
Some steps to guide you:
- Determine what types of options are available in your location.
- Survey the situation by testing your options.
- Experiment with signal enhancing gear & configurations.
- Choose your setup, and enjoy.
- Consider alternatives if all else fails.
Determine Your Options
Planning your travels around your connectivity options is just as important.
Knowing what to expect will give you an idea before your arrive as to what should work at your next location based on feedback from others who have been there and anticipated coverage. You can then adjust accordingly - go to a different location, or plan to take a few days off of being connected.
We have a guide to with resources for researching your options in advance:
Many nomads soon discover that redundancy is another critical component to success on the road. The more options you have on board to try, the more likely it is you'll be able to get connected and not have to skip locations you want to visit.
We feel it's so beneficial, that we have dedicated an entire guide to building a redundant mobile internet arsenal, which you can view here:
If you've planned well both in your travels and in building your mobile internet arsenal, you should be able to arrive with little hesitation that something will keep you online enough.
Testing Your Connections
Once you’ve arrived to your location, it’s time to start actually testing your options determine what will work best here.
The first and easiest thing to do is just to see what your internet performance is with what you already have setup - perhaps what was working best at your last location, or whatever your default configuration is.
If that's not giving you the results you need, or perhaps you've already nearly reached any bandwidth caps you have on that option - it's time to test your other options.
Perhaps you have cellular plans and equipment with different carriers. You’ll want to test the connection for each, as different carriers can have different performance in the same location. Try each option 'as is'. That could be just hot spotting off your smartphone, surfing on your tablet, using your mobile hotspot device or using your embedded router with your default roof antenna.
If you're in a campground or marina that’s providing free Wi-Fi it might be worth connecting to your nearest access point, and seeing how the connection performs.
Cycle through each option you have on board to survey what you're starting with to establish a baseline. Write down the numbers if you like, keep a spreadsheet or just make a mental note of what each option presents.
Remember, the bars displayed on your device only tell part of the story and aren't necessarily indicative of the actual performance you'll get. In order to get a more accurate assessment, performing speed tests is recommended.
You can access free speed tests through sites or apps like Speedtest.net.
It helps to know what your absolute minimum performance is in download, upload and ping time for that tasks you need to get done.
You may get lucky at this step and find an option without further enhancement works great - and you can quit trying to optimize things further. At least for now. Consider that things can change drastically throughout the day, or on weekends, as the number of people online changes.
For more on Testing and Understanding Your Mobile Internet Speeds:
Bring in Specialty Gear & Experiment
Once you have baseline on your options, if you're not getting the performance you need it's time to step it up a notch with any more advanced enhancing options you have at your disposal.
For a Wi-Fi connection, a Wi-Fi extending antenna may be used to reach a further away access point than your devices alone can connect reliably to.
Repeat your testing on each of your options with and without this extra gear to see if you can improve the situation.
Some antennas are omnidirectional, meaning they can pick up a signal from any direction, but some are directional - meaning they need to be aimed towards the signal source in order to get the best result.
If you have more advanced gear, you might also have other tricks up your sleeve to try - like locking cellular frequency bands, bonding multiple connections together or balancing your load across different connections.
If you're still not getting the performance you need, do some basic trouble shooting like checking that antenna connections are secure, reboot devices, check your battery health on portable devices and experiment with different Wi-Fi settings to avoid channel interference that might be clobbering your performance.
For more on Optimizing Cellular Signals:
For more on Wi-Fi Extending:
And for those ready to dive into the geekier world of signal enhancement:
Each time you add or tweak your setup, you'll want to run a speed test or two to see if what you've done has increased the functionality of your change - or actually made it worse.
Remember: When you make a change, you should run a test - then compare.
Choose Your Setup & Enjoy
Fiddling endlessly may be fun for some, but most of us probably just want to get online, get our stuff done and spend our time exploring our new locations.
So get things dialed in as best you can without pulling your hair out and make note of what other options are workable in your testing so that you can revert to them if your setup degrades during your stay (it can happen).
But most importantly.. ENJOY!
When All Else Fails
Unfortunately, there may be some stops in your travels, where no matter what you do, or how much fancy equipment you have, you can't get a usable connection. Know what your options are just such situations.
Will you need to bail on this location entirely, or can you adapt to poor or no connectivity?
If you're in a campground/marina, or near a city, one option may be to just walk over the campground or marina office to get closer to the Wi-Fi source.
If you have a vehicle or bike, you may need to plan a trip into town to find internet at a library, cafe or just better cell signal. Or perhaps you just need to take a little hike up a nearby hill to where the signal is more abundant.
If none of those are options, and you absolutely need to have internet access, you may have to choose a different location.
In some situations, just moving sites within a campground or boondocking/anchoring location can make a world of difference - especially if there are a lot of trees, terrain or signal blocking obstacles around. You might go scope out the options with a smartphone or portable hotspot device to see if there's better signal to be found - and then make arrangements to move.
If moving isn't an option, and you can't get a workable internet connection, then hopefully you packed some beer or wine to drown your internet sorrows.
We've published a guide to thinking outside the box when your typical set of tools just is not cutting it:
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Case Study: Optimizing on the Blue Ridge Parkway
During the Summer of 2021, Chris & Cherie traveled in their 2020.5 Winnebago Travato GL van. Members have access to details of optimizations made at each of the locations stopped at - including test data, observations, and tips.
Knowing and understanding the various capabilities of the different types of equipment you have on board will help you determine what the best setup is going to be for each new location you visit. We always recommend doing as much research as you can before you arrive at a location and then making sure you have the right pieces of equipment and plans in your arsenal to ensure you can stay connected.
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