There is currently no one single technology for keeping online that is appropriate for all the different situations mobile folks might find themselves in. Each RVer or cruiser usually ends up with a slightly different approach that best fits their travel style, needs, technical comfort level and budget.
This guide will help you understand the considerations to keep in mind when deciding what equipment and plans you need to best meet your needs.
The key to successfully staying online while being mobile is having multiple options to try at each stop. We call this a Mobile Internet Arsenal - the tools you carry with you.
Included in this Guide:
- Video: Assessing your Needs w/ Live Sample (member only)
- Considerations of Your Needs
- How Much Data Do You Need (member only)
- Tracking Your Data Usage (member only)
- Assembling & Organizing an Arsenal (member only)
- Expectations Management (member only)
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Considerations of Your Needs
Your ideal arsenal is going to be very personalized and dependent upon several factors including:
How important is internet access to you?
Do you NEED to be online certain hours of the day to work or attend classes? Are you addicted to social media, streaming video or playing online games?
Or will your mobile internet access needs be more flexible?
If you won't get the shakes (or lose your job) if you can't get online today (or heck, even this week), then you might not need many options onboard.
If your needs are more in the 'absolutely essential' category, then you'll want to plan your setup to include redundancy and signal enhancing solutions to make sure you have multiple options to try at each location to ensure better odds of getting online.
What do you want to do online?
The mobile internet setup of someone who needs high bandwidth video streaming, two-way video conferencing or managing large files remotely will look very different than someone who just needs to check e-mail, plan the route ahead and manage their finances.
And of course, the data needs of an entire connected household with multiple computers, tablets, streaming devices, security cameras, and gaming machines to keep connected is vastly different than that of solo nomad just doing some casual surfing on a single tablet.
If your data needs will be high, then you'll want to seek out unlimited data options, signal enhancing gear and perhaps even dedicated data gear and routers.
For the more casual surfer, you may get by just fine with a small data plan on your phone and soaking up free WiFi when you find it.
Whatever you do, avoid putting together a needlessly expensive and complex system. Overkill is rarely the right answer.
Check out the Use Cases section of the Mobile Internet Resource Center for more detailed examinations of specific online activities such as work, homeschooling, international travel and TV & Entertainment.
What is your style of travel
Oh the places you can go - that's the whole point of a mobile lifestyle!
If you're planning to hop between urban RV parks or marinas, you'll probably see good connectivity most of the time. You'll be able to utilize cellular data plans from any of the carriers (quite possibly with strong consistent signal without needing antennas or boosters) and likely even have access to public WiFi hotspots.
If you prefer getting more off the beaten path - such as amazing state parks, isolated anchorages, or national parks and off in the boonies - then your needs will be more challenging. Only the top cellular carriers will keep you connected with a solid signal enhancing strategy, and usable WiFi will probably be scarce.
And if you're really going off the beaten path into isolated areas and want to keep connected, you may even need to consider satellite.
Another consideration is how often you plan to move locations. If the time you stay in one place is measured in months or years, then you can optimize your setup for what works best at those locations. But if you'll be hypermobile and changing locations frequently, you'll want to consider multiple options in your toolset and optimize for easy to deploy gear.
What plans and devices do you have now?
Take into consideration what your current mobile internet setup is. We still encounter folks who only have flip phones (or *gasp* landlines) and are truly starting from scratch. But most of us these days already have a smartphone or tablet.
Is your equipment due for replacement anyway, or do you want to maximize your current investment in equipment? Are you locked into a contract or equipment installment plan that would be costly to break?
Keep in mind, technology changes rapidly and to keep connected on the road you'll want to re-evaluate your setup every year or two to stay current.
Think it through carefully before getting locked in.
How comfortable are you with technology?
There's no denying it - mobile internet is high tech stuff. It is easy to quickly get overwhelmed and left feeling like you need a full-time geek living in the bay of your motorhome to keep it all running.
If you're not comfortable with technology then keep it simple and stick to stuff you understand and can manage on your own. You can always add on more options later as you increase your comfort level and understand your actual mobile internet needs.
For those more technically inclined, the sky is the limit. From assembling your own setups hacked together from parts with no one to call for support, to off the shelf equipment with consumer-friendly firmware that comes with a phone number to call when it doesn't work.
Even some of the most technically advanced users are happy to pay for simplicity, reliability and even hand-holding support just so they can have someone to call when things don’t work right.
What is your budget?
The cost of staying connected can add up quickly, between upfront equipment purchases and monthly fees for plans.
Free and cheap options will have trade-offs, like convenience. Even expensive options come with frustrations. And, even if you bought every gizmo, gadget and plan out there you may still experience days without connectivity.
Take it slowly. Don't add on every product category you see us talk about here until you truly understand if it's a fit for your setup.
Throwing money at this stuff doesn't necessarily keep you connected.
We're here to help you understand the trade-offs and considerations and hopefully provide you field-tested information on what works in different situations.
When are you Hitting the Road?
If you’re not hitting the road in the next couple of months, please don’t jump into buying all your equipment right away!
Technology changes so quickly that you are best off leaving the final assembly of your connectivity arsenal until much closer to when you are actually hitting the road. We recommend no sooner than 6 months before heading out, but 1-3 months before is even better.
Additional Member Only Content
If you're a MIA member, please log in to see the rest of this guide - which contains additional information on understanding what data is, how much data you need, tracking your data usage and setting your expectations for utilizing wireless signals.
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Other Resources We Offer:
- Our book: The Mobile Internet Handbook (5th Edition now available!).
- Our glossary: Mobile Internet Glossary
- Our app: Coverage? overlays the cellular carrier's coverage maps so you can better plan your travels around connectivity.
- Stay in the Know - We track the industry and analyze new developments for mobile travelers:
- Browse our Resource Center / Guides for more detailed guides.
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- Visit our Video Center for guides, tutorials and news stories.
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