Van Life: How To Get Reliable Internet Access
A lot of people dream about living a nomadic lifestyle. They read tons of information about #vanlife and they start planning their van build outs and saving up for their adventures.
Van life can be a lot more expensive than people think, especially if you have bills to pay. Not only that, you are going to want to enjoy things like attractions, National Parks, campsites, wifi hotspots, food, equipment rental, and even parking.
YOU'LL NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO EARN AN INCOME ONLINE TO MAKE THIS LIFESTYLE SUSTAINABLE.
A digital nomad is essentially a person that uses technology to earn a living, so they can live their life in a nomadic manner. If you want to learn more about how we make money on the road, you can read this post here.
Of course, I do know that life isn't all about money, but I truly believe that money is awesome. Money gives us the freedom to live in a van, and money allows us to travel and explore the world. Money allows us to invest in things that help us become our best selves. It gives us the ability to help others in need and support our favorite National Parks by giving them the funds they need to maintain and keep the parks clean and safe.
Building a sustainable source of income online requires a wifi connection, and this is one of the most common questions we get asked about running our business. We use wifi to upload our vlogs to YouTube every week, upload our blog posts, connect with people through Instagram, manage our website, and communicate with our clients.
When you live in a van or spend a majority of your time travelling, you don't have a home base. There is no office you can walk into each day that has a reliable internet connection whenever you need it. You can't just call up your local internet provider and get wifi installed in your van, so you're going to have to figure out another way.
And, if you’re like most people, you'll also want to watch some of your favorite shows, browse the internet, or catch up on your favorite vlogs on YouTube! Let's be honest, some days you'd rather sit on the couch watching Stranger Things than go mountain biking.
So, how do you access the internet while living and working on the road?
Here are our favorite ways to do so:
Paid WiFi Options
This is the primary way we access the internet in our van. Cody and I share 25GB of data per month on our phone plan through AT&T. All we have to do is go to our settings and turn on the mobile hotspot on our phones. Then, we can set a custom password to provide security and connect to our hotspot through our laptops. Anywhere there is a cell signal, you can have wifi.
The only downside to this is the fact that it’s connected to our phone plan. This means all of the regular things we do on our phone, like listen to Spotify while we're driving, scroll through Instagram, use Google Maps, and even send a text message to a friend is pulling from that same data pool. If we spend a lot of time on our phones and we use our hotspot for internet, we will run out of data pretty quickly. Unfortunately, some of the things that use up the most data, like video streaming and music streaming, are things we really enjoy doing.
Another thing to keep in mind is your data plan. Even if your plan says that you have unlimited data, it’s not truly unlimited. Your data is capped, which means when you go over a set amount, your provider will kick your phone down to a slower network. Good luck try streaming anything on Netflix at that speed. You’ll drive yourself crazy!
Another option is a wifi hotspot, which you can purchase from your phone provider. You'll pay around $200 for the device itself (or cheaper with a two year contract, but then you are locked into paying a monthly fee for that time period), and you’ll also be required to pay a monthly fee for the data plan. We've seen data plans that are around $150 to $260 per month for 50GB of data. It really depends on how much data you need and what you are using it for. Keep in mind that video uploading and streaming uses quite a bit.
This is a great option for many people because it is separate from your phone plan, so you don't have to worry about using all of your data just uploading one YouTube video. Another perk of wifi hotspots is the ability to connect whenever you need to do so. We suggest going with Verizon because they have a larger network, which means more coverage all over the US. Keep in mind that there are places where there won’t be service, for instance, up in the mountains.
The only downside to this option is the somewhat hefty monthly expense. However, if you run a business, it may be tax deductible because you need it to run your mobile office.
This option is probably the cheapest route in the long run. You can purchase a wifi extender, and you'll be able to access wifi from anywhere there is a signal that offers free wifi (we’ll talk more about this below). Basically, the extender can connect to a wifi signal up to 5 miles away depending on which version you buy. No more parking outside of a McDonalds or Starbucks to access their wifi!
The important thing to consider with wifi extenders is security. You’ll probably want to hold off on logging into any bank accounts or sending any private or sensitive information over these connections. Another downside is the reliability. Some places have slower internet connections, and you’re sort of at their mercy unless you can find a better option.
Free WiFi Options
Coffee Shops & Starbucks
Because we only use our mobile hotspot through our phone to get wifi, we often work at Starbucks or other coffee shops that offer free wifi to upload our YouTube videos and send content to our clients. If we were to do this on our mobile hotspot, our data would only last us about a week! Needless to say, we spend a lot of time in coffee shops.
As an entrepreneur, it's always nice to work in an environment with a ton of people around because it can get pretty lonely running a small online business! For this reason, we actually enjoy working in coffee shops most of the time, but there are moments when we'd rather work from our van in a beautiful park instead of sitting inside a Starbucks.
Libraries are another one of our favorite places to get work done. They don't have coffee, but they have free wifi and it's very quiet. This makes it a great place to edit our videos and get shit done.
McDonald’s offers free wifi, and sometimes the signal is a little spotty from inside the van, so you may have to go inside. This is where that wifi extender I mentioned above comes in handy! If you have one of these, you can access the wifi from your van without having to go inside. It can be a great option for when you are between places and you need to send a quick email or file over to a client or upload a blog. In fact, we just had a Skype meeting with one of our clients while we were in a McDonald’s parking lot. It worked out great for us!
Truck stops often have free wifi! They have clean bathrooms (most of the time) as well as snacks, coffee, and sometimes even showers. We haven't used a truck stop shower yet, but I'm sure they are nice.
One time, Cody and I really wanted to watch Luke Cage on Netflix, but we didn't have enough data to binge all the episodes. So we drove to Walmart on a rainy day and parked close to the front door. Because our van is cozy nearly anywhere you park it (especially when you are inside watching your favorite show and eating soup) you hardly even notice that you are parked in a Walmart parking lot. We spent a couple hours there watching Netflix using Walmart’s free wifi! It was great
I'm sure there are other ways you can get a reliable internet connection while living in a van, but these are the options that work for us! We have never really found it to be a big issue, so I hope this helps with your concerns about finding a reliable internet connection while working on the road.