Whether you plan to work while on the road or simply want to scroll through your social media apps, being connected to the Internet while on the road is an important part of van life. In fact, van life internet is one of most common questions we get from family and friends.
“How are you able to stay connected while on the road?”
Not only do we need consistent Internet to update our blog, but connectivity is also critical so that we can use Google Maps, locate campgrounds, answer emails, and keep in touch with family through our messaging apps. Though we embrace van life to help us ‘get away from it all’, we don’t deny the importance of having reliable Internet access.
So in this post, we’ll talk about how we get WIFI on the road while traveling in our camper van.
Unlimited Internet From A Cell Phone Plan
By far and away the best, most convenient, and cheapest way to get Internet during van life is through your cell phone provider. You likely already have a smartphone with a data plan, so activating your phone’s hotspot capabilities to connect your laptop or tablet to the Internet is a simple process.
Best of all, you’re not paying any more money for this hotspot service. (However, the amount of data you have and the amount that can be used under hotspot situations varies depending on your cell phone plan.)
If you just need the Internet for updating social media, checking sports scores, and watching the occasional Youtube video, you’ll likely be OK with a cheap and basic level data plan. In fact, if you can stay in (or join) a basic family plan, then you’ll be getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to van life Internet.
If you consider yourself an Internet power user and require large amounts of data for work, upgrading your cell service to an unlimited plan will be the way to go. Yes, you pay more in monthly fees, but you’ll get it all back in not having to pay for pricey co-working spaces or drinks & food at cafes.
Take it from us, if you make your living by working on the Internet, don’t scrimp on Internet plans. It’s not worth it.
Best Cell Data Plans For Van Lifers
We use T-Mobile as our cell service provider. We like their transparent cost structure and fair rates. Depending on how many phone lines you need, T-Mobile offers unlimited data plans with generous hotspot data amounts.
But if you’re already connected with another cell provider, like AT&T or Verizon, it’s a good idea to check out their plans to see which data plan is best for your van life journey.
WIFI From A Personal Mobile Hotspot
Getting a personal mobile hotspot is another popular way to get Internet while traveling in your camper.
To utilize a hotspot device you’ll need to:
- Purchase the physical hotspot hardware,
- Sign up for a seperate hotspot plan with a cell service provider
- Insert the SIM card into your hotspot device
The three biggest advantages of using a personal hotspot device are:
- Better at handling multiple connected devices than a smartphone hotspot
- Does not drain your smartphone battery
- Can be the cheapest option if you forgo any cell plan for your smartphone and simply reply on the hotspot for your Internet needs.
However, unless budget is a serious concern, we don’t recommend getting a mobile hotspot. And this is because it is almost always more cost effective to upgrade your existing cell phone plan to an unlimited plan than it is to sign up for a new mobile hotspot plan.
Not to mention, hotspot plans charge ‘per connected device’. Meaning the more devices you plan to connect to the hotspot, the more you’ll have to pay.
To get an idea of what hotspot plan costs look like, check out these T-Mobile hotspot plans.
Extend Cell & Data Service With A Cell Booster
Relying on cell signal for your Internet needs is only good so long as you have decent reception strength. And if you enjoy getting far away into nature your cell signal may be weak, or even non-existent.
So if boondocking on BLM or National Forest lands is in your future, picking up a cell booster from WeBoost or SureCall can really do wonders in providing you functional Internet while out in the wild.
The upside for cell boosters is clear. These devices can often add as much as two extra bars in cell signal quality, which can often be the difference in helping you upload that hefty work file or YouTube video.
But there are two downside for cell boosters:
- Price: Cell boosters aren’t cheap. Depending on what you need, they can cost anywhere from $200-$500.
- Installation Required: For a cell booster to work properly, you’ll likely need to install an antenna unit on your camper van’s roof. This would include drilling holes on your roof, which isn’t for the faint of heart.
Internet From Public WIFI Hotspots
Public WIFI while on the road is more ubiquitous than you might think. Hey, this is the 21st century after all.
Some of our favorite spots include
We used to regularly frequent cafes to satiate our Internet needs, but addiction to cafe Internet is a pricey habit. For the price of just a few cups of coffee you could already just upgrade your cell plan to an unlimited data package. Also, it’s a very good idea to test the Internet speeds before you purchase a beverage. We’ve made this mistake too many times in the past.
Fast Food Restaurants
Places like McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s usually provide reliable Internet and even a socket if you sit in the right place. Best of all, you don’t have the same guilt of staying for hours on end as you would at a cafe.
Not a super ideal place, but we’ve been known to sit near the checkout counter with our laptops. Only for emergencies!
Libraries are a fantastic resource for fast and reliable Internet. The facilities are often clean and quiet. And if you go early enough, you can usually snag your own private table or even a study room. Best of all, you’re not forced to purchase any food or drink to use their Internet service. It’s all free (or paid for by taxpayers, rather).
Public WIFI & Safety
If you’re iffy on public WIFI security, like we are, picking up a solid VPN can help allay those fears. We use ProtonVPN. It’s free, and great…and did we say free?
WIFI Range Extenders
When we receive a serious project and really need to just hunker down and work, we’ll look for paid campgrounds that provide strong Internet access.
Paying for reliable Internet is a no-brainer if you really need to get work done. And as a side benefit you also get a safe, level place to park, a hot water shower, and a clean toilet (most of the time).
However, not every paid/private campground provides WIFI. Sometimes they might say they do, but the reality might be something entirely different. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check the strength of the Internet before handing over any money at reception. Trust us, like at cafes, paying for a campground only to find out later of insufficient WIFI is a problem we know all too well.
Helpful Apps To Locate Internet At Campgrounds
To help us locate campgrounds with, hopefully, good Internet access, we usually rely on the following three apps:
Good Sam – Private campgrounds listed in the Good Sam network are usually of great quality and provide good Internet speeds.
KOA – With over 500 campgrounds in North America, you can be sure there is a KOA-branded campground near you. KOA campgrounds provide some of the best campground services we’ve seen and Internet is usually top-notch.
AllStays – The AllStays app provides arguably the largest selection of campgrounds (both free & paid). You’ll be able to see which campgrounds provide Internet, and which don’t.
Internet During Van Life Doesn’t Have To Be A Source Of Frustration
Luckily, we live in a day and age where Internet access is near ubiquity. Unless you’re deep in the wilderness, usable Internet is oftentimes much more attainable than you might think.
If you plan to work while traveling in your camper, it’s well worth your time to plan an adequate Internet solution that can meet your needs. Spending a little bit more and upgrading to an unlimited cell phone plan and utilizing your phone’s hotspot capabilities is our #1 recommendation. It’s the quickest, easiest, and most cost-efficient solution.
And from there you can supplement your Internet needs from several of the other solutions that we mention above.
If you have any questions or comments related to van life & Internet solutions, please leave us a comment in the section below. Thank you!