How we stay connected while on the road

One of the more difficult parts of full time traveling is staying connected in this increasingly digital social media dependent world.  Cell phones and computers have come a long way and the wireless capabilities are growing constantly.  The one drawback is the amount of data which can be consumed in what feels like an instant if you are not careful with its use.  If you live in a typical stick and brick home, data use is no problem.  You can stream movies, videos, game online, Facebook, email and thousands of other things mostly at the same time with no problems.   Once you enter the realm of full time family traveling, that option for unlimited data is no longer as easily accessible.  Thankfully, there are options still available for just about every budget and family.  We knew, even before we launched, that the internet was going to be one issue we had to tackle.  There are many things we could stand to live without, but the internet, and what it provides our family, we could not sacrifice.

As a little background to give you a context and insight into why the internet was a game breaker, we are a big online family.  We game online, create and post YouTube videos, stream our gaming to the masses, we home school which can be internet intensive, we blog, (obviously), we use the social media to network and so many other ways that it is entwined in the very fabric of our life that we just could not give it up.  We researched so many options including phone data plans, satellite, and other cell based methods but nothing really fit who we are and what we needed.  We had to have unlimited data; how we got it didn’t really matter, but having it was important.  We know we are not alone in this idea, which is why we decided to pass along our adventures, trials and errors, and eventual solution to the internet issue that plagues a lot of full time families.  There are answers out there and the one that suits you and your family may not be the same for everyone, but just know that you have the ability to stay connected if you really want it.

One method of obtaining the almighty unlimited wireless data is to find an RV park that provides Wi-Fi, preferably free of charge, to its residents.  This is not always as easy as it sounds.  Even parks that advertise free Wi-Fi do not always have it up and running or it is so weak you have to be right next to the router to get a single bar.  This is still a viable solution and can be successful in allowing you to have descent and even somewhat reliable internet service.  One key point to remember about the park wide Wi-Fi service is that every resident in the park could be potentially using the same service.  This point is important because the more people that access the bandwidth the slower the internet will be and the less you will be able to do.  A lot of parks even block the ability to stream things like Netflix to keep the bandwidth as open as possible.  Still, slow internet is better than no internet any day of the week.  If there is no park wide internet, do not despair; the free stuff could be in a main recreation room or main lounge or in a place similar to those buildings.  This may not be as convenient as sitting in your jammies surfing the internet in the privacy of your rolling home, but at least you have it to use; and I am sure you could probably wear your jammies there if you really wanted.

A second method still centers on the park as well, but it relies on a third party internet provider.  There are companies, like Tengo Internet, which outfit the parks with wireless internet and the residents pay for the use of the service.  The service could be for a day, a week, or even a month.  This service can be hit or miss.  You could be in a park that is great and you get coverage no matter what, or, you could be in a place where you have to drive to nearest bathhouse where the internet antenna is located and sit in your car hoping for a signal.  The biggest problem with this method is the fact that you forked over money for this service that is not always there.  This third party service is not something you can rely on to be at every place you visit during your travels either.  Another problem is in the fact that, especially with Tengo Internet, it only provides access to the internet on ONE device.  This may not be a problem if you only have one device or have some amazing ability to share the time on that one lonely device, but when more people want to use the internet it can be a real issue.

Let’s move back to a word that is much easier to handle when the internet, or really anything, is concerned; that word, of course, is FREE!  Depending on where you call home for that part of your journey, you have a smorgasbord of possibilities and opportunities available to you.  The catch, however, you have to be willing to pack up your already on the road show and take it on the road.  There are magical places around with names like Starbucks, Lowes, McDonalds, and Target that offer their shoppers free Wi-Fi while inside.  Lowes is particularly good in this adventure because the signal can reach out into the parking lot.  Depending on your car situation, we have a mini cooper which is a little on the tiny side, you could comfortably sit and surf until your heart’s content; or until the close the store for the night.  We took advantage of this particular situation a few times, and even though we were a bit cramped, it worked out.   Perhaps the best option is a little place called Starbucks.  We would plan on a day, sometimes as much as once a week, and have an internet binge day.  We loaded up all of our electronic stuff including chargers, laptops, tablets, etc and drove down to the local target which happened to have a Starbucks inside.  A coffee, White Chocolate Mocha, and a couple of hot chocolates later we were comfortably sitting at a table enjoying the free internet and fancy drinks.  This option really works out very well as long as you don’t mind the transport, travel, and drink buying.  If you are looking for an extremely budget friendly unlimited Wi-Fi plan, this would be the one for you.  The big drawback here is the fact that it is away from your home and in a public place so gaming and Netflix could be an issue.  For basic internet use though, this works.

Cell phone hot spots and data use are certainly an option; the problem here is the amount of data you get each month and the price you pay for not only the data, but also the cost of overage.  If you are a heavy user of the internet, I mean like several hundred GB worth of data heavy, then it is impossible to realistically use a cell phone data plan unless you have unlimited budget to go along with the unlimited internet.  Again, if you are only an occasional data user and only use it for the basics, a phone plan may fit you.  A family of almost any size though will struggle to stay within the boundaries the company offers.  We also looked into several companies that advertised unlimited data use.  A few of those were Broadband Q and X-Broadband.   These companies use the cell towers to bounce their signal around so you can pick it up with one of those fancy wireless routers.  These may sound like viable solutions; descent price, unlimited data, and a reputable company.  One offer did have unlimited data, but it was only during the late night and wee hours of the morning time.  Everything else was only a finite amount of data.  Another offer was indeed free; however, it was only a 3G service.  This may not be a big deal for you if you don’t care about the speed.  Streaming is still possible, but it may have a quality degrade and any online gaming would be difficult.  They did have a 4G option, but that was a data limit plan and not unlimited.  The 3G option looked like it was going to be our best option for a time; it was mobile, affordable, and fast enough to at least let us use the internet and stream our videos and movies.  Then we started researching the old Verizon unlimited plans and just like that we found our answer.

We knew Verizon had plans that were unlimited but they were very difficult to locate.  We asked a lot of questions, read anything that was posted about it, and did what we could to research the option as thoroughly as possible before committing.  Of course we had concerns; does this really work, is it reliable, can we justify the cost, etc, etc.  After reading a few more posts and recommendations, we found a data plan and decided to go for it.  This has been an amazing choice for us.  We have unlimited and very reliable internet whenever and wherever we go.  We can take it with us in the car and it works while we travel from place to place in the RV which makes those longer trips SO much better.  We use a lot of data, as I said before, we are very heavy users; several hundred GB of data heavy.  This plan has never failed us or slowed down or anything that we were even remotely concerned about.  It works on any signal it picks up, but 4G has been available just about everywhere we go.  We can stream, watch videos, game online, and just use it to surf all at the same time with no real noticeable drag on the bandwidth.  This, for us, has been the best solution we could have ever hoped to find.  It does come with a price tag, but considering the other options, we said it was worth the price to have what we wanted from the very start.

There are a lot of possibilities out there for full time traveling families.  Some answers are much more budget friendly and others will add to your monthly bills.  In the end, it is the balance and trade-off you have to weigh and see what you are willing to pay for or sacrifice.  You have free options and I hope this works options as well as costly ones.  We have offered our experiences, what we tried, what we researched, and finally what worked for us.  This is certainly not a complete listing of possibilities.  There may be other solutions out there that we never came across or even thought of trying; the best advice we can offer is to research your options and be open to any solution until you find what will work.  Ask questions, read what other people are saying, and don’t give up.  You do not have to give up staying connected just because you leave the old stick and brick home.  The answer, and the truth, is out there; you just have to be willing to look a little deeper and maybe think outside of the box.