You don’t need to be a technical whizz to gain access to the internet in your RV.
Surprisingly, 72% of RV owners still use expensive cellular data, or poor strength public WiFi spots, as a way to access the internet.
But can you add WiFi to your RV?
You can add WiFi to your RV by either using your standard cell data plan and connecting through a personal or aerial connected hotspot for up to 100% stronger coverage, or through a router with a sim card data plan and connect multiple devices through either WiFi or a wired ethernet connection.
The internet has become entwined to our daily lives and habits. It almost feels impossible to do without.
Stay connected may seem like the last thing you want to do when touring and experiencing the majestic beauty the US has to offer. Switching off, and going ‘off-grid’ can’t be a bad idea, can it?
Being able to get online is critical for some travellers, particularly travel bloggers and vloggers.
The practise of touring and working remotely is growing as getting online outside the home is becoming easier and faster. I can barely notice a drop in internet speed when I leave the house today.
Let’s look at all the options of getting WiFi and the internet in your RV, to get you online as fast as possible.
How do I get WiFi internet in my RV?
There are three main approaches to getting WiFi in your RV:
Standard Cell Data
The most basic and straight forward way of accessing the internet in your RV is through your cell phone.
Almost all models of smart phone from around 2017 onwards have the ability to act as a ‘personal hotspot’. What this means is you can turn your smart phone in to a modem and connect your laptop to it just as you would at home connecting your laptop to your home WiFi modem and router.
To do this you:
- Activate the personal hotspot on your cell device, you’ll be prompted to set a password. This is so everyone around you can’t all of sudden connect to you and start using all your data!
- Once activated, search for your cell device from within your laptops WiFi options – enter the password you set on your cell device when prompted – and….
- You’re online!
There are limitations though. The signal can be slow in rural areas, of your provider may not provide great coverage in the state or area you’re in.
The signal will also need to get through the sides of your RV and the resulting interference can slow down your speed.
There are other options which will boost your signal.
RV Cell Booster
The second is to buy an RV Cell Booster
This booster comes in two parts. The first is an outdoors antenna that connects to the roof of your RV.
This antenna creates multiple connections to the nearest local mobile data tower, then through a cable connects to an indoor booster. The booster acts as a indoor modem or router, which you connect your device to for faster, stronger speeds.
The third option is a hotspot booster. These handy devices work by boosting the outside signal, with the goal of doubling the speed and strength inside the RV.
Often you can pick up one of these for around $150-$200 – but if you go down this route try and purchase from the same carrier as you’re the provider of you cell data plan.
Time and time again we’ve seen data plans, and hotspot boosters, from different providers and these have known to provide slightly slower speeds.
How much is WiFi for an RV?
The main two options featured are considered to be the best, by nomad travellers, for giving the widest coverage across the US.
Some states may have more dedicated providers, but as a general rule of thumb through testing, Verizon perhaps is slightly out front overall, but AT&T a close second or comparable – and often cheaper.
Verizon are known by travellers and nomads to have the best coverage BUT they are usually the most expensive. At time of writing the Verizon data plans range from $20 to $30 a month for unlimited data, but this link will show the latest price
The data coverage by AT&T is getting better and they are becoming on par with Verizon. They are often the cheaper of the two. At time of writing the AT&T data plans start from $20 per month for unlimited data, but this link will show the latest price
How to install WiFi into your RV
Installing WiFi can be very easy. Depending on the type of booster you have these could stick on to the window of your RV, or external antennas are connected to the roof of your RV. Both allow you to pick up a stronger data signal for your cell phone, tablet, laptop or other WiFi enabled device to connect to – such as an Amazon Kindle.
How do RV WiFi boosters work?
No matter how reliable your internet provider is, or how expensive your paid data plan, you’re almost guaranteed at some point to see your signal bar pointing to weak – and your connection start to slow.
It can be so frustrating!
A WiFi booster does exactly as the name suggests. It boosts your WiFi signal.
A common misconception is that you can just plug a WiFi booster into your RV and all of sudden you have a WiFi connection.
That’s not the case. You need to have a data plan to go with the booster – or you have no access to the data you are trying to boost.
It’s not always the most efficient of boosting your signal, and you may also need several pieces of equipment to make the booster work as advertised on the box.
In order for the booster to work, it needs to be plugged into a power source (generally 12-volt DC) and needs to have certain features for it to connect to your RV.
You also may need to install the booster to the outside of your RV, in order for it to have the strongest possible connection with the antenna, with no obstructions.
The outdoors antenna connects to the booster inside your RV, to increase the strength of the signal to your device – whether that’s a laptop or your smart phone.
Free RV WiFi vs Paid Plans
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the benefits of free WiFI over paid WiFi.
She said that paid WiFi was better because it was “free.”
I said, “Yeah, but it’s not a free ride!”
To which she responded, “It’s not a hotel, it’s not a rental car, you’re not supposed to use it for anything besides getting around town.”
It was an interesting, albeit strange, discussion and hopefully I didn’t take too much out of context.
I politely nodded, I think I understand the analogy.
When Free WiFi is Ideal
Free WiFi is what it is. It’s not really designed to binge watch a series on Netflix or use a VPN to remotely log in to work for a video call.
It’s primarily designed for small website tasks, like sending text messages, checking email or browsing webpages. Certainly not for checking out cat funnies whilst suffering from a particularly strong case of insomnia at 4am.
Although perhaps at 4am is the ideal time to get best out of the free WiFis attention.
When Only a Paid Plan Will Do
Paid WiFi is like your reliable friend. The one that’s always there for you when you need their advice, and the first to buy the round at the bar. If only we all had more friends like that.
It’s there when you need it most, giving you the most efficient and reliable coverage. If you’re a travelling entrepreneur nomad type although paid WiFI plans seems an unnecessary expense whilst you’re on a very tight budget, it can save you time and money.
I’m not looking to sway anyway in this debate but if it’s free WiFi you’re after I’d recommend this awesome tool to help your find free RV WiFi – if you want the convenience and reliability of a paid plan, check out the deals on offer.
Why it’s important to keep connected whilst travelling in an RV
The internet is a truly amazing thing.
Wherever you are, you can get online and find information on everything from how to build a log cabin in the woods, how to make a duct tape wind breaker, how to get WiFi in your RV (editor: couldn’t resist!) to places to get your daily coffee fix.
Safety and Security
One of the most important reasons to be able to get online when you need to is for safety and security.
Cell phone signals can be vital, but what happens in rural areas with no coverage. Emergency coverage exists but not in every area. Your internet signal may be your way of communicating with the outside world.
There are many reasons we can think of to stay connected, but it’s also for the reasons we can’t immediately think of. Be prepared and stay safe.
But as well as staying safe, there is the isolation costs to think of.
Loneliness and Isolation
As much as we all love the thought of a little alone time, to go and explore nature and get lost in our own thoughts, doing so for weeks on end can test the isolation tug of even the most ardent of solo traveller.
Being glued to Facebook all day defeats the purpose of heading out into the great outdoors – and being Outdoors Happy!
But there are times it’s good to check in and make sure the world is still out there, doing it’s thing.
You may want to keep in contact with friends and family, or a member of an active community you want to touch base with – and there’s always something great to read on Outdoors Happy you’ll want to tune in to!
Speaking from someone who is quite happy with their own company, and loves breaking away from the people for some much needed alone time rest-bite every once in a while, (or chance he can get!) even I am not immune from the pull of wanting to make sure life still exists outside of my RV.
If your cell phone signal is letting you down, your WiFi signal may be that only way to keep in touch with the outside world. When, and if, you feel the need.
Use a VPN as a Safety Net
It’s surprising how many people in the US haven’t heard of a VPN connection, and even more surprising how few people use one.
These have often been portrayed through Hollywood movies of being used by paranoid people or hackers.
The moment you connect your device to a WiFi signal there’s a chance for it to be interrupted or picked up. This can mean sensitive information sent by your device when using the internet, such as a payment or a password, can be stolen and used against you.
The most unsafe and hacker prone WiFi signals are free WiFi hotspots you see. Not all are totally open and exposed but it’s always best to be protected.
A VPN secures your connection and protects your privacy whilst online.
There are a number of VPN providers on the market who charge a monthly fee of anywhere from $5 a month to $50 a month depending on your usage and requirements.
Should you pay for different provider plans to stay covered no matter where you travel?
This will depend on your WiFi connection needs, and where you travel. For those where getting access to the internet is almost mandatory – for example those who travel and work at the same time – you may find this option saves you time and money.
Data plans are expensive, so it’s worth checking the coverage of your current provider in the areas you want to travel in to see whether one or two provider plans make sense.
Are campground WiFi options and plans safe?
Although you will get a signal, they can be the most hacker prone as often they are not as secure as they could be. If you do use such a connection be sure to use a reliable VPN service to help protect your data.
The RV WiFi Wrap Up
Here’s a summary of everything we’ve covered:
- It’s possible to get WiFi in your RV by either:
- Using your standard cell device and data plan as a personal hotspot
- A booster which will use your data plan but provide a stronger and more reliable connection
- A WiFI router to add a data plan sim card and be used to connect multiple devices through either a WiFi signal or a wired ethernet cable
- It’s possible to use free or cheap WiFi hotpots whilst you travel, but you should protect your data, security and privacy by connecting through a VPN
- Although going off-grid sounds exciting you should always have a backup plan to be able to connect to the outside world, for any unexpected events