If you’re living in a campervan for any period of time, it’s likely you’ll need some sort of WiFi on the road.
I run this blog from my Chevy Astro van, and it took me forever to come up with the right van life internet for my needs.
First, I used a Verizon Hotspot that claimed it was unlimited, but throttled my data after 15 gigs. That lasted me just a little over a week while working online full-time.
It was a super frustrating endeavor, and I’d have to go to coffee shops just to find high speed van life internet for my needs.
Thankfully, two years after starting the van life, I’ve found a solution that gives me really good WiFi on the road.
In this post, I’ll tell you all about what I use and some other options for van life wifi.
Reliable Internet Solutions: The Van Life Internet that Changed My Life
Exasperated by running out of gigs every month, I turned to fellow RVer Amber Baldwin of Story Chasing to ask what she used.
She referred me to Reliable Internet Solutions, which has a deal with AT&T for unlimited, unthrottled data. The company exists to provide internet connectivity to rural households that can’t access traditional internet.
I bought the NetGear Nighthawk AT&T router and signed up immediately for Reliable Internet Solutions, with takes monthly payments via Paypal.
EDITORS NOTE: Reliable Internet Solutions just informed me its better to purchase a router directly from them, as then they are able to preconfigure settings to work with their carriers. If you buy a hotspot from a place like Best Buy, like I did, Reliable Internet Solutions will need to adjust your router’s settings remotely via your computer.
Within an hour, my new van life internet was up and running. Super easy, and I could chat with a person online if I had any questions.
So far, I’ve used this WiFi hotspot in deserts and national forests all over California and Arizona. We were even able to stream Netflix while camping in the Prescott National Forest
By far, Reliable Internet Solutions is the best wifi for van life I’ve found. But of course, this all depends on your particular needs and budget.
I’ve negotiated special rates for my readers with this company, so be sure to shop through my dedicated link to grab a discount.
It’s not cheap, but for me, it’s well worth the peace of mind. If paying for this Unlimited Hotspot seems too expensive for your budget, I also have ideas for budget WiFi.
Reliable Internet Solutions Pros and Cons
Visible: The Low Cost Van Life Internet Option
If the price for a service like Reliable Internet Solutions goes beyond your budget, you may want to check out the service Visible.
Visible is one of the most talked-about phone plans amongst van lifers. This company claims for just $40/month, you get unlimited high-speed data, which you can then send to your other devices.
However, keep in mind that you can only tether ONE DEVICE AT A TIME to your hotspot, which is also your phone. This isn’t ideal if you have two people trying to get work done on their computer. Each would need a Visible plan and hotspot.
Here’s some stats about Visible:
- Operates on Verizon’s network with 4G LTE
- Download speeds of 5-12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2-5 Mbps. Video typically streams at a resolution of 480p
- Unlimited data, messages and minutes
- You may experience some slowdown of data during peak times
- You can only connect one device at a time to your hotspot
Visible Pros and Cons:
Why I don’t create a van life internet hotspot on my phone
I use a service called Google Fi to run my Android device, and it’s simply not powerful enough to constantly stream enough data for my needs.
Google Fi is a pay-a-you go service with a base rate of just $20 per month. After that, it costs $10 per gig. So if I used 100 gigs per month, that would really add up.
Plus, Google Fi pings a variety of cell phone networks and towers to find phone signal, which isn’t the most reliable for WiFi on a road trip.
I do know other van lifers who only use their phone to get van life internet, and it works for them.
Personally, I can’t deal with the data throttling that happens with networks like Verizon, but I use significantly more data than some people.
Here are some other advantages to using a hotspot rather than your phone for tethering, according to LifeHacker:
- It won’t drain your phone’s battery. Tethering your phone is a big load on your battery, which can shorten the life of your phone in the long run
- You can tether multiple devices. Your phone doesn’t do as good of a job providing data to multiple devices, like a hotspot
- You can work online more reliably. A LifeHacker test found phone hotspots dropped signal far more often
- You can take phone calls. It can be hard, or impossible, to take a phone call while tethered, so if you need to make a lot of calls for work, it’s better to have a separate hotspot
If you’re just using your van life internet to do simple things like respond to emails, its okay to tether from your phone once in awhile.
You can compare cellular data coverage with this handy app called Coverage – built by the Mobile Resource Internet Center.
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Using a Cell Signal Booster for Even Better Internet On the Road
A cell signal booster like the WeBoost cell signal booster can help you get even more reliable internet on the road. We’ve used this in remote locations to get a smidgen more data out of our mobile hotspot.
How it works is like this: The antenna in your hotspot is so tiny, it can’t pick up signals as well as a larger booster.
According to the Mobile Internet Resource Center, a booster is “kind of like a hearing aid and megaphone for your cellular devices to better communicate with your carrier’s tower.”
Amber Baldwin of Story Chasing, who travels full-time in her van, said a cell phone signal booster is essential for her to work on the road.
“After researching cell boosters and reaching out to the RVing community, I chose the WeBoost device because it appeared to be the most reliable,” she said. “I wouldn’t ever do without my WeBoost. I’ve tested cell signals myself, boosted and unboosted, in remote areas and it definitely works. There have been many times where I was staying in remote areas where I could barely get my email online, but when I turned WeBoost on, it boosted the cell signal so much that I could upload videos to YouTube and even stream movies.”
You can read my full review of our WeBoost here: WeBoost: an awesome cell signal booster.
WiFi Extenders for Internet On the Road
A WiFi extender like the WiFi Ranger for van life is way different than a cellular signal booster.
All it does is grabs the nearest WiFi signal and boosts it so you have faster, more reliable internet.
This would be a good idea if you stay in RV Parks or campgrounds that offer internet.
I’ve also used the WiFi Ranger to park outside buildings that offer free internet, like Starbucks or McDonalds. If signal is weak in the parking lot, the WiFi Ranger boosts it inside my van.
This works well when I’m near cities and need to get a better signal.
This is not something I’d use when boondocking in my van, as there’s no WiFi to even boost out in the boonies.
Using free internet from your campervan
If you’re living the van life mostly near a city, you can get away with using free internet to do your work.
The main downside of free internet from a place like Starbucks or the library is security.
I use Strong VPN to establish a VPN on my computer to keep my information safe.
Here are some places that offer free WiFi. Some van lifers report parking outside one of these joints and hanging out in their vans while using the signal.
- Whole Foods grocery stores
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- Apple Stores
- Public Parks
Satellite internet service for van life
The most expensive type of mobile internet service for people who really need a signal out in the middle of nowhere is satellite internet for van life.
There’s something really cool about connecting to the internet when you’re boondocking in the absolute middle of nowhere.
However, can cost tens of thousands of dollars to outfit your rig for satellite, and it can cost as much as $1,000 per month for just 5 gigs, and up to $2,000 per month for higher usage plans. Satellite internet seems best for major earners who really need internet service at all times.
To read up on the reality of getting satellite internet for your campervan or RV, check out this in-depth post from the Mobile Internet Resource Group.
Conclusion on the best WiFi for van life
Whichever WiFi system you use for van life internet depends a lot on how you’re planning on using it.
If you need to work full time while on the road, I highly recommend an unlimited AT&T hotspot through Reliable Internet Solutions.
If you need a budget plan, check out Visible, which is just $40/month.
If you’re just checking email or doing basic research, you can probably get away with tethering your phone.
Cell signal and WiFi extenders are helpful, but not absolutely needed for van life internet. My hotspot usually works just fine.
The number of different setups for getting portable internet really run the gamut, and this post is just an introduction to the options out there.
If you really want to get deep into getting we’d highly recommend Cherie’s website:
Be sure to check out the Mobile Internet Resource Center.
Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.