Van Life Internet Options for Connectivity on the Road (Cellular and Starlink)

If you’re traveling full-time or part-time in a campervan, you’ll want a way to get online. Whether that’s to work remotely, stream or download shows…

If you’re traveling full-time or part-time in a campervan, you’ll want a way to get online. Whether that’s to work remotely, stream or download shows and movies, research your trip itinerary, or send emails, being connected is key.

I travel six months out of the year in my Sprinter van in the U.S. and spend six months on my sailboat in Mexico. As an online content creator, I need fast and reliable internet. It’s one of my top priorities as a full-time traveler.

We use a combination of devices for constant connectivity: An unlimited cell phone data hotspot from Visible and Starlink satellite internet.

In this post, I’ll go over the options for van life internet and their pros & cons. I used to use Google Fi but kept going over with their data-on-demand plans, plus I wanted the unlimited data in the U.S. and Canada that Visible offers.

Our Pick
Visible Wireless Unlimited Data, Talk and Text

Visible is a really affordable, unlimited phone plan that is popular among van lifers. I started using it and so far, have been happy with the plan and service. Visible's base plan is just $25 for unlimited data, talk and text in the United States, or you can upgrade to a $45 per month plan to use your phone in Mexico and Canada. I have been using mine in Mexico and it works great!


*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

Determining Your Data Needs for Van Life Internet

woman using wifi in a campervan
Working remotely in my first van

Before choosing any sort of van life internet, it’s good to assess how much data you might need. Someone who just uses data to check email and upload photos to Facebook will need way less than someone who is working full-time, doing Zoom video calls all day long. Someone who likes playing video games will also use more data.

We use tons of data as I work online, and we also stream and download TV shows and movies regularly. It’s also fun to stream music services like Spotify.

Having an unlimited data plan from Visible makes me feel like I have at least one luxury of living in a house.

If you’re unsure of your data needs, you can always start with your phone’s hotspot and track your data usage for a couple of weeks or a month. If you need more, upgrade to a portable hotspot.

Cell Phone Hotspots for Van Life

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Affordable
  • No extra equipment needed
  • Can be very fast, especially with a 5G device & service data plan

Cons:

  • Can be hard to hotspot two computers off one phone
  • Drains your phone battery
  • Only works where there’s cell signal
  • Is throttled or turned off when you reach your data limit with some plans

Many van lifers choose to simply hotspot off their phones when they need internet access on the road. For example, both Verizon and AT&T have a plan that includes unlimited data when browsing on your phone and then 50 gigs of hotspot data per month.

Visible is the best budget option for van lifers out there. Visible offers unlimited talk, text and data, and many van lifers recommend this service on van life forums. (Click here to check out Visible’s pricing plans)

The main issue with using a cell phone hotspot is that one phone often can’t provide WiFi to more than one device effectively. So if you and a partner or friend are both working remotely on the road, a cell phone hotspot might not be enough, especially if you’re both doing Zoom calls or other data-heavy activities.

Using your phone constantly as a hotspot also drains your battery. Whenever you drain and charge your battery it takes some life away from your phone.

A phone hotspot also isn’t the best option if you’re taking a lot of phone calls for work, as the internet hotspot will shut down when you start talking on your phone.

Dedicated Mobile Hotspot Device for Van Life Internet

woman holding up a hotspot in a campervan for wifi
This is a Netgear Nighthawk router, which works with certain carriers

Pros:

  • Can connect multiple devices easily and effectively
  • Can take WiFi and regular phone calls while using internet at the same time
  • Can find true unlimited data plans, sometimes through third party providers
  • Won’t kill your phone battery
  • Fast service, especially when there’s strong cell signal

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Have to purchase additional hardware
  • Only works where cell data is available

Using a personal mobile hotspot device is my preferred method of getting van life internet for working online and downloading and streaming shows. I used to use an AT&T Unlimited Hotspot through a third-party provider called Reliable Internet Services. However, they just shut down, which is why I switched over to using Visible and my phone as a hotspot.

Using a dedicated hotspot will give you a better van life internet experience. You can connect to multiple devices, plus, a hotspot just has a larger antennae for accessing that data. You can even get something like a PepWave router that you can connect a hotspot data plan AND Starlink for service that is less likely to drop off.

If you want to use a hotspot for van life internet, most major carriers have a hotspot option. These options change all the time, so you’ll have to do your research or consult with my friends over at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.

Here are a few mobile hotspot devices you can try for van life internet:

TravelFi:TravelFi is a new third-party cellular data service provider which offers a “pay-as-you-go” plan. You must purchase an LTE hotspot which runs around $229, then you decide on a monthly plan depending on how many gigs you’ll use. The cheapest plan is 2 gigs for $19 per month, and most expensive is 800 gigs for $199 per month.

Simple Mobile: Simple Mobile is a T-Mobile hotspot which is really affordable – just $50 at Best Buy. However, the maximum plan size you can get is 40 gigs for $50 per month, which is okay for some people but probably not enough for remote work.

Verizon Jetpack: Verizon’s hotspot costs about $200 and you can choose from a variety of data plans, the cheapest being $20 for 15 gigs, and up to $80 for 150 gigs. After you use your data it won’t be cut off, just throttled.

Keep in mind that cellular data plans change all the time, so you’ll have to do your research when determining which data plan is right for you.

Starlink Satellite Internet for Van Life

Starlink van life wifi in the gorge near a Sprinter van
I use my Starlink when cell signal is bad

Pros:

  • Very fast internet speeds
  • Unlimited data use
  • Works where there’s no cell signal
  • Works in the Mexico and Canada
  • Easy to set up

Cons:

  • Requires a clear view of the sky
  • Bulky hardware
  • Expensive start-up cost
  • Not licensed yet for use during movement, like driving
  • Difficult to install permanently
  • Requires a lot of power – uses about 3 amps to run

I was really excited when Starlink opened up its satellite internet service for portable, on-the-road use. When it first started, Starlink had to be used at a fixed address but has evolved over time to allow you to either add “portability” onto a residential plan or to go with an RV plan.

Starlink does cost quite a bit initially: $600 for the satellite dish and hardware, then $135 per month. You’ll also have to figure out how to store the Starlink “Dishy” – it’s not as small and easy to handle as a cellular data hotspot. We currently store it in the “garage” area of our Sprinter van with plans to do a more permanent mount on our Sprinter van roof rack.

However, companies l like Radius Outfitters now have a super cool storage box for the Starlink kit.

The Starlink dish does rotate to point north to find the best number of satellites to connect to, and this movement can make a permanent installation difficult. Some people have disabled the motors inside the dish, which voids the warranty and makes the dish unreturnable. This does keep the dish stable and pointed toward the sky for easier mounting on a roof.

If you camp often in trees, Starlink internet might not be for you. I recently tried using it on Mt. Hood in Oregon with a little bit of tree cover, and experienced regular drop-outs and pauses in service.

Here are some key features of both plans:

Starlink Residential Service with Portability Add-On

Starlink didn’t have an RV option when I got on board in March of 2022, so I found an open cell near Ajo, Arizona for my service address. Starlink had just enabled roaming on its satellite dishes, which wasn’t yet official and didn’t cost anything extra.

Now you must pay an additional $15 per month to move Starlink out of its service address anywhere on the same continent – it even works in Canada and Mexico. This makes the total $135 per month.

Keep in mind that if you’re using Starlink out of it’s service area, it might have degraded service, especially in areas that have a Waitlist as seen on the service map. This has never been an issue for us as we’re usually in remote areas using Starlink.

One thing to keep in mind is that Starlink Residential with Portability can’t be easily started and stopped like Starlink RV service.

Starlink RV Service

Starlink for RVs is a viable choice for van life internet
Starlink for RVs service

Like Starlink residential service with portability, Starlink RV service costs $135 per month. This option also experiences degraded service in areas marked as “Waitlist”, but you’ll typically get great service if you’re in more remote areas.

The major benefit of Starlink for RVs is that you can pause and unpause service whenever you want. Another added benefit is there’s never a waitlist to get your device.

The major downside is that you’ll ALWAYS experience degraded service, unlike residential StarLink with portability.

I’m sure these options will continue to change and evolve with time, especially with chatter about Starlink designing a new device that’s designed to use “in motion.”

You can read an in-depth review of my experience with Starlink here.

Should You Get Cellular or Satellite Internet for Van Life?

We travel so extensively in our campervan and on our sailboat that we have both a cellular data unlimited plan and Starlink satellite internet.

Since I work online, I want to be covered whether I’m near a cell tower or out in the middle of nowhere. We have a large enough lithium battery bank from Battleborn batteries to sustain our Starlink for many hours per day when off-grid.

If you spend most of your time near cities or where there’s a reliable cell signal, I wouldn’t recommend using Starlink. They are large and bulky and hard to fit in vans. Most cell service is fast enough for online work, especially with more 5g service available.

If you love boondocking and exploring remote locations, you’ll definitely want to add a Starlink device for a reliable internet connection in the middle of nowhere. Starlink is great for overlanding and exploring dirt roads that are miles away from civilization.

True, having both Starlink and an unlimited hotspot is a high price to pay for internet on the road, but it’s worth it to me. You’ll have to figure out your own internet needs and amount of data while living in a van.

Using a Cell Signal Booster for Even Better Internet On the Road

This is our WeBoost cell signal booster

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, that 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.

Using Free Public Internet in Your Camper Van

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 internet signal.

  • Starbucks & other Coffee Shops
  • McDonalds
  • Libraries
  • Whole Foods grocery stores
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Apple Stores
  • Public Parks
  • Restaurants
  • Gyms
  • Truck Stops

Conclusion on the Best WiFi Options for a Campervan

Luckily, there are tons of options out there for campervan internet depending on your needs. You can choose cell phone data plans, Starlink satellite internet or a combination of the two like we do.

I do love having unlimited internet at my fingertips because it’s one luxury I can have with van life, which is usually without many luxuries.

It’s amazing to park in a remote location, fire up the Starlink Dishy, and have incredibly fast internet, just like I’d have in a house.

If you need internet on a budget, remember to check out Visible for an unlimited plan for your cell phone.

Our Pick
Visible Wireless Unlimited Data, Talk and Text

Visible is a really affordable, unlimited phone plan that is popular among van lifers. I started using it and so far, have been happy with the plan and service. Visible's base plan is just $25 for unlimited data, talk and text in the United States, or you can upgrade to a $45 per month plan to use your phone in Mexico and Canada. I have been using mine in Mexico and it works great!


Let me know what works for you in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: 12 awesome RV storage ideas for your tiny kitchen
  2. Pingback: VipKid Teacher: How this RVer makes $21/hr teaching English online
  3. Pingback: 30+ ways to make money from anywhere - van life and RVing
  4. Pingback: Living in a car: How to prepare your car, find WiFi and places to park
  5. Pingback: Small Campers: 9 unique travel trailers with all the comforts of home
  6. Pingback: DIY campervan: Tips from the experts on building a van in 2019
  7. Pingback: Van Life Essentials: 28 Top Picks for Campervan Gear
  8. Hi I am getting all set up with your internet service of choice. They mentioned that I need to add a band to my device for unlimited service, did you do that too? I have the same device as you too. Thank you for your help.

  9. What are the download and upload speeds you get on average?

  10. Cathy Kiernan says:

    Thank you for all the Info. I’m definitely going to consider all the options.
    Safe travels!

  11. Kyle Manning says:

    I’ve been using MapleWiFi for my RV. unlimited WiFi in north america (way better than my telus hotspot for Canada)

  12. Cookie Rojas says:

    Have you looked into Calyx Institute? Fascinating model, appears to outshine all others for hotspot unlimited cell.

Similar Posts