For over two years now I have been relying on public WiFi and bumming internet while visiting friends to get online with my computer. While most full-time RVers pay to get internet through satellite, datacard, or a hotspot plan I have gone without since I first moved into Cas.
Not having a TV, getting on the internet is one of my primary entertainment methods. It’s also how I keep in touch with my friends and how this blog stays updated. Having access to the internet is important to me, so why choose to travel without a ready means to get online? Money, of course.
For those of you would-be full-timers with more limited budgets like me, one way to reduce your expenses on the road is to cut out the cost of internet. Back when I moved into my RV, a datacard through Millenicom that would grant me 10 gigs of data was $60 a month after initial set up fees, buying direct from the big names like AT&T and Verizon was even more. Over the nearly 25 months that I have not had such a plan, I’ve saved over $1,440 in monthly fees, that’s a significant amount of money. Or more importantly, a significant amount of time I’ve been able to spend sightseeing instead of working.
A growing number of campgrounds and public places are offering free WiFi to their customers and visitors now, which makes traveling without a dedicated internet source more viable than it was in the past. So here are some tips for those who are thinking of cutting out the cost.
For starters, the way I go about full-timing definitely makes it easier for me to rely on public WiFi than others.
Private campgrounds are more likely to have WiFi than state and national park campgrounds do, and if you’re boondocking the chances are nil. I spend the majority of my time in private campgrounds while I work my seasonal jobs.
I have a separate driving vehicle from my RV, so when WiFi isn’t available at my campground it’s easier for me to seek it out.
I stay in one area for months at a time, the number of travel days I have in a year are relatively few. Finding internet while you’re hauling your house around is a challenge, and the less often you move your home the less time you spend hunting down WiFi.
But even then, everyone has heard stories about how slow and unreliable campground WiFi can be. Like in many areas of life you get what you pay for and that is true here too, but there are things you can do to minimize the problems.
For the US, internet use is the highest in the evening hours. More people in a campground will be online then than at any other time…which will slow it down. Try to arrange your schedule so that you’re getting online during non-peak times for better speeds and less disconnects.
When you’re choosing a site at a campground that has WiFi, pick one that is near to the source. Usually campground WiFi originates at the park office, but if you’re unsure, ask. The greater the distance the signal has to travel, the weaker it gets.
The same is true of obstacles, whether they be trees, buildings, or other RVs. Even the shell and other gadgets in your own RV hampers the signal to a certain extent. Set up your computer near a window, and away from other electronics. Try to position yourself so the signal doesn’t need to cut through other RVs to get to you.
Even if your campground has workable WiFi, make a point while you’re exploring the area to figure out backup places to get on the internet nearby, in case of an outage.
The equipment you have and how you use it can also play an important role in how effectively you can get online using public WiFi.
Think about battery time. You’re going to have a harder time finding places that have both WiFi and a place to plug your gadgets in. Make sure they’re charged before you leave your RV if your heading out to find WiFi. When you’re shopping for laptops or tablets, make good battery time one of your priorities. Run only necessary programs when you’re away from a power source to conserve battery.
Consider WiFi boosters if you routinely have problems picking up a signal. These come in all sizes and price ranges, from a USB plug-in smaller than your thumb to satellite look-alike arrays that stand on poles taller than a person. Important Note: These will help with the range at which you can pick up a signal, but not the speed. For instance, they’re helpful if you’re parked at a campground on the opposite end from where the WiFi originates and you’re having problems getting bars, but they will not help if you have enough bars but there are so many people on the WiFi that it’s slowed to a crawl.
And last but not least, a couple precautions for those of you who are planning on relying primarily on public internet sources. Public internet is less secure than private sources. By which I mean it’s easier for other folks to spy and see what you’re doing on the internet, and possibly even easier to hack into your computer.
Invest in good anti-virus software, preferably the kind that includes anti-spyware capabilities too. I use Avast!, which is free and so far has done a fine job. Keep it up to date.
If your operating program doesn’t have a Firewall built in, get one of those too. Windows has a Firewall, and I’ve also installed ZoneAlarm (another free program) on top of that. Again, keep it up to date.
Be careful when accessing sites that have sensitive personal data on them, especially bank accounts and the like. Always look for the https:// in front of the URL instead of the standard http://, that means the site is more secure. I try to do my banking from private internet sources whenever possible to reduce the risk, since as visiting friends.
Internet access is one facet of RVing that can be had for free with just a little planning, even if you rely on it regularly like I do. I hope this article will prove helpful for those of you out there looking to save a little money on your traveling adventure. I have a feeling my own journey without my own internet source is coming to an end, as I suspect that public WiFi will be harder to find out west, but it was good (and cheap) while it lasted. Have a good week all!
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