There is no doubt for many of us the reason we love getting out there is to actually get away from devices and DO SOMETHING. So being unconnected is part of the experience. Many of us seek the phone coverage holes. What if you’re living on the road full time, or in the enviable position of being able to do a mix of work and play on the road. It means you need to be connected.
As somewhat of a disclaimer to this post, it is based on real life experiences.
Example 1: Craig [that’s me] and Ange. We’ve owned campers since 2014. Mostly we are weekend warriors, our average trip would be 2-4 days around swell events, but we also have done month long trips in the South Island. We plan to do at least one long trip a year. I also use the camper as a base/office when I’m on remote photoshoots. These photoshoots include editing and sending large files to clients from the road.
In our first van we had no ‘screen’ at all. We were kind of going for the adage of ‘if you are watching TV you haven’t done enough during the day. ‘
And then we bought a camper with a Uniden 12v TV/dvd player included. Game changing. We amped on the thought of big days outdoors and then chilling in the evenings streaming Game Of Thrones. It became our guilty camping pleasure. Explore all day, early dinner, curtains pulled just after dusk, binge stream on Netflix. If we were out of range watch old dvds or movies loaded to a thumb drive.
In reality it is also campground friendly. After the dark we don’t want to be ‘those’ guys under the awning until 1pm [well most nights anyway]. We’ve found that life on the road tends to fall into more of a circadian rhythm…up early for a full day, bed early.
We use our phone data plans and hotspot. We are on different providers and plans, Ange has roll over data, so we are rarely without signal and have never maxed out our data. Ange also works online on the road.
In our Troopy [our 3rd campervan] we swapped out the 12v Tv it came with for a 12 inch iPad. It saves on space, is a multi-function screen. I use the iPad for photo-editing, reducing the need to takeaway more expensive computers and use the inverter.
Example 2: Goose and Ellen have spent the last year living on the road out of Larry, their 4wd Hiace Poptop with no intention of stopping anytime soon. [Check out their story HERE] They don’t need wifi for work but they are fulltimers; “We’re just using our phones for wifi. We’re on the unlimited 2 degrees plan that just gets throttled after 40gb I think. Works a treat!”
Example 3: Jono Boyd spent 6 months living fulltime in his Hi-lux motorhome. [Check out his story HERE]. He currently lives off the grid on Great Barrier Island so is dealing with limited coverage everyday. ‘When I was on the road I used 2 different sim cards (Vodafone & Spark) but it was still shit. I use Wireless Nation now, they’re pretty good. Like normal WiFi but you can take it places. Works on 12v (with an adapter) or 240v.’
As with everything camper related- everyone’s needs are different. There are work arounds and hacks, so let’s get into those.
From the 3 examples above hotspotting phone data is the starting point, you just have to have a decent data plan and phone signal. Understand your phone plan so you don’t get caught with a big data bill.
If you’re staying at a commerical campground they often offer free wifi, just like most motels. Generally these are extremely slow and data capped services. They are getting better. You can check a few emails, maybe a bit of social media. You won’t be able to stream a movie. You shouldn’t do any type of financial transaction as these networks are pretty open.
The same can be said of Public libraries and most cafe’s and businesses that offer free wifi. They are great for a little hit of connectivity, but don’t think you’re loading up your 1000 word 20 photo web log. And again it’d pay not to be transferring funds to release your great uncle’s Kenyan inheritance on these networks.
Rabbit hole 106. Cell phone coverage is one of the biggest issues. You find the perfect campsite but you’ve only got a bar of signal. One bar will actually drain your device battery faster because the device is searching constantly. This is where boosters come into play. You would have seen the big fibreglass antanae on boats and the bullbars of off-roaders. These 4G/LTE antanae, are capable of enhancing [picking up] cell tower signals 40x. They are as inexpensive as $140.00 or a whopping $400.00 nzd. Then you’ll need an induction phone cradle for your phone to connect. You can pick up one from Trademe for another $140.00-250 nzd. This works and apart from data costs, there’s no extra ongoings.
Then if you really really want to spend a couple of K on enhancing an available cellular signal you can look at booster kits like the Cel- Fi Go that can cost up to $2,500.00. We are going to leapfrog these in this post because if that cost.
As Jono mentioned he now uses a Wireless Nation modem. These are 4G 12 v modems that are being promoted in conjunction with the NZMCA. If you are a member of the Coastguard or NZMCA there is a discounted rate. In short it is a box with a sim card that taps into the Rural Broadband Initative [RBI] network. So you pay a one off cost of $300 for the box and then an ongoing data plan. These modems can be hard connected to a 4G/LTE antennae to get further range.
You are able to use the modem and plan at home too. So if everyone from your home is road-tripping, maybe swapping your existing home plan is an option.
We compared our own Spark home broadband bill to the data plans offered by Wireless Nation. It would appear, and this may be wrong, that Wireless Nation capped plans are 50% -100% more expensive than a home unlimited data plan. These plans do not include your existing phone plan/data.
So what to do? If you are just starting out the old theme that most Recreationalists follow…do nothing. Go on trips, find what works for you and then you can customise your own solution.
Have you got any data hacks? Or know of a better way that this post has missed/ We’d love to know and add it. Simply add a comment below.