When RVers get together, internet access is often one of the big topics of conversation that, once brought up, can be talked about forever. It’s one of the big hurdles of RVing. Mobile internet has come a long way, but it’s not as simple as being at home and opening your browser.
One of the reasons this is such a topic of conversation is that there are so many different ways to tackle this obstacle. Everyone has different needs. Some people want to go completely off-grid when they get in their RV and don’t bother with a signal at all. Others want to check road conditions, check up on their bank accounts, and post on Facebook, maybe stream a movie. Others need reliable internet access so they can work while they are on the road.
Whatever your needs are, there is a myriad of solutions out there. Let’s dive into what you can do to meet your needs and keep yourself connected while on the road.
RV Internet Access at Campgrounds
Most campgrounds will promise there is wifi at the campground. They aren’t usually flat-out lying. The issue is where that wifi actually reaches and how great it is.
Your RV resort is the place you’ll most want to have internet access. When you’re parked for the night, you’ll want to load up Netflix or check things along your route for the next day. It’s a good time to check your bank accounts to make sure everything looks all right since you’ve been traveling.
Since this is the most important location for RV internet access while you’re on the road, it’s worth doing some prepwork to better your chances of a good signal.
Confirm The RV Camground Has Wifi
Before you book your reservation, call the campground. Their websites are notorious for being outdated, so don’t go off what their page says.
Start off by asking if they have wifi. Then ask if you will have a signal where you are parked. In a lot of cases, you won’t if you aren’t parked right near the office or another building where they have wifi. Then ask how fast the wifi is. Do not ask how good it is, because they will of course say “Oh yes, it’s very good.” That’s subjective! Ask how fast. Ask if you can stream a movie without it skipping.
Even if you don’t plan on using a streaming service like Hulu or Netflix, this is a solid question to gauge how quick the internet is. Because people are typically trying to stream Netflix at the campground, they should have an answer to this question. If the internet is fast enough that you can stream videos without skipping, then it should be fast enough for your other needs and you should be able to visit websites without problems.
Once you have your answers, you’ll have to decide how important wifi and internet access is to you at the campground and how you feel about their answers. This is the best you can do for confirming what the wifi will be like where you are staying.
Improve Your Signal
So, what happens if you’ve found the perfect RV campsite with everything you think you want? But you get there and the connection speeds are dismal. You might have to take matters into your own hands! But come prepared. There is actually equipment you can buy to improve the signal at the campground.
You can start by downloading a wifi analyzer app. This will help you discover where the internet access is strongest at the campground. You can also ask the staff, but you might get vague answers. At larger campgrounds, there are often multiple buildings with wifi. Walk around the campground with the app on and it will beep louder as you get closer to a wifi source.
Then, back at your campsite, you can use an antenna to receive the signal and boost it inside your RV. There are omni-directional antennas, which pick up signals from any direction, but these are weaker than a directional antenna. You will then point it directly in the direction of the campground wifi.
If you own your RV, watch this Youtube video for detailed instructions on a permanent set up for an antenna and signal boosting setup.
If you are renting your RV, you will need a portable, temporary set up. There are still plenty of options on the market for this. In fact, here are a few wi-fi boosters you should consider:
Utilize the Rec Rooms
Outside of boosting the signal in your RV and parking at a campsite as close as possible to the office building, you can always bring your laptop to the rec room and use the wifi there. There are obvious drawbacks in that you can’t reliably use the internet in the comfort of your own RV, but don’t count this option out as a last resort!
Finding Wifi On The Road
Driving an RV isn’t like driving a car. You’ll get fatigued much faster, which means you’ll need to take frequent breaks. When you stop for a break, it might as well be somewhere you can get some free wifi and watch a few Youtube videos, or check the weather and road conditions still ahead of you.
There are a few tricks for finding the best wifi spots.
First, always check at rest stops. More and more, they are offering free wifi along with the free coffee and bathrooms. You never know when you’ll luck into a strong signal.
More reliably, there are always libraries. You will probably have to go inside as it’s rare for the signal to be strong enough to travel to the parking lot. Their parking lots are usually not big enough to park up close with your rig, and you’ll probably need a wifi password. You can usually find these printed on a sign on the wall.
Then you have the big chains. You can count on McDonalds, Walmart, and Starbucks to have free wifi. Walmart is one of the strongest choices because they are most likely to have easy parking for an RV and they are often easy to access from the highway without having to drive around town. McDonalds is also often a good choice for this. Sometimes you’ll find Starbucks as part of a bigger parking lot in a mall area. Walmart is the most likely to have a strong enough signal that you can reach it from your parking spot, but even that is often iffy, so you just might have to go inside one of these establishments to get wifi. Remember – all McDonalds, Starbucks, and Walmarts are not created equally so you might not have strong internet speeds at every place you come across.
Malls are also a great option. You will have to go inside, but there is a big food court where no one will mind if you sit for a long time. They have large parking lots for easy RV parking.
When you’re in a populated area, you can use a free app like Instabridge to find your nearest wifi. The app will tell you how many miles away different wifi signals are and give information on how the signal was the last time one of their app users signed on and how likely it is the wifi will be working.
Portable Internet For an RV
You have two options. You can use your phone’s data plan or you can purchase a mobile hotspot.
Use Your Phone as a Hotspot
Your first option is your phone. If you an unlimited data plan, you can go ahead and access the internet on your phone. Many phones will allow you to tether your phone, which means you can then create a mobile hotspot through your phone and sign on with your computer. While this is an easy option, it’s important to remember that working on the internet for a few hours, or streaming video, will use up your data very quickly. Once you’ve used your data for the month, your signal will get much slower and you may have expensive overage charges. So, be careful with this option.
Use a Standalone Hotspot
The other option is to buy a mobile hotspot. The major carriers, like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint all sell mobile hotspot devices where you can turn them on and then have a wifi signal for your RV. This will cost money, of course, so it’s up to you whether this is the right option for you. It’s the best way to have reliable internet access.
A key question to ask yourself is how often you are RVing, and then how important the internet is to you. If you are RVing every other weekend, or full-time, then you will likely want a mobile hotspot. If you are working from your RV, even on a week long trip it might be worth it to have a mobile hotspot so you can be sure you’ll be able to sign on and get work done. Here are a few options for you to check out!
Choose the Best Options for Your RV Trip
With so many options in your arsenal for finding wifi while you’re on your RV trip, the biggest question will be what’s the best option for you. What will fit in with your trip? If you’re stopping at McDonalds for food anyway, then taking advantage of the wifi at the same time is something you’ll need to make sure you do. When you make your reservations for the night, you’ll want to check in with the campground on their wifi. And if you don’t want to worry about it at all, then a mobile hotspot will be the best choice for you!
Now that you have your internet figured out, go ahead and check out our tips on where to go!