But what about the internet?
Or: How a full-time family stays connected.
We get this question quite a bit. How do you manage to stay connected to the internet while on the road? The answer is pretty simple on the surface, and then sometimes very complex once you dig in. We figured with so many people (including many of our personal friends) looking into the possibilities of full-time travel, it might help some people to share our tools and process.
Ok. Let’s unpack it.
First things first, the answer to how we stay connected is pretty straightforward – we use cell service instead of your traditional cable or fiber internet. Yep, that handy little internet box you keep in your pocket is how we keep up with work, social media, streaming, and so on! Well, sort of.
Providers & Plans
Choosing a wireless plan is easily the most difficult piece of the full-time traveling internet conundrum. There are many different routes you can go – and a lot of moving parts, changing availability of plans, and various resellers to deal with. We’re going to share from our experience only, and by no means are we even going to attempt an exhaustive list. (There are better resources out there for that, and we’ll share some below.)
When you sign up for your cell provider plan, most of the time they’ll offer you a voice plan, along with some predetermined amount of data. Many providers even offer unlimited data – but that almost always comes with a catch. Many providers will slow your speeds down (aka “throttle”) after you’ve reached a certain amount of data for the month. Sometimes this throttle cap will be in the 50-75GB range, sometimes it’s as low as 10GB.
Before you get any ideas, let me tell you right now, that is a very small amount when you’re talking about your sole source of internet. We have been known to blow through those amounts in a single day occasionally (and I would bet you would too), so we simply cannot have a throttle cap.
When we were getting started, we lucked out and jumped on a Verizon wireless unlimited, no-throttle data only plan. They’ve since dropped these plans, and we’re lucky to be grandfathered in. For over a year of our full time journey, this was the only plan we used, and it worked almost flawlessly.
While traveling in Florida, we ran into an issue where we simply couldn’t get service through Verizon at all. Being that we both work from home, it was a completely unacceptable situation. This led us into purchasing another unlimited plan, this time with AT&T, through a reseller called MobileMustHave. The plan isn’t the cheapest (in fact it’s nearly twice the cost of our Verizon plan), but now we have two unlimited plans for some redundancy. For the past 6 months, this has served us very well.
There are other provider/plan resellers out there as well. OTR has been a popular one for other full-timers, but they’ve recently undergone some reorganizing of their plans. This has caused some grumbling in the community, so YMMV. We’ve also considered looking into Bix Wireless as well, as their plans are a bit cheaper than the ones we’re on.
As an additional note, we have our cell phones through T-Mobile, and have the ability to use our iPhone hotspots to access the internet with other devices. It’s a very rare occurrence for us to need this, but the moral of the story is plan and provider diversity is key.
What About Hardware?
Disclaimer: There are some affiliate links below that will benefit us in a small way if you go on to purchase one of the items. That said, we’re not directly connected to any of the companies or services listed below, and all of the opinions are ours only.
This part is scary to a lot of non-tech savvy folks, but the reality is if you’ve gotten this far, you can 100% find the right hardware to get your internet running smoothly.
For us, it simply comes down to two cellular hotspots, and a booster.
For our Verizon plan, we use a Mifi 8800L Cellular Hotspot. This hotspot has been amazing, and like I said before, it was our only source of internet for over a year. You can create a 5GHz band of wifi and a 2.4GHz band of wifi for devices with lighter bandwidth requirements (think your Amazon devices or other home tools that utilize wifi, but not your computers or phones). You can connect up to 15 devices on it. It’s like having a modem and wifi router in one device. We even figured out a way to connect a network hard drive to it, so we can stream movies to our Apple TV. Boom. The only drawback to it thus far is the tendency for it to overheat. We haven’t had it happen a lot, but we did end up replacing a battery over it. Keep it ventilated.
For our AT&T plan, the setup is very similar. We utilize a Netgear Nighthawk M1 cellular hotspot. (The link is the updated version from the one we have, but should be a lot better for not much of a price increase.) The Nighthawk works in a very similar way to the MiFi hotspot, with the ability to set up multiple networks and connect to even more devices. The only drawback we’ve experienced with this one Referring back to the plans/providers idea, the goal here is diversity and flexibility.
Keep in mind, we don’t use both of these hotspots to their full potential all the time. We spread out the usage and lean on whichever device has the best signal and speed in the spot we’re in.
Finally, we employ a WeBoost RV Cell Booster system in our travels. (Again, newer version in the link.) In all honesty, this was one of those things where the price/benefit scared us. For us, it came down to the internet being an absolute necessity for our work, and we were willing to make the upgrade in the hopes of getting more solid service.
Our experience with the booster has been a bit of a mixed bag thus far. We’ve read reviews where people talk about going from 1 bar to 5 bars. That hasn’t been our experience. Usually it’s more like increasing 1-2 bars on what we’re already getting. (Keep in mind, 0 bars is still 0 bars – even boosted! You have to first have a signal in order to boost that signal.)
For some, the booster might be a total must. For us, the jury is still out. It’s possibly we’re not using it to its full potential, and it’s possible we’re underselling it’s benefit to us. At any rate, feel this one out.
Do Your Research!
This is our experience only, and shouldn’t be seen as a perfect way to stay connected on the road. There are mistakes we’ve made along the way, and devices we wish we’d bought along the way. (Like this Pepwave, for example.) The point is that you should do your research. We love that you stumbled upon our little blog here, but there are many many other full-time families out there that employ different strategies and ideas for their internet. In addition, there are resources like the Mobile Internet Resource Center, which digs into the nitty gritty technical details for those of you gluttons for punishment.
In addition to the research on providers, plans, devices, and tools, it’s also important that you research where you plan to camp. Because the internet is so vital to us for our work (and who are we kidding, we’re addicted to Netflix!), it’s absolutely critical that we have service. For us, that eliminates some of the trendier boondock spots, in favor of campgrounds closer to the city. For us, having a solid connected home-base allows us the ability to make excursions to nearby remote locations. But your goals and experiences might be different. Do your research, and most of all, have fun. Pay attention to what’s working and not working for you, and don’t forget to just disconnect sometimes. After all, that’s kinda the point of this whole full-time travel thing anyway.
Good luck out there. We wish you the best! If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to comment below, or reach out to us on our social media profiles! We want to be a part of your journey!