Connecting on the road
-- by Jeff Anderson
Are you one of those travelers who simply cannot stand to be apart from your internet connection? And are you wondering how you can still have get email or surf the web while on the road? Not to worry because technology is here to help!
First, let’s talk about your actual computer equipment. The kind of equipment you’re taking with you and determining how you will both store and use it is important.
If you have a laptop, you have the freedom to pretty much sit wherever you like inside your RV – from the couch to your driving recliner to the dinette or even outside. Storage consists of putting the laptop in its storage case, and stowing it away in a safe place. (Remember, laptops can handle a little toss now and then, but it’s best to secure them as you would any other valuable, breakable item.)
If you have a desktop with a PC and monitor, you’ll need to be a little more creative. First, decide if you’ll be leaving your PC and monitor out while you travel. For your PC, consider putting in on your dinette bench wedged between 2 pillows. For your monitor, set it on the dinette table and anchor it with bungee cords. Wrap one could around the bottom to form a circle, then use several other cord to attach it to various locations such as handles on cabinets or even the pole holding up the table. If you have other accessories – e.g., a printer – consider securing this just like your PC.
How you’re going to connect depends on a few things:
How much time do you plan to spend on the internet and what exactly will you be doing.
Where will you be going and how close to “civilization” will you be?
How much traveling will you be doing each year to offset the cost of equipment?
If you’re someone who just wants to check your email, and do a minimal amount (less than 1 hour per day) of surfing, your best bet is to use the PC offered at many RV parks, or those that allow you to hook up your laptop to their phone line. Both of these may be free or just involve a small fee.
On the flip side, if you want/need to spend several hours per day checking email or surfing the web (because you’re running a business, for example), you have a few options to consider:
Cell Phone. This can either be via a cord that connects from your PC to your cell phone and which your cell phone provider should offer. The connection is going to cost you by the minute – just as your cell phone calls do, and you must purchase the cord and software. Upside: Low cost to get started. Pitfall: Slow connection speed, charged by the minute, and possibility of having to upgrade your cell phone frequently to keep up with technology.
Air Card. This card – which is about the size of a credit card - is inserted into the slot on your laptop (or PC, if available). The connection speed is going to depend on both your signal strength and the type of PC you’re using. This is generally going to be about the speed of dialup – maybe a little faster. Typical costs are a few hundred dollars for the card and close to $100 per month for unlimited dialup access. Upside: Easy-to-use. Pitfalls: Most cards only work with a laptop, not a desktop PC, and the connection speed is slow. Plus, the monthly fee is quite high.
Satellite. Satellite internet uses a satellite dish for connection. Upload and download speeds vary, but most are much faster than what is offered with either cell phone dialup or an air card. There are a few satellite contenders, all of whom require an initial equipment purchase and then a monthly fee: DirectWAY (www.directway.com), Starband (www.starband.com), and DataStorm (www.datastorm.com). Upside: Fast download speed, good upload speed. Pitfalls: Cost which is a minimum of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars just for equipment.
DSL/Broadband at Campgrounds. Many RV parks are now offering services such as LinkSpot (www.linkspot.com). To make a connection to a parks Wi-Fi (as it’s called) depends on (a) how close you are to the antenna and (b) whether you have wireless internet available on your laptop or desktop. For antenna proximity, most parks will let you know when making a reservation if there are certain spots that will not be able to make a connection. For equipment, newer laptops now feature a wireless connection already built-in so you can literally pull in, park, login, buy some internet time, and begin using your computer. Other parks occasionally offer the necessary wireless equipment for rental and it’s simply a matter of plugging it in, logging in and buying some minutes. Upside: Gives you the high-speed of DSL/Broadband at a low cost. Pitfalls: While the numbers are growing, less than 30% of all RVs parks in the US offer this service. Therefore, some advanced planning as to where you will stay is required.
Most of the above options are going to depend on your location in the US. The farther away from large cities and such, the more limited your choices become. Your cell phone or air card must be able to find a tower, your satellite must have a clear view of the sky, and DSL/Broadband must be available to an “off-the-beaten-path” RV park. The best way to find out what will work effectively is to talk with others ahead of time – especially the park owner where you plan to stay.
Cost is a factor when it comes to mobile internet. You can spend from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If money is no object, then go all out and buy a satellite system. However, if money does have to be considered, start small – maybe using your cell phone – and work up from there. You can always upgrade if the need and expense are justified.
The best thing to say about today’s technology is that it offers consumers a wide array of choices to select a solution that works best for their individual needs. Thus, when deciding on how to connect while on the road, know your usage requirements and budget!
Jeff Anderson knows RV’s. He knows what to look for and what pitfalls to avoid. Let him guide you to a successful life on the road. Contact him today at Jeff@rvcruiser.com or visit the blog at his site RVCruiser.com