Where Do You Find Internet for Vanlife?
What Is The Best Internet For Van Life?
Many people turn to van life to get off the grid and take a break from technology. However, if you want to live comfortably on the road, you need to have a way to connect online. Without an internet connection, it will be difficult to read directions, find camping spots and complete any normal life tasks like working online or sending and receiving mail.
Unlike traditional homes, you can’t install a WiFi router in your van. Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to get high-quality internet on the road. Here’s everything you need to know about finding and selecting the right van life internet for your needs.
How to Get Internet In a Van With a Hotspot Device
A mobile internet hotspot device, or MiFi, is a pocket-sized mobile router that you can set up inside your van. When activated, it creates a private WiFi signal that lets you connect multiple devices. Then, you’ll enjoy internet directly in your vehicle wherever you travel.
Pros of MiFi
- Simple installation process
- Ability to choose signal strength
- Can support several users
- Built-in security features
Cons of Mobile Hotspots
- Requires buying a device and plan
- Requires a SIM card with a data plan
- Requires specific SIM cards for certain countries (so internet may not work if you cross international borders)
How to Install an Internet Hotspot in Your Van
Are you interested in a mobile hotspot device? Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Purchase a MiFi device: Find a van life hotspot device that offers your desired signal strength and falls within your budget. You can find devices at electronics retailers (like Best Buy) or online (like Amazon). Most cost between $50 to $150.
- Get a data plan: Once you have the physical device, you’ll need to purchase a data plan from a mobile operator. Generally, you can use the provider you have a cell-phone plan with — they’ll give you a SIM card that can be inserted into the device.
- Install the MiFi: Since this is a portable device, the installation is simple — just place it in your van and plug it in. Make sure it’s in a safe position where it won’t easily fall.
The closer you are to the device, the stronger the signal will be. However, most devices should be strong enough to provide connectivity throughout the interior of your van.
How to Get WiFi In a Van Using a Phone Hotspot
A phone Wi-Fi hotspot uses data from your cell-phone carrier plan to transform your phone into a router, which can then be connected to from your computer or van tv. Most smartphones come with a WiFi adapter that sends out data — by using a hotspot function (or tethering), you can make your phone receive data instead, then use it to connect other electronics to the internet.
Pros of Phone Hotspots
- Easy to use
- No external device or installation process
- Accessible in most locations
Cons of Phone Hotspots
- Internet slows down with more users
- Vulnerable to security risks
- Drains battery
How to Use a Phone Hotspot to Get Internet In Your Van
Unlike with a hotspot device, you don’t have to buy and install a physical object to get a camper van WiFi connection. You can think of it as a virtual alternative — all the features are accessible through your phone. Here are the steps required for a phone hotspot:
- Have a data plan: A phone hotspot will only work if you have data through your cell-phone carrier. Ideally, your data should be unlimited — otherwise, a hotspot will consume it quickly.
- Turn on the WiFi hotspot: You can turn on the hotspot function in your phone settings — this can usually be found under the “cellular data” tab.
- Create a password: Unless you want strangers accessing your hotspot, you’ll have to make a password. You can then share this password with anyone you want to share data with.
How to Get Internet In Your Van With Starlink
Starlink (by SpaceX), provides a new way to get internet in a van. Unlike hotspots and cellular connections, Starlink provides broadband-level speeds through a network of low-Earth orbit satellites. This makes it an excellent choice for van lifers who travel to remote areas.
Pros of Starlink
- High-Speed Internet: Starlink offers broadband-level speeds, which make it ideal for data-intensive activities.
- Wide Coverage: Due to its growing satellite network, Starlink provides internet in remote areas where other services might not reach (even the middle of the ocean!).
- Easy Installation: Starlink comes in a kit and takes just minutes to setup.
Cons of Starlink
- Cost: The initial setup cost for the Starlink kit can be high, and there’s also a monthly subscription fee.
- Size and Weight: The Starlink dish is fairly big and can take up a lot of space on the roof of your van.
- Data Caps: As of now, Starlink has soft data caps, meaning your speed may be throttled during periods of heavy usage.
How to Install Starlink in Your Van
Installing Starlink in your van is a relatively simple process but requires a little work.
- Step 1: The first step is to order the Starlink Roam kit, which includes the dish, modem, and router.
- Step 2: The second step is to go through the initial setup phase which takes about 10 minutes.
- Step 3: The third and final step is to properly secure the satellites base in the permanent location so you can easily put up the dish when you are not traveling.
Here’s what The Engineers Who Vanlife have to say about Starlink:
“The “dishy” (Starlink dish) needs a very clear view of the sky in order to provide a consistent internet connection. For this reason, we have found Starlink to be game changing for van lifers in specific scenarios. If you find yourself traveling in desert-like areas, completely away from mountains and trees, Starliink will be great.”
“If your internet needs are more for browsing and less for video calls and large uploads/downloads, dropouts will be less of an issue. As full time engineers with intense internet needs, who also tend to drift towards mountains, we have found Starlink unreliable. But hey, that’s the nature of something that connects to the sky!“ – The Engineers who Van Life
Check out their Ultimate Guide to Internet on the Road article to learn more.
Getting Free Van Internet Through Public WiFi
As you can probably tell by the name, a public WiFi connection is available in public settings. It’s usually paid for and supplied by a public business or building, such as a coffee shop, mall or hotel. All you have to do is open your phone settings, navigate to the WiFi tab and connect to the open server.
Pros of Public WiFi
- No installation or set-up necessary
Cons of Public WiFi
- Only available in certain locations
- Vulnerable to security threats
- Low speed and reliability
How to Get Free WiFi For a Van
If you want to save money on camper van internet and don’t require a connection while driving, public WiFi is a great option. You can generally find it in the following locations:
- Public buildings (libraries, airports, malls)
- Businesses (chain restaurants, coffee shops)
- RV parks
One of the biggest drawbacks of public WiFi is that it can be difficult to actually find a source. To make things easier, try using a WiFi map. After typing in your location, you’ll receive a list of nearby locations that offer free WiFi.
Satellite Internet For Van Life
Most forms of internet are delivered using cables and wires. Satellite internet, on the other hand, comes from satellites that orbit the Earth. It involves three main parts:
- Satellite: Put simply, satellites are communication systems that can receive signals from the Earth and send them back. Their bandwidth is generally limited to a certain region.
- Satellite dish: To connect with a satellite, you’ll need a carefully positioned satellite dish. This is usually drilled to the outside of your van.
- Modem/router: Once your satellite dish is set up, it can pick up signals from a satellite in space. To get these signals to your phone, you’ll need both a modem (which connects your home network to the internet) and a router (which connects your devices to the internet).
To actually access satellite internet on the road, you’ll have to work with a satellite internet provider.
Pros of Satellite Internet
- Available in rural areas
- Strong, fast WiFi options available
Cons of Satellite Internet:
- Tricky installation process
- Unreliable in rainy weather
- Potential to run out of bandwidth while traveling
How to Install Satellite Internet in Camper Vans
Because satellites usually serve a certain area, they’re not the most practical option if you travel and want consistent WiFi for your sprinter van. However, if you commonly park in the same rural region, it may be your best bet. To set up satellite internet on the road, you’ll need to do the following:
- Sign up with a network provider: The main satellite internet providers in the United States are Viasat and HughesNet.
- Attach the satellite dish: This step is usually done by a professional that works for the internet provider.
- Connect your router and modem: Your internet provider should supply you with these materials. You can plug your router anywhere in your van, then connect it to the modem and set up your wireless network.
The Best Cell Phone Carriers for Van Life
There are three major network carriers in the United States: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. They supply the data you use when operating a phone hotspot or hotspot device. Here’s a closer look at what they offer in terms of coverage, costs and devices.
When considering a cell-phone carrier, one of the most important factors is coverage. If you plan on using the internet extensively, or if you have multiple people that require van life WiFi, you’ll need a strong signal. These carriers offer the following 4G coverage options:
- Verizon: 70% 4G LTE.
- AT&T: 68% 4G LTE
- T-Mobile: 62% 4G LTE
4G networks are accessible in most locations and are the standard when it comes to data.
Here’s a breakdown of costs for each carrier.
Verizon is a leading data provider that offers both monthly and prepaid plans. If you spend most of your time on the road, consider signing up for a monthly plan. On the flip side, if you don’t plan on using too much data, a prepaid plan makes more sense. Prepaid data plans include:
- 6 GB: $35
- 16 GB: $45
- 30 GB: $65
For an unlimited plan, costs start at $20/month. If you want 5G network access (which is stronger than 4G), you’ll pay around $30/mo.
AT&T offers three monthly data plans, along with the option to purchase additional data. The main plans include:
- 3 GB: $25/mo (add 1 GB for $10/mo)
- 10 GB: $50/mo (add 1.5 GB for $10/mo)
- 18 GB: $75/mo (add 2 GB for $10/mo)
T-Mobile offers unlimited 2G speeds for their MiFi devices. Once customers purchase a data plan, they gain access to 5G speeds. Monthly data packages include:
- 500 MB: $5/mo
- 2 GB: $10/mo
- 10 GB: $390/mo
- 30 GB: $40/mo
- 100 GB: $50/mo
The Best Hotspot Devices For Van Life Internet
All of these carriers offer their own hotspot devices. Here are our top recommendations:
- Supports up to 32 WiFi devices
- Touch screen surface with fast battery
- Cost: $17/month
- Supports up to 30 WiFi devices
- All day battery with enterprise grade security
- Cost: $14/month
- Supports up to 15 WiFi devices
- All-day battery with built-in QuickCharge technology
- Cost: $8.33/month
How to Boost Data Signal in Your Van
Most mobile internet hotspot devices require a minimum 3G connection to work. Thus, it’s common to experience weak signals while driving or parking in some regions of the country. If you’re in an area with little to no connection, you can expect dropped calls, slow web browsing and failed text messages. There are many reasons why you might not have connection, such as:
- Poor weather
- Tall mountains and hills
- Radio frequency interference (RFI)
- Being over 30 miles from the nearest cell tower
Fortunately, you can increase data signal using a van life cell booster.
What Is a Van Life Cell Phone Signal Booster?
A cell phone signal booster, also called a signal amplifier or WiFi booster, is a wireless system designed to increase Wifi in a van or small area. Available for both WiFI hotspot devices and phone hotspots, it uses three main parts:
- External antenna
- Signal booster
- Indoor antenna
The external antenna captures the existing cell signal around your car, then transmits it to the signal booster. The booster will then amplify the signal before transferring it to the indoor van WiFi antenna. Finally, this second antenna distributes a stronger signal throughout your van.
Where Can I Get a Cell Phone Signal Booster?
If you’re looking for a high-quality van life WiFi booster, you may be interested in weBoost. It promises to boost cell signals up to 32x and offers the following features:
- Compatibility with multiple carriers
- Quality, award-winning products
- Two-year warranty
Most van life boosters cost between $400 and $600. To install it, you’ll need to drill holes into the roof of your van. The production company (Wilson Electronics) offers installation for an extra cost.
What Is The Best Van Life Internet Option For Me?
There’s no universal answer when it comes to the best WiFi for van life. Instead, answers vary depending on the frequency with which you use the internet:
- Occasional internet use: If you plan to use the internet infrequently (and want to save money), public WiFi should suffice. Its slow speeds and unreliable locations aren’t ideal for daily users.
- Casual Internet use: If you want flexible internet access inside your van, but don’t intend to use it too much, a cell-phone hotspot should do the trick. It’s strong enough for casual use, but too slow for serious work.
- Frequent internet use: If you plan to use the internet frequently (such as if you work remotely), then you’ll need a hotspot device. This is the closest alternative to a home WiFi router and offers high accessibility, quick speeds and strong security.
If you’re in an area that doesn’t have access to any networks, you might need to install a satellite dish. However, this option should only be used as a last resort.
Is Portable Internet for Van Life Really Worth It?
There’s no denying the convenience of van life internet service. The ability to research anything, from the nearest RV parking lot to directions for your destination, is highly convenient. However, some people need portable internet more than others. For example, if you work remotely, then internet is an absolute must.
With so many different internet options available, it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone. We’d recommend a WiFi hot spot device for anyone in need of strong, speedy connection. While it’s one of the more costly options (with monthly fees ranging anywhere from $8 to $30), it’s also the most reliable. If you have any questions about getting WiFi or wireless internet on the road, feel free to contact our team today!