We’re grateful to Technomadia and their Mobile Internet Handbook for teaching us the basics of staying online beyond a “sticks and bricks” residence. Many people ask about our internet setup, so here’s a general rundown of how we stay online.
Cell phone/mobile internet service
We have two unlimited data plans with different carriers, for redundancy when one provider may not have great service at any given location. (This may change in the future, so I’ll refrain from naming our carriers right now.) Our phones can be turned into WiFi hotspots.
We also have a 3G cellular modem which was gifted to us, in order to experiment with dedicated data service.
Free public WiFi
Many RV parks offer free WiFi for guests. Free WiFi can be found at many shops, coffee shops, and restaurants, and public libraries.
Privacy Tip: When using public internet access points, protect yourself by using a VPN! (See below.)
Good Citizen ProTip: If you’re using a store’s internet, be sure to thank them by buying something. Our rule of thumb is to buy the equivalent of one beverage per person per hour we’re there, and always tip the barista well!
A VPN decreases the likelihood that a malicious user on the same network can see the sites you’re visiting or the data you’re sending. We never manage sensitive data (banking, health insurance, shopping) over public internet without an active VPN connection.
There are tons of great VPN providers out there, so shop around. We have been using vpn.ac for years, and if you sign up using our affiliate link, it costs you nothing extra and we get a small commission for the referral. But what works for us might not be the best option for you. There are so many choices these days, that it’s worth it to shop around.
Unfortunately, some services don’t respect your privacy and won’t allow you to access their sites via VPN (Netflix and Amazon’s Affiliate Program are two we know about). Some VPN providers claim they aren’t blocked by Netflix or other sites, so if that’s important to you, keep that in mind when deciding to purchase a VPN.
Full disclosure: this is a project Jennifer helped found and is currently deloping along with a small team of dedicated volunteers. The Lollipop Cloud Project is a single-board computer (like a Raspberry Pi) that’s been customized with cloud software typically associated with large providers. It can replace Google or iCloud’s photo or calendar services, or any cloud storage service for data backups. A Lollipop can do all this without an active internet connection, but it can also be your access point to get all the devices in your RV (or sticks-and-bricks home) online.
We also have our Lollipop configured with Pi-Hole, which is an ad-blocking and malicious-site-filtering application, which helps us reduce the amount of data we consume, and protects our devices (and our eyes) from offensive ads or malicious content. Here is a rundown of our Lollipop setup.
Lollipop still has some growing to do, but our ultimate goal is to make these as easy to set up as a new smart phone or laptop, especially for people who are less technically savvy but want more control over their data.
Our goal is redundant access. We never want to be stranded without internet, because it’s so important for work and communicating with friends and family. If one access point goes down (a cell phone lands in dish water, or a carrier has a lousy signal), we’ve got alternatives so we’re always online.
There will be continuous improvements made to our setup, but this is what we’ve got right now.