They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. However, there is such a thing as free RV camping. In fact, President Roosevelt called for the creation of free campgrounds on Federal lands when he addressed Congress in 1901. (Although at that time he wasn’t referring to RVs!)
Now commonly referred to as boondocking, camping free of charge is real, but it isn’t for everyone. Boondocking isn’t officially defined but the term stems from the expression “boondocks” that refers to a remote area. Overnight RV parking places such as truck stops, Wal-Mart parking lots, or campgrounds in which RV hookups aren’t available may not necessarily seem remote, but are all generally lumped into the boondocking category.
Hitting the open road with RV in tow can bring a sense of freedom as you explore new areas or simply get away from it all for a while. But even when you want to get away, you still want to be connected. There are several options for internet connection while you’re traveling. Researching the available choices and determining your needs before you set out is the best way to ensure you have the RV internet option that you need while you’re away from home.
What Are My RV Internet Options?
Utilizing the data on your cellular phone is the simplest RV internet option to use. With cell phone plans generally comes a data plan which allows internet access. You can access the internet with 3G, 4G, 4GLTE, or now 5G connections, but be aware with older devices that, according to the FCC, mobile carriers are shutting down their older 3G and some 4G networks. So, even though using your cellular data works all over the nation, by the end of 2022 it will only work if you are on a more modern and supported network.
Even with all the network changes, most travelers find that cellular data is still the easiest way to stay connected when they are on the road. But if you aren’t like most travelers and you prefer dry camping in remote areas or boondocking deep into national parks, cellular data may not be a reliable way to stay connected. It only works when there are cell towers nearby, so if you are out in the middle of nature, you may find yourself disconnected if you’re relying only on cellular data.
Cost is another thing to keep in mind when determining whether using cellular data is the right RV internet option for your needs. If you don’t have an unlimited plan, paying for data – especially if you are off the beaten path – can get expensive. So, if you’re a full time RVer, you may want to consider some of the other options.
Satellite Internet for RVs
Satellite internet connects you to the web using satellites in space. It’s an RV internet option that, barring some environmental factors, means you have internet access anywhere on earth. There is initial setup involved with Satellite internet, but after that, you have access almost anywhere. In that way, it is similar to cellular data plans.
While cellular data plans may not have good signals if you aren’t near a tower, your satellite connection can be limited by things like storms and heavy tree cover which can impede the satellite signal from reaching your dish. So, you may have the ability to stay connected in more areas than cellular data but your signal can be lost abruptly plus you’ll have the costs associated with a monthly internet charge. If you’re one to do a lot of free camping, it can easily offset these charges.
Wired Cable Internet
The best connection is a wired connection. It is stable and reliable. For full-time RVers who stay parked in the same area most of the year there’s no better choice. Some campgrounds offer direct connections to wired internet so it feels just like your home connection. Go ahead, stream those movies, use your favorite apps or browse away, as long as the internet is live and you’re plugged in, you’ll be connected.
The drawback to this RV internet option is that you can’t take it with you. So, if you enjoy remote camping, this won’t be an option for you.
The most common RV internet option is public WiFi. Although there may be an extra charge for access, many campgrounds provide free WiFi as one of the amenities. Upon check-in you get your campsite number, a parking tag and the WiFi password; a few clicks later, you’re connected!
Sometimes the signal can be weak depending on how far you are from the WiFi source, so there’s a chance that your connection may be spotty. It’s a great RV internet option for those who regularly patronize campgrounds.
The downside to WiFi is, again, it requires you to be somewhere that it’s provided. The National Park Service offers free WiFi at many of their visitor centers and other locations. If you are staying at one of these National Parks but your campsite isn’t close enough to get service, you could grab your morning coffee and head down to the visitor center for an outdoorsy coffee shop internet café experience.
If you’re boondocking on public land, you’ll have to rely on one of the other RV internet options.
What RV Internet Option Is Best for Me?
There are lots of different RV internet options and the one that is right for you will depend your RV usage. In fact, having more than one option may be the best option if your camping habits change.
If you are on the move a lot and just need to check in on occasion, you may find that your needs are met between campground WiFi and cellular plans. Those on the other end of the spectrum who have a favorite spot they go and stay put, like full-time RVers, will likely benefit from a wired connection.
Then there are those who like to get back to nature and spend their time deep in the woods or remote reaches of parks. If you enjoy disbursed camping in remote areas but still love your gadgets, a satellite RV internet option is the way to go.
The great thing is that no matter what type of camper you are and what your RV usage is, there is an option – or combination of options – that will keep you connected to whatever degree you need so that you can enjoy your RVing to the fullest.
When you’re sitting around the campfire enjoying the RV life you want to be nibbling on s’mores not biting your nails wondering how you’ll get your mail. Fortunately, there are a lot of RV mail service options so you can plan ahead and eliminate worrying about your mail while you’re gone.
How to Handle RV Mail Service
Option #1: Don’t Worry About It
This is the easiest option and works especially well if you are only taking a short trip. If you’re a weekend warrior or even take extended weekend trips it isn’t necessary to arrange RV mail service options. If your mail stacks up for a few days, it will be okay until you return from your trip.
It is wise to refrain from shopping online prior to your vacation. A couple of days’ worth of mail in your mailbox isn’t a big deal, but having packages sitting at your doorstep isn’t the best idea. Ideally, arrange for them to be delivered prior to your departure.
Option #2: Ask a Neighbor or Family Member
When you plan to be on the road for an extended period of time, a good option is enlisting the help of your friends, neighbors, or family if they live nearby. Having someone you trust pick your mail up while you’re away means you can avoid the headaches of lost or stolen mail. There’s no cost involved for you; they simply hold it until you return. You can offer to return the favor, or maybe bring them a small token of your appreciation from your travels.
This is a great option, but in order to avoid straining a relationship, make sure it’s only something you do once in a while. If you travel for long periods fairly frequently, one of the other RV mail service options may be a better fit.
Option #3 P.O. Boxes
Renting a P.O. box is a good way to forward your mail, especially if you regularly stay in the same area while you are away from home. P.O. boxes are safe and economical. This reliable RV mail service option allows you to forward your mail with a temporary change of address through the USPS or utilize a mail forwarding service for your mail.
Option #4: RV Mail Service Forwarding
Another option are the many RV mail services which exist specifically for forwarding mail for RVers. Some services provide images of your mail and scans of the contents. One of the biggest conveniences for full-time RVers (or avid online shoppers!) is providing a physical street address where packages can be delivered.
Like any private business, it’s important to do your due diligence before choosing an RV mail service. It can be tricky. Asking other RVers for suggestions is a good way to find a reputable option.
No matter the type of RVer you are, from short-term trips to full-time life on the road, knowing your RV mail service options means you’ll always be in touch with what’s going on at home no matter how far down the road you may be.