Surfing the Web (Or Not) While Full-Time RVing

It can be a truly amazing experience to unplug from the outside world and spend a week or two in Glacier National Park, going to new areas and exciting hikes everyday. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for somewhere like Antelope Valley, CA, where we found ourselves itching for any sort of connection with the rest of the world or at least some entertaining diversion.

Before we left on our RV trip, we had not been expecting such abysmal internet connections everywhere we go. At the beginning of our travels, we would see a campground that mentioned Wi-Fi, and think to ourselves, “Oh great, a chance to use our Chromecast, watch some Netflix, and make some blog posts!” This changed quickly, as we learned most commercial campgrounds that advertise Wi-Fi internet are really just advertising circa-1995 dial-up speed that you might be able to check your E-Mail on, so long as none of the 200 other campers in the park are not trying to use it at the same time. Needless to say, the Netflix subscription was cancelled within a month of traveling (though, to be honest, we don’t miss it all that much). That’s not to say that on occasion we might find one with okay internet, but even that tends to be spotty and we have only found this two or three times. (Granted, we frequent government run parks more than commercial ones, but the general lack of quality internet in commercial spots seems to be a consensus among others, too.)

“Oh, OK, we’ll just go and use the Wi-Fi at coffee shops and restaurants. I see them advertising free Wi-Fi all the time.” If this expectation ended up being true, this post would almost certainly not exist. We quickly learned that virtually all store’s Wi-Fi will regularly cut in and out, making it difficult (and frustrating) to do much more than browse the web. Worse than the intermittent nature of the internet is the snail’s pace of the connection when it does work. To be fair, it usually beats the Windows 95-era speed we found in campgrounds, but I don’t think it exceeds the internet of Windows Millennium Edition machines by much. Starbucks seem to be the best bet of them, however. It is the only public place we have found that somewhat consistently allows our web host to upload photos at all since weak connections cause an error on the site. Other places, it’s a total no go, unless we want to spend three hours uploading photos on just one post.

And this brings us to 4G LTE data connections. I myself have Verizon, and it actually works pretty well, getting more coverage in national parks than any other network. Katie has AT&T still and we sometimes switch off on who has coverage, depending on where we are. (Unless we’re in really remote areas or on hikes, however, then no one typically has coverage.) The problem here is cost, as nearly all providers charge a good amount of cash for data by the Gigabyte. We have met lots of people in our travels who mention being grandfathered into unlimited data plans, but as of this writing have been unsuccessful in building a time machine to enroll in such a plan ourselves.

While it was definitely tough getting used to being less constantly connected to the internet (and can still be frustrating spending a half hour connecting to a campground’s wifi only to have it cut in and out every five minutes), it is a small price to pay and we have even come to enjoy the  free and peaceful feeling of being unplugged, a feeling we haven’t really had since childhood in the early ’90s.

We are fortunate that we do not have to rely on the internet for work right now, otherwise we would look into some sort of personal router or booster, though we have heard this is not even terribly reliable, either. For now, we just plan our itineraries, work on blog posts, and connect to friends and family as we can, and enjoy nature and each other the rest of the time. We did, after all, choose to travel in an RV to have new experiences, not to stare at a screen.

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