Project Description

Tools for Getting our Van Places

Philip works full time as a Software Engineer from the van and needs to stay connected when doing so. The photo below is of Philip in the mountains of Wyoming taking a conference call from his stand up desk. Rather than spending 40 hours a week, in coffee shops and libraries, we spend it out in the middle of nowhere. To enable this, we had to do some research on ways to stay connected. . .

Collapsible Snow Shovel

Overall, we have been happy with these devices. We used to have Androids, but got tired of how much they slowed down right around the two year mark. We had even done factory resets, which didn’t improve the speed by much. As I mentioned above, having a tablet with cellular capability is a lot more useful than a mobile hotspot. Not only do you get both device and tethering data, but you can also read books, view maps, and watch videos/movies, which are some of the most common ways we directly use our tablet.

$449/iPhone 6s + ?

Snow Tires

Figuring out how much data we needed was tricky. Before living in the van, neither of us used more than 1GB of data/month on our Verizon cell phone plans. But, that soon transitioned into using all of our data and going over on our plans. We looked into different carrier’s cell phone plans, but determined that Verizon has the best coverage no matter what other carriers try and tell you. T-Mobile recently bought a bunch of cell towers, but the technology does not yet exist to use these with your cell phone. We didn’t want to feel restricted by the cellular signal in different areas, so coverage was very important to us. Within Verizon’s plans, we found that the “cheapest” way of obtaining additional data was through the Beyond Unlimited Plan, which allows:

  • 10 devices/plan
    • 22GB of device data/device
    • 15GB of tethering/device
  • We use: 2 cell phones and 1 tablet
    • 66GB of device data
    • 45GB of tethering

So, we just added multiple devices to one plan, which we found to be cheaper than going over on a plan. Rather than using a mobile hotspot for our additional device, we use a tablet with cellular data. The benefit to this is that you get both 22GB of device data and 15GB of tethering data for $20, rather than just tethering data. If you don’t own any additional devices beyond your cell phone, you should be able to buy a used one online for a reasonable price. Note: We were using a MiFi Jetpack device for awhile, but it was pretty old and had a lot of trouble connecting to cell towers. So, if buying used, make sure you don’t buy something too old.

$50/cell phone/month + $20/tablet or mobile hotspot/month


With coverage concerns in mind, we bought a cellphone booster to help enhance the capability of our cell phone antennas. Having used the booster for ~4 months now, I can say we are super happy we bought it! Within the first week of using it, I was talking to someone on my phone and the call wasn’t dropped when we drove through a canyon in Kentucky. Our phones can have almost no signal in an area, but if we place one next to the booster and tether off of it we can get two bars of LTE. Having the improved signal has really broadened the range of places that we can work from, allowing us to spend the working hours in beautiful places. Additionally, it has allowed us to more strategically park near things we want to do, so that we can spend our non-working hours in the outdoors rather than driving.

Unfortunately, cell phone boosters are a little pricey, ranging from $150-$500 (ours cost $479.99).

Tire Pressure Gauge

We mainly use our Wifi extender for setting up a network to play music off of our Sonos, but we occasionally use it if we are visiting a friend and want to extend their Wifi signal to the van. Not necessary, but nice to have.

This particular extender costs $99.99. The plus side is you can use it in your house as well!

Air Compressor (Inflating Tires)

We use OpenSignal, a cell tower coverage map, to help us plan where we want to drive to for a work day. In OpenSignal, you can view just your cell phone provider’s coverage or you can view all cell phone provider’s coverage. When viewing Verizon’s coverage map, if there is any sign of signal in the area, we will have signal, thanks to our cell phone booster. If there is no signal specifically where we want to go, but is nearby, there is a possibility that we will have signal. Using coverage maps saves us a lot of time in planning where to work from and saves gas that we would be using to drive around searching for coverage.

This site is free!

Beefy Ice Scraper

To restrict data usage on our laptops we use TripMode. TripMode helps prevents apps from using data in the background and tells you how much data you’ve used on each application, as well as in total.

One time purchase of $7.99.

Bikes (for if we really get stuck and need to bike out for help)

Moving around all the time involves moving your computer all the time, which increases the risk of damaging your computer. Additionally, you are at a higher risk of your computer being stolen. So, if you don’t already, you should start backing up your computer! It is even more important that you backup using a cloud service than a hard drive, so that if something happens to your van you still have the data.

5TB hard drive $219 + Dropbox Plus $100/year

Internet Speed Test: Google’s Speed Test

Occasionally, we will need to do something that is very data intensive, so we’ll go to coffee shops or libraries for this. Before settling down, it can be handy to run a speed test on their internet to ensure that you get the most out of your day. Of course, if you are at a coffee shop, this can be hard to do before purchasing something. Generally, Starbucks will have pretty fast internet, if that’s what you need. Otherwise, trying a more local shop can be more pleasant.


Powering things outside the van: Extension Cord

Having a 50ft extension cord can help with a number of things, including connectivity. Not the most modern method, but it works. We’ve used ours to power:

  • laptops from a picnic table
  • the Wifi extender from outside the van (pointed towards both the house and a door of the van, if signal is being blocked from inside the van)