Philip works full time as a Software Engineer from the van and needs to stay connected when doing so. 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 staying connected while working remotely. . .
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Cell Phone Booster: weBoost Drive 4G-X (470510)
Benefit: enhances your cell signal in areas with poor coverage | weBoost Drive 4G-X is the best for vehicles
With coverage concerns in mind, we bought a cellphone booster, which has been the most useful device we purchased for working from the van. Having used the booster for ~8 months now, I can say that we are very happy we bought one! Within the first week of using the booster, 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.
After researching cell phone boosters, we found that you get what you pay for. We selected the weBoost Drive 4G-X because it is the best booster at amplifying cell signal in a vehicle, having a 50 dB amplifier (the highest gain the FCC allows a cell phone signal booster to have) and five-band frequency coverage.
Cost: cell phone boosters are a little pricey, ranging from $150-$500 (ours cost $479.99), but there are no subscription fees to use the booster after it has been purchased.
Cell Phone Plan: Verizon Beyond Unlimited Data Plan
Benefit: best cell phone coverage of any provider
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, we use a tablet with cellular data as our additional device. 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.
Cost: $50/cell phone/month + $20/[tablet or mobile hotspot]/month
Cellular Tablet: Apple’s iPad with Wifi & Cellular
Benefit: the best bang for your buck in data | Apple’s cellular iPad is the most versatile tablet
As mentioned above. . .rather than using a mobile hotspot, we use a tablet with cellular data as our additional device because it offers the best bang for your buck in data. Not only do you get both device and tethering data, but you can also read books, view maps, and watch videos/movies. 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.
We specifically chose Apple’s iPad with cellular capability because it is the most versatile on the market, being covered by most carriers and supporting pencil interaction.
Cell Phone: Apple’s iPhone 8
Benefit: multi-functional | tethering capability, takes great photos, doesn’t slowdown overtime
Lucky for you, you probably already own a smartphone, which is the single most important tool for a mobile office. If you are like us and want a phone that will last you more than two years, we suggest an iPhone. Around the two year mark of using an Android phone, it would slow down dramatically and apps, such as Google maps, would become barely functional, even after running a factory reset! So, we decided to try give iOS devices a shot. Though we miss the ease of transferring files between devices and the user interface of Androids, we are quite happy we made the switch. Our iPhones are still running perfectly fine (minus the battery) after having had them for ~2.5 years!
Cost: $767.60 – $979.93
Cell Phone Tower Coverage Maps: OpenSignal
Benefit: view crowdsourced cell tower coverage maps, instead of biased carrier coverage maps
OpenSignal is an app (Android|iOS) that we use to help plan where we want to work for the day before we get there and it works quite well! In OpenSignal, you can view coverage maps from all cell phone provider’s or just your provider. When viewing Verizon’s coverage map, if there is any sign of signal in the area, we have signal, thanks to our cell phone booster. If there is no signal specifically where we want to go, but there is some nearby, there is a possibility that we will have signal in the area with none. 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.
Cost: this site is free!
Internet Speed Test: Google’s Speed Test
Benefit: view download and upload speeds of your internet connection
Occasionally, we will need to do something that is very data intensive, so we’ll go to a coffee shop or library 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. Google’s speed test will tell you the download and upload speeds of your internet connection. Generally, Starbucks will have pretty fast internet, otherwise, trying a more local shop can be more pleasant and have better coffee/baked goods.
Cost: free (minus what you spend at the coffee shop)!
Wifi Extender: NETGEAR AC1200 Wi-Fi Range Extender
Benefit: extend a WiFi signal or setup a network | can be used in a house as well
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.
Cost: $99.99, the plus side is you can use it in your house as well!
Restricting Data Usage: TripMode
Benefit: monitors and regulates data usage
To restrict data usage on our laptops we use an app called TripMode (Windows|Mac). TripMode helps prevent apps from using data in the background and tells you how much data you’ve used on each application, as well as in total. So, you can use your laptop without worrying about running through all of your tethering data. Now if only there was a tool this effective for cell phones. . .
Cost: one time purchase of $7.99 or free (unlimited 7 day free trial, then 15min/day max).
Backup Data Storage: 5TB hard drive, 1TB Dropbox
Benefit: ability to recover lost/stolen/damaged data
Moving around all the time involves moving your laptop all the time, which increases the risk of damaging it. Additionally, you are at a higher risk of your laptop being stolen when it lives in your vehicle. So, if you don’t already, you should start backing up your computer!
In terms of how to backup your data, it is more that you backup using a cloud service, so that if something happens to your van you still have the data. The downside is that backing up to a cloud service can be data intensive and slow. To get work around this issue, you can use a external hard drive on a regular basis and then when you are at a coffee shop, library, or friend’s house, you can backup to the cloud. Additionally, cloud storage can be expensive and there are a limited number of options for storing a large amount of data. With Dropbox’s Plus Plan you can store 1TB of data, whereas, with a portable backup hard drive you can store 5TB.
Cost: 5TB hard drive $219 + Dropbox Plus $99/year (paid yearly)
Convert Cigarette Lighter Socket to USB Outlet: USB Car Charger
Benefit: flush fit, most commonly used outlet for charging electronics
With how fast charging outlets change, we opted for installing cigarette lighter sockets over USB outlets, for our DC power outlets. Additionally, cigarette lighter sockets are more versatile because you can plug other chargers into them and charge items with a larger amount of power than a USB can provide. That said, many things charge off of USB, so we also bought USB chargers that could be plugged into the cigarette lighter sockets. We love these because they are a flush fit, so they don’t protrude out of the wall as far.
On a side note, I would be suggesting cigarette lighter laptop chargers, over converting from DC to AC to charge laptops, but we haven’t been very happy with ours. Manufacturers don’t make car chargers/cigarette lighter chargers, so it is dubious if the ones being sold work properly. . .if they provide the wrong voltage they can start frying electronics. Additionally, the ones we purchased did not provide enough power to charge our laptops faster than the rate we were draining our batteries at. If you want to charge your laptop in the car, it is best to use an AC outlet.
Wireless Mouse: Logitech Bluetooth Mouse
Benefit: less wires, so less clutter
The less things you have in your van, the better! Simply, you will be happier not having to fight the clutter. So, eliminating the wire on your mouse will make you happier. Plus it is less likely to break.
Laptop Power Extension Cord: Apple Mac, Microsoft Surface
Benefit: extend the length of your laptop charger
Pretty self explanatory, but having a longer, 6ft, laptop charging cable will allow you to work further away from your outlets without having to put the cable in awkward spots. There have also been times it has helped us work at a picnic table because the extension cord wasn’t quite long enough.
Cost: $7.85, $6.66
Working Outside with Power: Extension Cord
Benefit: more options for places to work from and still have power
Having a 50ft extension cord can help with a number of things, including connectivity. Not the most modern method, but it works and you probably already own one.
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)
Outlet Extender for Inverter: Power Strip
Benefit: easier access to AC outlets, additional AC outlets
We have AC outlets in two locations of our van: as a wall socket and at the inverter. While the wall socket is easy to access, the inverter is the one we prefer to plug into during the day because it is on the floor and out of the way. However, our inverter is under the couch, along with most of our other electronics for powering the van, and, while we added an access point on the side of the couch, it is still awkward to get to. So, we added a power strip, which also lives under the couch, but is easier to access and provides us with a couple of additional AC outlets.
I’d love to learn more about the plastic totes/tubs you use in the back of your van (seen in the photo you used at the very top of your article.
Hi Benjamin! Those grey tubs are called Stackable Straight Wall Containers and are an industrial grade storage container. We chose them because they are efficient on space usage and very strong. So far, they have been holding up very well.
Hi Meandering explorers, I’m wondering why you didn’t go with a wifi extender that is made for RV’s? I can’t find much information about them and I’m wondering if it’s worth buying. Also, We plan on being in national parks and off the beaten path places so perhaps it’s not worth it. 🤷♀️