The Wayward Home Podcast

49: Van Life WiFi: My Secret to Seamless Connectivity on the Road

August 30, 2023 Kristin Hanes Episode 49
The Wayward Home Podcast
49: Van Life WiFi: My Secret to Seamless Connectivity on the Road
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered how to maintain a digital lifeline while leading a nomadic lifestyle? Envision the freedom of living on a sailboat or campervan, while still running an online business. My secret? The potent combo of a Visible cell phone hotspot and Starlink satellite internet. I'll break it down, exploring why Visible's $45 plan is perfect for me, and how it unlocks access to the 5G network and cross-border connectivity in Mexico and Canada.

But, that's not all. Let's journey through the marvels of Starlink, a game changer for remote work on the road. While it's not without its share of challenges—from the demand for a clear sky view, portability issues, to the initial setup complications—I'll tell you why it's worth it. Plus, I'll discuss the financial aspect, how the investment in Starlink gets balanced out by the savings from not having to pay rent or a mortgage. 

So, gear up for an enlightening conversation on navigating the digital nomad life effortlessly!

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Speaker 0:

So I'm sitting in my campervan up at Lake Tahoe right now and I'm recording this podcast using my cell phone hotspot by Visible, which is amazing. It requires internet to record into the software descript that I'm using, and I just love that I can use my cell phone and I don't have to pull out my Starlink. What I found is that a combination of a cell phone hotspot and Starlink is the perfect combination for my lifestyle in the campervan. So in this episode of the Wayward Home Podcast, I'm going to talk a little bit about why I like the combination of Visible and Starlink, how much each service costs and how I use it to run my business on the road. Let's go. Hey, there, I'm Kristen Haynes with the waywardhomecom and I spend half the year in my campervan and half on my sailboat in Mexico. My goal is to help you achieve your nomadic dreams as well. So one of the questions I often get in my email inbox for my Wayward Home subscribers is how do you get Wi-Fi on the road? Now, this has been something I've struggled with for a while, because I need really good Wi-Fi to run my business, which is the waywardhomecom, from my campervan and on my sailboat. Running the waywardhome means I need internet for various things like zoom calls, and I'm interviewing people, especially for the Wayward Home podcast. I need to be able to watch training videos, I need to be able to write and upload blog posts and I need to be able to work with images like resizing, cropping, uploading to various social media platforms. So doing my job, which is an online business, requires a lot of internet, and a lot of really good internet. Now it might be different for you if you're traveling full time and you're just using internet, you know, for email or for texting or for watching a Netflix show here and there. You probably won't need as robust of a Wi-Fi system as what I have in my van and you might be able to go with just a cell phone hotspot, for example. And I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what's working for me right now, because I know there's tons of options on the market and it can be pretty overwhelming figuring out what exactly will work for you and your unique situation. So hopefully you'll gain some insights from what's working for me right now in my van and maybe you'll choose to go the same route as me, or maybe you'll explore some other varieties as well, because there's something for everyone out there, depending on your price point, how much you use the internet, but there is something for everyone out there on the market. First, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the cell phone hotspot I use. I use something called visible Now, before I used Google Fi, which is also really popular among nomads because it works overseas. For example, if you're a digital nomad and you're flying around the world a lot, having Google Fi is really handy because you just turn on your phone in a foreign country and it works. You have data, you have phone calls, you have texting. But I found that it was getting really expensive for me because they charge per gig and it's $10 per gig, and $10 per gig isn't really that sustainable if you're working full time or a lot of the time, like I am. However, with Google Fi, you can use up to you know, six gigs. You're paying $60 and after that it's unlimited. But it slowed way down and I just found that wasn't working very well for me. And plus, google Fi did not work in Mexico. It was very expensive down. I mean, it works in Mexico but it's very expensive down there, especially for phone calls. So my phone bills were astronomical and at that point I decided to switch over to visible for my phone plan. So you might be wondering what visible is. What's amazing is that it's a super affordable cell phone service for anyone, especially for nomads. It's really popular in the van life circles, but you can get a basic visible cell phone plan for just $25, which is incredible. That includes unlimited data, talk and text in the United States and that's plenty of data really for anyone. So if you're just casually using visible, I would recommend getting that $25 for month plan. That is really cheap, isn't that unbelievable? But I chose to get the $45 a month plan and I did that because it actually provides higher speed internet. You get more access to the 5G network and the clincher of it all is it works in Mexico and Canada, and so I was able to bring my phone across the border and I was able to use it for data. They do give you a half of a gig of data. After that it slowed down, but I didn't really notice that much because I relied on Starlink in Mexico. But it was nice to get there and be able to do phone calls and they don't cost an arm and a leg, you're able to text and you are able to use data in both Mexico and Canada. And that's why I chose the $45 plan, because I just needed a little more coverage with my phone plan and I needed high speed data plans for when I'm doing things like recording podcasts or on Zoom calls, and it's worked out amazingly for me so far. So just this month, I have used 111 gigs off my visible hotspot and that costs $45. Can you believe that Any other phone plan would be very expensive using that many gigs of data? What's interesting is that on Visible's website they say if you use over 50 gigs of data, you might see your service slowed down. But, like I told you, I've used over 100 gigs in this filling cycle and I haven't noticed any throttling or data issues at all. I use my hotspot all the time and I use it to do Zoom calls and I use it to do things like this, like upload, a podcast recording, and I haven't really noticed any lag time and it hasn't affected me whatsoever, and so I've been really happy with Visible's hotspot up to this point. However, when I first got started, it was a little bit complicated transferring my service from Google Fi over to Visible. It worked at first in San Francisco when I activated the plan, but for some reason when I started boondocking near Yuma it just stopped working, and I don't know why. It was pretty frustrating. I had to get on with support several different times and I was using Starlink to get on with support and they had to reset my eSIM, and I'm not sure why that happened, but it was a little bit frustrating. The phone kept thinking I was in Mexico because I was so close to the border. But it's supposed to work in Mexico and it wasn't, and so that was a little bit annoying at first, but finally I got it working in the United States. Then I crossed the border into Mexico, to Puerto Penaresco, where we have our sailboat, and it worked just fine. There I was having a great time. I was doing phone calls. You know, I would even use like FaceTime Audio to call my friends and family when I was walking on the beach and the data worked perfectly and I was able to text and use the internet and it worked Amazingly. But then I left on my sailboat and I went to Loretto and La Paz and it wasn't working at all. It was like the data just shut down, wasn't functioning. I had to get on with support again several different times. They had to once again reformat my ESIM and relaunch the service and after that it finally worked. But those were some annoying hiccups and if I hadn't had Starlink as my backup it would have been pretty irritating to be in Mexico and not have visible work. But after I resolved those issues it did work really well south of the border and it continues to work really well up in the US to this day. There are a couple things that you should know about using a visible phone service and some things that have been a little bit annoying for me and Tom while we travel around in our camper van. For one thing, it can only link one computer at a time as a hotspot, so sometimes we've had to alternate. I'll download some things, I'll work offline, I'll give him my hotspot and he'll work a little bit. Yes, we are working on transferring his phone to visible as well, but we wanted to keep him on Google Fi, to try to do a little bit of a comparison here. So he's on Google Fi and I'm on visible, and so in order to not use his data because it's $10 a gig and that's pretty expensive, we just use mine and hotspot off of mine and share it, and so that's something that's a little bit irritating. Before I got visible, I actually had a separate designated hotspot. That was by reliable Internet services and that cost about $110 a month and it was a separate little device and that worked well because we could run as many computers, ipads, phones off it as we wanted. But that's, you know, fairly expensive for unlimited data and with visible offering unlimited data for just $45. That's why I switched over to the visible phone plan and it's worked well. But having to share the hotspot is kind of annoying and I think I might actually switch his phone over to visible as well so he can enjoy unlimited data, because it's really wonderful Not worrying about how much data you're using. I mean you can stream videos on your phone and not be worried about how much data you're using, and that's been really freeing on the road. I've really loved that aspect of being able to just use my phone as much as I want and not worry about how much it's going to cost. Another thing to know about using visible if you're going to be in Mexico or Canada, that data is throttled after half a gig, and half a gig was about enough for me to stream a Netflix show and then I got a text alert saying that my data would be slowed down and I didn't notice that many changes. But again, I wasn't working off of my hotspot, I was using Starlink as my main internet provider down there but for casually surfing the web, getting directions, you know, looking up various places I wanted to visit. It worked really well in Mexico and I really love that quite a bit. And again, as I said before, visible also warns that your data would be deep prioritized after 50 gigs, something I've never noticed, but maybe I haven't used it in a crowded enough area for that to be an issue. So, to wrap up this part about visible, if you're looking for a really cheap cell phone plan for van life or for your RV, I highly recommend getting visible. I mean, even if you're living in a house, it's really a lot cheaper than what all my friends and family pay and I get that unlimited data. And just remember, the cheapest plan is $25 and I would recommend the $25 plan. If you're not using it to work remotely, you're just, you know, more casually using it. If you need those 5g superfast data speeds and a high priority network. You might want to upgrade to the $45 a month plan. And I did write a full review about visible as well, and I'll link to that in the show notes in case you want to really read that and get deep into the nitty-gritty about visible. And you can also click a link to head straight to visible's website from the show notes. But if you want to go there right now, just go to the wayward home dot com. Forward slash visible and you can check out their plans and sign up. If you want, you can even use your existing number, your existing phone, and it's pretty easy to transfer service over. I use an eSIM to do that, which means I don't even need a physical SIM card. So it was all pretty straightforward and easy and I think if I can do it, you can definitely do it too. So that's my number one recommendation for a cell phone hotspot for full-time travelers. So the next thing I wanted to talk to you about is using Starlink satellite internet. So I use that to supplement my visible hotspot, because a lot of the times we go boondocking and we're way far away from cities, there's no cell phone signal and I'm always really thankful to have Starlink so I can work from anywhere. Just this morning we found this amazing boondocking campsite a little bit to the north of truckie in the Sierra Nevada and it was down these for a service roads, there was absolutely no cell phone signal and I was really thankful to have Starlink because I was able to get up this morning, have my coffee and do some work while listening to the birds outside the window and smell the sagebrush in the pine and I was like, wow, this is the best remote office I could ever wish for. And so in these instances, having that Starlink has just been a life changer for me and I also use it in Mexico on our sailboat because you can use it abroad for a couple months at a time at least, before they start getting on your case for using it out of the country. But last year I think, I used it for about three or four months in Mexico and I never had any issues or warnings from the company and we were able to use it on our boat and really remote anchorages and I've just enjoyed using Starlink so much. It's made it possible for me to work from anywhere. It was just as a game changer. I don't have to go into cities, I don't have to stay near a phone signal. I can go way deep into nature, whether it's on my sailboat or in my camper van, and I'm able to work remotely and stay in touch with friends and family as well, which is also really fun for me and important when living the nomad life, which is often quite solitary. I also use Starlink when I just need really fast data. Now my phone plan is pretty good and, as I mentioned before, it is on the fast priority network, but Starlink is faster. So if I am going to be uploading a lot of videos or watching videos or doing things that you know require a lot of Uploading or downloading, I like to set up the Starlink so that I have access to that higher speed data. Now I got on Starlink in 2021 when it first became available, and I immediately was. I was on my sailboat in Mexico and I immediately rushed up to the US to bring it back down to Mexico and use it down there, and I've been using it in you know ever since and it's been fantastic. I'm on the residential and portability plan, which is actually no longer available, so if you're going to sign up for Starlink now, that's not going to be an option for you. It's work well for me, but they took that, you know, off of there list. So right now, if you're going to sign up for Starlink, you have to use or what I recommend is that you use their Rome plan. It's called Starlink Rome. That allows you to take it anywhere, like in your home continent, like, for example, you can travel all over the United States with it and if you go up to Canada or you go down to Mexico, you're able to use it for two months out of your home country. Like I said before, they don't seem to be regulating that all that much, but you can take it across the border, which is really nice and that costs $150 per month. But you have an initial hardware cost of about $599. So around $600. But the benefit of this, as opposed to my plan, is that you can turn it on and off when you're not using it, so that can save you a lot of money. I'm on the residential plus portability and I like that one. I'm not switching to Rome because it actually gets a little bit of the higher priority when I'm in a more congested area, and so I'm not going to make the switch anytime soon. I don't need to turn it off, where, if you are traveling part time, you'll definitely want to turn off Starlink when you're not using it, because $150 a month adds up with the Starlink Rome plan. You can choose from using the rectangular dish, which is what I have and it has a little stand and you can set it up outside your van, or you can use a high performance flat dish which is meant to be used in motion. We chose not to get that dish because not only is it way more expensive than the regular rectangular dish, but it also is a power hog. It uses way more power and we really don't need to use it when we're in motion, and so we've just stuck to the normal rectangular dishy they call it, and that's worked pretty well for us. There are a couple of bummers about using Starlink, though. First of all, it's really bulky and sometimes it's frustrating to have to pull it out of the van and set it up every time. Sometimes it's buried in our crap in the garage area of our Sprinter van and you have to set it up, haul it out. It takes up tons of space in the van and we're hoping to permanently mount it at some point. That doesn't mean we can use it in motion, but having it permanently mounted would be really nice. We don't have to pull it in and out all the time, and we'd want it to be hooked up to a separate switch inside the van so you just flip the switch and you have internet, and that's a solution that we're looking forward to doing in the future. As it is right now, we pull it out, we set it up, we set it far enough away from the van and trees that it'll work. Another bummer about Starlink is it requires a clear view of the sky, and that can be a pain sometimes, because we spend a lot of time in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, in forests, and so when you're in a forest, it's definitely not going to work and you'll need to find a clearing or you'll have to pick your boondocking spot based on where Starlink is going to work, and so having to rely on Starlink is tough, which is why I have a cell phone hotspot. When we're in a forested area close to a town or a city, I use the hotspot. I don't even bother pulling out the Starlink, and when we're away from cell phone signal, we choose our boondocking spots that they have a clear view to the north. That's where Starlink needs to face to work properly. So if you're going to be anywhere in a tree area, I would highly suggest also having another form of internet, especially if you have to do lots of work online like I do. Another negative of the Starlink is it's quite expensive and if you're not working full-time, I don't know if it'd be really worth the cost of a hundred fifty dollars per month. Now, as you can tell if you've done the math, I spend a hundred fifty a month on Starlink and another forty five dollars on my Phone plans and spending about two hundred dollars per month on internet. And if you come from a house environment, you're probably going to think, oh my gosh, that's so expensive. But luckily I don't have a mortgage or rent to pay, so I'm able to allocate money in other places, which is internet and as I rely on that my business, the way we're at home to Fund my travels, it's really important that I'm connected whenever I want to be connected on the road, which is why I use that combination of the visible hotspot and the Starlink dish. Another thing I've noticed about the Starlink dish that is a little bit on the negative side and some of the other van Lifers I have spoken to have had this problem as well, but sometimes it cuts out quite a bit. So if you are going to be on constant zoom calls or meetings, it can have Some issues with dropping out, and usually it's one to two seconds, but sometimes it can be up to ten seconds. That can be really frustrating if you are, you know, trying to do a zoom call. So that's something to keep in mind. If you're doing constant back-to-back zoom calls throughout the day, you might have a little bit of trouble using Starlink. Me personally, starlink has worked pretty well for me when I've been recording podcast interviews with other guests. I haven't experienced a lot of dropouts. But I do use a software program called Riverside that Accounts for these dropouts. It's recorded locally on each person's computer so that they're not constantly dropping out, and so I do have to think about it, think about my day and whether it's going to cut out or not, and if that's okay, you know, if it cuts out during a podcast, I just have to do a little extra editing. So for me it's not that big of a deal. But if you rely on zoom as your bread and butter, it might be a problem some other nomads have solved this issue by getting a peplink router and that plugs your Starlink and your your cell phone plan or, you know, other sim cards into the same router. So if the Starlink drops out, the cell phone will will hop in and kind of take up that time when you're having dropouts With the Starlink. And I'm not going to go into it that much because I don't personally use that, so I really can't explain that how that works that well. I know I haven't really needed it for my line of work, but you might need it for yours, and so that is an option out there where you can have some Backup systems for when you're using one method of internet, another method will back it up so you don't experience those dropouts. I've also written an entire article about Starlink and so I'll also put that in the show notes. You can go and read about how to set up Starlink, how to use Starlink, how to order it, and I have all of that on On my website and I'll put a link below so you can go and read that in-depth post about it. But I found Starlink very easy to set up and use. There's an app and you just name your network and it guides you through setting up the dish. It's super simple. Anyone can do it. I love that there's an app that allows you to easily connect to Starlink, see if it's online, download updates and see your data usage. I found it all really a breeze to use, very user-friendly, which is great because I'm not very technological and so don't worry, if you're not very technologically advanced either, you'll have no problem using either Starlink or visible, which is why I love both of these ways of getting internet on the road. So if you want even more in-depth options when it comes to Wi-Fi when you're traveling, you should go listen to episode 6 of the wayward home podcast, which I'll also link below in the show notes. In this episode I spoke with Chris and Cherie of the RV mobile internet resource center, and these guys are the full-blown experts of how to get Wi-Fi in Campervan or an RV or on a boat when you're traveling. They literally go out and test all these hot spots and cell phone data plans and Starlink and Peplinks, and they're just a wealth of knowledge. So if you want to geek out and go really in-depth on internet options, go listen to episode 7 of the wayward home podcast if you're like me and you want to keep it simple. You might want to go check out visible, the wayward home comm forward, slash visible, or you might want to check out Starlink or a combination of both, like I use. I'm not very advanced with this stuff and these work really well For me, so hopefully one of them will work well for you too. If you like this episode of the wayward home podcast, do me a favor and forward it to a friend or a family member who you think would Like it. Word of mouth is the biggest way this podcast grows and I really appreciate you sharing it and even going on Apple Podcasts and leaving a review or just clicking a few stars Showing your gratitude. It really helps me out when it comes to getting more ears on the wayward home Podcast and also as a reminder if you prefer to watch instead of listen, I do record these episodes on video and I post them to my YouTube channel. You can find that at the wayward home comm forward slash YouTube. Or just go to YouTube and search for the wayward home and you'll find me and all my podcast episodes. You can have it on in the Background while you're cooking I'll keep you company or while you're doing whatever you need to be doing, but there are video episodes as well if you prefer that. So thanks again for listening to this episode of the wayward home podcast. I really appreciate your support. I'm so happy you're here, and oh again if you need to email me, kristen, at the wayward home comm, I'll see you next time.

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