After both of us have successfully spent over a year and a half working on the road full time from our Mercedes Sprinter Van (while going to almost all of the US National Parks), we have a few tips and tricks we can share.
First of all… The hardest part of working form the road is getting into a rhythm. What I mean by this is, setting up times that you’re going to work and sticking to them.
For us, our work and money flow had to continue for us to live this nomadic lifestyle indefinitely. So we made it work!
And just so we’re clear, no, we don’t have trust funds, and didn’t get a large inheritance. Just good old hard work runs this ship (or van…).
Here’s what we’ve done to make this work…
Finding Internet on the Road
For our work flow to flow, we need to have consistent internet.
This can be frustrating at times, but is not impossible. The only unfortunate thing is that most of the coolest outdoors places simply don’t have internet.
So, if you plan to live out on the edge, where less people roam… you must have a strategy.
Here are ours…
Cell Phone Hot Spots
Each of our phones (and one of our iPad) have 15GB’s of hot spot data per month that we use to connect our computers.
Before getting the trip started… we researched the cell phone company maps to get an idea for which companies had the most coverage areas in the random places we wanted to roam.
Let me stop here and tell you that all of the cell companies lie about their coverage areas (and speed). And they are all the worst at this. LTE means nothing to them. It could be great with 1 bar, or unusable with 4 bars.
Because of this we went with a multi pronged approach.
We have two different cell phone providers. I have Verizon and Emily has AT&T. And we would recommend this approach, even though it’s more money than a single company family plan.
Side note: if you are just one person… (as of this writing 10/7/20) our data shows that AT&T is clearly better in off-the-beaten-path areas. And Verizon seems to be falling behind in the internet game. If you have the choice we would recommend AT&T.
Cell Phone Boosters
After MUCH debate, on June 2020 we bought a WeBoost cell booster. There are times that the WeBoost works great by giving us usable internet when we had a signal that was hardly usable. And there are times that it does nothing at all.
In order to be as clear and transparent as possible, we are posting our actual WeBoost performance data on our website here.
If you need to work from the road and having 2 mbps instead of .02 mbps will save you… then the WeBoost is probably a good purchase. But there have been many times that it hasn’t done anything.
Apps that we use
From there we use an app called “Coverage?” (Which is like $15/year for HD maps) that takes the coverage maps from the carries and makes them easier to read. This still isn’t 100% accurate but it’s a start.
This usually gives us enough info to know if we will be able to work from the van or need to find another solution.
Apps We Use for Cell Coverage
What if you need more data… well, an option would be to get a larger hot spot data plan from your cell company. We decided against this because the price increase was significantly more for something we weren’t going to need that often. And we like working from Whole Foods and coffee shops (which we’ll talk about next).
Also, as of this writing I went to Verizon to see what it would cost for an upgraded hot spot data plan (to let you know), and it was so confusing that I just stopped before my head exploded.
Let’s Talk Coffee Shops
Next up… when working from the road, we have coffee shops.
Coffee shops are the new co-working spaces. And if we can’t find cell coverage at our campsite… we find a local coffee shop.
Here’s the thing with coffee shops…
They can be great places to work, and we’ve never had someone ask us to leave, even when spending the whole day taking up a table. We just try to buy something every few hours. And, if possible… get to know the people working there.
The other thing about coffee shops is…
If you need to upload large video files (like I do) coffee shops will probably become a necessary evil. And if that’s the case, you should try to have a couple coffee shops in mind as backups.
Working from the Road takes Creativity
Here’s our process:
On the days I need to upload large video files…
First, we look for a Whole Foods (they have by far the fastest internet across the country), and their work spaces are usually great! They have great food, happy employees, and fantastic work environments.
Second, (if no Whole Foods) we find two coffee shops (or a library). If the first place has slow internet… on to the next one!
To test internet speeds (for WiFi and cell) we use an app called SpeedTest.
Sometimes I’ll attempt to use WiFi finder apps before we hit the road, but most of them suck. The best seems to be WHA (Work Hard Anywhere), but their app is buggy and is more useful overseas than in the US. We will also use the app WiFi Finder when we’re in a pinch, and sometimes I’ll find a hotel with decent WiFi speed.
Hot Tip! If you find an open WiFi network test the speed. We’ve found great WiFi in places you wouldn’t expect.
Apps We Use for WiFi
Work Setup in the Van
Let me start by saying that working from the road can happen pretty much anywhere you have a device and a connection.
And a lot of times we just post up on the bench seat in the back of our van with our laptops on… our laps. 🙂
But we do have a few options…
Our van has a normal height galley that can double as a standing desk with the addition of a seat cushion (which I’m using as I type this). I’m 6’1”, but you could play around with your desired height.
Another option is to work outside of the van at a picnic table or camp chair. And if it’s nice outside we do this regularly. Getting vitamin D while working is a win, and something lacking from most office employees (fun fact)!
Side note: Emily has this really great lap desk that we would both highly recommend for anyone working from a vehicle. She even uses it from the passenger seat while I’m driving. https://amzn.to/2kFkQt2
Some Other Toys We’ve Considered
There are a lot of people out there selling solutions to getting internet on the road. The problem is that (after asking everyone we meet with one of these devices) none of them seem to be consistently good. Or worth the price (for us).
Here are a few of the advanced internet options you could consider…
This is something that people always ask about. Well, the last time we looked into this, it was going to cost over $5k to install and over $100/month for service. Oh, and the speeds were less than 1mb/second. Thumbs down.
Vehicle Cell Extender
From the people that we’ve talked to, this option gets the best reviews. And there is a company called weBoost that has a $279 kit that can enhance your in-car/van/RV cell phone service.
From what we understand, this will help ONLY if there is a cell signal in the area that your phone is having trouble connecting to. The weBoost will do a better job of connecting to that signal, which you can then connect the boosted signal to your phone.
Other mobile working options
You can lose many hours trying to figure out solutions for internet that will allow working from the road. And from what we can tell, there’s nothing really great. Which is why we stick to our cell phones and coffee shops.
But if you’re interested… doing a few google searches you’ll find some deep rabbit holes. Have fun!
If you have any… ask! We love talking about how we make working from the road a reality, and are always looking for friends to join us!
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