How to Get Internet While Camping

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How to Get Internet While Camping

When you’re out camping or boondocking and you need internet you have a few options. You could use a dedicated hotspot device (or your phone as a hotspot). Or you could go all out with a satellite internet plan. Or you may need a cell signal booster along with a hotspot. Depending on how far out in the middle of nowhere you are camping. Cell towers are constantly being upgraded and so are our phones, it’s becoming easier and easier to get connected to the internet out in the wild.

Using Your Cell Phone or Dedicated Hot Spot Device

You can get a hotspot added to your phone plan and if your device is capable, you can use your phone essentially as a wifi router. You could even plug your phone into your computer and use the hotspot as a tethered connection. If you don’t want to use your phone though, don’t worry, you can even buy a hot spot device that can be kept in your home on the road.

This is great if you happen to be locked in on one cell provider and you know that another provider has a better signal where you will be traveling the most. You can just get a hot spot plan from another service. Although bundling your plan may end up being more cost effective. And these plans usually come with data limits and tiered plans.

Downsides of Using a HotSpot While Traveling

One problem I’ve come into while traveling is that if I want to update my iPhone I can’t do this over a hotspot. My iPhone recognizes that it’s being connected to a hotspot and not a Wifi connection. And it will never download and install software updates. Now this isn’t a big deal unless you are traveling for long periods at a time and you need to have an update to have you phone work correctly. 

The signal strength of your hotspot is dependent on how good your cell signal is where you are. If you cell phone doesn’t have a signal where you are then your hotspot is going to have an identical signal. If you absolutely need internet no matter where you are then a hotspot is just not going to cut it. 

When you have a hotspot your plan is generally limited to a certain amount of data that can be used before it is disconnected or throttled. When your signal is throttled it is severely limited and, in my experience, just plan unusable.

Using a Cell Signal Booster

If you are camping at a location where you have a weak signal then you can improve it with a cell signal booster. These have mixed reviews but some people swear by them. I’ve used one from Verizon but it “boosted” my signal from one bar to two whole bars. But if you want a really good, highly reviewed cell signal booster you could be spending around $500 or more. For some people this is totally worth the cost. But really these are for people that really need a connection, so you probably have a job that needs an internet connection or something similar. 

Using Satellite Internet While Camping

Satellite internet is one of the most reliable signals when it comes to extremely rural areas. However, there are many downsides to satellite internet at this point in time. First, satellite internet requires you to have a very expensive satellite mounted to your vehicle. The upfront cost becomes quite expensive because you have to buy the equipment. Satellite internet works just like satellite TV does, it receives a signal from a satellite and sends the information to your device. But just like satellite TV, you could loose a signal from heavy cloud coverage or stormy weather. Not only that, but, the monthly costs of a satellite plan could easily exceed $100. 

how to get internet while camping
Off-Grid Camping in a Van

StarLink is satellite internet coming from the great Elon Musk, but will you be able to use it while boondocking in an RV or Tiny Home? In short, no, at least not at first. StarLink is going to have much better speeds than traditional satellite internet and it costs $500 for the parts and $100 per month after that. They are also planning on being almost worldwide coverage in a short amount of time! But StarLink is meant to be used in one stable location. If you are location independent then it just won’t work for you until you come back to your original address. 

**Fall 2022 UPDATE**

Starling now has Starling for RVs! That’s right, the awesome satellite company has now expanded to RVs. There are some things to keep in mind. While it is Starlink internet, it is throttled for RV users. They are still in Beta and give priority to their residential customers. That being said, it is still very good internet compared to other RV or satellite internet services. You can find out more on the official Starling for RV section of their website here. Right now their RV internet starts at $135/month with a $599 one time hardware fee.

Stream Your Phone to TV Without Wifi or a HotSpot

You can get a wired dongle adapter for your cell phone to display its screen on any TV. Most all smart phones running Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android OS will be able to mirror their displays with a cord plugged into your phone’s charging port. If you have an iPhone, Apple makes their own dongle, called a “Lightening to HDMI” adapter. And if you have an Android phone then you will need to get an adapter with for your specific model of cell phone. 

You can get adapters that are much cheaper and are off-brand. These may work for you and your phone. But I have had a hard time getting these non name brand adapters to work with my phones. They aren’t too expensive (usually around $30-40) for the name brands. Generally, I just like to get the adapter made from the same manufacturer as my phone’s. These tend to work the smoothest. 

These adapters all really work the same and they are usually UPNP. This just means they can just be plugged in and they work right away. Although some phones may need you to change some settings for these adapters to work. Refer to your phone’s documentation for troubleshooting for your specific phone.

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