Finding wi-fi while traveling-- it's what allows us to work remotely but it can also dictate our schedules. Finding a steady signal to get work done isn't always easy, but with these go-to places and tools we've worked into our repertoire, we [almost] always have a solid enough connection to keep our jobs running smoothly from anywhere.
**NOTE: This article was written pre-COVID. We are currently not on the road.**
Currently we’re working remotely full-time while traveling the country in our self converted Sprinter van seeing all that this country has to offer. But how do we make work work? While our office isn't always the picture perfect set you see on Instagram, those moments do exist from time to time thanks to the help of a few of our favorite wi-fi tools (keep reading) and public wi-fi hotspots.
I do want to preface this post by stating the obvious: working remotely will never be as easy as working in an office with free coffee and unlimited wi-fi. But is it worth it? Yes. Will you get to experience life at a level of 110%? Heck yes (but really that's up to you)! Working on the road isn't always easy, but the freedom and rewards of living and working from anywhere far outweigh the struggle of finding a solid signal from time to time.
Maybe you’re already a digital nomad or are looking to travel full time in the not so distant future and you’re wondering how you’re going to keep your job afloat while traveling to all of these amazing places. We’re going to share with you some of our top tips for finding wi-fi no matter where your travels take you so keep reading....
Where are We Traveling to?
Before we tell you what works for us, let us start by talking about where we travel.
Our travels are currently [almost] entirely North American based since we're from the United States. We spend most of our time living that #vanlife on the road hitting national parks and other points of interest, drifting north of the border into Canada for at least a few weeks every year.
While international travel is something we plan to work into our schedule more and more, likely that will be one day when we have a home base and are only living van life part time. Truthfully, traveling internationally while having a van and traveling with a dog can make air travel pretty complicated. For now we're experiencing our home country, saving a little money, and heading out for international trips a couple times a year.
Because we're primarily stateside, our internet is centered around our needs here vs. a better option for international travel. We'll give a few international suggestions in this article, so if that's what you're looking for, you can skip ahead if you'd like. :)
How We Use and Manage Our Internet
Like we mentioned already, we're working full-time while traveling. Because our work involves a lot of video, photo, and graphic design work, we go through data really really fast. Uploading and downloading these large files requires a ton of data so we're always closely watching our usage.
Here's how we typically use internet: do as much work as we can on public wifi signals and save our hotspot for either light internet surfing and/or basic internet work, but do all of our uploading and downloading when we have a solid public internet connection.
Cell Phone Data and/or Hotspot
Before we hit the road we stopped by our local Verizon store to talk about our internet options while traveling. Having a solid, reliable cell phone provider was essential. I think it's a common misperception that we just use our hotspots all the time off-grid in national forests and national parks and they work great. Well, they would work great if 1) they always had cell reception, and 2) didn't run out of data so quickly.
While cell data is a lifesaver on the road, we definitely can burn through it really really fast. Like, in one sitting if we forget and accidentally leave our Dropbox syncing (this has happened more than once. oops.).
Essentially the solution they had for us was to access data two different ways:
- Their Jetpack hotspot that supports both 3G and 4G. The plan we signed up for is technically unlimited, but in reality it gives us 20GB of hotspot data a month before they throttle the speeds back significantly.
- We both have Verizon phones (iPhones) that get unlimited data. I should say "unlimited data" since after 15GB they throttle our speeds so much you can hardly load a webpage sometimes. To clarify, we can stream as much as we want on our phones, but the hotspot that connects to external devices (such as our computers and iPads) we only have 15GB each until they throttle us.
So far this has worked pretty well for us. We could have skipped the wi-fi hotspot Jetpack and just added extra data to our phone plans, but the wi-fi was essential to have for our SimpliSafe security system and the data per GB was actually cheaper on the hotspot.
Note: All Verizon plans are a little different but for our specific Verizon plan we're looking at $5 per extra GB of data per device. If wanted to up it we could, but this has worked pretty well for us so far..
Verizon does tend to be one of the pricier cell service providers, but we can say they hands down have the best coverage across the country. If you're going to splurge on something while you live on the road, we'd recommend it be a good cell phone plan.
This may be obvious, but it’s crucial to making working remotely work. The reality is that our Verizon data goes waaaay too fast if we’re doing all of our work in the van. We both do a lot of heavy uploading and downloading with photos, videos, etc. that eat data like you wouldn’t believe.
We’ve worked out a bit of a routine though: do all of our uploading/downloading on public wifi and save our personal hotspots for emails browsing type work. This takes some planning and some getting used to, but it really makes your hotspot go so much farther if you’re not wasting it on large downloads.
Here are a few of our obvious and also our unusual places to find wi-fi while traveling…
Note: We recommend using a VPN for security on the road.
Local coffee shops
Not only are you more likely to get a great cup of coffee going somewhere local, but it’s also a good chance to get to see the town you’re visiting. Talk to the barista, ask them what they recommend doing in the city while you’re there. Enjoy the fast, free wi-fi while you’re sipping your coffee and then get out there and explore.
Our good friend (shoutout to Sadie!) recently shared a new app with us to called Cupper. It’s dedicated to connecting people to craft style coffee shops and even has notes about whether or not there’s wi-fi and if it’s a good environment to work remotely from. The app seems to be relatively new so be patient. We hear their adding new shops all the time!
You’d be surprised how many public parks have free wi-fi. Grab your hammock, a blanket, or even camp out in your van and enjoy free wi-fi brought to you by the local government of whatever town you happen to be passing through.
This may sound like an odd choice, but there’s a few reasons why we like working from Whole Foods.
- The free wi-fi (duh)
- You can grab your groceries while you’re there, thus saving you yet another stop later that day
- All Whole Foods locations have Amazon lockers which are incredibly convenient when you can no longer 2 day mail everything to your home.
- They have coffee AND food. If it’s a jam packed day of work, maybe Whole Foods is the place to head for a few hours. Most locations have a cafe that’s rarely busy and they also have healthy food options if you’re there long enough that you’re working through meals. Remember to buy something if you’re going to be using their free wi-fi and setting up camp for an extended period of time.
Hey, it’s not glamorous, but it works. Many McDonalds are also 24 hours so they can be a game changer in a pinch when everywhere else is closed. Also, can find a McDonalds in almost every town in America, so you’re never far from a reliable wi-fi signal.
Truck stops and visitor centers
If you’re somewhere pretty rural, the chances of finding a hipster coffee joint are pretty slim. Luckily, many visitor centers and truck stops along the interstate have free wi-fi (some of which you can connect to from the parking lot!). Even national park visitors centers have wi-fi which is especially helpful when you’re planning on being off the grid for a bit.
Co-Working with Deskpass
Handsdown, co-working is our absolute favorite (and most professional and efficient) way to work on the road. A couple of months before COVID hit in the USA we discovered Deskpass. Let me just say it's a game changer for us digital nomads! If you were to go to a co-working space and ask to pay for just a day pass, you'll likely spend anywhere from $15-50 for a day. Deskpass was created for people just like us who travel frequently but would still like access to solid co-working spaces without committing to only one co-working space. While the platform is still pretty young, there are over 500+ locations around the country that welcome Deskpass members.
Back when we were in Florida during the winter of 2020, we had a lot of work projects that converged over the course of a few weeks. Thankfully this was around the same time we discovered Deskpass so we were able to setup camp at some really cool, trendy, and professional spaces rather than the local Starbucks. (note: Miami has some legit co-working options!)
Through Deskpass you choose your membership based on how many days you'd like to visit co-working spaces in a month: 4, 8, or 20 days. While you have 20 days to visit various co-working spaces in a month, most spaces will limit members to only five visits a month. This makes sense considering the whole point of Deskpass is to hope around from place to place while traveling.
Cool perk of co-working: some spaces are dog friendly! If you're dog is well behaved and clean, search the co-working spaces in the Deskpass app using the "pet friendly" filter. This was incredibly helpful in Florida when the days were in the mid 80s and we couldn't leave Kramer alone in the van. We would take him in with us and he enjoyed napping at our feet between meeting the other co-works at the space.
Not every campground will have wi-fi at all of their spots. Even if they do, chances are the signal isn’t going to be awesome. Usually campgrounds have a common area with a stronger signal too though. Typically it’s a picnic area or the front porch of the check-in building, but hey, at least it’s something, and you’ll probably be the only one eating up the signal since everyone else is probably there enjoying the great outdoors.
Campsites can be pricey if you don’t book in advance, but sometimes it’s worth the fee just for the amenities. When we’ve got a lot going on we’ll book a spot so we can crank out lots of work while also using the laundry machines, filling up our fresh water tanks, and dumping our grey water and our cassette toilet.
For campsites, check out the Allstays app. It's a one time $10 fee but it's definitely worth it. They have all sorts of campgrounds including, state parks, national parks, and even private campgrounds listed as well all of the amenities the campground has to offer.
Internet Options if You Travel Internationally
Okay, the more we travel internationally, the more we start looking into other hotspot options for better coverage abroad. Keep in mind that our suggestions in this section have not been tested by us. This is just the result of us doing a little research and trying to figure out what our best options would be and here's what we found...
If you're a United State resident planning to travel internationally regularly, T-Mobile might just be the way to go. The only reason we haven't switched to T-Mobile for ourselves is because their coverage doesn't even come close to Verizon in the states. That being said, coverage internationally would be pretty awesome! We've heard from fellow travelers that this is a solid option if you're willing to depend pretty heavily on public wi-fi connections in more remote areas in the USA.
Looking for a good international hotspot? Skyroam consistently ranks as one of the top options for international travelers. With options to buy or rent a hotspot, you can give Skyroam a try for as little as $3 per GB. While the internet is technically "unlimited," much like our Verizon service they'll throttle you once you reach a certain allotted amount of data.
Hotspots like Skyroam (and even our Verizon Jetpack) are a wonderful solution for a secured network in public places as well, so keep that in mind when traveling internationally!
If you're looking for an all in way data and cell service provider, consider looking into Google Fi. Like pretty much every cell provider out there that says they provide "unlimited data," Google Fi is unlimited until 22 GB before they throttle your speeds. However, if you're in a pinch and need more data, you can purchase each addition 1 GB for $10.
If you're an Apple user (like myself) go in knowing that Google Fi was designed with Google's Pixel phones in mind, not the iPhone. While most iPhones are compatible, as of today the compatibility is still in beta.
Four months into #vanlife...
and we still have a lot to learn. If you have a favorite wi-fi finding tip that we haven’t learned yet, let us know! We hope this helps you make your digital nomad dreams seem a little more realistic. Working on the road isn’t glamorous, but it is possible with a little planning.