As word got out about our Boondocking 101 virtual event, we received all sorts of questions, feedback, and requests related to boondocking technology. Everyone from weekend warriors to full-timers, newbies to veterans, had questions about technology solutions for RVs.
In order to answer those questions, we put together a session specifically for boondocking technology. Ari Adler, full-time digital nomad (eight months of the year!) and one half of the duo behind Trekers.org, led the session. He shares invaluable tips and tricks about how he and his wife Jessi successfully do their jobs, no matter where they are. Let’s get into it!
3 Main Components of Boondocking Technology
There are three key things to consider with boondocking technology: internet access, keeping devices powered, and power consumption or power management (i.e.; how can you keep technology-related power costs to a minimum, while also staying connected?).
Strong, reliable wi-fi is difficult to find on the road, especially as more and more people work remotely. Countless gadgets promise to boost signal, but many people don’t realize that in order for them to work, you need at least a somewhat stable connection to begin with. Fortunately, there are several dependable alternatives when it comes to internet-related boondocking technology. The two most popular are cellular and satellite connections.
- Cell phone hotspot – Create a wi-fi network on a cell phone, then connect laptops or other devices to it
- Mobile hotspot – These compact devices are typically offered through cell phone companies with either standalone or add-on data plans. The biggest benefit over a cell phone-created hotspot is that you can connect several devices. Ari recommends looking at network coverage maps to decide which provider is right for you.
- WeBoost – Truthfully, “boosters” like WeBoost are becoming less necessary as cell networks continually improve. Boosters are only useful if you have *some* signal to begin with, but in some areas, it can be the difference between getting a text or call out, so some folks do find them well worth it.
Starlink recently launched (pun very much intended!) its Gen 2 satellite internet, with a service plan specifically designed for RVers. While the startup cost and monthly service fees are pricier than other options, it’s the only internet solution that offers connectivity in the most remote locations. Keep in mind that Starlink Gen 2 cannot be used as you’re going down the road; it’s designed for use when you’re stationary. Starlink is also somewhat weather- and environment-dependent, so you may find that you have a weaker signal on cloudy days or in heavily treed areas.
Power Production & Keeping Devices Powered
One major thing to keep in mind is that while all these amazing boondocking technology solutions are great, they draw power in addition to data. Of course, they’ll also need to be recharged — drawing more power. Here’s a breakdown of all the main options RVers have for staying powered up.
This is probably the most familiar way most folks know to get power to their RV. Having hookups allows you to fully power your vehicle and use everything without concern, but it’s also significantly more expensive than boondocking. There are also several types of hookups and different amps; campsites with “full hookups” generally have 30/50-amp connections, but many homes — like Harvest Host locations — have only 15 or 20, which isn’t nearly enough to power large appliances like an AC.
A top concern when considering solar for an RV is how much power you actually need. This can be tricky since there’s such a vast variety of setups out there, but the best approach is to determine what you actually need to power, as well as how much you’ll realistically generate. You want to strike a fine balance between having enough power without it being overkill.
Many people new to solar don’t realize that solar panels require batteries. Unless you have enough, or large enough, batteries to store the energy you generate, solar isn’t all that helpful.
There are many, many options for generators: gas, propane, dual-fuel, portable, integrated…the list goes on! You should use your generator sparingly, primarily for running high-power appliances like A/C units when you can’t plug into electrical hookups.
One thing to consider is that many host locations and campgrounds don’t or even can’t allow you to use generators for various reasons. In many cases, even when generators are allowed, there are strict usage guidelines.
Portable Battery Packs and Power Stations
This is a simpler, quieter alternative to generators. Portable battery packs or “bricks” are significantly smaller, intended to charge small devices like phones. Portable power stations, like those offered by the popular Jackery brand, are a bit larger and can handle powering laptops and larger electronics. In both cases, some even have solar panels integrated for no-fuss recharging anywhere.
It’s easy to manage power consumption with advance planning. Here are our top tips for reducing consumption and conserving power.
- If you know you’ll be boondocking or otherwise have limited power available, use your vehicle’s power to charge devices as you drive.
- Avoid streaming video unless you have a solid wi-fi connection, like at a cafe or library. Not only does streaming require lots of power, it also blows through data. This goes for Zoom calls and uploading or downloading video, as well. Think of streaming like your RV’s air-conditioner, but worse — power and data-hungry.
- Speaking of Zoom, if you have a call or meeting when you don’t have wi-fi, use it without video if possible.
- Avoid charging several devices simultaneously. This uses substantially more power and draws it down faster.
- Switch to battery-operated and rechargeable electrical products when possible. For example, simple puck-style LED lights can help save money over your rig’s standard lights. There are many ultra-affordable options, including magnetic options, some that charge via USB, and these lights, which have motion sensors!
Finding the “right” boondocking technology setup can feel daunting. Keep in mind, though, that what’s perfect for you may not work for someone else, and vice-versa. There are so many types of rigs, not to mention RVers, and everyone does things a bit differently. One of the best ways to learn what works for you is simply talking to others. Join a forum and connect with folks who have a similar rig or lifestyle. Also, strike up conversation when you see other RVers in the wild!
We hope you found these tips on boondocking technology helpful! Be sure to register for Boondocking 101 to watch Ari’s original video (along with many others, covering all sorts of boondocking tips!).
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