Whenever I’ve mentioned in conversations that my husband and I have lived and worked remotely from our RV, most people seem so bewildered. They ask us all kinds of logistical questions about how it works, from where we get internet and electricity to what our work setup looks like. So if you’re considering doing your job on the road and have similar burning questions, here’s everything you need to know about working from your RV.
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Table of Contents
- How to get internet while working from your RV
- How to get power while working from your RV
- What your work set up should look like for working from your RV
Pssst… do you wanna read more about our trailer? I don’t blame you- it’s pretty dang cool! If so, check out the following posts:
- Review of the Safari Condo Alto: Six Things I Love and Six Things I Don’t
- Safari Condo Alto Tour: Take a Peek Inside My Trailer
First things first- there’s all kinds of different ways to work from your RV.
In this post, I’m going to focus mainly on working “traditional” nine-to-five office jobs on a remote basis (which more and more employers are moving towards- thanks, COVID!), but while we’ve been on the road, we’ve met people who have done all kinds of things for work. Travel nurses, gig workers (i.e., Uber or DoorDash drivers), virtual assistants, folks who sell wares at craft shows.
No matter what your training or background is, you can find something to earn cash while you’re out exploring.
If you’re specifically interested in becoming a digital nomad and working remotely from your RV, though, there’s really only two main things you need to worry about when choosing a campsite: #1: whether you can get good, reliable internet there and #2. how you’ll get power.
Let’s get into it.
How to get internet while working from your RV
There’s two ways that you can get internet when working from an RV- either using someone one else’s WiFi signal or using a cellular-enabled mobile hotspot to make your own WiFi network (at this time of this writing, SpaceX’s much-anticipated Starlink satellite internet service is not a viable or recommended option for most RVers).
For the first option, some paid campgrounds provide WiFi- the signal is usually strongest closest to the park’s main office but even then, it’s usually incredibly unreliable- so much so that I would strongly recommend against relying on it for the purposes of your livelihood.
Alternatively, some digital nomads rely on WiFi signals at other public places, like libraries, coffee shops, or breweries. This is probably a better option than a campground, but will take significant legwork to find a place that has consistently strong signal and if your job requires any kind of meetings or phone calls, you’ll have limited control over network reliability, your privacy, and background noise.
My husband, Justin, and I get Internet connectivity a different way- with a mobile router (also called a “mobile hotspot” and “cellular router”), which uses a signal from a cell carrier (e.g., T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T) to provide internet to a WiFi network within your RV itself.
We love this approach because, so long as we can find a cell signal for one of our carriers, we can work from literally anywhere in the privacy of our own little adventure mobile. And we’ve been able to work remotely from some REALLY cool campsites- in the middle of Sedona’s red rock desert, literally on top of a mountain outside of Glacier National Park, and next to our own hot spring in Mammoth Lakes at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas, all with great connectivity.
To do this, we use the Nighthawk Netgear M1 mobile router, which aggregates cell phone signals to provide a speedy internet connection of up to 1 Gbps download speeds and 150 Mbps upload speeds (given your data plan supports those speeds).
This device is pretty neat, given its multifunctionality- we can pop SIM cards in it when we travel internationally to use it as a mobile hotspot and it doubles as a battery bank for other electronic mobile devices when you’re on the go. When we’re in our RV, we also connect a small, flat MIMO antenna (short for Multi-In Multi-Out) to our Nighthawk, which usually helps improve its performance. This optional accessory requires no additional power and simply suction-cups to any nearby window and then you’re all ready to go.
Some people swear by cell phone boosters, like this popular one, which uses an antenna mounted on the outside of your RV to rebroadcast a cellular signal indoors.
Based on the way the technology works, when the antenna picks up a cellular signal, it can help increase your upload speeds (e.g., when your computer is sending information out, like when you’re sending an email or your audio and video is sent through Zoom) through your mobile router, but it may not help or can even reduce your download speeds (i.e., when your computer is receiving information, like when you’re trying to open a document or stream Netflix).
Unlike a MiMo antenna, which uses multiple antennas to receive signals (and uses the “best” signal from those antennas to get you the fastest speeds), boosters only use one antenna and amplifies whatever signal it receives through it. So while boosters can help in some limited circumstances, a MiMo antenna will be more helpful than a booster in the majority of settings you’ll find yourself in- the super helpful Mobile Internet Resource Center estimates that MiMo antennas are actually better in up to 80% of circumstances.
So if you have all the money in the world (hi, can you adopt me?), a cell signal booster may be a handy tool in your mobile internet arsenal, but if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, a MiMo antenna is probably the way to go.
The fancy tech gear is only part of the equation- your router will be totally useless without a mobile hotspot data plan. Most plans will provide you with a tiny plastic SIM card that you will put into your mobile router (these plans are typically provisioned specifically for use with mobile routers, and your cell phone’s SIM card won’t work as an alternative).
In terms of data plans, you can purchase a monthly data plan from any of the main carriers for a variety of budgets and needs- Justin and I have a 100 GB/month plan from T-Mobile for $50 per month and, until very recently, also had an unlimited AT&T plan for $75 a month (while AT&T’s coverage is admittedly pretty awesome, we’ve routinely had problems with their customer service, which ultimately led us to canceling our plan).
If you’re planning on living and working on the road full-time, I strongly recommend getting two data plans- between two networks, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a usable signal at whatever campsite you’re visiting, and redundancy is key in case something goes wrong with one of the networks, especially for something you depend on for your livelihood.
Before you purchase any plans, though, be sure to read the fine print and understand what you’re purchasing- are there activation or cancellation fees? Are you paying an introductory rate that will later be increased? Is the data throttled at a certain point (looking at you, AT&T)?
Once you have a mobile router and a data plan, all you’ll need to do is find campsites that have a decent cell signal for your particular carrier and you should be able to get consistently reliable internet. If you’re trying to figure out whether a particular campsite has cell coverage, I have a few favorite RVing apps I like to use:
- My favorite tool for checking coverage is the Campendium app, which has a huge catalog of camping options (from dispersed camping areas, to national parks and fancy upscale RV resorts) and is packed full of information, including what kind of amenities the campsites provide, user reviews, and most importantly for this article, cell coverage maps.
Once you select a certain campsite on its app, its specific page will offer a bunch of useful information, including how many bars of data (anywhere from 1 to 5) users reported for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. If you pay to become a Campendium member, you can even filter out campsites based on how many bars of data users have reported for their particular carrier.
It’s important to note here that, while “bars of data” do not necessarily tell you how good of an upload and download speed you’ll get at the campsite, they’re certainly a fairly decent indicator. If you look through user reviews on the site, you’ll occasionally find a handy tip from another user working out of their RV with more specifics regarding the upload and download speed.
- The Dyrt app, another application that helps RVers find campsites, offers similar data coverage information on a campsite-by-campsite basis (pssst… click here for a free seven day trial of The Dyrt Pro, which allows you to filter campgrounds by cell service coverage and have offline access to The Dyrt’s maps).
- Each cell phone carrier also has its own data coverage map. You can find Verizon’s here, AT&T’s here, and T-Mobile’s here. In my experience, these maps provide less granular detail as compared to Campendium or The Dyrt (i.e., it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see whether your particular campsite gets data), but it’s a helpful data point to know whether or not there’s signal near the town you’re headed to if the campsite happens to not be on one of the apps I listed above.
Even with these tools in your back pocket, you’ll obviously have to drive to the campsite and confirm you actually get signal there. Once we’ve reached a campsite, we use the speedtest.net website and also their phone apps to test our internet speeds first thing when we get to a potential camping spot- while this may vary depending on how data-intensive your job is, a good rule of thumb for us is that, for speeds you can actually work on, you’ll need at the very least 5 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up.
In our experience, there’s been a handful of times where other reviewers on Campendium have reported stellar signal (or at least… something) at a particular site and after we’ve made the, at times, hours-long trek there, we have absolutely no signal on either of our networks.
A REALLY important point to understand about getting internet in your RV is that all of the mobile internet gear in the world does not make a cell phone signal exist where it doesn’t- it can only help you use some kind of signal that’s already there. So in case there’s no usable signal at your planned campsite, it’s best to always have a Plan B- and sometimes even a Plan C campsite- in mind (as noted above, redundancy and prior planning is key for living that RV life!).
Justin and I also have a rule about trying not to move campsites on weekdays, in order to prevent the panic and anxiety that sets in when you arrive at a site the evening before a workday, only to discover there’s no cell signal to be found. There’s been a couple times when we’ve had to stay up pretty late, driving around chasing cell coverage to make sure we have solid internet for our work day.
If you follow the steps above, reliable and fast Internet from the road is totally attainable. Justin and I have lived in our trailer for hundreds of days and literally have never had an Internet issue that prevented either of us from doing our jobs (which both highly depend upon constant and reliable connectivity). That’s certainly more than I can say about our Xfinity Internet service that I get in our home, which can be described, at best, as spotty at times. So don’t let fear of getting the Internet from campsites prevent you from living in your RV- you can do it!
One last note here- we’re on the cusp of some exciting new technology in the mobile internet space. As mentioned above, the much-awaited Starlink is supposed to eventually provide blazing fast satellite internet to remote places (like vast oceans, deserts, and even your campsite), via a network of thousands of low-earth-orbit satellites.
While this technology is not quite ready for most RVers to employ as a reliable source of internet connectivity, this may change in the coming years or even months (hurry it up, Elon!). So good news- getting reliable internet on the road should really only keep getting easier!!
How to get power while working from your RV
So now that we have your Internet squared away, the other most important factor you have to consider is how you’re going to get your electricity, so you can power your laptop and other mobile devices necessary to accomplish your job. If you have a 200 amp-hour lithium battery and simply plan on working remotely on a Friday to get your weekend started a bit earlier, you probably don’t need to worry too much about what your power situation looks like.
However, if you’re trying to figure out how to work from your RV remotely on a more long term basis or have a less powerful battery, you’ll have to consider where you’ll get your juice from.
On the power front, you have three main options: electrical hookups, a generator, or solar power.
1. Electrical Hookups
Are you willing to pay for a campsite with electrical hookups? If so, great news- that’s basically all you need to do! Electrical hookups are awesome cuz, well, you basically don’t have to even think about your battery and can charge allll your devices to your heart’s content. The downside to sites with hookups are their price tags (I’ve seen some campgrounds that charge $100+ a night!), you usually are surrounded by a bunch of other RVs, and just generally tend to not be quite the “getting back to nature” vibes that most RVers are going for.
If you’re a cheapo like me and prefer free or inexpensive campsites (which typically do not come with electrical hookups), you have a couple of other options:
Do you have or are you willing to buy a generator? Generators typically run on gasoline, diesel, or propane and, depending on the size of your battery, can take anywhere from about two to over ten hours to fully recharge your battery. Generators, like this one, are awesome because they’re totally portable and readily accessible whenever you need that extra power bump.
The downsides are they tend to be a not insignificant upfront cost, require buying/burning fuel for power, and tend to be pretty noisy (we’ve all been at a campground when someone was running a generator at an inappropriate time of night, amirite?).
And finally, my personal favorite- solar! If you buy an RV with factory-installed solar panels, are willing to retrofit your trailer with them, or even get a solar-powered generator like this one, solar power is such a cool option- the panels usually just lay on top of your RV, soak up those rays, and effortlessly charge your battery!
We’ve seen people with some pretty epic solar arrays on their rigs (up to 1000 watts), but we get by just fine with the 220 watt panels that are on our trailer. The benefits of solar are, after your initial purchase, it’s totally free (i.e., you don’t have to purchase fuel for it), there’s no maintenance, and there’s no nasty smell or noise byproducts of using it (so stated another way, it’s the most eco-friendly of these option).
That being said, you still need to do some legwork with solar- you’re dependent on finding destinations with clear and sunny skies, as well as finding campsites that are unshaded. If you’re solely reliant on solar for power, it’s a good idea to have a big enough battery that can carry you through the cloudy days, given that clear skies are never a guarantee!
Okay, and now a bit of an electricity lesson. Your RV likely runs on and puts out direct current (DC) power, as opposed to the alternating current (AC) power that we typically use in our homes. The exception to this is when you’re using your RV’s inverter (if it has one), which, you guessed it, inverts DC power into AC power.
For the most efficient charging of devices with your RV’s battery, you’ll want to try sticking with using your RV’s DC power, rather than using any inverter-powered AC plugs.
So if you’re looking to conserve battery power (who isn’t?) and have a more moderately powered tablet or laptop, you may be able to find a DC-to-DC adapter that plugs into the 12-volt power outlets in your RV (similar to USB chargers you’d use in your car) that does just that.
For example, Justin uses a Microsoft Surface Pro 5 and charges it using a DC-to-DC adapter like this one. Make sure to check the wattage of your laptop and purchase an adapter that supports your particular wattage- some more power hungry laptops (like mine!) use too much power to rely on this kind of adapter.
For similar kinds of power-hog devices like mine, you’ll need to use the inverter-powered AC (we have this inverter that was factory-installed in our trailer). Using AC power from your inverter draws more power from your battery than simply using DC power, given that the electricity goes through conversions resulting in inefficiencies. This can be anywhere from 10-20% less efficient than using regular ol’ DC power, which, unfortunately, can drain smaller RV batteries pretty quickly.
Over the course of months of living in our trailer, Justin and I have figured out some great tricks to use our inverter without totally killing our battery- like primarily using it to charge up our devices while the sun is directly over our RV and relying primarily on our device’s batteries once the sun has past its peak every day. With time, you’ll figure out tricks that work for your devices and RV’s electrical configuration as well!
Between electricity (free from solar), gas, water, sewer, and waste, we spend—at most—$50 a month on utilities which is almost one TENTH what we spent on the same utilities for our previous home in Seattle. Check out our video below to learn more.
What your work set up should look like for working from your RV
RVs differ vastly in size and layout- there’s teeny teardrop trailers all the way up to Class A Motorhomes that can span 40 feet in length and have their own garages. So it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all recommendation for what a RV workspace “should” look like- I can, however, tell you what I’ve learned is essential for the office space in our trailer.
1. Surface space:
Obviously, you’ll need a space to set up your computer and its accessories. We have a medium sized dining table at the front of our trailer that’s mounted on a Lagun mount, allowing the table to swivel lengthwise. When the table is set up in this configuration, Justin and I both have enough room at each end to set up our own workspaces.
Depending on your RV, you may have a full-fledged desk you can set your workstation up on or I’ve seen vanlifers with not much more than a small slide-out tray they can balance their laptop on. Even if you don’t have the real estate for a table or tray (like if your rig is a smaller campervan), you could use something like this stand to hold all of your computer accessories. So long as you can fit a laptop on it, you can really make do with a pretty tiny workspace!
2. Additional monitors:
When people have asked Justin and I about working remotely from our RV, one of the most popular comments we’ve been told is “I could never do that- I’m so dependent on both of my monitors for my job!” But who’s to say you can’t totally have two monitors while you’re RVing?
While hauling a big ol’ monitor around wouldn’t be very practical, we each have one of these super thin and lightweight portable monitors that easily plugs into our laptops using a single cable. These are great, given how much extra screen real estate they provide and how easy and power-efficient they are to use (they can be charged right from a USB port from your laptop!).
Given our table would be quite cramped with four monitors, we also have a lightweight adjustable laptop stand, which elevates one of ourscreens- our main laptop sits on the table, while the portable monitor goes directly above it, which frees up quite a bit of tablespace.
This also gives you the benefit of not constantly craning your neck down to stare at your laptop and allows you to have better posture than if your laptop just stayed directly on the table. And with those simple accessories- voila! Justin and I each have our own two-monitor workstations ready to go!
3. Wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse:
If you have no space to be farting around with portable monitors and laptop stands in your rig, it’s totally fine to use your laptop’s keyboard. Otherwise, using that keyboard is generally not particularly comfortable and I’m going to be honest- working remotely from your RV is generally going to be not as ergonomic as say, working from your stand-up desk or that $2,000 fancy office chair provided by your company.
So let’s take comfort where we can get it and if you have the space for it, I’d recommend picking up a wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse set, like this one, to use with your laptop set up to help you stay Carpal tunnel-free.
4. Comfortable chair:
This one is a bit tough, cuz, unless you’re driving around in a massive RV, chances are you probably don’t have the footprint to bring some kind of seating solution that will offer any semblance of the comfort provided by an office chair designed for someone sitting eight hours or more a day. And most of the manufacturer-built RVs that I’ve sat in (including my own) are not built to be used in that fashion and, frankly, tend to be pretty uncomfortable to sit in for any meaningful period of time.
The best advice I have is to try a variety of different seating configurations in your RV- for example, I usually oscillate between using the back support pillows that came with our trailer to prop up its seating cushions and removing them. You might want to try something like a lumbar support pillow with your RV’s seating options or maybe a backrest pillow. Eventually you’ll find something that feels like it’s not actively injuring your back- I’d consider that a win!
5. Headsets or headphones:
If you’re on calls all day like me, you’re going to want some kind of headphones or headsets to make sure you don’t sound like you’re in a tin can (… which you kinda are). If you’re on calls intermittently and don’t have to worry about overlapping calls with whoever else is living in the RV with you, you can probably get away with a lighter weight solution, like these noise-canceling earbuds (I use mine all the time and LOVE them).
If, on the other hand, there’s going to be multiple people on calls at the same time, you may want to consider getting an actual headset. For the best headsets for working remotely in an RV, I’d recommend trying to find something that’s comfortable, has a long battery life, and has noise cancellation, like these or these.
That’s all the main tools you’ll need for working on the road from your RV! Do you have any tips from your own experience? Any other burning questions you have about working from your RV? Let me know in the comments below!
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4 thoughts on “Working from Your RV: Everything You Need to Know About Making Working From the Road Your Reality”
I absolutely love your blog and site! (and RV) When you travel and work remotely in your RV, when do you find time to explore the great outdoors? Do you take vacation while on the road, explore after work/breaks/weekends or both?
Aw, thanks for reading! When we travel and work in our RV, we explore whenever we have downtime. There’s been times when we’ve woken up before sunrise to hit a hot spring or go on a hike and are back in our trailer to take a morning meeting or we may head to a trail or to try a new brewery after the work day. The weekends are also perfect for exploring! We generally do not have to use vacation days to explore- that’s the beauty of living on the road! Let us know if you have any other questions about RV life!
Hi. The data plan and hotspot part is the only confounders. I now have 1 gig and use next to nothing (not traveling). To work one week a month on the road, how much data plan do I need? And, thinking of switching carriers, would the free Comcast hotspots work? Or, are they only in wi-fi-enabled areas?
Thank you for helping the rest of us gain freedom!
“To work one week a month on the road, how much data plan do I need?”
It really depends on the kind of work you do. For example, if you stream video for virtual calls or transfer large files, you may need a lot of data, but if you only need internet for light web browsing and managing documents you can probably get away with a LOT less. My recommendation would be to check you current usage with your Comcast ISP. They should be able to tell you how much data you use on a daily basis. Just remember, that number will include things like video streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc.) if you use them.
“would the free Comcast hotspots work? Or, are they only in wi-fi-enabled areas?”
As you suspected, this only works in WiFi enabled areas. In fact, this works by using a virtual private network that’s set up on every nearby Comcast routers of neighboring homes and businesses.
If you truly need limited internet, I would recommend contacting your cellular carrier (e.g. T-Mobile, ATT, Verizon, etc.) and see if they offer a mobile-hotspot plan that’s compatible with your phone. That way, your phone becomes the mobile router when you need it and you won’t have to purchase any other devices. You’ll need to do some due diligence and check carrier coverage maps to confirm that the areas you’re visiting have coverage. We recommend a few apps for doing that in our post about the Best RVing Apps.
Hope that helps. Thanks for reading and have fun on the road!