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How to Get Internet in Your Van Without Too Much Hassle
On-the-go internet is easier than you think
We haven’t tried digital nomadism (pretty sure that one time our coworker was stuck working from Spain with COVID doesn’t count). But we’ve chatted with enough digital nomads to know that when you live a rover’s life, internet is key for work and security.
There are multiple ways to get internet in your van without major technical know-how or backbreaking work. We’re sharing the solutions we think are the best.
- : The easiest way to get Wi-Fi in your van
- : Make your phone do all the work
- : It’s one step up from the phone hotspot
- : More work but better Wi-Fi
- : Get internet access almost anywhere
Mooch off free Wi-Fi
Hassle rating: super easy
Plenty of libraries, churches, and retail stores offer free public Wi-Fi! When visiting civilization, just park as close as you can to any of these buildings and dip into the Wi-Fi supply.
The downsides to this one are pretty clear—you won’t have constant Wi-Fi access when you’re on the road or out in the wilderness. So you’ll need to plan your work schedule around your trips into town.
You’ll also want to be careful about what you do on public Wi-Fi. Going public makes you more vulnerable to having your devices hacked or your personal information stolen. For example, we don’t recommend banking or shopping on a public network, and we strongly suggest using a VPN.
Piggyback on your phone’s mobile hotspot
Hassle rating: super easy
If your phone has a hotspot, then you’re in luck. Use your devices in tandem with your phone for internet access anytime, anywhere.
Well … almost. Your hotspot won't have any juice when your phone doesn’t have reception. Also, this will drain your phone’s battery super quickly. Keep it plugged in!
Cell signal boosters and Wi-Fi extenders come up a lot in van life internet discussions. If you’re not getting great cell reception, you can use a signal booster to help strengthen your signal. If you already have internet in your van, you can use an extender to create a bigger patch of internet service. But sadly, neither of these devices creates Wi-Fi signals out of nothing.
Buy a separate portable hotspot
Hassle rating: pretty easy
Don’t want to strain your phone? You can still get a hotspot from a portable hotspot device, like this one from NETGEAR that connects to up to 32 devices.
You can easily get a hotspot for less than $200, but you might have to pay a recurring monthly service fee depending on what SIM card it takes. That makes this approach much more costly than public Wi-Fi or a personal hotspot.
Install a router in your van
Hassle rating: not as easy
Get that van life internet by installing a Wi-Fi network yourself!
Yeah. There’s no Wi-Fi fairy to do it for you. But don’t worry; it’s not too hard.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Add an external antenna to your van.
- Put a router inside (any reliable router is great, whether it’s a Nest Wifi Mesh Router, a NETGEAR Nighthawk, or a TP-Link Archer).
- Buy a SIM card so that your router has LTE connectivity.
And hey presto! Once you’ve put all these things together, you’ll have your very own portable Wi-Fi network.
The main drawback? If you take your van to an area with no coverage for your SIM card, you’ll lose your Wi-Fi. Welp.
Your internet SIM card doesn’t have to be from the same provider as your phone. In fact, you might want to go for a different provider, just so your internet reception and cell reception aren’t the same. (You have to have some way to call roadside assistance.) On the other hand, you might be able to get a good deal with your existing phone package. Talk to your phone provider before making a final decision.
Sign up for satellite internet
Hassle rating: not as easy
The best way to get constant, reliable internet for your van is to go the satellite route.
Setting this up is similar to setting up a router. Here’s how you do it:
- Get a portable satellite dish for your van (which dish you should get depends on which service you go with).
- Put a receiver inside (ditto).
- Purchase a satellite internet package from a provider.
Up until now, we’d say this approach is a major hassle. It’s hard to add a whole satellite dish to your van without it looking like it just drove out of Twister. And aesthetics aside, it’s an invitation for thieves, so you’d have to hardcore secure that puppy.
But Starlink recently came out with easy portable satellite dishes that you can store in your car and set out when you’re stopped. This’ll give you quick internet access in even the most remote locations. You just can't use it while you’re driving.
To get an internet connection in your van, try any of these suggestions:
- Mooch off of free Wi-Fi: It’s free! It’s just not as reliable or safe as other options.
- Piggyback off your phone’s mobile hotspot: It’s quick and easy, but it takes a toll on your phone.
- Buy a separate portable hotspot: Give your phone hotspot a break— just know you may not always have data.
- Install a router in your van: It works well, but it requires more effort.
- Sign up for satellite internet: You’ll have internet access for daaaays (as long as you’re stationary).
None of them is a huge hassle, and all offer a way for you to stay connected as a van lifer.
For when you're not in the van read about how to get faster internet at your air bnb.
Van internet FAQ
That’s a tricky question. It really depends on where you travel, what type of work you do, how flexible your work is, and your boss and coworkers’ time zone.
If you can do your work whenever and have flexible deadlines, any of our solutions should be okay.
But if you have a stringent schedule, then a more reliable option (like Mi-Fi) is best.