Tradeoffs for Being a Digital Nomad in a Rural Area

Tyler Abbott
Staff Writer, Mobile & Wireless
Read More
August 08, 2022
4 min read

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The whole point of being a digital nomad is having the flexibility to go off the beaten path and work wherever you want, but sadly our 5G internet connection isn’t quite as flexible. Digital nomads struggle finding reliable internet connections in rural areas, but you can still get a decent connection if you have the right cell phone plan.

By going the rural digital-nomad route over urban digital-nomad you’ll need to live without some modern conveniences, but the good might still outweigh the bad.

Spotty internet connection

If you look at any wireless coverage map, you’ll no doubt notice that connections get much more spotty in the rural areas of the country. Heck, if you plan on being a digital nomad, you’ve for sure noticed your cell signal dropping during stretches of rural roads. The best way to work around a spotty connection involves choosing a cell phone plan with the right coverage, and having a backup plan if you need to get back on the grid. 

We’ve got some suggestions to help make the biggest tradeoff about rural nomadism more doable.

Cell phone carriers with rural coverage

Every cell phone carrier will feel hit-or-miss depending on where you end up in the country, but Verizon statistically offers your best chance for a cell signal. Verizon covers 70% of the country with its 4G LTE coverage, with AT&T at 68% of the country, and finally T-Mobile with 62% of the country. Percentages only tell part of the story, so you’ll want to check out some of the coverage maps below and compare with your travel plans.

AT&T coverage map

T-Mobile coverage map

Verizon coverage map

Use a signal booster

You can also use a signal booster to increase your cell phone bars in rural areas. Signal boosters work exactly how you’d think: you plug it in, and suddenly your cell phone has a better internet connection than it did before. Our digital nomad contact confirmed that signal boosters make all the difference for cell connection when traveling in rural areas.

Amazon has a bunch of signal boosters, but we can vouch from personal experience that this model works well for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon users. Your cell phone can go from having zero bars, to getting 4-5 bars without any annoying dropped calls.

Signal Booster

Source: Amazon

Designated hotspot devices

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all make their own hotspot devices that can get you a better internet connection than you can get with a mobile hotspot. Wireless carriers even offer designated hotspot data plans that can provide better internet speeds than you would get with a mobile hotspot. Here’s our picks for the best hotspot data plans from each carrier:

 

Carrier
Hotspot data caps
Price
Check Availability
AT&T100 GB*$55.00/mo.
T-Mobile50 GB*$55.00/mo.
150 GB*$80.00/mo.**

*Once you pass your data cap, your data speeds will slow down to somewhere between 1–3Mbps

**Price only good if you already have a Verizon unlimited plan

You’ll need a device to go along with Here’s a quick look at what each carrier offers:

Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L Hotspot

Jetpack 8800L

Image source: Verizon

This hotspot device costs $199.99 from Verizon and allows up to 15 devices at a time to connect to the WiFi connection.

AT&T Netgear Nighthawk M6

Image source: AT&T

We tested the Nighthawk M6 hotspot against a generic Velocity hotspot device and AT&T’s hotspot device nearly tripled the data speeds (128 Mbps vs. 45 Mbps) of the other model.

The Nighthawk M6 isn’t cheap at $309.99 on AT&T’s online shop, but the results speak for themselves.

Image of Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW mobile hotspot

Satellite internet

Satellite internet may not be the fastest connection in the world, but it can reach you just about anywhere. There’s only three major players in the satellite internet space right now, and here’s what your options look like:

Provider
Price
Download speeds
Data cap
Details
Viasat Internet$30$169.99*12100 Mbps12150 GB
HughesNet Internet$54.99$149.9925 Mbps1575 GB
Starlink$110$500500010050 MbpsUnlimited
Data effective 11/11/21. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first 3 months.
Requires 24 month agreement.
Fully refundable. Depending on location, some orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill.
Compare the best satellite internet options in your area.

Fewer public hookups

Let’s not be immature about this—you know what I mean about public hookups. I’m not talking about your latest Tinder fling; rather, we’re talking about amenities like power, Wi-Fi, and sewage. Living in rural areas means you’ll likely be on your own for those things. You’ll need to find a reliable power source to keep things running, as well as a way to properly dispose of waste. 

If you’ve got the gas to spare and a killer car battery, you can easily use a car power adapter to power a few devices at a time. We have personal experience with the FOVAL 150W Car Power Inverter, which only costs $17.98 on Amazon.

Car Power adapter

You can also use a solar-powered generator to power your devices. We’ve had a good experience with the MARBERO Portable Power Station Solar Generator, which costs $93.98 on Amazon. The best thing about this solar generator is that you can charge it with solar energy, or you can plug it into a wall outlet on a cloudy day.

MARBERO Portable Power Station Solar Generator

Source: Amazon

Limited free public Wi-Fi

You can also use a solar-powered generator to power your devices. We’ve had a good experience with the MARBERO Portable Power Station Solar Generator, which costs $93.98 on Amazon. The best thing about this solar generator is that you can charge it with solar energy, or you can plug it into a wall outlet on a cloudy day.

Recap: Tradeoffs for being a digital nomad in a rural area

Digital nomads depend on modern conveniences like free Wi-Fi, free power, and hookups for garbage and sewage. But if the wilderness calls your name, you can make it work. As long as you have a reliable internet connection and a power source, you do just about everything you’ll need to keep your job. 

Consider different cell phone networks and pick an option that provides the best coverage for where you plan on staying. We’d also recommend using a cell booster to help you get the best possible signal. 

Happy trails on your journey of rural digital nomadism!