Not to trivialize the meaning of the quote above but . . . if
you get too far from civilization on your RV treks, you might just lose
your cell phone and internet connections, too!
We're usually having too much fun to be annoyed by that. We've
learned to adapt. As much as we like to use the internet we can live
without it or a phone connection for a few days.
Here are some common questions people have about communication
issues if they're considering being on the road for long periods of time:
HOW DO I STAY CONNECTED WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD WHEN
I'M TRAVELING IN AN RV?
In this digital age it's easier than ever to "stay connected" in
every sense while traveling around the country and living in an RV for
extended periods of time.
All kinds of electronic gadgets from simple
cell phones to sophisticated hand-held devices to full-sized computers allow
full-timers to keep in touch with family and friends, pay bills, share
photos and blogs, research what's up the road, even continue to earn a
Sue and Cody on Mt. Elbert's
summit (elev. 14,440') last August. Oddly enough, we sometimes
have cell phone reception on mountains but not in the valleys below
where we are camped!
Seven years ago when Jim retired and we planned to be on the road
in our camper for several months at a time we finally got our first cell phones.
They were basic Verizon units. We've upgraded them several times over the years after
they became obsolete, got damaged, or "went missing" in a
creek or down a toilet(!). We
still use pretty basic cell phones. We aren't even tempted (yet) by the new
generation of Blackberries, Droids, i-phones, i-pads, and other gee-whiz
KISS is our motto. Our computers and internet connections are a
little more sophisticated, however.
DO YOU HAVE A COMPUTER IN THE CAMPER?
Jim and I both have computers we take with us in our 5th-wheel coach.
They are even more of a life-line to us than our cell phones. We use
them constantly for a wide variety of functions including e-mail,
bill paying and other financial business, spreadsheets, research,
reservations, photo editing and storage, internet discussion groups, our
website, and other tasks.
How did we ever live without computers years ago??
Jim has an HP Pavilion laptop, which is practical for traveling.
I have an HP Pavilion Slimline PC with a wide-screen monitor. The tower
is about one-third the size of a regular one so it doesn't take up much space
on my desk:
It has plenty of power and storage, however. It's nestled between the monitor and printer when we're
stationary. It's not as practical for traveling as a laptop but it's practical
financially since we already had it. I mean, why leave it at the house
and use it only two months of the year? When I need/want to upgrade to a new
computer I'll probably get a laptop with a large screen.
Taking one laptop computer on the road with you is simple: just set it
up on the dining table, your lap, or an RV table specifically designed
to flip up to hold a laptop.
It's also pretty easy to accommodate two
computers or set up an office in an RV if it has some flexibility. Take
that into consideration if you're purchasing a new or pre-owned RV
before you hit the road. Some floor plans include a built-in desk but we
didn't find one that had the other features we wanted when we bought our
Cameo last year. If that's your experience, take a good look at the RV
you want or currently own
and use some ingenuity to figure out possible
One computer arrangement in our
old camper involved using the dining table (L); later we removed
the sofa and set up my desk along
its wall (R). The last arrangement was keeping the sofa in its place
but removing the recliners at the
rear of the HitchHiker and putting the desk in the window bay.
We tried several different furniture arrangements in the living area of
our old HitchHiker 5th-wheel camper, shown above, to accommodate the oak desk I use for my
computer (Jim just uses the dining table for his laptop and moves it
when we eat there). Sometimes we took the sofa out, sometimes the two
recliners. There were three different walls in the living area of that
camper that I could use for the desk.
When we traded in the HitchHiker in Texas last year we kept our desk (it didn't
come with the camper) to use in the new Cameo. The two old recliners
(and two of the four upholstered dining chairs) were
sitting in our basement in Virginia . . . oops! The dealer or new
owners had to buy new ones for the HitchHiker if they wanted chairs.
Having an extra piece of furniture -- a large one at that
-- in the new camper created a bit of a problem for the next two
months until we went back to the house. We didn't want to abandon any
new leather furniture in Texas to accommodate the desk!
Original furniture arrangement in
our new Cameo; note reclining loveseat next to the dining table.
Our solution was to move the dining table to the center of the living
area temporarily and put my desk and filing cabinet where it had been:
Temporary arrangement with my desk
where dining table had been
Jim was happy with that because he was smack dab in front of the TV:
I was happy being farther away from the TV and having a window to
look out. We didn't have much room to maneuver in the living area but it
was fine for two months. When we moved the camper we flipped the table
over (it stands on a pedestal, not four legs) and made sure it was padded and secure so it didn't bump into anything
when the slides were in.
Temporary desk arrangement last
year; note the small computer tower on far left.
When we got back to Virginia at the end of that trip we came up with a more permanent
arrangement that has worked well for us the last ten months.
Once again we have several options in the Cameo but our decision of what
furniture to remove was easier than in the HitchHiker. We don't like the awkward,
uncomfortable "theatre-seating," a loveseat-sized double recliner, that
came with the new coach so we removed it and put my desk in its place
under the side window. (Someone on a Carriage, Inc. internet forum
recently dubbed them "monster chairs" because they are so
difficult to extend
This computer and furniture
arrangement works very well for us.
The monster chairs are now in the basement of the house -- with the
two old recliners from the HitchHiker! We also left two of the
Cameo's upholstered dining chairs at the house to give us more room. (They're
near two of the old HitchHiker dining chairs that we also stored there
. . .)
comfier sofa that came with the Cameo remains in its original spot
across the rear, windowed bay of the living room:
We love to relax in that sunny nook and have no intentions of putting
the desk there.
Before we left the house in May for our summer trip Jim came up with
the bright idea to attach the monitor and printer to my desk with
industrial-strength Velcro so we don't have to do anything with them
when we move the camper from place to place.
Don't laugh. It's worked great for thousands of miles! I unplug all
the cords from the tower when we are in transit, however, and put it in
a box padded with towels so it can't move around much. I bundle the five
or six cords with a twist-tie so they don't get scattered. It takes me
only a couple minutes to get the system set up each time we move.
HOW DO YOU ACCESS THE INTERNET?
Internet connections are sometimes a challenge for us since we don't
often stay in private campgrounds or in towns where WiFi and/or good
cell phone reception are common. It would be nice if we could get free
WiFi all the time but our preferred lifestyle (camping in the boonies a
lot) doesn't allow for that.
For the last few years we used Verizon's broadband service fairly
successfully. We used a cord to tether one of our phones to one of our
computers at a time. We could not both be online at the same time unless
Jim had a WiFi signal in the campground that he could use. My computer
used to have that capability but doesn't any more. We're working on that
. . .
Right after we left Roanoke for our current trip Verizon notified us that they were
going to cannibalize our
broadband plan by reducing it from 5 gigabytes a month to 3 gigabytes -- but keeping the
price the same at $59/month minus the 20% discount Jim gets from his
former employer = $47.20/month. They could do that since we were beyond our original two-year contract.
Interesting cloud pattern as I descended from Mt. Elbert's summit last
Well, that didn't go over well with us or other RVers on the
plan who griped about it on the Carriage, Inc. internet forums! Time to
While we were in Phoenix we researched our options and discovered we
could get faster connections at a lower cost with a Verizon MiFi card --
and we can network up to five computers or other electronic devices at
the same time, not just one. That sounded like a no-brainer.
We chose the basic MiFi plan with a max usage of 3 gigabytes/month. The
standard cost is $35 per month. If we see that we will go over our max we can
upgrade it to 5 gigabytes/month for $10 more. Supposedly we can then
change it back to 3 gigabytes the next month without being assessed a
special fee. We haven't had to increase or decrease it yet so we don't
know if/how that will work. We can still use Jim's 20% discount for
the MiFi plan so our monthly cost for this service is only $28/month at
the max 3-gigabyte level plus $8 if we need the extra 2 gigabytes.
That's a savings of $11.20 to $19.20 per month, in addition to more
speed and networking capability.
Our little MiFi card is only 2½
x 3½ inches
but it opens up the whole world of
the internet to us.
The MiFi works pretty well so far but is still dependent on our
having a decent cell phone connection. It's a little faster than
broadband but as fast as DSL or a strong WiFi signal. The MiFi card sits on my desk, charging. All Jim has to do to
get online is to flip a switch on his computer and log on. My
computer used to have this capability but now it doesn't and we haven't
been able to make it work like it's supposed to work with the MiFi card.
At some locations where we've camped with a weak signal we haven't
both been able to be online at the same time -- and I have had to
tether the card to my computer with a separate cord instead of just
flipping a switch, then click to connect to the internet when the
computer recognizes the device.
Happily, we discovered that in a campsite with a strong enough signal
we can both get online at the same time. We leave the MiFi card charging
on my desk, Jim gets online by flipping the switch on his laptop, and I
can get online with a little 3½-inch long
Cisco LinkSys wireless network USB adapter
plugged into my computer:
Hooray! We've had that gizmo for over a year
and Jim's used it on his computer to capture free WiFi in various
places, but we didn't know it worked on my computer any more until just recently; it
still doesn't when we have a weak signal. When we go back to our
house in the spring and have access to all of the software disks
that go on my computer Jim may completely reload all of it to see if
that takes care of the WiFi access problem. When it was new, it worked
OK. The problem may not be resolved until I get a new laptop someday.
It's great when we can save our MiFi gigabytes by using an unsecured WiFi
connection in a campground. Jim's laptop does this better than mine. We
rarely stay in a place that has free WiFi at the campsites but Jim's
gotten pretty good at finding free connections elsewhere that don't require a
password. Sometimes he drives to the campground office,
visitor center, or into the nearest town to use his laptop when he wants
to download a video or watch a TV show that takes too many megabytes on our
slower connection. He can usually just set up the computer on the
console between the front seats and stay inside the truck. He does this
at Laundromats with WiFi, too.
Always be careful when you're using an unsecured WiFi connection.
We never do any financial business on the computers unless we are using
our own secure MiFi card
-- paying bills, checking any of our accounts, ordering something
online with a credit card, even entering a race.
There are other options including air cards, satellite, external
antennas, and sophisticated phones like the Droid for getting on the internet/boosting
your power but we're not familiar enough with those to provide any
information about them here. You need to research what's
best for you.
WHAT ABOUT TV RECEPTION?
TV connections are a whole 'nother issue . . .
We are too frugal (so far) to pay for satellite service but many
full-time RVers have it. We don't even have a dish or cable at our
house. So far we have relied solely on the antennas that came with our
When Jim was installing the solar
panels on the roof of the Cameo last spring
he discovered a hornet's or
wasp's nest had been built on
Because we rarely stay at private campgrounds with cable hookups or
proximity to cities, we often have spotty reception. When we first
arrive at a campground Jim often has to spend several minutes fiddling
with the antenna to get any stations. It's easier than positioning a
satellite dish exactly right every time we move, however.
Sometimes we are
able to clearly receive all the major networks and numerous others like
PBS or the History Channel. Jim's a real happy camper when that occurs.
More often we get only a few stations. Sometimes about all we can get
are Spanish-speaking channels -- or nothing at all. That
doesn't bother me as much as Jim; he watches TV a lot more than I
I GET MAIL WHEN I'M TRAVELING?
The best way we've found is to use a reputable professional mailing
service that caters to full-time RVers, military personnel, traveling
workers, and others who are on the road all or most of the time. There
are dozens of these companies across the country. Some offer more
services than others.
We first used a mailing service in Montana when we sold our house
there in 2004 and traveled in our camper for five months. It worked well
for us, as I recall. Since we had sold our house we had to come up with
an address for all of our mail. We used the mailing service's address.
Everything went there and we'd call every few weeks to tell them where
to send our mail
(usually a general delivery address at a nearby Post Office). If we
hadn't been moving around we could have set up a
schedule for them to send it at regular intervals to one address.
Unfortunately, at that time we were clueless about our ability to
change our mailing address and legal
residency to a state that doesn't have an income tax.
Tater and Cody play in the back
yard in Billings, MT a few months before we
sold the house and began
full-timing in the HitchHiker. (October, 2003)
We terminated that service -- and address -- after we
bought our house in Virginia and began going out on extended
RV trips from there. Our mail continued going to our house address for
several years but when we were gone we had it held at our local rural
Post Office. We relied on a kindly neighbor to go get our mail at the
Post Office every three or four weeks, toss out
the ads and other junk mail, and send us the rest in large pre-addressed
and stamped envelopes we left with him before each journey began.
That worked fairly well but it was a hassle for the poor guy and we
decided that having a professional mailing service would be better for
Fortuitously, that's when we
"ran into" a new RVing friend a couple years ago who educated
us about mailing services that cater more to full-timers than the
company we'd used in Montana. We did our homework
and soon signed up
with one in South Dakota. We've been very happy with their service.
GOING, GOING, GONE
The second recommendation I give folks about getting mail on the road
is to eliminate as much paper mail as possible before they go. We
began this process seven years ago and now receive very little mail through
Some we just can't stop but it's not for lack of trying. We've used
that national registry similar to the "Do Not Call" list to eliminate
credit card offers and related junk. We've also gone
"paperless" when allowed for almost all of our financial statements,
medical EOBs, and such. Most companies also prefer that because it saves them
postage. We just look at the information online and print it out
if we need a copy.
We've even eliminated all but one or two magazines to which we
previously subscribed and read several of them online now. That saves on
our postage costs from the mailing service -- magazines are
heavy! Why pay twice for them to reach you? (Postage fees are already
included in your subscription price, then you have to pay again
for your mailing service to send them to you.)
If you're a Good Sam member you can receive
in the mail or you can tell them that you want to
access it only online.
Almost all of what little paper mail we still receive via the USPS now
goes directly to our South Dakota address at the mailing service. Any first-class mail that still
sneaks into our Post Office in Virginia gets forwarded to SD when we're
gone. They won't send third-class mail or magazines.
It's kind of ironic when we're at the house. We suspend the
forwarding at the local Post Office for the few things that still go
there (doctor bills, mostly), have that mail delivered to our mail
box . . . and find that 99% of it is local advertising! That's
because 99% of what we want (the first-class stuff) goes directly to our SD address.
So we pay the mailing service in SD to send our "real" mail to us in VA.
Since we're at the house for only a few weeks each time, we just pay to
do that once each trip back.
This is so much less complicated if you are full-timing and don't
have a house!
When we're on the road we also receive our mail only every three or four
weeks. It's a simple process with the mailing service: we go online to schedule a shipment to whatever
address we want it sent -- usually a General Delivery address at
a post office that accepts general delivery (not all of them do), sometimes to a park or
campground address if USPS delivers there, or to our house the few weeks
we are in Virginia.
The hardest parts for us are 1) deciding where we want it sent and 2)
making sure the address is absolutely correct.
Timing is critical because we don't want our mail arriving after
we've left an area. It's OK if it gets there before we arrive.
The Post Office is supposed to hold general delivery mail for 30 days.
If we have it sent to a park or campground, we call and ask them to hang
on to it before we get there. Over time we've learned how long it
usually takes for our mail to reach us unless a Post Office goofs
somewhere along the route. We get tracking information online and it's
interesting to watch -- unless we see there's a screw-up. That
happens more often with packages we've ordered than our mail.
This is the Good Sam members'
online version of "Highways" magazine.
Members can also access back issues.
Our mailing service has three levels of service for individual
customers (and a more complicated one for businesses). They will toss out the junk mail before sending it in the
highest level, which costs $159/year. We chose the middle
level of service since we get less mail and virtually no junk; it costs us $119/year
plus about $4.95 each time we request that our mail be sent to us.
The company sees how much the package weighs, then sends it the cheapest
way unless we request faster delivery or a particular carrier. Regular USPS
delivery usually gets to us several states away in only two or three
I mentioned this company caters to full-timers and other people who
are on the road all the time. In addition to collecting and distributing
their mail, they also dispense detailed information to their members
about using South Dakota as a home base if they are interested in making
it their legal domicile -- how to get a driver's
license, how to register to vote, etc. They also (for a reasonable fee) will
do all the leg work at the county and state level to obtain your vehicle registration and/or make sure
the dealer does all the paperwork correctly when you purchase a new
vehicle, especially from another state -- or you can do all that on your own
with the proper local and state agencies.
Our mailing company is professional yet very friendly in person and on
the phone. The owner and staff
welcome members to drop in when they're in town. They've grown so much
they are building a new mail processing facility complete with RV sites and
simple repairs for visiting members. The bad news for us is that we have
to change our mailing address with everyone again. If you have questions
about the company we use, send
us an e-mail.
Each mailing service offers different services at different costs.
Some have been around longer than others and have their act down pat.
It's pretty easy to research these companies on the internet and make
comparisons -- easier than some of the other research you'll need to do
before hitting the road in your RV!
HOW DO I MANAGE MONEY ON THE ROAD?
As long as you have a computer, cell phone, and decent internet
connections, managing your finances in an RV while you're traveling
around the country is about the same as it is
in a stationary dwelling. They key is doing everything possible online.
I strongly recommend setting everything up before you leave town,
whether you'll be traveling for an extended period or full time. It's
easier that way if you have to sign something, and it allows you to just
go and have fun instead of dealing with so many details on the road. You
can tweak whatever needs tweaking later as you see how everything is
working for you.
If you get your ducks in a row before leaving,
you'll enjoy the journey more.
(On the road to Silverton, CO, June, 2010)
Cell phone numbers and bank accounts are portable so you probably
won't have to change them even if you change your legal domicile. Just
be sure those businesses have your new legal and/or mailing address.
If you change your residency and still write checks, get new ones with the proper address. It's
safest to pick them up at the bank or credit union instead of having
them mailed to your house or somewhere along your route. Identity
thieves love to raid mailboxes for boxes of blank checks!
If you don't already have your accounts set up to view your
statements online and for direct deposits, withdrawals, fund transfers
between accounts, etc. -- do that ASAP. Arrange for
automatic payments of things like insurance or vehicle payments that are
the same every month and set up online payment accounts for other bills
that fluctuate, like credit card accounts. We keep a detailed
spreadsheet on the laptop to keep up with all this.
We were doing most of these things even before we began our more
extensive RV lifestyle in 2004. We soon got to the point that we rarely
wrote a check for anything. Even one-time bills like medical
bills we can usually either pay online or with a phone call. We take
several checks with us on trips in case we need them, however. We sometimes
have to use them for forest service campgrounds that don't take
reservations or credit cards, for a few races that aren't set up to take
entry fees online, and other things.
In some places we go, it's a good
little drive into town to get our mail and run other errands.
(View of Logan Canyon, UT from
the Crimson Trail, September, 2010)
I can't imagine living on the road and doing all this by mail unless
you're hunkered down in one place for months at a time. We get our snail
mail so infrequently that we'd never get bills paid on time if we relied
solely on paper statements and check-writing.
Some RVers like to use debit cards in lieu of or in addition to
credit cards. We've been reading/listening to
Clark Howard long enough (20 years?) to
know the hazards of debit cards so we never use one. We also rarely have
cash on hand except quarters to pay for Laundromats. We use one primary
credit card that gives cash back and we pay off the balance every month.
That simplifies our lives.
Here are three more money-management tips for RVers:
Because of the burgeoning dangers of having your identity stolen and
the increased difficulty of resolving an issue like that on the road, we
recommend that you put a
credit freeze on your files with all
three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. In
fact, do this even if you don't travel around in an RV! This is
something else we learned years ago from Clark Howard. It's a bit of a
hassle if you need to thaw out one or more of the files to change your
phone plan, get a loan, or even get your free annual credit report, but
we think it's well worth it in the long run. It's more secure and cheaper
than paying for other types
of credit protection. It's
free in some
states to freeze and/or thaw and costs up to $10 per person and
occurrence in others.
Best way we know to eliminate the IRS . . .
Be sure to take with you in your camper all the paperwork you think you'll need to
file your tax return if you'll be on the road when you're struggling
with that issue! We've been doing ours with TurboTax software for
a long time. Some of our end-of-year tax paperwork
still comes in the mail but most of the information we can access online.
We take receipts and other paperwork with us for proof of our current and
previous deductions for about three years in case we get audited and
we're 2,500 miles from the paperwork that's at our house.
You should also probably carry with you important original documents
like your birth certificate, Social Security card, and passport in a
locked, fire-proof, hidden safe in your RV. We also take copies of our
wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, medical files, contracts,
the truck and camper files, warranties, and other
important papers we may need while we're traveling.
So many things to consider . . . but don't get totally
bogged down in them or discouraged from embarking on an exciting new
chapter in your life.
Next topic in this series: cost considerations --
how to make your dream RV lifestyle a reality
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil