Tuesday, September 8, 2015

RV Phone Home

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are going to begin our RV adventure this fall. My husband and I are both newly retired and almost ready to head out, beginning with a fall color tour through the Rockies. We have been in almost perfect agreement on every issue leading up to departure until now. We are trying to decide on a service provider for our phones and wireless needs. My husband thinks we need two smartphones, a hotspot with a couple dozen gigs of data and two different service providers. I think that is overkill and a waste of money.

I know you are always suggesting the use of online data for everything from dump stations to gas stations, but do we really need that much coverage?

Besides the data, we just need to phone home once in awhile. Please give us some of your common sense therapy.
--ET in D.C.

Dear ET:
This is a real common concern for people starting out on the road. It also varies for each individual. Expense, affordability, need and desire can be all over the data scale. I would suggest you look at what you use at home. This is only a starting point because you will most likely need more on the road if you both are heavy computer users.

I constantly look for a better deal than I have and switch when it is advantageous. We are grandfathered in to an old Altel plan that Verizon bought out. We get 20 gig for what most people pay for 5 gig. That sounds like a lot of data, but we use it every single month. We don’t stream movies or watch much video, which eats up a lot of data. We do watch Nightly News if we cannot get a TV channel, which is most of the time.

I have a dumb phone and my wife has a smartphone. We cannot tether it, but that is an option if you use the right service and the right phone manufacturer.

My wife has a Walmart Straight Talk plan with a Samsung phone and a Verizon chip. For under fifty bucks a month she gets unlimited talk, text and data. It works almost everywhere we travel. We have RV friends that have Straight Talk, AT&T service and an HTC phone, and they are able to use the phone as a hotspot. Again, unlimited everything.

We were told we would be throttled occasionally if we used to much data, but after a year we have not noticed that ever happening.

You can start out with what you currently have and work up to what you feel you need as you travel. I can guarantee that you will more than pay for data service, in savings you will realize, using the many cheap and often free apps that direct you to fuel, camping, dumping, road construction, directions, and ME, of course!
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


Jpainter said...

Unlimited data on a phone that can be used as a hotspot? I've always read that straight talk and similar type plans did not allow that. If the rules have changed, please tell us more!

Wolfe said...

Almost any phone can be "rooted" or "jailbroken" - this simply means taking control of the phone itself so you can install whatever you like and use the capabilities already built into YOUR phone. Think of your electric provider selling you power and dictating you can only use the toaster, not the microwave, and you'll understand why disabling tethering is considered absurd. It is commonly done because providers don't want you to absurdly abuse bandwidth, but once you DO pay for unlimited data, you're using your equipment for what it was designed to do.

If you're scared of rooting your phone, you can try an app called FoxFi on android phones...it's an app that works as a hotspot, no root. Some providers block that the same way they block the built in hotspot.

One word of caution: if you are on a limited cellular data plan and are used to unlimited data at home, watch your data usage closely - you use more than you think you do and cellular data overage fees are insane. Buying unlimited data is almost always worthwhile based on the money being online more lets you save.

rosehaven said...

any help for Canadians traveling in the USA and Canada would help. PLEASE! and Thank you

Paul said...

We are from Ottawa, Ontario in Canada and we recently spent a month traveling down to Texas so I did not want to use roaming on my phone.
All you need to do is make sure your phone is unlocked, I did this on the web for about $20, then once you get to the US just stop by a cell phone store (I stopped at Best Buy in Watertown) and tell them you want a monthly plan. You will have to buy a new sim card with a US number (for about $30), they will setup the new sim with the monthly plan (I got the Go from AT&T - $45/mth, as they have the best coverage throughout the US). Took about 40 min at Best Buy to get it all setup but once it was I could check everything out on the web, it had unlimited Talk, Text and Data (they gave you 1.5GB at full 4G speeds, after that it was 2G speeds, but for email and general web searching it was fine).
I have a Samsung S4 and all I did was create a hotspot and my wife and kids could connect to my phone using their wi-fi and they had unlimited Data as well. The only spot we did not have coverage was down in Big Bend National Park, but other than that we always had phone and Data available.

PennyPA said...

Jpainter, as you know, hotspot counts towards data usage and no, I doubt there is a service that offers unlimited data AND hotspot.

I'm on my son's "family plan" (or whatever it's called now) with unlimited talk and text so I only pay for the hotspot. We try to stay in campgrounds where there's wifi so I don't have to use much time on the hotspot. I'm not sure what's going to happen once we can afford a generator and start boondocking a bit. Guess I'll just have to break (or at least dent) the computer habit!

Jerry X Shea said...

Driven to all 49 states, Verizon is everywhere. Many times folks on other systems can't get or make a call. We use MiFi for our laptops. Have been "blinded by trees" and DirectTV will not work. No over the air TV but we get Verizon - others get nothing.

Anonymous said...

when my family went on vacation (14 western states) last year we had three phones. my daughter had an AT&T smart phone, my husband had a trac-fone and I had a local carrier phone. Where ever we were we had at least 1 phone that had coverage.