Internet in our motorhome is essential. One of our aspirations when we started travelling was to reduce screen time; the reality is that researching, keeping in touch and sharing photos and information means connectivity is critical for us and we inevitably spend more time online. Whether you’re a motorhome beginner, a full-time motorhome traveller looking to work from home or somewhere in between, this guide about how to get internet in a motorhome is for you.
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How to Get Internet in a Motorhome
How you get internet in your motorhome is a major consideration if you want to stay connected and like using social media or surfing, want to stream TV and films or work from a laptop.
Think about the following (and I am assuming you will be using a smartphone of some description);
Are you full-timing, over-wintering or holidaying?
How much data do you need per month?
As mentioned above, some providers have data caps when roaming, some use time caps. Others also limit how much time/data you can teather for, so if you are intending to use your smartphone as a hotspot it is absolutely worth checking the small print before committing.
If you are going to use your smartphone to stream TV, then check with each service how much data an hour of TV uses…there is a surprising difference and then another jump if you want to stream HD. We have needed to double our data since we started travelling due to website work and social media posting.
Between us we use 100GB of data a month to run the blog, research, use Google Maps when driving, stream a bit of TV and manage social media. This is a really good guide to what various amounts of data will get you when using the internet in your motorhome.
Will you use a UK contract SIM or PAYG?
There will undoubtedly be limitations on European roaming, Vodafone for example limits you to three months in Europe and Three limits you to 12GB a month in Europe on PAYG and 19GB on contract, regardless of what you have on your SIM or have paid for. This is how the providers mitigate for the legislation that enables you to roam in Europe using your UK allowances.
However, and don’t quote me on this, but some providers have been open about the fact that they do not monitor how long you are abroad for…we have been lucky and have been travelling in Europe for 18 months and always been able to access internet in our motorhome via our SIM card and smartphone.
Make sure you are clear about your requirements if travelling and taking out a new contract. Recent reports (September 2019) suggest some providers are starting to introduce harsher limits to roaming and are clamping down where possible.
Will you use a country specific PAYG SIM?
If this is your plan, then you will need to ensure your smartphone is unlocked. You will also need to accept that your number will change, maybe on a regular basis, depending on your travel plans. If you mainly keep in touch via WhatsApp or FaceTime, or are buying a data only SIM, then this is less of an issue. If your UK phone number is linked to account recovery, then you should consider changing this before leaving.
All European counties have their own popular providers; you will also see familiar brands such as Vodafone and Orange. Their pricing is similar, and similar also to the UK…so generally choice comes down to coverage. A little internet research will provide you with all the information you need to make a choice. In some counties, you will need to produce ID before you can buy a SIM
Do you need a mi-fi?
A mi-fi can be mounted in your van (some can also be removed to be carried with you) and can also have an aerial fitted on then roof to boost the quality of the 3/4g signal or any free wi-fi signal, such as you might get on a campsite. The mi-fi turns this into a wi-fi signal so you can connect a number of devices in and around your van at the same time; a great option if you use multiple devices. You can then also use the mi-fi to generate a hotspot when you’re out and about.
The benefits of this system are that you only need one data only SIM card to provide wi-fi for a number of devices; the Huawei E5577 can have up to ten connections. If your mi-fi is unlocked then you can purchase a data only SIM in any country. We bought a number of Three Internet with Legs 24gb cards before leaving UK from Amazon, they were cheaper than anywhere else. Be aware that you must activate each SIM in the UK before you can use overseas and that there is a 12gb usage cap in any given month. We keep a note of the dates started and finished and rotate them around as we need them. Click here to buy one, or two….
Do you need a dongle?
A less versatile alternative to a mi-fi but perfect if you just want to access wi-fi or 3/4g from your laptop. Data is generally limited in the same way as other devices but not all dongle contracts will include roaming so check this before you start your travels.
Will you wild camp or hike?
Then you will need a power pack to ensure you can stay connected. There’s nothing worse than running out of power at the top of a mountain when you need to access ViewRanger to work out how to get down! We use an Anker Power Core 20100 , which gives up to seven full charges, click on the image for more info.
Be smart and connect to free wi-fi whenever you can; many European supermarkets and almost all cafes and bars offer this, I can usually download an episode or two of whichever Amazon Prime boxset I am watching whilst doing the shopping or stopping for a coffee.
It sounds obvious, but we both re-set the data usage statistic on our phones on the first day of a new billing period, in this way we can make sure we never exceed our allowance and incur horrific additional charges!
Of course, all of this may change when/if Brexit happens. Motorhome internet and TV providers may decide to limit usage in the EU, or may stop usage altogether. We will update this page as and when more information becomes available.