After working from the road for a few years using the three main cellular networks, we finally made the leap to Starlink. It may not be right for everyone. After all, we’re spending about nine months of the year on the road. So I doubt we would have made the investment in Starlink for weekend or vacation camping getaways. But we think it will open a whole other world of possibilities for us as we travel the country for long stretches of time.
We have settled into our 30-foot Airstream Flying Cloud Office model quite well and are enjoying the advantages it has for remote work.
The built-in office has become a quiet, comfortable environment for Jessi’s Monday through Friday full-time job. And I’m able to handle freelance client and Trekers work from the dinette with ease. Plus, having the additional living space compared to our former Class B rig means we can settle into places longer. That is a bonus now that I’m spending more time working as a park camp host.
What we did before
As we have traveled around the country, we have used Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. We’ve used cell phones, cell phone hotspots, and dedicated hotspots. Overall, we have managed to do quite well, generally finding a signal that’s good enough to work and is sometimes even great.
But having to factor in cellular service signals for our travel plans has curtailed the places we want to go. That’s especially true when I’m on the hunt for a new camp hosting gig. After all, being somewhere more remote and beautiful sounds ideal. But if Jessi doesn’t have enough internet bandwidth to do her daily work, then that location has to be taken out of consideration.
Cellular service reports can be sketchy
We also often find that what is reported for cellular service isn’t always what we find when we arrive. For one thing, the network coverage maps from providers are utterly useless propaganda.
The reviews from other travelers can be all over the board. Often it depends not on which campground they stayed at but specifically which site. (We found that at Guadalupe River State Park in Texas. Sites on top of the hill had great service. Move down the hill a few sites and phones become expensive paperweights.)
And even on-the-ground reports from rangers don’t always help. In our current location at Fremont Indian State Park near Sevier, Utah, the superintendent told me Verizon has a great signal. That’s true because there’s a tower nearby. But it’s not entirely accurate. In much of the park, Verizon (and T-Mobile) have a very strong signal. But in our campground, which is inside Sam Stowe Canyon, the signals are somewhat blocked. Add the fact that we’re living in an Airstream, which notoriously blocks cellular and WiFi signals, and you have a problem.
For example, Jessi has a full signal on her Verizon cellphone at the campground entrance. At our campsite, it is cut by more than half. And inside the rig, she often is holding her phone up to a window in order to get any sort of data throughput. So she has been relying on our Verizon hotspot. While that has a better signal than her phone thanks to an external antenna, it’s not great and our hotspot plan has a data cap.
Starlink to the rescue?
So, we started looking at Starlink again. I had originally put a deposit down on one over a year ago. Then I decided we didn’t need it because we were getting by. But getting by gets old. And having to cut out potential camp host gigs or overnight trips when Jessi might still need to be available for clients isn’t ideal.
Several things had to be factored into our decision to make the leap to Starlink.
- Initial Cost — You have to buy the dish and router to use Starlink. That’s an up-front investment of more than $600.
- Monthly cost — The Roaming plan we have is $150 per month. That is more than we pay for any of our cellular plans.
- Installation — Having to route cables from the outside dish to the inside router is tougher on some rigs. I wasn’t keen on having to drill a hole in the new Airstream.
- Portability — We have set up our tow vehicle so we can take weekend trips away from the Airstream. Once Starlink is installed, it wouldn’t do us much good on weekends.
By the way, we did test another WeBoost antenna, similar to the one we had on our Roadtrek and that we really liked. But in our current location it just didn’t do enough to justify its cost. We also use a MIMO antenna connected to our Verizon hotspot. Again, that helps a lot in many locations. But cellular boosters and antennas only work when there is some cellular signal available. We are looking at traveling to areas where there are no cell towers. Since Starlink just needs open sky and many of our destinations include plenty of that, it makes more sense.
Addressing the issues with Starlink
- Initial Cost — The WeBoost cell booster was going to be nearly $500 for a refurbished unit. That’s not cheap, and it wasn’t going to provide what we really needed. So while the Starlink cost was higher, we think in the long run it will do more for us, which makes it a smarter investment.
- Monthly cost — We plan on dropping one of our cellular plans entirely and cutting back on another. That will help recoup some of the monthly fees. Also, Starlink has no data caps. That means we don’t have to worry about not streaming movies some months because we know Jessi has a lot of data needs for work or I have extra videos to upload to YouTube. Again, it’s a larger investment, but we believe a smarter one. Finally, the roaming plan can be paused. So if we end up back at the sticks-n-bricks for a couple of months, we can cut that cost to zero.
- Installation — I discovered that our Airstream has a hole and rubber grommet under the front bedroom. It’s where the cables go from the batteries into the rig. With a little finesse, we ran the Starlink cable from the dish up through that grommet to our bedside cubby where the router now sits. The router signal is strong to reach all the way to the back of the Airstream. So Starlink speeds are still being delivered in Jessi’s office space. Plus, most of the 75-foot cable is still available to locate the dish away from the Airstream, trees or other potential obstructions as needed.
- Portability — Following a suggestion from a fellow camper, we bought a second 75-foot Starlink cable. That means if we want to do getaways in the van, we just unplug the dish and router and leave the cabling in place. Then we use the second cable to connect everything together again in the van at our temporary location. And we can power the Starlink unit with our Southwire portable power station.
How’s it going?
We’ve only had Starlink for a short time, but so far it has worked extremely well. Speeds vary throughout the day, but then they always did on our cellular networks, as well. And when Starlink is operating at its peak, the download and upload speeds are blowing away our cellular capabilities. Even when it’s not at its peak, the upload speeds are exponentially faster than with cellular.
We also have experienced minimal dropouts. Jessi does video calls with her coworkers and clients. So far, she has had only one small glitch during a call. It was short enough that she lost everything for just a couple of seconds and then was right back on again as if nothing had happened. We’ve had that happen on cellular networks. It has even happened on WiFi when visiting friends and family, so it’s not a concern.
As time goes by, I’ll try to update this post or add another to address longer-term use cases.
Which solution is right for you?
Whether you’re using multiple cellular networks, a WeBoost antenna, a Pepwave system, or Starlink, you are going to incur some costs. If you work remotely, you’re going to have to do something to stay solidly connected to the Internet. So you need to consider whether those costs are a smart investment for you to work remotely. Or maybe the investment means you can work remotely from even more remote areas.
For us, we’re now onboard the Starlink rocket and, so far, enjoying the ride.
By the way, if you’re looking for online job opportunities that would allow you to travel, you can search for them at Jooble: https://jooble.org/jobs-online.
AI – JUST FOR FUN
I thought I would give AI a chance since it seems to be all the rage. I told one of the systems to provide me an image of “an Airstream as a satellite” and “an Airstream trailer flying through space.”
Here is what it came up with:
I have to admit, they both give a whole new meaning to “Flying Cloud model.”