Some notes about public wifi. We have relied on public wifi quite a bit. From libraries, to McDonald’s, Denny’s to the hockey rink, public wifi is great for checking email, playing games like Words With Friends, or keeping up with social media. But for things like banking, updating the blogs and websites, or other activities that are better done on a secure line, your own password protected hotspot is a wiser choice. Like your home service, you can leave your hotspot open, but other people are guaranteed to piggy back off of it and slow everything down, if not hack right into your accounts. As soon as I set up the Straight Talk account I gave it a strong password. I have had to reset the account a couple of times in the past year, such as when the first hotspot died and the company sent a replacement.
Learning how to get the most out of the hotspot is a real challenge. It is great for checking email, social networking, banking, etc. Games and streaming videos run slow, usually. Uploading pictures and videos can go fairly quickly or very slowly. We have learned to keep an eye on how much data we’re using. Especially since photos and videos use up a lot of data in uploading. When we get down to our last 500mb, everything tends to slow down. When we add a new data card, everything goes more smoothly. We have also learned, that even keeping data cards in reserve has its quirks. Straight Talk will automatically add a reserve card on the service end date, but not when we use up all our data. Then we have to call or go online and add one of our reserve cards or buy a new one and add it. If we use all our data before we add the card, then we have to call to add the reserve, since we can’t get online to go to our account and add it.
In spite of all the frustrations involved in the learning curve, I am happy with our current internet setup. Yes, we are still working out the bugs. We had so much trouble with our former rural internet providers that I wish I had known the mobile hotspot would work nearly as well at the house. I would have cut them loose years ago. It is still odd to walk into the house and not check the answer machine right away. But since I can take my cell phone and internet service with me wherever I go, without the added $100 monthly expense, I think I’ll stick with Straight Talk for now.
Today’s travel tip is all about our adventures with mobile internet. Internet service is a big issue when living and working on the road full-time in an RV. We are doing slow travel, usually staying in a location for several weeks at a time, before moving on. In addition to writing, I run a small craft business online. I am also promoting my first book, “The Working Parent’s Guide To Homeschooling”. Reliable internet is critical. When we are staying at one of the grandpas’ homes we use their DSL, which is usually pretty good. In between and at our home base, we use a Straight Talk hotspot. I am still learning its quirks, but I will share what I’ve gleaned so far.
When we decided to downsize and embrace a minimalist lifestyle, traveling and living in the truck and trailer, it didn’t make sense to continue to pay $80 a month for landline and DSL that we would rarely use, in addition to cell phones and a mobile hotspot. Keep in mind that I do not have a smart phone or any other 3 or 4G gadget, I cannot advise on how any of that works on the road. I chose Straight Talk over Verizon or AT&T, because prior to hitting the road, our DSL usage was averaging 2-3GB monthly. So far this past year, we have only had 2 weeks at a time with only the hotspot for internet and with gaming, streaming and uploading photos, videos and files from the computer, our usage has easily gone up to 1-2GB a week. Still, even at 8GB a month, I think Straight Talk is more affordable than one of the others. Especially since there are months we don’t use it at all. So for now, we stick with Straight Talk.
Here is what I am learning about the hotspot and data usage. Our hotspot is tied to Verizon, so if we are in an area served only by AT&T and its sub-sellers, we get no internet connection with our hotspot. One grandpa is in one of these areas, but fortunately, we are able to use his wifi. When that does not come in so well, we can drive about 10 miles and pick up a signal on our hotspot, or just go all the way to the next big town and use the library wifi. Our home base is out in the boonies. The hotspot picks up a signal, but uploading photos and streaming videos is a very slow process. Sometime this year, I plan to try a wifi range extender and cell phone signal booster there (our cell phone signal is pretty weak at “home”, too). I am still investigating whether the range extender will amplify the signal coming in from outside to the hotspot or only the signal from the hotspot to our devices. If the latter is the case, it may not help.
Since this post is already getting a bit lengthy, I will save the rest for next time: Public Wifi vs. Personal Hotspot; Getting the Most out of Our Hotspot; Is it Worth it?
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