Working While Boondocking
Picture an immaculate ocean coastline, with crashing surf just outside your door. Visualize rugged mountain tops surrounding fertile valleys, with miles and miles of scenic hiking trails to explore. Maybe your dream destination is full of wide-open blue skies on high-desert plains or rows upon rows of lush farmland during prime harvest season. Whatever place is calling you, you can be there and work at the same time. With a camper van and mobile internet service, boondocking has become a very viable “office” for millions of people…whether during a global pandemic, or not.
What is boondocking?
For our purposes with this guide, boondocking is dry or wild camping in off-the-grid places with no water, electric, internet or sewer hookups, and without bathrooms, water spigots or picnic tables. It’s just you, your supplies and gear, and your camper van on a stretch of land. It may be free, or it may require a permit, but it’s legally allowed for at least one overnight stay.
How do I start remote working while boondocking?
Assuming you have a job that can be done from just about anywhere with a mobile phone, laptop, and access wireless internet service, then you should be eligible to work on the road. Here are some steps to get the ball rolling:
1. If you work for a company, approach your employer about experimenting with a short-term remote work test. You could first try a few days and then work your way up to working remote full-time. This will give both you and your employer the opportunity to work out any kinks in communication, workflow, and logistics. If you can prove that your remote working doesn’t negatively impact the productivity and effectiveness of doing your job, you’ll have a strong argument for justifying remote working.
2. You’ll need to identify a dedicated workspace within your camper van, but not necessarily permanent, for your office. It should provide some level of privacy when necessary with sound dampening to minimize distractions to you or anyone you’re communicating with. If your camper van has a dinette, that can work well, or if it has a driver or passenger seat with a fold-up table, that’s space is great to set up an office as well. Some camper vans have standing worktables in the rear of the camper van that convert into a bed, so that could be the space for working on a stool or on your feet for a stretch of time. If weather permits,you could set up a folding table and chair outside under an awning or a portable pop-up canopy. You’ll probably want protection from the sun for multiple reasons, including glare on your computer screen, and for skin protection. The bottom line is that you need a setup that helps you focus, makes you comfortable, and will allow you to work for several hours at a stretch.
3. Set specific work hours, just like in an office. Try and establish a routine so that you can get your work done when you need to. Then pack it up and walk away until the next workday.
4. If you’re boondocking with a companion or group, then you need to work out where your other travelers will be during your office time and outline rules for when and how they can interrupt you if necessary. This could be a great time for them to go out for recreation or perhaps they are working at the same time and have a designated workspace as well.
Working While Boondocking In Your Campervan
5. Dress for work. You should at least be ready for presenting yourself similar to how you would at your office, so if a pop-up Zoom video call happens, you’re ready to immediately jump in. It’s also important to be aware of your background in a Zoom call…although that can be replaced with a background image easily…and the lighting on you during different times of the day. You might need to invest in a light to supplement what’s built-in or natural.
6. The biggest challenge will be reliable internet service. It’s a popular topic in the RVer community, so it’s good to find out what works and doesn’t work from the experience of other RVers when making decisions on your specific situation. You’ll want to choose a main carrier and at least one backup carrier, so that you have two different providers for when cell service is limited or spotty in areas. Verizon and AT&T are the most available in rural areas, so you’ll probably want to have internet service through both of them. T-Mobile, who acquired Sprint, is a third option. This is especially important with boondocking, since you’ll often be in areas that have irregular service, and you won’t necessarily know which service is going to work the best in which spot. With so many cost-effective mobile phone providers available, you should be able to have an effective solution for most situations. Unless you’re truly in the middle of nowhere.
7. Just like in a house, you can and should consider having one internet service provider for your camper van WiFi and one for your personal mobile phone that can be used as a hotspot or for calls. Having multiple internet service providers also means you can be uploading and downloading something from one service, while simultaneously being on a phone or video call on another service. And if you’re with a companion, you might each consider having different mobile phone service providers to give you a third option in emergencies. Working while boondocking requires power.
8. A cell booster is pretty much a must-have while boondocking. It’s sometimes referred to as an “amplifier” or “repeater”. This device uses an antenna mounted on the roof of your camper van to amplify and rebroadcast the cell signal within your camper van, allowing you to connect to a much stronger signal. A lot of new camper vans have these built-in or offer them as an upgrade option. If you’d prefer, you can add an aftermarket version, such as the WeBoost Drive Reach RV system. There are two main types of cell boosters: Broadband Signal Boosters and Provider-Specific Boosters. The Broadband Boosters amplify the signal from a number of cell providers at the same time, making these more flexible, accessible and affordable than Provider-Specific Boosters. They can work with your main and backup service providers. Provider-Specific Boosters amplify one particular cell providers’ signal, doing so at a greater strength than Broadband Boosters. But they are more expensive and less flexible. If cost is less of an issue and reliability with your main cell service provider of primary importance, then the investment might be worth it.
9. Your camper van WiFi can be provided through a number of different devices. Opt for a roof-mounted solution such as the Winegard Connect 2.0 or a mobile hot spot device, either with or without an external antenna for increased reception strength. Cell phones have more limited and smaller antennae, which is why a separate WiFi device just for data usage is a smart idea for a reliable internet connection. You will need to find a data usage plan that’s right for you. Keep in mind that even though a mobile internet plan might have unlimited data, there may be a data threshold where your service is then throttled. Multiple plans on multiple carriers will give you flexibility to spread out your data usage on multiple plans.
Working While Boondocking Finding The Power
10. Power is always important with all technology, and you’ll need to have discipline when making sure that your phones, laptop, and other work devices are regularly charged and powered. You’ll also need to be vigilant about making sure your camper van power is adequate for your work needs during the entire time you’ll be working each day. Substantial solar charging lithium-ion battery systems and a generator are must-haves for full-time remote working to make sure you are never without power to run all of the technology you’ll be dependent on while remote working. You have to be the manager of your own independent power company with your camper van when boondocking. It’s just part of the job.
11. Like any new daily habits, remote working while boondocking will be a journey and you’ll need to adapt and make changes as you discover what works and doesn’t work for you. Keep yourself open to the problem-solving that might need to happen on-the-fly, and plan for the unexpected. You can always drive out from your boondocking location to hit a local coffee shop, library, or other business that has wired internet service in an emergency or regularly plan for these kinds of stops during your travels. If you have a critical phone call, maybe that’s the time to be just a few minutes from your backup option should you need it.
If your job can be done in a home office, it can be done just about anywhere on the road today too. With relatively inexpensive mobile internet service throughout most of the U.S., you’re no longer limited to where you can work full-time.
How can I make money (or just keep active with work) while living in a camper van?
There are a lot of seasonal and temporary work opportunities across the United States, from Amazon to the U.S. government. You could become a Workamper, enjoying the wonderful lifestyle of combining any kind of part-time or full-time work with RV camping. We have a future blog post coming on this topic so stayed tuned for those details.
If you’re a full-time van lifer who works remotely, we want to hear from you. Your story is unique and one our community would love to learn from. Leave us a comment in the section below and we’ll touch base about a future feature on your van life work life.
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