Whether you are weekend warriors or living full time in your van or motorhome, having access to a reliable internet connection can make or break a trip. Living and working in our van full time a permanent WiFi connection was always high on our list of priorities. WiFi is not only useful for streaming and downloading videos and content, but it also enables the use of additional smart devices like cameras, sensors and other digital services like Alexa or Google Home. If you're interested in using your phone or router outside of the UK you'll want to skip a bit further down the post for relevant information.
Our current setup consists of a ZTE MiFi router and an external antenna on the roof of the van. When we first purchased this as an all in one package from Motorhome WiFi in the UK however we had a Huawei MiFi. They supply everything you need to fit, mount and power the setup so that it runs 24 hours a day. The package on their site is referred to as the '5G Ready Compact+' These small routers are easy to place inside the van and have a very small footprint. They also allow you to connect up to 16 separate devices (phones/tablets/laptops etc) and have a signal range good enough to use the connection outside of the van when in warmer climates.
Initially, we were using an unlimited data SIM from Three mobile but as our phones were also using the same network we decided to move the WiFi over to an EE unlimited data SIM so that we had more redundancy between having access to 2 networks. Having the external antenna certainly adds value to your WiFi setup. In the year we were running both the WiFi and our phones on the Three network we had multiple occasions in remote parts of Wales where the phones would be totally dead yet the WiFi was receiving signal.
With such an emphasis on download speeds in network and broadband marketing, it is also worth considering just how little you actually require for a good enough experience to make a video call, stream Netflix or play your music from Spotify. On most occasions, any download and upload speeds between 5-10MB will achieve this. Often the latency of your connection is more important than the actual download speed. The latency is the time it takes for data to be transferred between the original source and the destination, this can have a huge impact on the perception of your connection speed. If you've ever been on a video call where it the sound is a few seconds out and you end up talking over each other - that is often due to high latency. Having the external antenna and a dedicated router vs just using the hotspot of your phone will help combat this issue.
If you plan on travelling abroad, outside of the UK you will want to pay close attention to the roaming limits and potential additional charges on your chosen SIM plan. These have all recently changed since Brexit and the costs and versatility of different SIMs vary a lot. Alternatively, you can pick up local SIMs in the country you are visiting and easily swap between these inside the router. Doing this will not change the network settings or passwords so it is seamless to move between providers.
Router Update: Since originally writing this post we have upgraded our router to a ZTE MU5001 5G. This router not only supports 5G but also is capable of carrier aggregation when not plugged into the external antenna. We've found the signal strength and range of the WiFi to be far superior to our initial Huawei router.
Router Update: After a year using the ZTE MU5001 we have upgraded to the ZTE MU5120, this is another 3/4/5G mobile router that offers a newer modem, additional WiFi technology and also has a battery life that lasts all day. This model does not have the external antenna connections but we stopped using these with the previous router anyway. We've had great success with this router.
Starlink Update: After over 2 years of working and living on the road on nothing but our mobile routers, we were defeated in the Canary Islands where often the remote park ups had no infrastructure for reliable internet to work from. We are now using the Starlink Gen3 (Dishy) when the mobile router signal is either not present at all, or too low bandwidth/latency to work from. We continue to use the ZTE MU5120 in parallel to the Starlink Gen3 (Dishy).
Using your phone or router to get internet outside of the UK
Using an all in one internet solution
Companies such as ConnectPlus provide a full internet solution for vanlifers and nomads. ConnectPlus provides both the router and a cloud SIM for a single monthly payment. This solution is set up for roaming all over the EU, and even further afield depending on which package you choose. Once you've had your router delivered you power it up, enter the password and you're ready to enjoy the internet whilst you roam. Services like this are great for those who are less technically minded or just want to roam with peace of mind and ease when crossing from border to border. You can save 50% on your first month with ConnectPlus using 'THEROADTWOSPOONS' when you order. We've been using ConnectPlus in the EU and also in Türkiye and the signal has been fantastic, it's also a great piece of mind for us to have access to unlimited data whilst we work and travel. This is probably the best internet solution for digital nomads.
What is the best EU Roaming SIM?
We have written a separate post 'The best internet for vanlife and digital nomads' which explains how we determined ConnectPlus to be the best EU SIM only package for us.
If you're interested in trying ConnectPlus you can receive 50% off your first month with the promotional code: 'THEROADTWOSPOONS' Just add it in the basket when you place your order.
If you want to try the SIM Only option you'll find it below - There are no contracts and you can get 50% off your first month to test the service using the code above. Unlimited data SIM only with EU roaming.
We do not, and have not received any payment for this post or when you use the discount code.
Using local SIM cards
If you don't need to rely on a lot of data and want to remain flexible as you move between countries you can always use local SIM cards. This is easier to do inside of a route as it has no effect on your standard phone number which can be linked to iCloud/WhatsApp etc. Our ZTE router automatically grabs the APN settings from any SIM we've put in it and connects without any issues. In most countries, you'll have to provide an ID to purchase a PAYG or one time SIM. In Greece for example we picked up a Vodafone SIM with unlimited data for 20 days and it cost 15 Euros, we did this because we had a heavy couple of weeks of usage and wanted to ensure we didn't run out. Local SIMs can often be purchased directly from phone stores, small stores or around the borders. We recommend checking out the local networks prior to purchasing to ensure you have the best coverage. For the EU we've stuck with Vodafone as we've found it to be very reliable.
Can I use an eSIM for Roaming?
Another good option for roaming is using a data only eSIM. You can use this alongside your existing SIM card/UK phone number and the plans tend to be short and flexible so you can chop and change between them as you move between countries. If you have an iPhone model since 2018 or a modern Android handset the chances are you'll be able to use an eSIM in your device. For more information on eSIMs check out companies such as Maya Mobile or Holafly which offer packages all over the world. A benefit of eSIMs is they activate very quickly so you can be online minutes after purchasing a data package. Just be sure to read the T&Cs before you purchase as a few companies have limits on data speeds or the use of tethering/hotspot etc.