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Connections While Travelling

In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been for the past 3 months, I can only respond with the importance of having a good plethora of communication connections. Some parks have GREAT internet access, but many have poor or no Internet at all. We’ve been in 3 parks since before Thanksgiving.

Our first park was a nice, small park south of Magnolia, TX called “Rambling Vines”. It was very quiet, lots of trees all around, and was real close to the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds. This was convenient, but they didn’t have any WiFi at all. They primarily have long-term guests. Most of them had been there for a year or more. A couple people have been there for over 10 years! Relatively kid friendly, but they didn’t want us to stay for too long since we had so many kids in our trailer. The park laundromat had only 2 washers and 2 dryers,  so we took all our clothes a mile or two up the street to a regular laundromat.

Our second park was “Riverside RV Park” on Hwy 42 at Harrison Rd.  on the west side of Longview, TX. It’s a nice, spacious park, but the WiFi required an extra, separate charge which we didn’t pay for since we had 1 bar or less of coverage. We had some issues with the manager.  When she said that children were to be supervised, she meant literally “like a hawk” over their shoulder constantly for every child under age 16. They finally changed the rules for an equal number of children under 16 for adults 16 and over. IOW, if I took 2 kids to the park, I was violating the rules since I couldn’t “watch” both of them. The speed limit in the park was 10mph, but I was reprimanded for going 8mph since it “looked fast” and my engine was “revved up too high”. Their laundromat had 5 washers and 5 dryers, but every time I used it the manager complained that I did something wrong with using it: dirt on the floor, dirt on the sidewalk, dirt in the washer, etc. I offered to sweep it, but that seemed to make her angrier. I guess the laundromat is for looks only. They have two nice, large shower rooms. They complained that I spent “too much time in the shower room”: 30-45 minutes once or twice a week. Most people complained that I didn’t spend enough time in the shower often enough. At 7pm on a Thursday, the manager gave me 24-hrs to leave the park. I was gone by 5pm the next day but was fined $30 for leaving after 1pm.

The third park was also in Longview called “Gum Springs RV & Trailer Park”. It is over on the east side of town just off I-20 Exit 599. There are several parks off that exit which I didn’t find through Google Maps. There is WiFi scattered throughout the park, but it wasn’t strong enough to penetrate into the trailer very well. Unlike Riverside, Gum Springs is much more of a family park with several families with children including the manager’s own daughter and grandkids.  Again, lots of long-term guests who’d been around for 2 years or more. Big speed bumps keep the speeds low, and the narrow street made for more cautious driving. Again, the laundromat is small, but there’s a big laundromat next to the convenience store by I-20. The toilet/shower room is small, but the heater in there was nice. No complaints about my time in the shower. The manager seemed happy that I used it: “Glad we could be of service to you.” The only issue we had @ Gum Springs were technical issues with water and power. The power seemed under capacity for even our little trailer. The water went out for almost a day. When it came back on, it had a strong sewer taste and smell. Apparently, there were 3 wells that were supposed to supply the park, but there was only one working and it had a problem. They got the other wells online again, but the water was nasty. After a while, the sewer went away and it was really salty. By the time we left, the saltiness was much less, but it was still “undrinkable”. I’m sure that by the time you get there it’ll be much better, but I’d still recommend a water filter, just in case.

We’re now at the “Hales Bar Marina & RV Park” west of Chattanooga, TN. Cost for the park is as low as $250/month w a 1-year lease or $500/month for a site right on the river. WiFi is really strong and fast here, but AT&T cell phone coverage in this park is spotty to non-existent. AT&T offers a “MicroCell” device which allows you to use your broadband internet connection for cell phone calls. The MicroCell gives you 4+ bars of 3G service in a 35ft radius.

Because of our mobile lifestyle, the most common Internet solutions of cable or DSL won’t work for us. I got Internet Tethering on my iPhone so that helped a little. After 2GB/mo, AT&T charges $10/GB of overage. This is the most reasonable I’ve found, but it can add up fast. My normal bill of $150/mo shot up to over $230 for January.

Virgin Mobile released a new USB and MiFi service for $40/mo unlimited. This would be usable since we don’t have to spend the money next month if we’re in a place where there is no Virgin/Sprint PCS service. It would also allow my iPhone to use it at home for data transfer to keep from going over. That same 8GB of overage would’ve been only $40 through the Virgin MiFi instead of $80 through AT&T. Other options, like Virgin Mobile, use the cell phone network to connect, but the allowed throughput is low and fairly expensive. Greyhound’s new cross-country bus has a MiFi unit in their buses that use the cell towers on the interstate highways to give you free WiFi inside the bus while travelling. Great idea and good value for such commercial use but not practical or economical for private use yet.

I’ve also chatted with DirectTV and DishNetwork about their broadband over satellite offerings, but unlike the normal satellite receiver, FCC requires you to be a trained and licensed installer to establish a 2-way connection as is needed for Internet usage. If you’re going to be stationary a while like will be for the foreseeable future, this could be a good option. Otherwise, unless you go to the class to get the right training and certification to do it yourself, there’s a charge to have a technician come and set it up each time you move. Additionally, both companies require a minimum TV package before adding on the Internet access for $40/month. HughesNet and WildBlue offer Internet-only over satellite, but you typically have to buy the equipment which is much more expensive.

For a bit more cost, you can get a Satellite-in-Motion system that will keep you online as you go down the road. Check out the RV superstores or their online catalogs for information. These systems tend to run over $1,000 plus installation and monthly access fees. These can be found already installed on the top of the line Class A RVs if you want to spend $500,000 or more for your rig.

In summary, the ability to get connected to the Internet and cell phones is important and should be planned and addressed before you get on the road. While some parks are good about providing WiFi and have a strong cell signal, not all parks or spots in a park will provide it. In the end, it’s up to you to supply your own communications devices and services. You have the ability to change provider or move, if needed. Still, don’t forget to cut all ties and let the earth go silent for a time.

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