Tech to take with your on your camping or RV trip
Need a strong enough signal for a conference call or charge everyone’s phones on your outdoorsy summer vacation? You’ve come to the right place.
Marc Saltzman, Special to USA TODAY
With the warmer weather upon us and fewer (or no) pandemic-era travel restrictions, perhaps you’re considering a family road trip to a national park, camping ground or maybe a weekend visit to a lakeside summer home.
‘Tis the season to get outside – and stay out – but understandably, many want to keep the same comforts of home in the process, including access to electricity and Wi-Fi.
Besides, you may need to continue to work on a laptop while at a remote cabin and benefit from strong cellular connectivity for conference calls.
Fortunately, you can have your cake and eat it, too, thanks to portable devices like small power generators, mobile hotspots and phone boosters – all of which could make cottaging, RVing or camping/glamping a more pampered experience. (Backup power is a smart safeguard any time of the year, in fact, but especially for those in states affected by the Atlantic hurricane season, which typically starts in June.)
And so, the following are a few tips and tools to consider ahead of your spring or summer excursions.
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Along with bringing a smartphone, tablet or laptop, you’ll likely want to use the Internet, for work or play and there are a few ways to ensure fast and reliable access.
Options for high-speed internet will vary based on your location and if you need something temporarily (at a camp site) or long-term (say, at your summer cabin). If satellite-based service (like Elon Musk’s Starlink) isn’t yet available where your summer home is or you have too many trees or other objects that can make it difficult for the dish to get a clear signal, you could benefit from a “mobile hotspot device” from your phone provider.
WIRELESS SERVICE: Which carrier has reception where you’re going?
Using 4G or 5G connectivity, these are essentially little modems that lets you share your cellular network connection with other devices, so they can all access the internet. You would join devices (like a laptop) to your hotspot via Wi-Fi, but then it’s leveraging cellular technology to get online. You will be charged for any data they use, according to your monthly data plan or if you pick up a separate plan with the hotspot device.
All major phone providers all offer affordable mobile hotspot solutions and plans, many of which have a back-up battery in the event the power goes out.
Verizon, for example, offers a few solutions, including the Jetpack MiFi 8800L ($199.99), a 4G/LTE hotspot that supports up to 15 simultaneous devices and features a 2.4-inch color touchscreen, up to 24 hours of a battery life and USB port for charging up smartphones, tablets and other devices. However, it will throttle your connection speed once you hit the monthly data cap.
Before you buy, research which carrier has the strongest signal where you’ll be. Bear in mind, it might not be the network you currently belong to.
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Boost your reception
Speaking of wireless reception, cellphone signal boosters are another popular purchase among those who spend time in remote locations.
Some can be mounted to your car, truck, SUV or RV, while others can be affixed to the roof (or side) of a home or cottage.
The outside antenna of the phone captures the signal from a nearby cell tower, which is connected to the interior components. Your phone picks up and amplifies the signal to send it back to the tower. Sometimes the outside antenna needs to be aimed at a cell tower, if there are no obstructions, while other antennas are omni-directional.
The SureCall Flare 3.0 ($379), for instance, covers up to 3,500 square feet and works with any brand of cell phone or smartphone (or hotspots), regardless of the phone carrier. It supports 4G/LTE and 5G networks. Mounting hardware and a 50-foot RG-6 cable are included.
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Those who spend time in remote locales know all too well inclement weather could knock out power, even temporarily, which might impede your ability to stay connected (and if need be, get work done).
Always keep your devices juiced up, just in case and keep a portable battery booster (“power bank”) and charging cables in a backpack, jacket pocket or purse (and make sure they’re powered up, too).
For those who need more power to keep everything charged up when off the grid or in the event of an emergency and for long periods of time, Anker’s PowerStation-branded portable power stations (which start at $199) are battery-powered rather than gas-based generators, therefore ideal for indoor use, too. As such, they also don’t produce carbon monoxide.
The company just announced the “world’s longest-lasting portable power station,” the Anker 757 PowerHouse ($1,399, but discounted right now if you preorder), powered by a Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery, similar to those used in today’s electric vehicles. Rated to last up to 3,000 full charging cycles, which is six times the industry average, says the company, the 757 PowerHouse can be charged up to 80% in just an hour, plus supports optional solar panels to charge up in direct sunlight.
The corrosion- and temperature-resistant device houses 6 AC outlets,1 USB C port and 4 regular USB ports.
On a related note, to safeguard your computer and other indoor electronics, make sure your power strip has a “surge protection” feature, which defends against possible voltage spikes that could damage your electronics (often after the power returns).
And remember to make a copy of your important computer files on a regular basis. Free cloud services are fine, but remember if the power or internet goes down, you’ll be without your files, so consider a local (offline) solution, too, such as an external drive from WD or SanDisk.
DATA STORAGE: Cloud, flash drive or elsewhere, back up your files
Put robots to work
Finally, while you may be enjoying a stay at your summer place, chances are you don’t want to spend your downtime cleaning the place.
Robotic vacuum cleaners, like the Roomba family, can vacuum and/or mop, so you don’t have to. You may also be aware of autonomous window washers.
But you might not know you can also have a robot do your lawn cutting.
From Husqvarna, Automower Robotic Mowers (from $1,199) save time and maintain a manicured lawn. Using GPS navigation and an installed guide wire, these battery-powered mowers autonomously navigate your property with its razor-sharp blades, rain or shine and because it’s super quiet, during the day or night. Tiny grass clippings are recycled onto the lawn as a natural fertilizer. When it detects its running low on battery, it intelligently drives itself back to the base to charge up.
You can start, stop and schedule the mower via an app or via your voice with a compatible smart speaker.
Husqvarna chose its recent Plawn Shop event in Grapevine, Texas, to unveil the Automower 415X ($1,999), the newest member of the family. Available in May, the company says it’s ideal for midsize lawns averaging 1/3 acre (about 1,500m²), even with steep slopes up to 40 degrees and features a new TargetHeight function that can automatically adjust the cut height to meet the set target.