Since the dawn of the internet, software engineers have found ways to effectively collaborate remotely, and over the years we've become quite good at it. If you need convincing, take a look at any large-scale open source project, and you'll find that it was likely created by people from different countries, time zones, and languages, all collaborating on a single project and working toward a shared vision.
The fact that developers can collaborate successfully no matter where they’re located shows that coders don’t need to be tied to a specific office or time zone. Unfortunately, until recently, when the pandemic forced their hands, many companies (especially large companies) tended to frown on remote work. Full-time remote positions did exist, but they were far less common than on-site positions. And even when you found these positions, they were typically only for contract work.
Enlightened employers now believe that people should be free to work where they’re most productive. For many of us, that's from home, but it could just as easily be from a coffee shop down the street, on a beach, or even in an RV, nestled among trees deep in the forest.
I’ve always dreamed of being a nomad, of sailing the ocean and seeing the world, but I always found myself stuck in a particular place. Family, school, work, etc. — all were rooted to a specific geographic location that I didn't venture far from. Once I purchased a home, that became my base of operations. Trips away from home had to be planned in advance, and were usually expensive (flight, hotel, rental car, etc.). I ended up filling my home with stuff, as one does, and I found that the more stuff I kept there, the more tied down I felt ... but I yearned to be free.
After a lot of research, I convinced myself that a software engineer like me could live and work nomadically while raising my three young children as a single parent and not go crazy (or go crazier?). In the span of a few months, I sold my house and all of the stuff that was previously tying me down, purchased an RV, moved in, and hit the road.
I’ve been living and working full-time in an RV for a year now. Along the way, I upgraded to a larger RV, purchased a tow vehicle, and have learned many things about life on the road and being a digital nomad.
My home is a Thor Challenger, which is a large motor coach. I tow a Jeep Wrangler, which I use as my daily driver and for going places where the coach can't. I no longer feel tied down, and I can live and work wherever the road takes me — and let me tell you, it can lead to some pretty amazing places.
My life now is so different from what it was before, it's hard to compare things directly. Inevitably, my lifestyle has presented unique challenges, but they say each challenge is an opportunity in disguise, and the fact that I'm finally living the adventure I always dreamt of makes each challenge seem like a small bump along the journey.
Staying connected on the road
One of the first challenges I faced was figuring out how to have reliable internet while on the road and at campsites, regardless of where I was staying. To stay connected, I first need to know where I plan to be during the work week. I usually don't travel much Monday through Friday, which makes planning easier.
Before I travel anywhere, I check the cell phone signal strength for an area by looking at coverage maps so that I know what internet options will be available to me once I'm there. OpenSignal.com is the best website I have found so far for checking cellular signal strength in different areas.
If I'm staying somewhere with a strong cell signal, I use my phone hotspot as my primary internet. It's not terribly fast, but it's reliable and unlimited thanks to my plan through Visible. While this plan is affordable (only $50/month), unfortunately it’s for mobile devices only, and can't be used for dedicated hotspot devices.
If I'm outside of town or I need a fast connection, I use a Winegard ConnecT 2.0 4G2 system as my primary internet connection. The Winegard system sits on top of my RV and pulls in even the faintest 3G or 4G signal thanks to its high-gain antenna. Once a signal is captured, it's rebroadcast via three Wi-Fi routers spread throughout the coach. A hotspot-specific data plan is required to use this device, and many hotspot plans have 100GB data caps, so I use the Winegard system sparingly.
If I'm staying at a place with Wi-Fi, the Winegard can use that signal as its source instead of cellular. Since Wi-Fi at RV parks and campgrounds is notoriously spotty, having a device that can rebroadcast a weak signal is essential for staying connected.
Advice from an experienced nomad
Nomadic life is increasingly popular. Younger generations are drawn to it as an alternative to the expensive housing and rental markets, and older generations are drawn to it as a way to have a life of adventure while living comfortably within their means during retirement. New products and services are becoming available to support digital nomads. For example, satellite internet (Starlink in particular) is becoming more viable as a mobile internet solution, and may replace cellular-based hotspot devices. For more information on the latest in mobile internet, RVMobileInternet.com is the best resource I have found.
If you’re thinking about life as a digital nomad, I hope that hearing about my solutions to staying connected will help you to do the same, no matter where the road takes you. And as always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. Happy travels!
Tyler is a full-time nomad, father of 3, musician, and engineer who is recently transitioning to the world of Full-stack (in no particular order). He enjoys traveling, pretending he can cook, and crafting software that has a positive impact on the world.