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California van trip: The best options to stay connected on the road in 4G or 5G

Planning a van trip in California ? Great idea. We will help you remain connected during your journey

Published: Jul 4, 2022

california van

Finding reasons to visit California is not difficult. The Golden State has something to offer everyone – beauty, history, fun, and lots of adventure. Nature enthusiasts will be excited to explore the awe-inspiring national parks, while those who love a good adrenaline rush will have a blast at one of the famous theme parks. Whatever your taste or desires – California is the best place to make your travel dreams come true.

But if you are getting bored of the standard holiday checklist, the summer months of 2022 are the perfect time to head on a van trip. By choosing this alternative way of traveling, you have the ability to go wherever you want and whenever you want. Thanks to the growing community of van dwellers, exploring the States in a van is easier and cheaper than ever!

Still, adventuring in a van involves its challenges too. The one we will help you address is internet connectivity. Without a home internet connection to rely on, you will have to find other options to get online. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from. With our help, discover the best internet options to stay connected during your trip to California.

Why is staying connected important, especially in California?

If you plan on working on the road, it will be crucial to have a good and reliable internet connection. The internet is also a game-changer when it comes to finding water, places to camp, parking, dump stations, directions, and exciting things to do. 

Although the idea of getting off the grid, away from everything and everyone, can seem tempting, for your safety and comfort, having an internet connection is a 'must'. You certainly won't want to venture uninformed to the Mojave desert. Although California is generally a safe place to visit, accidents and emergencies can occur, so staying up to date with the latest information is crucial, especially if you hope to visit national parks.

For example, the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park can turn quickly from hot and sunny to wet and dangerous.

How much data should you plan for a van trip ?

As a little reminder, and before we start, know that 1GB equals to ~1000MB (1024MB to be exact đŸ€“). MB stands for Megabyte and GB stands for Gygabyte.

2GB to 5GB of mobile data is typically used each month by smartphone owners. Look no further from your own smartphone to determine whether your usage is above or below that average: most smartphones monitor total data consumption and will help you calibrate your needs.

To help you understand your data needs for your road trip, here are some facts and numbers about data usage for the key apps like navigation and entertainment that you will need on the road.

Google maps

The table below, which is based on an analysis done by WhistleOut using a data tracker, will give you an indication of how much data you'll use to use Google Maps to travel to your location.

Minutes on Google Maps: Mobile Data Used

- 5 min: 3MB

- 10 min: 6MB

- 20 min: 12MB

- 40 min: 24MB

Waze

Waze typically uses 15MB of data per month for an hour's worth of driving, or about 0.5MB per day. Due to a number of variables, including journey distance, runtime, etc., this amount may vary. However, Waze distinctive properties make its data usage different from other applications of a similar nature.

Streaming apps data usage

Streaming apps (Netflix, Youtube, etc.) will quickly drain your data if not used through a WIFI network. 

Youtube

The amount of data YouTube uses is determined by the quality of your video playback. While watching a YouTube video in Full HD can consume 1.65GB in an hour, watching one in 480p uses about 260MB. Up to 2.7GB of data will be used each hour by 4K video playback on YouTube.

Netflix

Netflix claims that you use up to 3GB of data per hour when streaming HD content and approximately 1GB of data per hour when watching a TV show or movie in a normal definition.

However, you may modify your Netflix account's data usage settings to lessen the bandwidth it consumes and, as a result, your data usage.

Regular Internet browsing & social media

How much data does browsing the internet & social media consume? 

Internet browsing

Typical web surfing, such as reading news or shopping online, uses only about 60MB per hour. The amount of data consumed depends on the type of website you visit. This is because some websites contain much more content (images and videos). Generally, when you surf the internet, you calculate about 60MB / hour.

Social media

As for social media, scrolling on Facebook / Instagram usually consumes about 120MB / hour or 160MB / hour for video content. Just scrolling through social media consumes about 2MB / min. 

Conclusion

As a good base, we would recommend 10-15GB of data a month for normal data users to up to 20-30GB a month for data junkies.

The best data plans options for a van trip to California

When it comes to getting an internet connection in your van, you will have the choice between different options. The easiest and usually also the most cost-effective method is to use your cellphone and a mobile data plan. 

If you have a US mobile subscription, your data plan might be enough to cover your data needs and should not cost you more than what you normally pay each month.

If you are not from the States or realize your carrier won't provide a good internet connection, then you will need to buy a prepaid eSIM data plan or a prepaid SIM card.

No matter whether you choose an eSIM plan or SIM card, in case this is something you need, you should check that your plan allows mobile tethering (connection sharing) or get pocket wifi to use your data plan through a WIFI router.

Get an eSIM data plan that works in the United States

To stay connected during your van trip through a data plan, an eSIM is probably the best option. Nowadays, most latest generation phones are compatible with the technology. In the future, eSIMs are believed to become even more popular. Simply put, eSIMs are virtual SIM cards that can offer internet and calls.

After you purchase an eSIM, it will arrive in your email within a few seconds, and you’ll just need to download your eSIM plan. For some online stores, you may be required to download their phone app, but even then, the whole process won't take more than just a few minutes. Here is how the process works on iPhone and Android.

To activate your eSIM, all you have to do is scan a QR code. No contracts to sign or long forms to fill out – just a few steps, and you are ready to go!

Before purchasing an eSIM data plan, you must figure out how long your trip is going to be and how much data you will need. Depending on your requirements, there are different options to choose from.

Light data users : Nomad

If you don't plan on spending too much time surfing the web.

For $9, you get Nomad's eSIM Local United States of America - 30 Days - 3 GB, complete with 3 GB of data. That's roughly $3.00 per GB. This deal lasts 30 days, and yeah, it supports 5G speeds.

Data

3 GB

Validity30 day(s)

đŸ‡ș🇾 United States

Data only

Network(s) : AT&T (5G), Verizon Wireless (5G)

$9.00

$3.00/GB
Learn more â€ș

Average data users : Instabridge or Airalo

Travelers who must use the internet quite often can opt for the “10GB United States” package by Instabridge.This data plan is valid for 30 days.

With our voucher "ESIMSIO20", you can enjoy a 20% discount if you are a new customer.

Data

10 GB

Validity30 day(s)

đŸ‡ș🇾 United States

Data only

Special Offer : 20% OFF

$11.20

$14.00

$1.12/GB
Learn more â€ș

Another great option is to use the data plan by Airalo. The Singapore-based company is well known for its excellent user experience, so you can be sure there won't be any hassles during your California van trip. Their package “Change 10 GB” includes an LTE Data-only eSIM, which operates on T-Mobile and AT&T networks. For $26, you get 10GB of data for 30 days.

Data

10 GB

Validity30 day(s)

đŸ‡ș🇾 United States

Data only

Network(s) : T-Mobile (5G), Verizon (5G)

$13.00

$1.30/GB
Learn more â€ș

For unlimited data : MTX Connect

If you are heading on a short trip, you will need plenty of data to share your adventures! In this case, choose MTX Connect. Their package “Unlimited Daily” ($11, 29) offers unlimited data for work and social activities. Note that it is valid only for 24 hours.

Data

Unlimited

Validity1 day(s)

113 countries

Data only

$10.71

Learn more â€ș

Purchase a prepaid SIM card

  • Option 1: purchase a prepaid sim card in advance

If you wish to purchase a prepaid SIM card, buying it in advance will be cheaper. In the USA, there are only two mobile internet providers (T-Mobile and AT&T) that offer prepaid sim cards for tourists. You can buy the SIM card on Amazon, or use the services of our partner – SimOptions.

  • Option 2: purchase a prepaid sim card when you land 

An alternative is to purchase a prepaid sim card at the airport. However, be prepared to pay more. Moreover, finding a sim card shop will be quite the hassle. In fact, most airports (regardless of whether you land in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Dallas, etc.) don't offer designated shops. Most locals purchase sim cards in official retail stores, which can be found in most shopping malls, so that is your best bet too. You can always use Google Maps to find the T-Mobile or AT&T store.

Rent or buy a pocket wifi

Although the most convenient, prepaid eSIMs aren't the only option for getting the internet. An alternative is to purchase a mobile hotspot device, aka pocket WIFI. The advantage of these small, external devices is that they can be used by multiple people without slowing your signal down.

Coverage: the best mobile networks in California

Many of the big networks like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, offer 99% coverage in California. Depending on your location, you can also choose more affordable data plans from newer contenders. However, that sometimes means sacrificing speed. To get a better understanding of the coverage, check out this map.

map of california coverage

Source: Federal Communications Commission of the United States of America

Extra tips

Here are some extra connectivity tips to enhance your signal and save data.

Signal boosters

When traveling around California, you will need at least a 3G connection. Otherwise, you won't be able to use it for almost anything. Some van dwellers opt for signal boosters, which add signal strength to RVs, vans, and cars. 

If you are on 3G, your signal may turn into LTE. However, if there is no signal, it won't be of much help. These devices are quite expensive and require drilling holes through your van's roof. If you are planning a short trip, the hassle and investment may not be worth it.

Use public WiFi when you can

The good old public WiFi is another complement to stay connected on the road, however, it is not the safest choice, especially if you must handle sensitive data. All around California, you will find libraries, malls, coffee shops, and grocery stores that have free WiFI. Many camping sites offer it too. 

A good habit would be to use public WiFI networks to download heavy files or documents and access them offline (Movies, Series, Maps) to save mobile data.

To conclude

As a tourist, the most convenient option is to purchase an eSIM. If you prefer to use prepaid SIM during your adventures, you will find great packages on SimOptions. When traveling together with friends or family, consider buying pocket WiFi – then you won't have to worry about your signal slowing down.

Exploring California in a van is sure to be a memorable experience. This way, you get to reach destinations otherwise inaccessible to tourists, plus you can plan your adventure just the way you want – there are no limitations! As long as you have access to the internet, your trip should be smooth and easy. Visit esims.io to purchase the best data plan for your California adventure!

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