The Joys of a Crappy Data Plan

Adam and Jenn Norrell Adam and Jenn Norrell  |  11.26.2015

The quiet reading room (above) in the Santa Fe Public Library, located just off the plaza, provides a beautiful space with fantastic free WiFi.

Have you noticed how time halts in the wake of bad news? The moment exists like an event horizon at the edge of some insatiable black hole, and everything around you is compressed into the singularity of awareness that life will, heretofore, be different: “We regret to inform you that your wireless service will be terminated…”

Like many enthusiastic full-timers, I had ordered one of the Verizon hotspots offered by Omnilynx this past summer touting unlimited(!) LTE data for a paltry $48 per month. The honeymoon lasted two glorious months, and I’ll always cherish how it felt to cross the 100GB data threshold for the first time with no overage fees. I had finally found a way to stick it to The Man and it was more intoxicating than free beer at a monster truck rally. And now they were going to take it all away.

The last few days with my bottomless hotspot were a blurry binge of Law and Order and The Good Wife fueled by a slurry of Cheetos and Mountain Dew. I had lost all self control and had to hit bottom before I could rise up among the detritus of empty cans and Little Debbie wrappers, a Phoenix tempered by the flickering glow of the LCD, to sing the virtues of an existence without access to an unlimited high-speed data plan. I had to remember why we set out on this journey in the first place, and while access to data might be a requirement of a modern household, it’s not the necessity we had become accustomed to before our home grew wheels.

Here are a few unplugged ways we pass the time when we’re not exploring the neighborhood du jour.

reading-listOur current reading list in the Kindle app – lots of good stuff there.

Bury your nose in a book

Some of our favorite evenings, after the kiddo goes to bed, are spent cozied up beneath a blanket with a good book and a cup of tea. Jenn and I are both introverted people and require a hearty portion of quiet time to recharge our batteries, and reading is something that we can do together without feeling obligated to engage with one another. While it’s not quite like the real thing, a well-stocked e-reader takes up very little space in an RV and can easily accommodate the most voracious of readers between data fill-ups. Reading is one of those things that is fantastically portable, so grab a blanket and your Kindle and go get comfy in that hammock for an adventure with your imagination.

Old time radio programs

One of many luxuries we’ve allowed ourselves in our life on the road is satellite radio and it’s proved invaluable on long days behind the wheel. SiriusXM has introduced me to programs like the Moth Radio Hour and Encounters Radio. In fact, if you haven’t yet heard of Encounters Radio, go check it out this instant while you have an internet connection and download a handful of episodes for later. Richard Nelson’s breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for wild critters is incredibly contagious, and each show is great for all ages. SiriusXM also offers the Radio Classics channel, playing vintage programs from the likes of Jack Benny and Abbott & Costello, along with other variety shows and melodramas. All you need to enjoy an old fashioned night around the radio is a bit of juice in the house batteries and a clear view of the southern sky.

hobbyJenn’s crocheting a new winter bonnet for Imogen and she’s never far from a cup of tea.

Knittin’ and whittlin’

Before we moved into our RV, I was under the impression we were going to have to make sacrifices to sufficiently downsize our lives so that it would all fit. We stuck the heirlooms in a 10×10 storage unit and sold everything else that wouldn’t fit in our diesel pusher. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, when it comes to full-timing, we have it easy. Our coach has swallowed up everything we could possibly need on the road with space to spare. And though I might not have brought along my collection of typewriters, both of us are pretty well set on the things we need to do the things we love. Jenn is crafty and, when time allows, enjoys crocheting, knitting, and baking. I’m likely to spend my free time either writing, drawing, or–and this is just between us–playing video games. Point is, we didn’t have to give up any of the things that make us happy to take our life on the road. If it’s important to you, make it a priority to find a way to enjoy it as a full-timer.

But, but…I NEED my data!

Ok, sometimes there’s no getting around the fact that many of us simply need our data to get by. Access to heaps of data is what keeps the lights on and the wheels spinning on our fantastic adventure. My average workday can consume over 1GB of data just developing code on remote servers and interacting with my team through shared desktops. For that reason, I have to get creative with how I access data on a daily basis so that I’m not forced to sell my vestigial organs when the mobile bill arrives. As a compromise, I’ve adopted the practice of splitting my workday into two parts. One of those sessions will be spent at a local coffee shop, library, or cafe so that I can mooch their free Wi-Fi. If I’ve got a big collaborative meeting on the calendar, I’ll be sure my time on mooched Wi-Fi overlaps with my meeting so that I’m not using our expensive data plan for streaming a video teleconference. I’ve found that I can often reserve a private study room in many local libraries for just this sort of thing, with the added perk of building up a pretty sweet library card collection. Not only am I getting free data by getting out of the coach, but I’m also breaking up my day and exploring more of the community we are visiting. I also get out of Jenn’s hair for a few hours, which is probably better than the extra French fry at the bottom of the bag.

zendo-coffeeZendo in Albuquerque, by far my favorite coffee shop in town, was my WiFi mooch of choice for a 10-hour video conference. Yes, you read that correctly. 10. Hours.

If you’re anything like us, you probably have a Netflix account. Maybe you spend a little time each day on Facebook or Instagram. Perhaps you pay your bills online, shop online, and even scarf down a couple of cute cat videos when you have a few minutes to burn. Trust me, we get it. Our lives have become so entwined with digital consumption that we’re left with an embarrassing void once our unmetered tap to the cloud was gone. When we lived in a sticks-n-bricks home, it was easy to settle into routines anchored around streaming video, and we felt the urge creeping back in when we had our unlimited hotspot. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of this adventure we’re on? I’m not saying it isn’t nice to veg out once in a while on a Walking Dead bender, but our choice to live in an RV is about making the most of the time we’ve got on this spinning rock. A little less high-speed data might just be the cat’s pajamas. Now, get off the Internet and go do something!

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  1. Alexandra @ Vandy Vagabonds Posted on 12.04.2015

    Oh I love this article, so! Many similarities to us. 4 months in and I still catch myself getting worked up when the wifi at our campground is slow. That’s not why we sold everything, packed it all up and hit the road in our motorhome!

    I’m a voracious reader (read Station 11 over the summer – what did you think? I LOVED it. If you did, and haven’t read this, I highly recommend Church of Marvels. SO. GOOD.) too but I don’t have any hobbies that keep my hands busy. I thought I might try and learn to embroider or cross stitch but I’ve not dug into the supplies I purchased and packed with us. I’d love to learn to knit or crochet, but am much better when I’ve got a teacher beside me.

    Anyways – this s a great, wonderful reminder of one of the bigger driving purposes behind why most of us choose this lifestyle as well as a practical solution for those times when we may need to have access to decent wifi for a good stretch of hours to be productive. Though, I do hope you never have to deal with a 10 (!!!) hour video conference again! Eep!

  2. kathie Posted on 12.03.2015

    Hi Adam ! Once again a great read. Glad you guys are able to travel the country and do what you love.