Gadgets, GPS, RV gadgets, RV Life, RV Tips, tech tip, technology, tips, TPMS
This week I would like to introduce a few gadgets and gizmos that may be of interest to the beginner and veteran RV travelers alike.
I have always been interested in technology, and I’m sure that had something to do with my becoming an engineer. Having said this, I am also acutely aware that not everybody has an interest in such things, so in this article, I will focus on relatively basic technology that I feel makes an RVer’s life easier. Although there are built-in electronics available in today’s RVs, I will be writing primarily about handheld devices.
Many people are aware of mapping software available for today’s smartphones. Apps such as “Google Maps” are becoming commonplace for people needing to navigate both near and far. When I am commuting locally in my car, I use my smartphone app (hands-free of course) to get me where I want to go. However, when I travel in my RV, I use a standalone GPS unit. I recommend such a unit for all RVers since they have much more functionality than the smartphone versions. My GPS is suction-mounted to my dashboard, partially because many jurisdictions do not allow anything to be affixed to the windshield. Because I am such an early adopter of technology, I generally purchase a new GPS every few years, and my current Magellan is WiFi and Bluetooth connected so it can automatically update itself through my smartphone network connection. It also acts as a hands-free phone device so I don’t need a separate one. A GPS screen is much more viewable while driving than a smartphone. Brands such as Magellan also offer RV-specific versions that account for vehicle height and length and other considerations. I opted not to get one of these since I felt the 7” screen was too large and it lacked some of the advanced features I like. However, these RV versions are great for those with larger rigs who don’t require extra features. Some people prefer to use their smartphones for navigation, but I highly recommend a standalone GPS unit, but be sure to have somebody else enter information while driving.
Some months ago I mentioned my experience with my tire pressure monitoring device (TPMS) regarding a blowout on my tow dolly. This device saved my family and me from an undoubtedly costly situation. Some newer coaches come with built-in TPMS systems, but if you don’t have one, I highly recommend purchasing one. This device comes with transducers that replace the valve stem caps on your tires. These constantly monitor tire pressure and temperature and communicate this information to the receiver mounted on the dash. Any sudden change to either parameter immediately alerts the driver so he/she can pull over before significant damage is done. The receiver has an easy-So wto-read display, and the transducers communicate information about each specific tire. You can generally add up to about 20 transducers, which is more than enough for any towing configuration.
Finally, if you enjoy staying connected on the road, I recommend purchasing a WiFi hotspot from your local carrier. Or you may choose to purchase one separately and add your own SIM card. Although a hotspot requires a little more technical knowledge, it does allow you and your family to stay connected to the internet with your computers and tablets as long as you have a data signal. There is no need to seek out public hotspots or pay money for park WiFi that is often throttled down in bandwidth and/or so crowded with connections as to make it virtually unusable. Most cell phone providers offer hotspot hardware that can be added to your plan, and it’s generally cheaper than connecting to hotspots on the road.
About the Author:
Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.
Allen D. ; Calgary, AB ~ “I would like to thank you for your fast response to my recent problem with a broken fuel line. In spite of the fact that I was in a fairly remote area, the problem was repaired and I was back on the road in approximately 3 hours. I have been a subscriber for 8 years and this was the first time I have required assistance. The subscription rate has been money well spent! Again, thank you!!!”
I disagree that a personal hotspot is cheaper than ones on the road. We are frugal with our cell phone and internet subscriptions, and long ago determined that a hotspot subscription was way too expensive. We aren’t out on the road to spend time on the internet; we’re there to experience the landscape and cultures, the flora and fauna – not the technology we can explore at home anytime.
We’ve found that when absolutely necessary, usually because a park or campground doesn’t have WiFi (or more commonly what it does have isn’t up to the task), we can go to a local town or county library to get online. Even many large stores have WiFi. Personal hotspots to us are ludicrously expensive for what one gets out of them. And from what we’ve seen and heard, they aren’t exactly the fastest systems in the world. If you multiply the extra monthly cost by 12 months, then perhaps by 10 years, can’t you justify other more valuable uses of that money?
I guess if you write travel articles and are up against deadlines a lot, or if you just are addicted to cyberspace and have a big bankbook, then by all means go for it. I’d like to think most of us have better agendas out on the road, and a better sense of economy.
Maybe you can answer a Q for me. I’m a new B to Rv’g. If I go to a library or store to use WiFi I would be doing my banking on line. I’ve been told the WiFi’s are not secure. Is this true where does someone go to do their banking on-line? The motor home RV will be our home as of September once we move out of the house. We are going to be full-time RVers.
That’s correct, there is a minimum of security in those venues. Some libraries require you go to the desk and ask for their passcode first, Others I’ve just parked outside and logged in from my toad because they have no code. Of course bad guys in the library get the code just as easily, so if the library uses a passcode its patron security is not their prime goal of using one.
Generally out in small-town areas the risk of a cyber thief being in the library is pretty slim. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but the idea is to at least minimize your risk if you can’t eliminate it altogether. The same is true of any RV parks you stay at. The fewer people in the library or park the better, also; but again, that’s no guarantee. You can also do your banking in the middle of the night… the bad guys are less likely to be up working the airwaves when they deem there are no marks awake and online.
Some libraries leave their system on 24/7, even when closed and no one’s inside. Their WiFi range is usually highly limited, so from their parking lot, the front curb, or better yet a bench at their front door, if you’ve obtained any passcode ahead of time the bad guy would have to be sitting nearby or around the building perimeter to be on the same WiFi. That’s something you can reconnoiter before logging on.
Actually, weaker WiFi’s are thusly better, if the best connection is either inside or at a very specific outside spot – others would have to be right next to you to do harm. In small town old library buildings, I’m often the only one in there besides usually elder female librarians, or I can see anyone else and they’re not online or I can assess their likelihood of being a hacker.
Minimizing how often I online bank is good practice, of course, to lessen exposure, and I don’t stay on for very long each time. I occasionally wait until I get to a relative’s or trusted friend’s internet access too. If you are a member of a credit union, look into whether or not they participate in a co-op; I often can walk into a branch of another CU far from home, and do at least some of the things I’d do at my home CU. And co-op CU’s commonly reimburse or don’t charge ATM fees to members. The obvious advantage by the same token is if your regular bank is a national chain, like US Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc.
So there are things you can do to at least minimize risk, if you don’t want to spend for your own hotspot. As a full timer however, that puts a whole different spin on things, and you may find a Verizon or other hotspot and/or upping your smartphone data plan a worthwhile expense much like any other necessary home utility.
One comment on the Mobile Hotspot. A lot of people don’t know that you can actually use your cellphone as a hotspot. No need to buy another device or subscription. Look under “Tools – Settings” on your phone. It is usually under “Wireless and Networks”. Be aware that this uses your cellphone data so probably not best to use it to stream movies! Perfect for checking E-Mail, posting to Facebook (or writing comments to Coach-Net)
Yes, we’ve used my wife’s smartphone for that, but we minimized the cost of it by subscribing to only 250MB. We found that we must turn off the Sync part of the phone or we actually can exceed that small limit inadvertently as the phone automatically like clockwork checks for and downloads emails many times per day. I wouldn’t call it “perfect”, but rather adequate for emails, etc.; the small screen has its limitations. It is handy, though, in stores for checking prices or product information and reviews, especially if the store has its own public WiFi so we don’t bite into our data allotment.
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