(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)
As humans, most of us are social creatures by nature. We also need to stay on top of business communications, both personal and professional. While it remains a challenge to live a location-independent lifestyle, recent advances in technology have made it much less so, at least when it comes to communication.
Trip Down Memory Lane
Thirty years ago, mobile phones were an expensive toy for those who could afford it, or couldn’t afford to be without, and the internet was just getting its start. Twenty years ago, mobile phones were starting to be almost affordable for average people, and the internet was becoming popular with 56k dialup modems. Mobile internet was possible, but excruciatingly slow and prohibitively expensive. Ten years ago, WiFi became popular, and cell-based mobile internet was just beginning to become faster and more affordable. Today, almost everybody has a cellphone, and wireless internet, while still slower and more expensive than wired, is affordable and tolerably fast.
Cutting The Cord
My cellphone is my only phone, and it was my only phone even when I lived in a regular house. It just made sense to me. For about the same price as a wired phone, which only works in my house, I can have a wireless phone, which works in my house as well as almost everywhere else. To me it was a no-brainer. When I was ready to move from house to RV, the telephone was a non-issue, since I’d already made the transition to wireless.
There are a number of options for internet access. If internet isn’t a part of your daily routine, or you expect to only stay where there is WiFi available or nearby, then that’s a great option, and inexpensive or even free. Some people go with satellite. It gives decent speeds, and will work anywhere you have a view of the southern sky. It is also expensive, both for the hardware and the monthly service. Setup and aiming of the dish can be finicky, but systems are made that automatically track the birds, even while in motion — for a price. Some people use cell-based internet by tethering their phone to their computer, or they use a dedicated device.
What I Use
For me, cellular was the best balance between cost and usability. I have a cellular modem and router that gives me ethernet and WiFi connectivity whenever I’m within range of a cellphone tower. I have an outdoor high gain antenna and an amplifier to stretch that range and make sure I have the fastest connection possible (speed is directly related to signal strength). Speeds can range from slow-as-dialup in rural areas, to a respectable, if not blazing, one or two megabits per second.
The cellular system does a good enough job with phone and internet, but sometimes it goes down, and there are also plenty of places with poor or no coverage. That’s when amateur radio becomes more than a hobby. It becomes my only communication link. HF (shortwave) bands offer the ability to communicate with stations all over the country and even around the world. It offers true point-to-point communication that doesn’t rely on cellphone towers nor other infrastructure. One of the earliest uses of radio was to maintain contact with ships at sea, and it still serves that function today. There are also groups of RVing hams who keep in touch daily not only to keep track of friends’ travels, but also as a means of checking welfare and relaying messages when necessary. Formal message handling isn’t as common as it once was, but it is indispensable as a means of getting an important message to or from a traveler who is out of range of other communication methods. Ham radio also gives me the security of knowing if there was ever an emergency, be it on the road or at a remote campsite, I would be able to summon help. Amateur radio can even be used to send and receive email.
Neither Rain Nor Snow…
What about the mail? Even with email and the internet, and despite the decline in use of postal mail, there’s still a need for snail mail. But how? There are a number of options. If you tend to stay mostly in one general area, or frequently return to a particular town, you could get a post office box. While the US Postal Service offers the best rates, a third-party mailbox store offers the ability to receive packages from any carrier as well as an actual street address.
If you expect to be roaming far and wide, with no plans to regularly return to any “home” location, you’ll need your mail forwarded. You could get a trusted friend or family member to do it for you. This probably offers the best flexibility. They would be able to recognize potentially important mail and alert you to its presence. They could recognize and discard junk mail. If they follow your travels and know your habits, they’d be better equipped to anticipate your needs than a stranger at a commercial establishment.
There are a number of mail forwarding businesses that can do this for you. They will receive and save your mail for you, and, on your request, will send it on to the address of your choice — often General Delivery in the town you are staying in. These companies specialize in mail forwarding and offer many services (sometimes at an extra charge). You can call them and ask them to tell you what mail you have waiting, or look for a particular piece you may be waiting for. Some will even open and read you your mail to you at your request.
There is a variation on the mail forwarding service. These services open all of your mail, scan it, and email you the scanned images. You can then instruct them, on a piece by piece basis, to shred, save, or forward the original. There are varying options you can specify as to default actions for different types of mail, and pricing varies with features offered and options selected. This is a good plan for someone who has good internet or email access, wants the ability to read their mail as quickly as possible, and isn’t bothered by the thought that somebody else is opening and handling their mail.
Along with forwarding, you’ll want to practice mail reduction, too, to save on the cost and frequency of re-mailing. In fact, everyone should seek to reduce their paper mail to the absolute minimum as that will help reduce your ecological footprint. Cancel any catalogs and junk mail that you can. Even if you like reading catalogs, you can do that online. If you subscribe to any magazines, see if they are available on the web (sometimes as a PDF-like electronic version that attempts to mimic the print edition). Check with creditors and service providers to see if they offer electronic billing (online or email) — most do. You can even take that to the next step and do electronic bill pay to save yourself a stamp, a check, and a trip to the post office. You can even have predictable recurring bills paid automatically so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them.
As you can see, even though the government and many businesses would prefer you to have a fixed address so they know how to find you, it isn’t too hard to meet all your communication needs while maintaining freedom from location.
Please feel free to ask questions or share your experience in the comments.