inicio mail me! sindicaci;ón

Why campground wi-fi sucks

I’ll cut right to the chase here.   We didn’t go anywhere today and the most exciting thing was having tuna fish on toast for lunch.   So I’m going to take today’s blog to rant a bit.

Today’s Thesis: Campground wi-fi is about as reliable as Nigerian banker with $20 million to share.

It’s not usually the campground owner’s fault.   Many of them got swept up into the promise that wi-fi would be a money-making service for them.   They’d provide Internet service and charge $6 a day for it.   A few still try to do it, but many of them have just opted to allow wi-fi for free, figuring it’s another marketing tool.

But getting wi-fi into RV’s all over a campground reliably is trickier than it looks.   Geography, trees, buildings, and aluminum sided RVs all interfere with the signal.   Electric motors, cordless phones, and other wi-fi installations also get in the way.   Given that they are giving it away, not too many campground owners are inclined to make the level of investment that is needed to provide a good consistent signal.   The result is that at most campgrounds we’ve visited that promise wi-fi, only about half actually provide a signal we can use inside the Airstream.

If you can’t receive the signal indoors, it’s not very useful.   In Oregon near Crater Lake National Park, I remember a park where the wi-fi was reachable only within a few feet of the office.   I had to sit at a picnic table outdoors with mosquitoes chewing on me. If it’s not mosquitoes, it’s cold temperatures (try typing with frozen fingers!), wind, sun so bright you can’t see the screen, or rain.   It’s rarely nice enough outside to work on a laptop.

Then it gets worse.   The routers and cable/DSL modems commonly used occasionally have problems, caused by power outages, spikes, people tripping over the wires, etc.   They often need to be re-set, but usually nobody in the management office knows how — or even is aware that something is wrong.   So even when we find a signal, I often find something technical is wrong.   The router may not be assigning IP addresses, for example.

A typical scenario is that the wi-fi works for a few hours, but then suddenly stops for no apparent reason.   Sometimes it comes back, usually it doesn’t.   When I tell the folks in the office, I usually get a panicked look and then some gobbledygook like, “I think the Internet is down,” or “I’ll have to ask Tony when he gets back next week.”

Sometimes they’ll give up and let me take a look at the system.   I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve found myself on my hands and knees underneath someone’s desk sorting out dusty wires.   Usually it’s a matter of tracing the power cables, discreetly pulling them out (because the staff gets nervous when things are disconnected, even for a moment), and reconnecting them in the proper order.

This is why, when I am told by prospective travelers that they intend to seek out “wi-fi campgrounds”, I ask if they really need to get online.   If you intend to rely on the Internet as you travel for information and communications, don’t expect wi-fi in the campgrounds to work more than 50% of the time.   Really, it’s that bad.

If intermittent and unpredictable access to the Internet is OK with you, then you’ll be happy.   If not, you’ll need to consider   either a cellular Internet card (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T/Cingular, and Alltel offer them), or a satellite Internet dish.   I’ve talked about these options before in the blog, so if you are curious, just do a search on our archives.

I don’t have a lot of hope that the bad state of campground wi-fi will improve any time soon.   The cost of putting in a real commercial-grade service is beyond most campground owners.   For those who regard Internet service as essential as oxygen and drinkable water, expect to “bring your own” for the next decade or so.

5 Responses to “Why campground wi-fi sucks”

  1. andy pletis Says:

    Hello, traveling in a 28 foot 2004 Safari and covering between michigan and southern california. I have my own business in the heating and a/c industry and your comments on internent coverage is well, interesting. I have a motorala q phone with 24/7 access to the internet and e-mail. it appears to be the most reliable even as I write to you on a brand new mac at the reno koa. The additional charges are applicable at this location and indeed similar to premium hotels.

    Anyway great stories that I can relate to. keep up the great work. Andy poletis

  2. Mike Young Says:


    Traveling from California to Arizona via Massachusetts over a 2-month span we were able to access the interenet almost everywhere using our iPhone. I was even able to download a 12-page galley proof in PDF on the iPhone and send the edits back to the publisher all while traveling I-80 thru Wyoming. That’s pretty good service. Sure it isn’t as fast as an internet connection, but using AT&T’s Edge was acceptable and certainly better than having no service at all, which as you point out is all too common in RV parks that say they have wi-fi.

  3. John P Sargeant Says:

    After spending some interesting times trying to hook up at a Florida campsite, after spending hours at a local computer repair shop and being told my computer and my ethernet card were just fine, I opted to simply go to the library and do my email. I don’t believe I ever found a satisfactory hookup in all my travels except once at a Comfort Inn when the 74 Ambassador was waiting for the 94 Suburban to have a new alternator installed.
    The best and most reliable service I’ve found is in the local library or Radio Shack. If you do banking you have to remember to clear the cache.The help is usually cheerful and they hang signs on computers that aren’t up to it.

  4. Matt Heitker Says:

    I too have been disappointed by the “free” wifi at campgrounds.

    On the road, all I want to do is to get my e-mail (personal, corporate, client) to see what crises I’m missing (). I mostly get lousy signals inside my Bambi, so I sit outside (with the rain, darkness, sunlight, mosquitos, cold, heat, etc). If I’m lucky I can sit by one of the windows and get a good signal. But that’s rare. Even if the Bambi close to the office, the signal is weak outside.

    Good rant, Rich. You’re in good company. I see lots of folks with their notebooks sitting on the benches around the office, hoping for a decent signal.

  5. Lavonne L. Says:

    Thanks much for this post. I’ve been researching options that will allow me to be reliably connected to a fast Internet connection for 6-8 hours a day, my plan being to work about 50% of the time from the road in our RV starting in December…with an initial 2-week “test” at two WiFi enabled campgrounds in KY and NC…now I’m thinking I should probably test out a cellular Internet card (or two – if I they are returnable after an initial trial period) while I’m out there!