As Paris Lee and I are approaching 2 years in Vanlife, and over 50,000 miles traveled around the country (on very little money), we have quite the understanding of what the bare minimum resources are required on the road. It is quite easy in the unforgiving game of life and the more unforgiving game of traveling on a budget to make your world crumble and throw you off course. Don’t end up getting stranded on your next off-grid adventure from unpreparedness.
Using our experience and tips that we learned from the Bob Wells Hosted RTR 2019, we want to pass some on to you so that you don’t end up biting more off-grid ‘adventure’ than you can chew. Just a little background on what RTR is to give you a little context. RTR stands for Rubber Tramp Rendezvous its a place where an ‘increasingly diverse’ crowd of off-gridders and alternative life-stylers to live, laugh, and love. We met up with inspiring brothers and sisters on their journeys as well as YouTubers such as Crystal Vanner and the Dawn of Vanlife. Click here for the official RTR website.
As we were speaking with a gentleman about each-others travels we saw Crystal Vanner walking with Duane. Duane has traveled to Quartzite from Ohio in his Astrovan home. He is a very knowledgeable individual and had some clever resources to share. The top three that come to mind are as follows:
This blog is about taking your first or one of your first off-grid adventures but these resources could not have been left out. The website city-data.com is a wealth of stats and info on cities you may or may not be traveling to from demographics to crime to government finances. NAVMII is very similar to google maps or any other popular navigation app but how it differs is if you loose cellular service and you need to navigate somewhere new. NAVMII allows you to download maps of anywhere you need to get to and use them offline. Trying this with other apps and you will end up with a ‘connect to the internet’ error message. The Scanner Radio app allows you to listen to live audio from over 7,000 fire and police scanners, weather radios, amateur radio repeaters, air traffic and marine radios from around the world. This could help you stay away from or see whats up on thing going on in your area.
Now that we got those things out of the way we can talk about our main two points Cell Signal and Power for your electronics. These two things are a mandatory ‘get it right’ thing if you want to be independent on the road and work online. Paris and I are videographers and we were commissioned to shoot and edit a conference event. The entire project was nearly 500gb of video, audio, stills, and other supporting materials. We needed strong cell service to send and receive large files for review and feedback and we needed power to keep the lights on for a work promoting environment and to keep the electronics up and running.
Without those two things, work stops and if work stops, you don’t get paid. If you still want to get out and explore, you’ve got to be prepared. With that being said, the first thing will be cell signal and some tips associated with it. At one of the RTR’s seminars we talked about signal boosters, specifically the ones manufactured by Weboost. This is just one brand out of all of the boosters available but at RTR, a community of RVers, vanners, and travelers, this one seemed to be the best.
The booster reaches out to the cell tower to access voice, text and data signals while parked or in-motion. Then, the booster receives the outside signal, amplifies it up to 32x and sends it to the cradle. Finally, The phone in the cradle receives the amplified signal. This cradle also sends outgoing signals from the phone back to the booster, which will be amplified and sent back to the cell tower. This product will run you $200 to a little under $500, yes, it seems pricey, but if you plan on working online it pays for itself.
The next cellular service related tip is exactly what it is. In Quartzite Arizona, Here are some examples of the current list from the top four US phone carriers. Make sure to check your carriers service so that you can be prepared and aware for service blackouts.
Now for Power solution. We have a 2000 watt modified sine wave inverter (Dirty Power) with one deep cycle 100v AGM battery. We get our power from battery isolator taking power from the vans alternator which charges the car battery. I hope you could follow. By the way, modified sine wave inverters deliver dirty power as the traditional sine waves peak is cut off. This type of inverter is cheaper and its power does the job when it comes to powering your electronics but does not treat them well. Pure sine waves delivered by pure sine wave inverters are clean, unmodified waves that is the same power you can find in buildings or your house.
This setup is terrible if you are not constantly driving, so, if you plan on going off-grid for more than a day, I would at least be aware that you will run out of power very quickly. We recommend that you get at least some inexpensive solar panels. with under $100 and access to Amazon or Harbor Freight, You can buy a 25w solar panel and charge controller that will slowly charge your battery in a pinch.
For those professionals out their, we recommend on top of a battery isolator, 100 to 200 watts of solar, at least a 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter (Clean Power), and 2 deep cycle AGM batteries. You should not discharge them lower than 50% as you can expect decreased efficiency or damage as time passes. Also, do not use car batteries, like we did at first, as they off-gas poisonous fumes. Car batteries are also a HASMAT (Hazardous Material) spill risk with the batteries being filed with acidic electrolyte. Here is a link to a full kit from WindyNation.
If you power your stove with propane or other fuels and you just need lights, the Luci lantern is an off-grid solution for light that can serve multiple purposes.
Now we all have been there. On a long drive a few hundred or even a few thousand miles, where you pulled over to check your phone or eat. You turn the car off to conserve fuel, then next thing you know, the sun is in a different position. Firstly, you think of either the amazing nap you had or the amount progress you’ve wasted. After you get your bearings and stretch away all the stress, your turn the key and the battery returns failing attempts to turn the engine over.
You then say calmly in your mind, “THIS ISN’T HAPPENING”. But it is and you start to think, “do I have jumper cables?”, “do I have my jumpstarter?” If your answer is no to one or more of these question, then you have a problem on your hands. Check our video from New Jersey when we had fallen asleep leading to a stranded couple as I had approached person after person for a jump with no success. That is until we saw a gentleman in trouble who needed a hand. I could help him with my 250 ft-lb torque wrench, he could help me with a jump. That was the only way we were getting out of that parking lot as the insurance company was quoting nearly two hours.
If we were to have a jump starter, we would have been completely fine and would have costed the trip less time. As we know, time is money and we know that we don’t have any extra for avoidable mishaps. One jump starter was the Weego that was recommended to us by Mercedes Cowan, a retired law enforcement officer who we met at the Vanner Camp. She was very helpful and knowledgeable and we had a great time chillin’ with her.
Phew! It seems as though we have checked everything off our list so far. There are many things not listed in this blog that we need to consider, prepare for, and be aware of when going off-grid for any amount of time. We will be writing a blog based on most of our new videos. If you have any questions, hit the request button on the top of this page or hit us on social media with the links below. Thanks for reading! PEACE OUT.