Don’t cheap out on mobile

In August, we were high in the Cascades outside Bend, Oregon with two friends. It was pouring rain, effectively cancelling our hike, so we pulled out our phones to figure out a new plan.

Me and Chris: no service. Jon and Eliza: three bars.


Jon laughing

Here’s Jon laughing at something else, but he was probably laughing at us in his head when he saw we had no service


Working while traveling, for us, is only possible with good mobile and internet. But since January, we’ve been cheaping out — so our connectivity was constantly cutting out.

What You Can Learn From Our Mistake

We signed on with T-Mobile as we set up our virtual office because:

  1. We thought we’d be burning through the gigabytes on the road and they offered unlimited data, and
  2. We thought it would be cheaper than Verizon.

In the beginning, it was cheaper. We were getting tons more data! And music streaming wouldn’t count against our data!

Until we left major metropolitan areas. Then, we experienced flat-out rage. Slow load times, dropped Skype calls, and a lot of dead zones. If we wanted to work, we had to stay on the grid — which is not how van life works.

Cost Comparison

Here’s what we paid with T-Mobile previously, versus what we pay with Verizon now.

T-Mobile (previous)

Shared Voice/Text: $80 for unlimited

Shared Data: $10 for 4GB

Devices: $46 for two iPhones

Perks: Free music streaming, unlimited 3G data, 10GB data “stash”

Monthly Total: $136

Verizon (current)

Shared Voice/Text: $40 for unlimited

Shared Data: $45 for 3GB

iPhones: $46 for two iPhones

Perks: It actually works!

Monthly Total: $131


You might think, OK, the monthly bill is comparable but you guys were getting so much more data before! You would be right, except we were spending more before on:

  • Roaming: In Montana, we had to purchase additional roaming data because we went over the (much smaller) cap of 60MB/month.
  • Coffee Shops: When we didn’t have T-Mobile LTE, doing work was virtually impossible because there was either no service or 3G was too slow. So we’d end up spending money at coffee shops for Wi-Fi.
  • Unused Data: Because we were in so many dead zones, we ended up paying for data we couldn’t use.

Real-Time Case Study: The Middle of Nowhere

We’ve been driving through remote parts of Nevada and Utah and have only had “No Service” or “1x”/low bars in a couple of places. We drove across a road literally called the Loneliest Road in America and had usable coverage! In addition, we’ve…

  • Sent emails and photo iMessages from a national park
  • Had clear, interruption-free conference calls while driving through mountainous areas
  • Downloaded large files for projects instantly
  • Communicated with business partners via WhatsApp and Slack
  • Streamed music and podcasts, even when on “Extended” service

…in places like this:


Nevada Desert

A beautiful and deserted state park in northern Nevada


Loneliest Highway

U.S. Highway 50 is also known as “The Loneliest Road in America



Red Delicious parked in a little old west town called Eureka


Great Basin National Park 2

Our campsite in Great Basin National Park, where the skies are so dark you can actually see the Milky Way! Sadly, my iPhone is not good enough to capture such things.


Great Basin National Park

Looking out from Wheeler Peak overlook in Great Basin National Park


Mesa in Utah

Driving through the Utah desert toward Moab


San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell, bisected by I-70 in Utah

Moral of the Story

Know what you need for your lifestyle. Don’t cheap out: you get what you pay for.

  2 comments for “Don’t cheap out on mobile

  1. 2015-10-08 at 10:30 am

    This is helpful. I switched to Verizon several years ago because I was sometimes not getting AT&T service even in large cities and suburbs! When my partner and I start traveling next year, I think we may do one Verizon phone (for the strong U.S. coverage) and one on Google FI (for the low monthly price and international data).

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-10-14 at 2:21 pm

      Good point about AT&T, Matt — I had a similar experience with AT&T. And GREAT point about Google Fi — now I’m going to look up when it’s going to be widely available!

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