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How to Determine How Much Data You Need

For full-time RVers who work or need to homeschool, having a data connection is a top priority. But how do you know how much data you will need each month?

Data plan options can come with either a capped amount of data, or “unlimited” data (which usually has limitations). If you’re going to purchase a data plan to use while on the road, it’s important to have a good understanding of how much data you’ll use in order to make sure you purchase a plan that will meet your needs.

So how do you determine how much data you actually need? Here’s what you should consider when answering this question.

How To Figure How Much Data You Already Use

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A good first step is just to take a look at your current data usage. You may already have a cellular plan, but if you’re not already on the road – more than likely most of your data usage is from a home or office wired connection. Your internet provider may be able to provide you with the information on how much data you use each month, but there are also third party apps you can use to track your data.

Another option is to consider only using a cellular connection, perhaps picking up a prepaid plan, for a period of time to get a handle on your typical daily usage. Most carriers will allow you to see information on how much data is being used by simply logging into your account or your cellular device may be able to provide this information.

The Ways In Which You Use Data

The type of activities you do online will have an impact on how much data you use each month. If you’re only planning to do small-bandwidth activities like checking email, social media or general web surfing your usage will be moderate.

But if you’re going to do a lot of high-bandwidth activity, such as streaming movies & TV or video conferencing, expect your usage to be much higher.

Below is a list of common online activities, and the ballpark amounts of data you can expect to consume doing these activities.

Social Media
Streaming music
FaceTime call with video                                                        Netflix/video streaming in low/medium resolution
Netflix/video streaming high resolution
Zoom data use for a group video call


How Many Devices Are You Working With?

Are you traveling solo, or will you be traveling with your whole family?

Don’t forget to take into consideration not only all the people you’re traveling with, but also consider all the devices you have. Don’t just look at your cell phone usage – make sure you’re also counting any data consumed by all devices sharing your internet connection – such as iPads, wearable devices, streaming devices, cloud back-ups, surveillance cameras and gaming devices.

Minimizing Data Usage

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If you’ve added up all of your current usage and realize that you’re using hundreds of Gigabytes per month, there are some steps to reduce some of your data use.

Video streaming is often the top culprit for excessive data use. In order to reduce the amount of data used while streaming, you can reduce the playback setting for your videos from High Definition to Standard Definition. Another suggestion is to download any video content in advance when you are on an unlimited or free internet source, and then watch it at a later time.

Make sure your devices do not automatically download software and operating system updates, and set up any cloud syncing so that it only occurs over Wi-Fi and not on a cellular connection.

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have account settings you can tweak to reduce the amount of data you consume. You can adjust the video quality they use, turn off auto-play of videos, and set them to work only on Wi-Fi connections. Some of the apps even have a general “Data Saver” function that can be turned off to overall reduce the amount of data they will use.

Choose The Right Data Plan

Once you have an idea of how much data you’ll be using each month, shop for a data plan that will fit your needs. The ideal plan for a solo traveler who only checks email every now and then will be much different than the ideal plan for a large family working and homeschooling online. Make sure your data plan will have enough data to cover all of your needs. And if you decide to go with an “Unlimited” data plan, make sure you know how much of that data is actually available at high speed.

Check out the article here on the Xscapers blog for more information on Choosing RVer-Friendly Mobile Cellular Data Plans.

Staying connected while traveling in an RV is important for many RVers, especially those of us who work or have children in school on the road. Making sure you have a good idea of how much data you will use on the road is an important first step in making sure you sign up for a data plan that will accommodate your data needs.

For more tips on determining and managing your data needs, see the Mobile Internet Resource Center guides on Assessing Your Needs and Minimizing Data Usage.

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Jen Nealy

Jen Nealy is a former full-time RVer turned part-time van-lifer. She and her husband and two dogs now have a home base in Asheville NC but travel in their van as often as they can. Jen is also a contributor for the Mobile Internet Resource Center.

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