WiFi in an Airstream: The Solution –  WiFiRanger!

WiFi in an Airstream: The Solution – WiFiRanger!

Hi Ho WifiRanger, To the Rescue!

WifiRanger Mobile Ti and Go2

What’s in the Box – WifiRanger Mobile Ti and Go2

This is the second of a two part post on getting WiFi in an Airstream. Read the first part of the series here! 

We may not travel as often as some fulltimers, but we have many of the same internet connectivity frustrations as our more mobile Airstreaming friends. A few of them have written about a new product that helps keep you online no matter if you’re on cellular or WiFi – it’s called the WifiRanger. I reached out to the folks at WifiRanger and explained our situation. They sent us over an evaluation unit and we’re impressed with how well it works!

I love it when a company is hyper-focuses on providing the best solution after listening and getting to know their customers’ pain points. From the first time you visit their website, to hooking up and using their products, it’s obvious that WifiRanger is for RVers who’ve had trouble connecting for years.

Let’s start with the hardware. WifiRanger shipped us two routers – the WifiRanger MobileTI and GO2. Why two you ask? The MobileTI installs outside your RV and connects via hard wire to the GO2 router inside. This setup serves two major purposes. First, to capture Wifi and Cellular signals from outside, avoiding what’s known as the “Faraday Cage” problem of living in an aluminum tube. An ethernet cable brings the captured signal inside to a second router which serves as an internal wired OR wireless hub for connecting other devices and computers (ahem, Xboxes) you may have scattered throughout your home. This setup alone serves to boost the available signal inside the Airstream, but the WifiRanger also has added WiFi signal boosting capabilities built-in as well!

Everything you need to install the units come in the box — from cables to mounting tape, they’ve thought of everything. They even include a mounting bracket for the folding “batwing” TV antenna common on many RVs and Airstreams! Unfortunately, they don’t send out a technician to install the outside antenna, which would have been nice if you ask me, but they’ve thought of just about everything else!

 

Installation

Understandably, WifiRanger didn’t include specific instructions for running cable from the rooftop into my 2010 27FB Airstream International. After doing it myself now it’s obvious that this is a case-by-case affair depending on how your rig is setup, where holes are pre-drilled, etc.

Disclaimer – I’ve never drilled into the hull of our Airstream. The thought makes me a little queasy. The rest of this section is my experience – if you’re an old pro at this sort of thing, you can skip ahead or stay here and laugh at our troubles!

WifiRanger does a great job of preparing you with tools, but you’ll also need these things:

  • Drill with #21 bit (I used a 1/8 drill)
  • Rivet gun with 5/32 rivets Olympic rivets (I used pop rivets, appearantly a no-no, so i’ll be replacing these this summer)
  • Razor or exacto knife
  • Alcohol or mineral spirits
  • Vulkem or other brand Polyurethane sealant
  • A partner for running cable
  • a plan

I decided that going through the vent for the refrigerator was the path less dangerous for me, so on the roof I went. Instead of finding a perfectly open hole, I found a cover and screen fastened to said vent with rivets. Despite my best efforts, I had no choice but to drill into the top of the Weasel’s head.

Turns out, it was easier than I thought to get the rivets out. I recommend a tool to start the drill bit so you’re not skating all over the place like I was, but you can do it without one if you’re careful. I only needed to pop out the rivets on one side of the vent to use enough hole space to drop in the cable. (I realized after the fact that i used the wrong rivets… so I’ll be replacing pop rivets with 5/32 Olympic rivets this summer).

Up next, fishing the cable down behind the fridge. This is definitely a two person job and proved the most challenging for us. We opted to NOT remove the fridge. We should have, but we didn’t. I took out the false wall behind the cubby above the fridge and collected all the cable from above. Then, with Tiff craning her neck up from the outside access door behind the fridge, I started poking the cable down. This took a long time – maybe an hour or more.

FINALLY we poked through and Tiff was able to grab the bottom of the cable. We pulled through and into a pre-existing hole set up for other cables. Then we just ran the cable under Lucy’s Bed our side couch under the TV where we keep the Mac Mini, Xbox, and now, the WifiRanger GO2.

 

Setting Up and Getting Connected

With everything connected we started the setup process. It’s important to remember that there are two routers – you set one up to act as a slave (the outside Mobile unit) and the other a Master (inside GO2). You’ll see two wifi sources appear on your PC if you leave the GO2 wifi on. WifiRanger gives you two options to log into your router – simply typing in ‘mywifiranger.com’ takes you to the master, or you can also type in an ip address to go directly to the settings page for each router. I really liked how they pre-set the router number to an ip address for easy memorization – another touch that reminds us they are thinking about pain points!

Wifiranger Control Panel

Wifiranger Control Panel

Our setup experience overall was very much a plug and play affair. We “had to” (ok , I wanted to!) tweak a few settings to get everything dialed in and avoid searching for cellular signal (for now), but that was easy thanks to preconfigured settings you can load from the user interface. Again, there are quick start and full docs online to help you dig deeper into the settings.

Overall the software interface is very nice once you understand there is one for the slave and one for the master. Any changes you make to one don’t necessarily carry to the other, nor should they. For example, you want to make sure the antenna strength outside is strong, but the one inside is lower so you don’t get interference. But this is an easy concept to grasp. Everything else is very well documented with help tips and of course full documentation is available online.

 

Closing Up Shop

Now that we’re sure everything is set up, it’s time to button up the installation.  We fed enough cable down to keep a ring of slack on top of the refrigerator. We also made sure there was plenty of cable to allow the WifiRanger MobileTI to easily ride up and down as we raise and lower the batwing. I tightened the fastener screws on the batwing one last time and zip-tied the cable to the antenna. Then I re-attached the vent hood.

It was my first time riveting and applying Vulkem to anything. I can’t say I did a great job here – more like passable (except for using the wrong rivets). First I cleaned off any excess old sealant and wiped the area with alcohol. Then I applied a layer of black Vulkem in a small bead. This stuff is BRUTALLY sticky, so a little goes a long way. It’s pretty tough to work with overall. I pushed the vent back down, ensuring a solid seal, and tried to clean up as much excess Vulkem as I could. Then I re-riveted the cover down using the original rivet holes.

Here’s the final product – again, passable. Ok, so maybe I overdid it on the Vulkem! I’ll be checking on it over the next few months to make sure we’re not leaking anywhere.

 

Ifs, Ands, or Buts

We’ve really not found too many problems with the WifiRanger setup yet. Having two connected routers instead of one takes a tiny “getting familiar” period. Of course NOT requiring a drill to the top of the roof would have been a plus as well. I believe this is an option for the Sky model, but we wanted the extra range and lifetime warranty given by the MobileTI.

We’ve had a few major internet outages so far while using the WifiRanger, and I can’t blame the WifiRanger for any of them. I updated the firmware on the GO2 but forgot to do so on the Mobile once, resulting in an inconsistent signal. An error message would have been nice, but I know what to look for now! Other outages were the result of a bad router and inconsistent internet sources.

It’s also important to note that this is NOT a cellular antenna or amplifier. It catches and boosts WiFi signal only. You can attach an aircard to the GO2, or you can connect a Mifi wirelessly as your cellular internet source, but you get no other benefit to increase the cellular signal. WifiRanger sells a separate cellular booster if that is something you need.

 

Other Features

One really nice feature is the ability to “failover” from one connection type to another. So if you’re cruising along on WiFi and something happens to the signal, the router can automatically jump to a backup cellular, ethernet, or other WiFi signal. This is particularly nice if you travel with lots of WiFi devices. You’ll only need to log the WifiRanger unit into the new signal. All your other devices happily stay connected to your internal WiFi.

Speaking of cellular signals, there are lots of options to track data and limit how strong or weak a signal is before you join. You can also “rate” your signals to help remember and more easily connect to favorites.

The MobileTI itself is really solid. It’s weatherproof, comes with a Lifetime Guarantee, and the bracket and unit feel sturdy and solid. And since it attaches to the external extending TV antenna, you can raise it above lots of interference causing obstacles.

My favorite feature is the ability to turn your WifiRanger into a WiFi Broadcaster! You can set it up to reflect the signal it gets back out so that others around you can get online. Obviously something to be careful with as long as cellular data prices climb, but is a nice option for friends who don’t have access.

 

Summary

Overall, we’re super impressed with the WifiRanger MobileTI and GO2 units as a long distance WiFi connection device.  It’s rare that a product lives up to the hype the way the WifiRanger has for us. We look forward to putting the cellular capabilities to use once we go fully mobile. For now, we’re finding its range to be astonishing for distant WiFi signals – we’ve connected from 1000ft and get signals as far away as 2000ft. Connection is simple and setup is a breeze (once you break out the drill and fish the cable inside).

We highly recommend the WifiRanger MobileTI and GO2 units for anyone looking to solve their WiFi internet connectivity issues on the road or anywhere distance is an issue.

Have any of you used the WiFiRanger? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island, Washington

A few months back we moved to Whidbey Island, WA. The reasons behind this move were many, but started a year ago with a job at The Whidbey Island Distillery. We’ve never worked in a distillery, and we really didn’t know anything about distilling, but we’re typically up for anything, so we took the weekend job and started learning.

Whidbey Island Distillery

For booze, head this way.

In January we decided to change direction a bit, but stay on the island fulltime. A friend offered up a corner of his beautiful 40-acre property to park the Airstream , and now we’re learning the ins and outs of raising chickens, planting orchards and building all kinds of wooden structures (but so far I’m not allowed to use the excavator).

Whidbey Island

Us, Chickens and Snow.

Over the next few weeks (or months), we’re going to write some posts about our experiences here and the people we meet- focusing on the southern part of the island, South Whidbey, and the things to do and see when you come up here to camp!

To start with, here are a few facts about the island….

Whidbey Island

Oh, hello.

There are about 6 alpaca farms just in South Whidbey. My favorite is Fern Ridge Alpacas, located in Clinton. Hal loves his alpacas and he and his wife have a great store!

Whidbey Island

Coupeville Ferry pulling in from Port Townsend.

There are three ways to get to Whidbey Island. Two by ferry, one by land. If you’re in the greater Seattle area, you can take the Mukilteo-Clinton Ferry, which drops you off on the southern-most part of the island. If you’re on the Olympic Penninsula side, you can take the Port Townsend-Coupeville Ferry (pictured above) which drops you in the middle of the island. And if you’re north, or don’t like ferries, you can drive over the bridges of Deception Pass to the northern-most part of the island (the town of Oak Harbor).

Whidbey Island

My advice when parked, always get out and keep watch on your trailer until all cars are parked.

We’ve taken the Mukilteo Ferry a few times, and it’s about $50-55 one way – it looks a little tight, but it’s fine. (Hi Jacquie!)

So now you know how easy it is to get here, I expect to see you this summer. You know you want to see some alpacas.

 

 

 

My Summer As a Workcamper

My Summer As a Workcamper

Sometime in August I suddenly realized I was a summer RV park workcamper. I’m no expert on the subject, but now that I’ve logged my hours, I thought I’d tell you about my experience. First, I didn’t apply for the job, I just happened to live in the park and they needed help for the summer crowd.

I worked for 4 months for about 10+ hours a week in the park office doing typical front desk things — checking people in (which had to be done on paper and then put into the computer), making reservations (which had to be done on paper and then put into the computer), helping with issues people might have, giving directions to visitors, and chatting with the regulars that came in every day like clockwork to have coffee and check in on the day’s RV park gossip. (Below: That’s Phil, he came in every day for coffee and always had an awesome story to tell.)

park1

What didn’t I do? Pump propane. Why? Because it’s a man’s job. No kidding, that’s what I was told. I wanted to say that I could lift a filled tank into my F250 easier than anyone else who worked there, but I decided not to rock the boat.

Anyway, the park has been in operation since the 80s, and is by far the nicest park in the Seattle area, so it fills up during the summer. On any given day we had 15-20+ people checking in, and since I worked the night shift, I was usually dealing with people that had been driving for hours in horrible Seattle traffic, probably had gotten lost at some point, and were hungry. Were they all friendly? No. But I’ve been there — so I tried to get them in and to their spot as fast as possible. From now on, no matter how tired I am when checking in, I will always be nice.

I learned less about the operation of an RV park than I learned about people. I don’t think they’ve changed the day to day operation of the park in decades, so it wasn’t that hard to get into the swing of things. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” could be the motto above the door. Oh, and they only used adding machines. Seriously.

WP_20130926_18_14_13_Pro (1)

 

More interesting to me was what I learned about people who have strongly different political and social views as me and who wanted to talk about it a lot. I didn’t try to hide my beliefs, and sometimes I think they just came in to hassle me, but I felt I held my own, but at times it was very difficult. From gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and HIV being transmitted by mosquitos, I was in a place where news snippets from questionable sources were gospel.

del

I always worked with two other people, always a married couple, and all the men were Vietnam veterans (that’s Del above, I love that guy). Several times a week campers came into the office and thanked them for their service (they always wore a hat or jacket or t-shirt advertising their veteran status), and I was able to learn about their role in the war and how their time in the Army/Navy affected their lives. With their wives (Del’s wife Sharon is a hoot) I had conversations I never saw myself having, specifically about dentures. And learning how to use the damn adding machine.

workcamping

Overall, I don’t have much to say about the ins and outs of working in an RV park. It’s kind of like working in a hotel or waiting tables. I’d certainly change the way they do things given the chance, but I was a person working for a short period of time in the company of folks who have been there for 10 years (like Larry, above). The system they had was what they were comfortable with and that’s how it was going to stay. Literally everything was done on paper, then copied to another paper, and those two pieces of paper were put into different places in case one got lost. Then it was put in the computer, and at the end of the day another piece of paper was filled out, photocopied and filed again. As much as I tried, I couldn’t understand why all of this needed to be done. It was wild.

In the end, I really liked my time in the office and am so grateful that they hired me on. Deke and I have often talked about having an RV park someday, and this was an interesting insight to how it all worked!

 

 

Wand’rly Magazine

If you travel and you have an extra $5 a year, you should subscribe to Wand’rly Magazine. We first heard about it when our friends at Malimish were featured and love everything about it from its articles to its design.

Then we got to be in an article about Airstream living with a group you’ve no doubt seen included on the pages of our blog: Riveted,

Wand'rly Magazine

Aluminarium

Wand'rly Magazine

and WhereIsKyleNow?.

Wand'rly Magazine

 

Reading the article made me look at all the photos of the bunch of us traveling together — and now Nathan from Wand’rly and his family are starting their Airstream adventure and hopefully joining in on some of our fun.

100 Things Challenge Then and Now

100 Things Challenge Then and Now

We took the 100 Things Challenge when we moved into the Airstream in 2011. However, we didn’t count the things we had in storage (that’s probably cheating, right?). Still we each had under 100 things on our list, so we felt really good about it.

Over the last 2 years we got rid of everything in the storage unit, but gained a lot of other things as we moved to a different city with a different climate. We’ve had a few conversations with folks in the last month that made us realize we haven’t really taken a good inventory lately, so we decided to do an update.

As I’ve been commenting about this task on Facebook, the best comment came from Dave who said he admired our “liberal accounting” in tallying up the numbers. It’s true, we’re not counting every little item (we have about 300 Qtips alone) but more like counting things that take up significant space. For example, we have a binder that holds video games, so we count the binder, not each game. But we do count every shirt and pair of pants, each toothbrush and each rug.

Overall the numbers are about the same — we had 170 total 2 years ago, and we have 190 now. We accumulated more things out of necessity (dishtowels, shoes, flashlights, compass) and added a few luxury items (snowshoes, pillows,

pillow

spice grinder) but got rid of a lot of redundancies (we didn’t really need all those flashlights after the blog post, and I certainly didn’t need 5 pots and pans).

Here’s a look at some of the changes:

bike

The french press made way for the Nespresso.

nespresso

My Sanuks were replaced with a pair of Toms.

Our hand mixer was given away, and we got a spice grinder instead.

Snowshoes, bikes,tents, sleeping bags, a hammock

hammock

and a generator came onboard, but the tank tops and shorts we needed in Texas were donated. Deke got rid of a lot of shoes, but gained those slots back in hoodies.

I thought we’d piled on a lot more than we did, and I’m sure I missed a few things. Overall, we’re pretty happy about keeping it on the minimal side!