Staying connected on the road is right at the top of every RVers must have list. But choosing the best system and then navigating all the different price points can be a real challenge. This week we learn about a rooftop solution called Togo that combines a wi fi extender and a 4g cellular connection at what – at least right now – seems to be the best priced system available for RVers.
Also this week, RV news you can use, tips, comments and your questions, plus another great off the beaten path report from the Burketts.
But first, my lifelong traveling companion and my bride… Jennifer.
Show Notes for Episode #254. Aug. 7, 2019 of The RV Podcast;
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
We update the audience on what’s new with us and our travels..
- A planned trip to install a ladder to the back of our RV
- A planned trip to a Lake Erie campground retreat
- Planned trips to Georgia to watch a grandson play high school football
|RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK
Look for falling meteors this week in dark night sky
One of our favorite things about camping is gazing out at the night sky. And this week is going to be a big one for stargazers, as the Perseid meteor shower, which typically produces 100 meteors per hour, is underway. This year the shower peaks August 12-13 when the moon will be particularly bright, limiting sightings. That means the best time to start looking is right now, with the show typically beginning after midnight. If you want to try to photograph the stars or showers, check out this post we did a while back.
Driving slowly in the left lane? If you are in Minnesota, you now may get a ticket for $125
We all have seen it. People in their RV, maybe towing a car, driving slowly along the freeway — in the left lane. Other drivers do it, too, of course, but we’ve too many RVers hogging that left lane for all its worth. This always makes me cringe. While I understand the complexities of dealing with merging traffic in the right lane, the left lane really is for passing, and when RVers stay in this lane, well, it gets people mad and gives all of us a bad name. Apparently I am not the only one concerned about this because starting August 1 anyone driving too slowly in the left lane in Minnesota can get a traffic ticket for $125. We expect to see other states follow suit with similar laws.
Camper trailer used so 6-year-old boy with cancer could travel stolen – then found after news report
A Texas family was celebrating last weekend after a camping trailer stolen from their driveway was recovered after a local news channel reported their story, and a viewer recognized the trailer the next day and called police. The trailer was something the Texas family purchased so their 6-year-old son, who was fighting cancer, could travel with them without excessive germ exposure from other people. The family was heartbroken when it was taken, especially because they did not have it insured. The thieves had broken a window, trashed the inside, and taken some things out, but the family was happy it was recovered and working on fixing it up so they could hit the road soon.
Officials close Cape Cod beaches over weekend because of too many great white sharks
If you're heading to Cape Cod any time soon don't be surprised if the beach is closed. The reason? Great White sharks! Officials report there have been more than 150 shark sightings since June, with 20 sightings just off the cape last week alone. Shark reports are much higher than normal, with higher water levels and more seal spottings to blame. But the presence of great whites is a serious concern. Last year a man died after being attacked by a shark off Cape Cod.
Three people in separate incidents slip and fall near waterfalls at Yosemite National Park, with one person dyingA tourist died and two other people became seriously injured in three separate incidents last week after slipping and falling near waterfalls at Yosemite National Park. In all three incidents the visitors went off trail, despite signs warning them not to do so, then slipped and fell. Yosemite rangers are now reminding visitors that the rocks near waterfalls are slippery – even when dry – and it is not safe to go off trail, even if others are doing so.
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LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
From Laurie, via email:
Hi Mike and Jennifer, my husband and I have been enjoying your YouTube videos on RVing, we have talked about doing this many times, but now we really want to, we are retired and it's just us and our cat. We like the LTV Unity FX by Mercedes, we thought the size, 25ft long, etc., is just the right size for us. We have been trying to find out though, as newbies, just what is involved with maintaining the toilet, shower, power for fridge, cooking etc., we have stopped in to some dealers but unfortunately they are so concerned with making the sale they never wanted to answer our questions about what you have to do daily, etc., to keep everything going.
A: It’s all very easy. Just turn on the various buttons and switches. The walk through you’ll get from the dealer will show you how simple it is. Reading about it isn’t nearly as easy to understand as seeing it.
From someone with the screenname Wonderbike, via our YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel:
Do you dump your fresh water tank when you come home for a week or two and then refill it when go on your next adventure?
A: Yes we do!
From Patty Ann, via our RV Lifestyle Facebook Group:
Have the crowds at Yellowstone subsided yet? Is it a good time to go?
A: It’s always crowded there! But best time in mid-September and October before the snows arrive.
From Ted, via our Instagram account:
Will you two be at the Hershey RV show next month? If so how and where can we meet you?
A: Yes! Look for us all day long on Saturday Sept. 14. We’ll be hanging out at the Leisure Travel Vans display area but we’ll be roaming all over the show.
Do you have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990. If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at rvlifestyle.com and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Staying connected on the road is right at the top of every RVers must have list. But choosing the best system and then navigating all the different price points can be a real challenge. This week we learn about a rooftop solution called the Togo Roadlink that combines a WiFi extender and a 4g cellular connection at what – at least right now – seems to be the best priced system available for RVers.
The Togo Roadlink is a connectivity solution that, under one small dome mounted on the RV roof, uses a series of high tech optimized antennas to create a secure hotspot that can connect multiple devices in and around your RV to the Internet, either by a Wi-Fi extender that brings in signals from a wide area, or taps into the AT&T nationwide 4G LTE cellular network. It does so at the best price we have seen for unlimited data… a flat fee $360 a year.
That is not including the hardware cost. You have to but the unit itself, which costs $399. The dome and its unique antennas works stationary and in-motion and is managed through an app you run on your cellphone. We connect our laptops, tablets and smartphones through it and have been very pleased, especially with that special AT&T unlimited data plan, which is exclusive to the Togo Roadlink.
Joining us now from Togo Roadlink to talk about this service and explain just how it works is Steven Hileman.
Well joining us right now to talk more about the Roadlink is Stephen Hileman and Steven, you've got a really neat product there. I feel biased now because I've got it up on the roof of my RV.
Yeah, well it's a great to talk to you Mike. And it's good to have you as a Road Link customer.
Yeah, it's pretty neat. Tell me how Roadlink came about and the pricing and what it does and what it doesn't do.
Yeah, so Togo started as an an app for RVers, trying to tackle some of the everyday pain points around service and maintenance and trying to make RVing a little bit less stressful. We're all out trying to enjoy the outdoors and we'd like to make that even easier and spend more time out camping. Started as an app and then as part of that strategy, we wanted to make sure that you can use that app on the road, which sometimes requires some connectivity. We partnered with hardware manufacturer, Winegard, as well as AT&T to kind of create what we thought was a good matchup of value in fairly priced hardware and a really great plan. Really great data plan for RVers.
I've heard it referred to as Togo, but it's, you pronounced it Togo, I guess either one works but Togo was the preferred pronunciation, right?
Yeah, so it's Togo like logo. Togo was actually a Siberian Husky who helped run diphtheria vaccines in Alaska. And there's a deep story on the website about why we were inspired by is his endurance. And the logo for Togo is a little bit based off of dog and we really embraced dogs in our brands as do a lot of RVers. There's great story about Togo and its relationship to the brand on our website.
It's interesting because to go also works doesn't it?
It does and I sometimes don't even correct people because it does imply connectivity and quickness and being ready to get out on the road. It's not a bad pronunciation. We just, we like to call it Togo.
All right. Well it will be, it'll be fun to see how this thing works for us down the road. But one of the reasons I picked it is because of that great prepaid data plan. As far as I can tell, that's about the best deal out there for RVers anywhere. You obviously have looked at the competition, but I don't want you to tout somebody who's maybe better than that system, but that's about the best plan I've been able to find.
Yeah, we obviously think so. But, to be honest, part of what Togo is trying to do is to promote camping, promote the RV culture and we're just, we're trying to offer the best, most affordable, highest value data plan to RVers. And we think our prepaid, $360 annual, unlimited data plan, is the best deal out there. Yes, you have to pay $360 up front, but that that's 30 bucks a month for unlimited data for a year. That's a smoking deal from our perspective.
Now when we talk about unlimited data, it's always good to explain to people that there are all sorts of different clauses that you'll find in what that means among the different carriers. For example, Verizon will throttle you or, as soon as you reach their 22 gig capacity at the end of the month, you get throttled, slowed way down to 3G or even less speeds. You guys don't throttle. There is what is called a managed plan. What does that mean? That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be slower, right?
Yeah, so I think it's important that everybody who signs up for a data plan, understands what the terms are. There's usually a pretty simple breakdown of a paragraph or two of fine print with every data plan. With ours, you can find it at att.com/togo. All the details are there, but the data plan we're talking about, the unlimited $360 plan is subject to what AT&T calls network management. And network management is when basically a tower is quite congested, they will slow down certain users in order to mitigate some of that congestion on tower. They do that above, once you've exceeded 22 gigabytes of data usage in a month. They then subject you to network management.
Doesn't mean you're going to be reduced in speed. Just means you're subject to it. Sometimes you may see it, sometimes you may not. And it can be a little bit unpredictable but it's there for them to manage the health of the network and overall, users have an access to the network for AT&T customers. There are data plans. There are other data plans out there that do quite the opposite of that where they put in a mandatory throttling zone. Like when you hit 25 gigabytes, you might be forced to be throttled down to a lower speed and that would happen on, no matter whether you're congested network or not, it happens as soon as you hit that 25 gigabyte mark.
22 is where you become subject to the network management plan. But explain if you can, how much data you can get with 22 gigabytes a month.
Yes, 22 is a lot. I know my kids are always using my wife's phone for ABC Mouse and Netflix and a few other things. Constantly streaming on different things on my wife's phone and she's using the 12 to 15 gigs a month and I can't, I personally can't. Even thinking about what 22 looks like, but it's a lot of data, especially if you're not streaming anything. It's probably more data than what you'll use. It's when you start streaming or uploading, downloading large files that you're going to get into that type of usage. For the average RVer, 22 gigs, even if you do end up getting, running into network management congested areas, still a lot of data.
And you're always going to be connected. I use it probably more, way more extensively than most because I send in our videos, we do live uploaded feeds through it and I can get a cup, I do an hour long live upload of our Sunday night internet show for example. That's a lot of use and I don't, I have not touched it at that, at this point. It's hard to give everybody, well you can use it forever for everything you want, but the bottom line is you can stream a couple movies a month or even more than that I think. And 22 gigs is a lot. Let's get on though to what it does and why it is. And how it gets installed. It is, describe exactly what this is. Let's start with the Wi-Fi part of it.
Yeah, so the basics of it are, it's two major components. It's a dome that sits on your roof with a couple of antennas inside and it serves two primary functions. To either extend existing Wi-Fi signal that's around you and re-project it in inside your vehicle or to use 4G cellular service to create a data connection for your vehicle. That gives you two effective sources of connection. If you've got a solid Wi-Fi signal nearby, or even a not so solid Wi-Fi signal, that you'd need to need to make a little better quality. You can do that, you can connect to it. And maybe you're in places where you don't need to go buy a data plan. I'm the Wi-Fi extender feature might do it for you. But adding the data plan to it gives you a sort of second layer of connectivity.
I did a quick check when I first hooked it up with Wi-Fi and on my cell phone and on my laptop I could see four or five Wi-Fi networks with, were near where I was operating at that time. And when I went to the Togo on their Wi-Fi connection, there were like 30 different Wi-Fi that were available and there were a couple that were public Wi-Fi's I didn't even know were there. And so that's handy right there. Now as do the 4G LTE thing, we need to explain to people these are not cell phone boosters. What, they're a 4G LTE router and maybe you can help put that in non-geek speak Steven Hileman. Explain what that means.
Yeah, the long and short of it is you're creating a dedicated data connection to a cellular company effectively. Rather than using a device that basically just boosts that signal and continues to run it through your cellphone. But the advantage is largely in your data plan strategy. If you start using an extra, 15, 20 gigs a month on your cellphone plan, in addition to what you use on your cellphone, you could quickly rack up more fees than 360 bucks in a few months.
The other advantage is it just kind of does it all in one device. By the time you go pay for a cellphone booster, plus up your data plan, you still haven't addressed your capability of what do you do with Wi-Fi? Could you have gotten free Wi-Fi signal that was stronger or faster than the data plan? It's ultimately designed to be a more flexible piece of equipment in the same sort of price point is what you might pay for a cellular booster.
And the advantage of this is that it is a kind of a protected dome up on your roof so you're not, it's not a big antenna that's extending way up there. It's not banging into tree limbs or creating a vibration sound from the wind. It's very streamlined. There is also a difference as I understand, in the antenna that you use to pick up the 4G LTE signal. There's a bunch of technical terms for it, but in essence, tell me if I'm wrong. As I understand it, it is a more multi-directional antenna and actually you have more antennas looking for a 4G LTE signals than a single stub, Wi-Fi booster antenna. And because of that, and the height, that often performs better than a cellphone booster. Is that a good layman's bottom line explanation of the antennae that you use?
Yes, it is. The sort of the layperson view of it is, it's an omnidirectional antenna. You're looking for signal from a variety of directions instead of looking for signal from a singular direction. Now there are pros and cons to that. If you're deeply technical person and really want to get every little percentage point of signal, a singular direction antenna can actually perform a little bit better. But to have to go and adjust the direction of it every time you want to use it can be quite inconvenient. Omnidirectional antenna gives you that flexibility. The fact that we mount it up on the roof, make sure it's nice, up nice and high. Here's a lot of the typical obstacles that can get in the way of signal. It's a better approach we believe, a more simple approach and one that frankly makes it easy to connect.
I had a tech, a techie, explain it to me this way. He said, they tried to tell me about the names and all of the DB gains and all this stuff with the antennas. But they finally looked at me and says, “Look, this is like a receiving a cell signal in stereo versus mono. It's just a better quality signal.” So far, I have found it much better than going through a hotspot on my phone. It's done a great job and we'll continue to be testing out the Roadlink Togo. Installation, is this something that the average person could do? And if not, where do you get it installed?
Yeah, so I'll be frank with you. If you're a handy person, you can install it yourself and I define handy in this scenario as you have to be comfortable doing a little bit of 12 volt wiring. Not Complicated, but it's still wiring and you have to be comfortable securing it to the roof of your RV with screws and then sealing around those screws with the proper sealant for the roof on your vehicle. Outside of that, it's very simple. The rest of the setup is done in the app. But you know, most people will have an RV technician or a dealership or a handyman they use on a regular basis come install it for them. But we see about 30 to 40% of people that install it themselves.
That's a lot. My wife wouldn't let me do it, Steven. She wouldn't let me up there. I took it to a audio shop that specializes in installing things in high end audio in cars. These guys are taking stuff apart all the time. And they did it great. I have a video that it's on our YouTube channel that shows how we installed ours and it really wasn't that bad. And it was kind of fun to watch somebody else do it. And I didn't have to worry about making a mistake but it's pretty simple. The app works it all.
We didn't make one last point here, and I forgot that you don't have to sign up for a year's use. Because there were a lot of RVers that are weekend warriors, occasionally. Who is this, the 360 is obviously aimed at more of the digital nomads, the people who must work from the road and work a lot. But you also can sign up for just monthly service, can you not?
Yeah. AT&T made available a $25 a month plan. It's a prepaid and renewing $25 a month plan. It is five gigabytes a month for that $25. It is a good option for a weekend warrior or for a short season user of an RV. That said, you exceed five gigs or if you want, it's not really suitable for much streaming but it'll cover you for a basic internet email usage, staying up to date with family, friends and work. But the annual plan pays for itself pretty quickly if you start getting into some serious data usage.
We have set up a special link that people can check it out. It's RVlifestyle.com/togo, T-O-G-O, and we'll just send people there to get more information and we'll link it in the show notes and show some photos of it as well. But Steven Hileman from Togo, I'm sold on it. It's a great addition to our internet system on our RV and I look forward to file my reports using the Roadlink Togo. And we'll send other people for more information. Thanks for helping us understand what I think is the best buy out there now in terms of unlimited data for RVers.
Great. Thanks Mike.
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OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom and Patti Burkett
Since our daughter took up a ranger post in the bootheel of Missouri, we’ve spent a bit more time in this out of the way corner of the country. Granted, it’s the outdoor playground for a lot of people who live in the Saint Louis and Kansas City areas and draws visitors from urban Memphis as well. My grandmother tells stories of going to visit her aunt in the Ozarks when she was a little girl, and about the pig butchering and soap-making they’d join in on during their summer stays at her cabin. We haven’t come across any of that yet, but we’ll keep our eyes open.
We hear frequent reports about the boom in camping and RV travel, and although campgrounds are getting more crowded and campsites harder to find at a short notice, some state governments are responding by creating new parks. We recently had the opportunity to visit one of these. Down here in southern Missouri, generations of kids enjoyed a few weeks of summer at Camp Zoe. When the cap shut down in the late 80s, it was purchased by a Chicago businessman who intended to launder some drug cartel money through the area’s businesses. In 2010 the DEA and the Missouri Highway Patrol swooped in and shut the whole thing down.
After the dust had settled, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources bought the property at auction and enlarged it with some acreage they already owned. Add $60 million dollars in improvements, and you have a spectacular new, state of the art outdoor playground. The centerpiece of Echo Bluff State Park is the bluff itself, a limestone monolith that towers over Sinking Creek as it runs through the grounds. The crystal clear water of the creek draws swimmers, kayakers, and fishers for much of the year. Overlooking the creek is an attractive lodge and restaurant that features a long porch lined with rocking chairs.
There’s a brand new, full featured campground called Timbuktu and modern cabins for rent. Cyclists can enjoy several miles of mountain bike trails that wind through the park and connect to other paths in the Mark Twain National Forest and Current River State Park. The wild horses that have wandered these bottoms for over a century sometimes pass through, and there are ample opportunities for wildlife viewing and birdwatching.
A number of states have or will be opening new parks. Ohio recently opened the Jesse Owens State Park on several thousand acres of reclaimed strip-mined land. In the North Carolina mountains, Pisgah View State Park will offer expanded camping and recreation opportunities to outdoor enthusiasts. Cottonwood Canyon is 8.000 acres of rivers, mountains, trails, and dark skies in western Oregon. Florida’s Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park features six natural swings along the Santa Fe River. Things are getting harder for states, too, as you might imagine. Development pressure and money shortages have kept California from developing several planned new parks on land already owned by the state.
If you’re looking for a good spot to spend some time doing what you love to do in the outdoors, you might want to search out some of these newly-developed areas that fewer people know about. Many of them have up-to-the-minute amenities and striking natural features. You might come across us, Patti and Tom Burkett, out here too, at these wildland retreats, while they’re still off the beaten path.
This part of the podcast is brought to you by Harvest Hosts – https://rvlifestyle.com/harvesthosts a network of farms, wineries, museums and attractions where RVers can stay overnight, for free.