Laptop computers are a great addition to a camper van or motorhome, especially for longer trips. With your laptop you can watch DVDs, listen to music, watch television (with an adapter), browse photographs from a digital camera, write notes and send emails. It is possible to use your mobile phone to connect to the Internet and send emails when traveling, although this can be expensive. You can also make use of WiFi, which is available in more and more places each day. Laptops use a reasonable amount of power. If you are connected to a mains power supply, such as in a campsite, then you will have no problems. If you have a 12 volt power system then you will either need to plug your laptop into an inverter, or use a 12 volt adapter. Inverters are inefficient at converting energy, and a 12 volt laptop adapter is a better idea. If your laptop computer has a DVD player you should be able to use the built in software to watch DVDs. It is now possible to buy television adapters for laptop computers. The television adapter is normally a USB device that once plugged in, allows you to watch television on the laptop. Analog and Digital television versions are available. They normally come with a small aerial, which you may want to upgrade.
WiFi is a wireless system that allows computers with a WiFi adapter to connect to a WiFi access point or router. Once the laptop is connected to the access point or router the laptop can use the Internet. WiFi is available in more and more places. More and more campsites are offering WiFi. There are many cafes and bars in urban areas that offer free WiFi access to all customers. Many libraries offer free WiFi access also. There are several places where you can pay for WiFi access.
Free WiFi access
There are an increasing number of locations offering free WiFi access. This makes carrying your own laptop computer a good option. Some cafes, bars and fast food restaurants offer free WiFi access with a purchase. Some campsites also offer free WiFi. An increasing number of libraries offer free access. It is possible to find many unsecured WiFi signals in urban areas. Secured signals will not allow you to connect without the appropriate key. However an unsecured one will generally allow anyone to connect. If you park in a town centre or outside of an apartment block then you will normally be able to receive many different signals.
Note: It is generally illegal to use someone’s WiFi connection without their permission.
Increasing your WiFi reception
If your laptop has a built in WiFi adapter then you may find you have limited reception whilst in your vehicle. This is because the vehicle is mainly made of metal or solid materials and the WiFi signal cannot pass through to the interior. Sitting in the glass cab area can improve your reception, but please be security aware. I recommend not letting anyone know you have a laptop in your vehicle. If you have an external WiFi USB adapter you will find plugging the adapter into a USB extension lead will allow you to place the adapter, which has the aerial built in, at locations around the van, such as higher up or near a window. This will allow improved signal reception. An even better choice is one of the new Belkin and similar adapters which have an extended range. I have tried one these and it works well, receiving signals the built-in WiFi adapter cannot.
Paid WiFi access
Some Internet cafes offer paid WiFi access, whereby for a fee you are allowed access to their network.
If you use an email client program to receive and send your emails (such as Outlook or Outlook Express) then you can compose and reply to emails without being online. Then, when you go online your ready to send emails are sent, and new emails are delivered to your inbox. This can greatly reduce the amount of time you actually need to be online. You can spend as much time as you like composing and replying to emails whilst parked in your vehicle.
The cheapest place to buy computers and computer accessories is online. If you are not sure what to buy you should consult a friend who does, or a high street store. Below are some websites that we recommend for buying laptop computers
- Amazon.co.uk – The worlds biggest online retailer. Lots of choice, great value, probably the safest place to buy online.
- ebuyer.com – Probably the UKs best and cheapest supplier of computers and parts
- The Wifi Shop – Supplier of long range Wifi solutions suitable for camper vans and motorhomes.