shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Working Aboard: Wanderers' Internet

February 22, 2016

When we first returned to the country after many years in the Caribbean, we were once again flat broke. Familiar with the condition, we weren't too concerned, we just put our heads down and found work like we always have. The difference this time was that the work Dave found was at a high enough rate to allow us some time before I had to find work as well. So at Dave's suggestion, rather than continuing my Caribbean-based career and applying at the local bar, I started looking for a writing gig online. Dave was convinced that if I could parlay my magazine and book writing experience into a freelance writing job that actually pays the bills, it could change how we adventure. Boy, did he call that one.

After several months of applying to an average of ten jobs per day, getting gigs that were never intended for American's to make a living wage on, searching some more, completing a hundred samples, and receiving enough "thanks but no thanks" emails to harden even the most sensitive ego, I finally landed my first writing gig: the day we were headed out on a new adventure. At that point, internet access was no longer a selling point of certain anchorages, it was a necessity. I did not work this hard to get a career started just to lose it because we travel as a lifestyle. We needed a solution quickly.

Our first internet idea is not even worth much of an explanation. It was an inexpensive provider whose map covered nearly everywhere we thought we would travel in the next few years. Ironically, it worked great as long as we were not near land. Anchored out at remote keys in Florida, my signal was great. Work a few hours in the morning, snorkel and explore by dinghy in the afternoon. My new career looked like it was going to mesh with our vagabond ways nicely. But as soon as we tucked up next to a populated key or the mainland, I lost signal. Too much interference. When I landed another client who required that all work be completed on their CMS, a wonky connection was not an option. So, as frugal as we are, we went with one of the big boys and haven't regretted it since.

Off a remote key? No problem.

Though it seemed expensive at the time, the $79 investment has made me thousands of dollars and freed us up to continue our traveling. Our Verizon Mifi Jetpack has never, and I do not exaggerate, let us down. In places where cell phone service was sketchy at best, I have had internet. I know a lot of people rely on their cell phones to get online, but had we tried that route, either I would have lost clients or we would have missed out on some extraordinary adventures.

A few years ago, we bought a cargo van ($1000), outfitted it for living in ($75) and headed out on a national parks tour. We were going to be gone as long as the money held out, our son was willing to watch our cats, and the van kept running. I got an incredible project just as we left, so we came home with more money than we left with, thanks to my Mifi. (The van required a bit of work as we got into higher altitudes, but ran beautifully otherwise. Our limiting factor ended up being our son. We had asked him to watch the cats "for a month." After 5 months he said, "If you don't come back soon, I'm having General Tsao's Cat for dinner." We ended our trip rather abruptly.)

My office at Devil's Tower, WY

The farther west we ventured, the less reliable became Dave's cell phone service and the more nervous I became about my current project. I made my usual annual salary during the 5 months we were traveling, so not having internet was not an option. We couldn't afford for me to lose this client. But conversely, we have never been ones to let money dictate our travels. So we decided to compromise. We would go anywhere and everywhere we wanted and see if I had internet. If not, we would decide how to plan a visit to that location either on the weekend or at a different point in our trip. We never had to give up on a desired side trip because of my lack of internet. Verizon Mifi made our adventure not only possible, but much less stressful.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming: no problem. Arches in Moab, Utah: no problem. Park after park we pulled into a camping spot, I turned on my Mifi and we held our breath. BING, 2 bars, 4G. We hooted and hollered and started setting up camp, preparing for another adventure. Time after time. Until one morning, sitting in the passenger seat in our camping spot in a valley of Mesa Verda, Colorado. Sipping a cup of coffee in my jammies, waiting for my computer to boot up so I could work for an hour or so before we went hiking. No signal. What? I had a noon deadline, we had plans for the afternoon, Mesa Verda is a dozen miles from the nearest town that may have internet, the park's internet had gone down the night before in a thunderstorm, and I was getting nervous. Ever practical, Dave said, "OK, we'll drive to the nearest town. We'll be there in a half hour, you can still meet your deadline. We'll come back and still have time for our hike. No big deal. But leave your Mifi on in case we get a signal between here and there."

Mesa Verde, CO? No problem.

As Dave drove us out of the valley, I stared at the "No Signal" on my screen. Then, PING, 3 bars, 4G. "STOP! I've got a signal!" We pulled into a parking lot just over a short rise, half mile from our camping spot, still in the park, with an incredible view outside my "office" window. "Well there," Dave said, "you get something new to look at from 'work' today."

We know our Mifi won't work once we leave the country. It won't work in the USVI and there is some discrepancies about whether it will work in Puerto Rico. We'll have to get there to find out. But for stateside travel, there is nothing else I will use for internet. People often ask how we finance the dream. The short answer is: with a little creativity.

MONDAY we'll share another one of Dave's quick and easy ideas that has improved our lives, and my work space, immensely.


Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, She has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

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