Mobile Power For Nomads

One of the reasons so many of us are now able to be full-time nomads—even if we’re still among the working—is that technology has finally caught up to our wanderlust. Sure, there have nearly always been helps such as kerosene lanterns and portable stoves, since the first camper hit the road. But the safety, convenience, affordability and ease-of-use of all kinds of technology have improved to the point where almost anyone can manage it enough to become a full-time nomad today, whether still working or retired.

And as much of a blessing as that is, it’s also something of a curse for those who are not particularly adept at things mechanical or technical. Happily, it’s all learnable, regardless. Most of it isn’t difficult to learn, so much as it is a bit overwhelming in the beginning, simply because there is so much to it. This is a really important concept to remember!

The trick in managing the gaining of this knowledge and these skills is like any other: Break it down into smaller, logical chunks that you can take in and retain, at one time; get through each one, then move on to the next.

Give Yourself Time and Space to Learn

I will emphasize that you must have patience and kindness with yourself as you delve into these subjects. Of course, it never hurts to get guidance from someone who already understands what you’re trying to learn. That’s what I hope to offer here: a bit of guidance and understanding, and referrals to other resources whose knowledge and skill exceed my own, and from whom I am also still learning. Which leads me to Important Concept #2: You will never, ever learn everything there is to know about digital communications technology, because it evolves too quickly. So give yourself a break on that, too.

And that’s the biggest concept I will leave you with: Technology is ever-evolving, so none among us will ever know it all. That alone is an overwhelming concept, when you’re just diving into the tech pool. The happy news is that, unless you become a salesperson or installer, you never have to learn it all! You only have to learn about the tech you need to make your road life easier. And the better news is that there are lots of friendly people out here on the road and in the bazillion online learning venues (seriously, in this situation, Professor YouTube is your great and reliable friend) willing to share their knowledge and experience with you, most of it for free!

Stay Aware of Relevant Developments

That said, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to new developments in power and technology. I feel blessed to have come across, early in my pre-nomad knowledge quest, two related resources; from both of which I learned most of what now know about these subject, and both of which I could not live comfortably without on the road. I list them ahead of everything else in this section because they have dealt and continue to deal at some level, with all of the sub-topics listed above.

General Power & Communications

  • Power – Propane
  • Power – Electric
  • Power – Solar
  • Internet
  • Phone

Power – Propane

Nomads use the power and technology of propane in two ways:

  • Most recreational vehicles — both driveable and towable — on the market today are equipped with a propane hookup, which runs a variety of amenities when camping:

Propane can help keep you comfortable while you’re on the road, with on-board furnaces and propane-powered aftermarket heaters such as the Mr. Heater Buddy series or the Olympian Wave catalytic heaters to keep you warm on cold nights.

Indoor and outdoor cooking appliances
Propane grills can be connected to the RV propane power source for outdoor cooking. Other cooking options include indoor stoves and ovens for your camping meals.

Fridges and coolers in your rig
If you want to avoid disorganized coolers and melting ice, nearly all newer RVs provide a built-in refrigerator that uses propane, 120v electric (“shore power”), and some even offer 12v DC electric-powered models you can switch manually or automatically as needed. since many RVs use propane-powered refrigerators to help keep food from spoiling. Many vanlifers also include space for portable electric-powered refrigerator/freezer units that can be designed into a permanent build or moved around in a no-build setup.

Water heaters
Standard 6- or 10-gallon propane-powered water heaters allow nomads hot water to wash our hands or take showers while RV camping. These can be a pain to use in older models, since those don’t have automatic ignition that you can operate from inside the rig. Instead, you must go outside to light the burner manually, regardless the weather or time of day. I instead suggest considering a tankless water heater, which has the following advantages over stock models:

Smaller, more lightweight, and able to be located anywhere in the rig that allows it to be vented outside for safety, rather than having to deal with whatever you get from the factory.

WAY less expensive

Very easy to install if you simply adapt existing pipes and propane hose feed.

Hot water supply is limited only by what your tank will hold, rather than the measly 6-10 gallons allowed by stock tanks.

Hot water is always available on demand (within about 10 seconds in warm weather and 20-30 seconds when it’s cold), rather than having to remember to turn on the burner 30-45 minutes before you wish to use it, as you must with standard RV water heaters

Portable models can be hung outside on a van or even in a tent at your campsite, allowing non-RVers the comfort and convenience of hot water wherever, whenever.

Power – Electric

RVs use several different types of electrical power:

  • “Shore Power” – a term from boat/marine users, meaning to be plugged into standard 120vAC, as in a house
  • House Batteries – The source of your RV’s 12v DC power for onboard lights, etc.
  • Solar Energy – Using solar panels to generate power to recharge your house battery, a relatively new technology
  • Generator – Portable gas or propane-powered engine; what most RVers use to recharge house batteries
  • Inverter/Converter – The component that switches AC to DC current or vice versa, which you’ll often have to do, but which generally happens automatically once the system is installed and properly configured.

The best and most thorough explanation of all these concepts that I have found comes from the Intellitec company.

Power – Solar

Though no longer a new technology for RVers, solar energy generation and storage is still a rapidly evolving technology to produce power needed by nomads. These systems can range from the simple to the unbelievably complex, and happily, are increasingly reasonably priced and deployable by anyone in any kind of vehicle or even just tent campers. For this topic, you can find literally endless information on YouTube, and in many other places on the Web. Here is one of the most thorough and accessibly written articles on the topic for nomads.

Internet & Phone

More and more, staying connected to the outside world is important for modern nomads, especially those who still work because they’re not retired yet. As the median age of nomads and RVers drops, there is an increasing need to be able to get online and be able to talk and text via smartphones while living on the road, since so many of us now do so as a lifestyle and not just for vacations or recreation. For mobile lifestyles, phones and Internet are almost inextricably bound, though this is changing with the advent of affordable mobile satellite technology.

Hands down, the very best resource I can direct you to is the Mobile RV Internet Center. I would not have been able to get or stay on the road without these amazing people. And I strongly recommend joining as a premium member, because it’ll help you stay abreast of new developments almost as they happen. It’s always the best money I spend every year.

Mobile Technology Resources