- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

"Getting away from it all" is one of the best features of escaping in an RV. Too much of a good getaway thing, though, isn't always advisable. Many RVers now prefer to have the choice about how closely they stay in touch with the real world while enjoying their recreation time.

Staying in contact while RVing isn't always the sign of a type "A" person run amok. Many individuals with small startup companies find it a savvy business necessity to remain available to their employees via phone or e-mail.

Other RVers have a variety of very good personal reasons for not appearing to drop from the face of the Earth for a weekend or longer. And, for full-time RVers who hit the road for weeks and months at a time with no fixed spot to call home, an electronic lifeline to the real world can be a necessity as well as a wonderful luxury.

Fortunately, the advances in consumer electronics have made staying in touch much easier and more functionally practical for RVers. At the easiest and most common end of the scale is the cell phone, which is already owned by a wide percentage of RVers. Cell phones are easy to use, fairly economical and mostly reliable. Unfortunately, cell phone area coverage and connections can be persnickety on the road, and service will vary among companies. My service, AT&T digital, sounds really great and has a strong signal in places like the middle of nowhere between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., or deep in the bowels of the Columbia Gorge in Oregon, but in the suburb of Los Angeles I call home, my signal is weak or nonexistent.

A lesser-known option is ham radio. At one time the province of electronic wizards, ham radios are now available in simple hand-held form that's easily usable by almost anyone — like a walkie-talkie. More complex models are available, including compact dash-mounted units with hand-held microphones configured like CB radios, but for simple communications that can be tied into the conventional phone service, even a base-model ham radio will work.

Licensing for a ham radio is a lot easier now, as well. There's no extensive knowledge of Morse code or electronics required for the basic license. All you need do is fill out a license form and you can use the simplest type of ham radio transceiver. A nationwide network of repeaters ensures coverage in some amazingly remote places.

For the ultimate in remote-spot communications, there are a variety of satellite-connected wireless phones now available. These are still on the expensive side, both to buy the equipment and to cover the monthly service fee, and models range from large hand-held units that resemble old-style cell phones up to permanently installed units for your tow rig or motor home. The good side is that as long as you have a clear view of the satellite for line-of-sight signal connection, you can use a satellite phone almost anywhere an RV can travel. Internet connection for satellite phones is very expensive and varies from company to company.

Checking e-mail on the road has become far easier as well. Some cell phones have the potential for enabling data transfers and e-mail downloading and uploading, but those are still relatively rare. Better yet, for RVers with computers, many campgrounds now have telephone jacks in addition to water, electricity and cable TV at every campsite. Some campgrounds even include two lines for separate phone and data connections. Many later-model RVs also include phone jack connections outside the rig in a utility area and inside at strategic locations.

Most campsites with phone jacks work like hotel room phones. When you check in, the clerk activates the phone line for your site. Generally, you pay a small set fee for every outgoing call, including those to 800 numbers and when using a calling card service for long distance. Don't expect lightning-fast online connections at a campground. About 28,800 is the best you're likely to do, but that's more than adequate for basic e-mail and data transmission.

Finally, for those with very simple e-mail needs, another device called Pocket Mail is cheap — about $150 a year — and works nationwide. This simple and fairly inexpensive device allows for easy two-way e-mail service using any conventional telephone. It includes a small keyboard for entering text and has a variety of features that are becoming very popular with RVers.

Today's RVer has multiple choices for staying in touch from the road, and the equipment and services selection improves constantly. So, while RVing may mean an escape of sorts, you may not actually "get away from it all." And you may not want to.

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