Low on data? Spotty wifi access in your RV? Really just want to watch the Great British Bake-off and chill out for a while? Here’s how to do it!
Fulltime RV travelers often need to conserve bandwidth and energy, which means video-based entertainment tends to be short, infrequent, and full of frustration. Consistent mobile data and internet access can also be tricky to figure out. An unlimited data plan isn’t financially viable for everyone, wifi hotspots can be, well, spotty, and while many RV parks have free wifi, it’s often agonizingly slow.
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If we’re paying $80+/month for a limited data plan, using a chunk of that to stream videos doesn’t make much sense. That’s even if we’re in an area with a cell signal! Boondocking often takes you beyond cell towers, which means you might not even be able to connect to your wifi anyway.
While we aren’t necessarily going to be spending ALL of our time watching Netflix, having it as an option can be a total lifesaver. Cartoons and comedy movies can cheer up grumpy kids on long driving days. Rainy days where you’re stuck inside your rig can be less painful with an interesting documentary. Boring Walmart parking lot overnights can be jazzed up with some Youtube vlogs.
So how do you get access to videos when you’re on a limited data plan?
Easy! Simply DOWNLOAD the videos beforehand. Here’s how to do that:
Step one, find access to decent wifi.
Yes, unfortunately you will HAVE to find some kind of wifi access for at least a few hours. This might mean sucking it up and hanging out in a coffee house or library for half a day, but it’s necessary for step two.
And it doesn’t have to be terrible! There are some lovely places with excellent, free wifi access for the public:
Places to find wifi access for free or cheap
- Coffee shops like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and even small local places.
- Restaurants like Panera Bread, Denny’s, and McDonald’s.
- Coworking spaces— a great option for digital nomads who need a decent working space for a day or a week, though it does cost the most out of all these options.
- Hotel lobbies (though not always).
- Libraries! Both public and university libraries often have public wifi access, often not even requiring a library card or password.
There’s all kinds of places with free wifi, though some locations will have faster internet than others. In my experience, libraries and coworking spaces tend to have the best wifi.
Step two, DOWNLOAD your videos.
Yup! That’s it! Simply download your videos for offline viewing! You’ll be able to watch them when you want, even if you’re boondocked 20 miles from a decent cell signal, and all you have to spend is time and drive space (and a subscription).
You can do this on a tablet, computer, or your phone— just be sure to have something with a decent amount of storage space, and that you’ll be comfortable watching your videos on it. Once you download a video to your device, you can’t transfer it to another device, so choose wisely.
The downside with public wifi is that large downloads are often throttled (slowed down), which means it could potentially take a while to get your stuff onto your device. However, if you choose lower quality videos (480p), they won’t look terrible on a tablet or phone and you’ll have speedier downloads. Test it out and see what works best for you!
I’ve done this when I go on weekend trips to conferences. I’ll stock up on some movies on my iPad mini (my favorite on-the-go device), and then watch them on the train or in the hotel room. I don’t have to spend any of my cellular data streaming them, and I can just delete them when I’m done watching them. Easy!
So which services let your download videos for offline viewing?
Subscription services with video downloads
If you’re already paying for a streaming service, you probably have access to downloads!
Amazon Prime Video
Cost: $119/year ($9.91/month)
Amazon Prime Video has lots of movies and TV shows available from a wide variety of channels and sources. You can also purchase additional channel subscriptions (like Acorn TV, Boomerang, or HBO) to get access to more shows and movies.
Downloadable videos on Amazon Prime Video have a downwards arrow symbol on the right side of the landing page.
Limits: The same video can only be downloaded to two devices at the same time. You can have a total of 15-25 total Prime Video titles downloaded at once (depends on your location). Once you download a video, you’ll have 30 days to watch it. Once you START the video, you’ll have 48 hours to watch it.
More about downloadable content on Amazon Prime Video.
Cost: $8.99/month for basic account
Netflix is the behemoth of streaming services, and my personal favorite. They have movies and shows from lots of providers, and make a ton of their own content as well. I love their selection of documentaries! Also, you can create separate profiles for each family member, which can help organize things.
Movies and TV shows that can be downloaded will have this little arrow in the corner. You can also filter all downloadable content right away, making it faster to find available videos.
Limits: No limit on how MANY shows you download, but you may be limited on how many DEVICES can download the same title. Some publishers also have limits on how many of their videos you can download at once.
Cost: $9.99/month or
VRV is a newer subscription service which has content from lots of different providers, including Crunchyroll (anime), Boomerang (classic cartoons), CuriosityStream (documentaries), Nicksplat (Nickelodeon), Shudder (horror), as well as indie and online-born content. If you have a paid subscription, you can “sync” shows and movies for offline viewing.
Limits: Synced videos expire after a certain amount of time (usually a week), and once you start playing the video, you have 48 hours to watch it before it expires. Not all titles are available for download, due to licensing rights.
Youtube Premium (previously Youtube Red)
If you watch a lot of Youtube videos, this might be the service for you! Youtube Premium lets you download videos offline, with no ads. You can even choose the video quality that you want to save– if you’re in a so-so wifi situation, downloading lower-quality videos will help speed things up, for instance.
I had a three month trial subscription to Youtube Premium and loved that I could download videos, as well as keep them playing in the background while doing other stuff. It’s a little pricey compared to the others, but it’s a great option for people who really love Youtube and want to support its creators.
Limits: Downloaded videos stay downloaded for 30 days. Some creators have download restrictions. Youtube Premium is only availabe in certain countries (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6307365).
Alternatives to streaming subscriptions
Almost every store where you can purchase a video has an option for downloading that video for offline viewing. If you don’t watch a lot of videos anyway, this MIGHT be more cost-effective, depending on what you buy. Movies are usually $4.99-$18 each, while TV shows tend to be $15-30 per season.
Stores which allow downloads: Amazon, Google Play, Movies Anywhere, iTunes
Have a library card? Try:
Cost: Free with a library card!
Hoopla is a video subscription service which your library will subscribe to, and which you can access using your card. Not all libraries have a subscription, but if they DO you’ll have access to lots of movies and TV shows– usually indie and classics.
Be sure to check your library’s checkout limits for Hoopla. Usually you’re limited to a certain amount per month. Mine is set to 15 downloads a month, which is AWESOME.
Limits: The download will expire when the loan expires (depends on library– mine is 3 days). Downloads only work on the iOS or Android apps.
Which is the best?
There’s more to consider than just which service lets you download what. What kind of shows do you like? Does a service offer more than just video, like music, books, or discounted shipping?
For instance, Amazon Prime has more than just videos. If you have a subscription, you’ll also have access to unlimited music streaming (with downloads available), free 2-day shipping to anywhere in the US (including to Amazon Lockers– wonderful for those without a permanent mailing address), and many other benefits.
Youtube Premium also has a music option, Netflix is easy to use and has family-friendly options for kids, VRV has more classic cartoons and anime shows which aren’t available elsewhere.
Money is also a consideration. Paying for all of these services means almost $50/month, which can be a hefty chunk of change when you’re living on the road. In that case, utilizing your library card or one of the cheaper streaming services would be better.
For myself, I currently split a subscription to Netflix and Amazon Prime with my parents, so my cost is pretty small. (Splitting a subscription with a friend or family member is a great way to save money!)
But really, which one?
However, if I were going to start fresh AND pay for everything myself, I would purchase an Amazon Prime subscription, and then use my library card to get other videos on Hoopla. Amazon Prime has the most benefits out of all of the subscription services, though it doesn’t necessarily have the best selection for my own viewing tastes.
That said, how much am I really going to be watching? I’m thinking I’ll be busy enough driving around and working on the road where I wouldn’t NEED to have a full range of TV and movie access at every moment, so it’ll probably be fine.
The downside is that Amazon Prime has the least friendly download policy of all the subscriptions. If I didn’t need the shipping or music or other options that Amazon has, I’d go for Netflix instead, as it’s not only one of the cheapest options, but the easiest to use and with the best download limits.
Have you ever downloaded a video to your device before? Which service do you use the most? Leave a comment below with your recommendation!