We all know there are 100’s of different SIM card and data sims to choose from to make sure you have internet whilst living the van life thing. But what one is the best?

To compare plans, look at the length of contract vs price vs data vs cash back is a absolute nightmare so instead of all that I’ll just tell you what my experiences are live with my very simple van life internet setup.

Since 2021 I’ve been using Smarty Mobile

Unlimited Data, Unlimited Text, Unlimited Voice all for just £20 (you can get it even cheaper during those black Friday sales). Best of all this is a one month rolling contract so you can stop and start as you please.

If you haven’t heard of Smarty Mobile they are a subsidiary of the Uk mobile network Three and specialise in monthly rolling contracts. Ideal if you are just about and about in the summer in your van but tend to be more home based. During winter I change my contract down to £10 for 60gb (at the time of publishing) just so I know when I go out there is data still available other than my mobile phone.

12Gb European internet allowance without Fees

12gb is included for 30 days but the killer feature here is that unlike Three there’s no daily charge. I travelled across Europe to Germany with full 4g and at the very worst full 3G. As long as you are sensible and don’t stream videos at full 4k or 1080p and a little sympathetic to the allowance this should work just fine.

I was parked up at a campsite in Mainz, did several FaceTime calls, uploaded to instagram and fell asleep with YouTube playing and I barely touched 2gb.

Data Coverage

In my personal experience of travelling around the Uk, surviving the pandemic in my van, heading to several Van Life Festivals around the uk, it worked well enough. During the Van Life Festival in Stratford Upon Avon in 2022 I was able to do a full days work without issue.

To put into context a full days work is being constantly on teams, having to logon to cloud services and remote onto users PC’s at the same time without issue. When the event got full the service did slow down a touch but that’s going to happen at any event that floods a mobile mast more than normal.

Another usage case is being on the road. I can drive from the deepest parts of West Wales right through to the Valleys of Merthyr Tydfil with steaming audio, making FaceTime audio calls with barely a few dropouts that I consider more than tolerable given the topology of the landscape .

Of course there will be those who say “I tried it once and it sucked at home” but if your out and about doing Van life stuff you’re not going to be in once place right? Listen I don’t want to sound like a shill but for the price and it’s only a one month contract surely this has to be taken into consideration.

Best portable modem to Van life or why not just use your mobile as a hotspot.

I’m looking at 4g modems that are affordable for those of use starting out in Van life, aka we’ve not all had the luxury of being sponsored by brands.

My TP-Link M7350 4G LTE MiFi, Portable Travel Wi-Fi, SD Card Slot, Unlocked Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot cost me £65 back in 2021 and hasn’t come down in price since but it’s been darn handy. Battery life is good for up to 5 hours even after years of usage and although setup does require some manual intervention it has served me well for many years. Just a shame the price is still £70 even 4 years down the road.

A side benefit is the inclusion of a SD card slot so if you wanted to load up with some tv shows or movies to you can watch them locally via a web link.

Why not use your phone as a mobile hotspot?

Sure you can, have a spare one lying around if you don’t have the money to pay the stupid prices for a mobile hotspot. If you don’t have a spare phone here are some things to consider

  1. Battery drain: Using your phone as a hotspot can quickly drain its battery, especially if you’re using it to connect multiple devices or streaming media.
  2. Data usage: If you’re on a limited data plan, using your phone as a hotspot can eat up your monthly data allowance quickly. You can split out your data allowances easily.
  3. Prolongs your mobile battery life. Phones these days will use wifi any time over the power guzzling modem chips.
  4. Free’s up your phone, want to take a call, go for a walk to get some space, separating a mobile hotspot means that one device isn’t tied up technically.

Ultimately the argument can go backwards and forward on this, by all means a spare phone will more than do the job, I just know for me having a portable hotspot means when Im walking in a city I’m saving on battery life along.

The downsides of all this

Smarty doesn’t have an easily findable phone number so if you need support but your mobile internet is down it’s a whole chicken and egg situation, you need internet to get support but your internet is down.

I’ve had people reach out to me that Smarty was stupidly slow for a week or two but then sorted itself out to get full speed. I can only imagine this is down to some laboured sim activation process.


There is no “best data sim” as there are so many variables location, price, length of contract. Personally for me the cost vs potentially paying more for fringe benefits is worth it. Also being offline can be a good thing, I tend to get more creative editing my crap videos when my internet isn’t the best but thats just me.

That being said with the price, monthly rolling contract and data caps Smarty isn’t bad at all.

*full disclaimer.  There are full referral links here but I do not shill out or endorse anything that I don't fully believe in