RV Shrink: Are smartphones a smart investment for RVers?


Dear RV Shrink:
My husband wants to keep us in the Dark Ages when it comes to phones. All we have are flip phones as the rest of the world is run on smartphones. I looked at buying a phone at Walmart and signing up for their Straight Talk plan. My husband said it probably won’t get a connection in half the places we travel. He’s an “expert” even though he has a hard enough time using his flip phone. He doesn’t even know what his own phone number is. He says he doesn’t need to know – he never calls himself.

I want to try using some camping, weather and news apps to help us in our travels. Do you  think this would be a good plan or a waste of good money? —Flipped Off in Flagstaff

Dear Flipped:
As you probably figured out long before you wrote me, your husband doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Actually, Straight Talk is a very decent phone plan. It does have some downsides, but connecting to towers is not one of them. You decide what carrier you want on your plan. Most people who travel choose Verizon. Let’s just use that as an example.

According to their policy, Straight Talk customers are second-class citizens on the Verizon tower during peak usage hours. That means your data goes to the back of the line. I had a Verizon Straight Talk plan for many years and never noticed any service outage from such a situation. We actually believe our coverage was better than our current Verizon plan. My suspicion is that Straight Talk may have better tower relationships with various carriers because they offer them all. Although they offer Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data, there still can be some buffering. At some point you will be throttled back if you use too much data.

We went back to Verizon – but kicking and screaming. The main difference between a Straight Talk Verizon plan and a company plan is the ability to use your unlimited data plan as a hotspot. You cannot do that with a Straight Talk plan. The hotspot feature on your phone will be blocked. For an additional $10 they offer limited 10GB of hotspot use, if you have a compatible device.

I consider Verizon a Corporate Grifter. They will pick your pocket and fleece you with a smile on their face. I am convinced they send their salespeople to Scam School. Buying a phone and plan from them is no different than a shell game. They spit out convoluted spreadsheets that work much like IRS tax forms. You get credit on line 1 and it’s taken away on line 2. They are expert at hidden charges, activation fees and taxes. You have to go into a Verizon store with an attitude if you want to come out with your wallet intact.

I suggest you try Walmart first. No contract, no smoke and mirrors, no free phone scam to lock you into a plan. You simply buy a less expensive smartphone, pay a monthly fee that does not take a tax lawyer to figure out, and it will do most everything you seem to be wanting in a phone. You can even call your husband on his flip phone and find out what aisle he’s in at Walmart. —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.


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Vanessa Simmons

Veteran? Don’t forget to check on discounts for veterans and look at the base exchange website to see what they offer.

Mark B

Priority order.

1. Get a phone (modest, recent release like Moto G7). Be prepared to replace in 2 years as new mobile band/technology is deployed, increasing reach of calls and apps/data.

2. Tell your spouse this is your project. He can stay with his useless stone and chisel, but one of you should be prepared to handle finance, research, news, weather, communications, photos and lots more while out and about.

Doug Davenport

I’ll agree that most of the Big Cellular carriers are fleecing us. I found a happy medium by signing up for Verizon’s Prepaid plan. I bought my phone outright and have no contract. $35/month for 6GB’s.

Carson Axtell

If you decide to go ahead and get a smartphone just be prepared for the resentment from your husband once you gain access to all the information available at your fingertips that he will have not the slightest clue about — he doesn’t sound like the kind of person who would be open to new ideas or to being shown to be a clueless Luddite…


What ever plan you decide to go with make sure you can get the newest generation phone you can get. My mom got a Cricket and cannot use certain apps because the phone won’t support it. I am mostly the navigator and have all the apps on my phone. It’s great. I use the Verizon prepaid for the phones and a mifi hotspot.

I have been a Verizon customer for 20 years. I have tried to break away and go with others but the service (not customer service) does not compare.


Dear Flipped,
Apparently your question has sparked a discussion on different services available instead of replying to your real question.
Let me tell you that my wife and I use our smart phones a lot when we travel. There are so many great apps out there that can help you as you go down the road. Everything from the best fuel prices, to things to see and do in your new locations and also a backup for your onboard GPS as sometimes you just need a second option on a route. One thing we use all the time is RVTripWizard to plan out our trips. Also our EFS discount fuel card has saved us literally hundreds of dollars on our current trip. Their app on our smart phones shows us which stations offer the biggest discounts and where they are located. I could go on about several other applications that are now essential to our travels but let me say, that you can’t go wrong with a smart phone to guide you through some very important parts of travel.

chris p hemstead

” I never call myself.” Cute joke, but what about losing your phone and pinging it, or wanting someone to call you and asking for your number, or filling out any number of forms at any office?

Thomas Becher

So true about Verizon and costs. Was paying too much and called retention specialist. Got it down around $45 to match cellular one prices. Bill came and it’s $10 more than we agreed to. Around my house, AT&T does not work or we’re be gone.CROOKS be they.


I just switched to the Verizon owned Visible cell phone provider which is on the Verizon tower system. They have a somewhat limited phone selection but you can’t beat $40/month which includes taxes and fees as well as unlimited voice, text and data. They just introduced a ‘family’ plan that reduces your cost and theirs by $5 for each person you add to the plan (max of 3 people).


Try Consumer Cellular. Tough to beat their prices and they use the AT&T network plus a discount for AARP members.