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10 reasons to keep an old smartphone in your RV

Virtually all of us have an old smartphone or two lying around the house, following upgrades. Ever wondered what to do with them? I find it very difficult to bin a device that once cost me a lot of money, so I thought about what use an old, unused smartphone could be to the average RVer? Turns out, it could be quite useful indeed.

In this article, we look at ten useful ways that you can use your old smartphone for RV travel. Compared to splashing out on new hardware for these tasks, you could possibly save quite a bit of money, which is great if you’re on a budget.

1. GPS tracking device

Find My Phone App

Pretty much every smartphone has a built-in GPS function. Normally, this is used for mapping and navigation, but it is also used to locate a lost or stolen iPhone using the Find My Phone application. Find My Phone comes standard with iOS and basically allows you to view the location of any other iOS device you own using the internal GPS. Android phones have a similar app.

The location is displayed on a map and, from what I have found, it is accurate. An old iPhone in your caravan or camper connected to a constant 12V source can act as a GPS locator in the event your RV is stolen. Wherever the caravan goes, the phone will go. Obviously, you will need to install a separate SIM card for the phone to work.

Most Telcos offer a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid account that has a validity period of 12 months for any credit you put on the card. You can pay the minimum, and this will last you a year or until you run out of data credit. A dedicated GPS tracking device can cost anywhere between $300 and $1000 dollars, depending on functionality, so the savings on this function alone justify keeping a spare phone in your van.

2. Video surveillance camera

If you have a look on the App Store, you will find a variety of video surveillance applications that turn a spare mobile phone equipped with a camera into an IP camera that can be accessed remotely from another smartphone. Some apps like Surveillance Pro allow two-way video and audio communications. If you travel with dogs and, for whatever reason, you need to leave them in your van for a short period of time, you can monitor them and ensure they are okay and not barking. You could also place the phone in a window to keep an eye on your campsite. The uses for this are endless. Installing a similar dedicated IP camera could cost upwards of $150.

3. Caravan levelling device

Another feature of the iPhone is the built-in position and accelerometer sensors that are used to, among other things, detect the movement and orientation of the phone itself. It allows the screen to rotate between portrait and landscape modes automatically or for applications like the digital spirit level.

Now, some enterprising people have come up with an app that sends this positional data to another smartphone remotely, allowing the spare phone in the van or camper to tell the driver when it is level. The app is called Caravan Level Remote. It’s a brilliant system that allows you to park your van in the most level position on a campsite before unhitching it from the tow vehicle. It should avoid one of the most common causes of arguments between couples and prevent you from rolling out of an uneven bed at night!

Again, devices can be purchased for this very purpose that cost upwards of $350.

smartphone as a levelling device

4. Remote battery monitor

Just about every modern caravan or camper has a 12V electrical system of some description, and monitoring the health of your batteries is key to ensuring this system delivers constant power to all of your appliances. If, like me, you rely on your 12V power system to power a CPAP machine overnight – for sleep apnoea – knowing your batteries are fully charged before nightfall is essential to your health.

Your van will likely have an inbuilt monitor of some type, and while some newer RVs will already have the capacity to monitor this on your phone, many older RVs will not. This can be fixed with the availability of several devices that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and display all sorts of information about the health of your batteries and the rate at which you’re using power.

They are not cheap, costing around $300, but the convenience they offer can be very helpful. You can keep the phone with you outside of the van and, at a glance, see your battery’s state of charge. If they are not getting charged sufficiently, you can move the solar panels into better sunlight or consider other methods of charging. Some apps give you the ability to set alerts to prevent running your batteries too low and damaging them.

caravan stereo head unit for smartphone connection

5. Juke box

If your caravan or camper has an inbuilt stereo system that allows the connection of a smartphone or MP3 player, you can store your favourite music on your spare iPhone and leave it in the van permanently connected to the stereo. That way, you will always have your music with you when you travel.

6. Movies on the go

Take the above tip one step further, and if you have sufficient memory capacity on your phone, you can also store a selection of your favourite movies that, with the addition of an AV cable, can be connected to your TV. This saves carrying around a heap of DVDs or a separate portable hard drive.

7. Walkie talkie

How many of us love watching others trying to back their campers and vans into a tight spot and have a giggle at the antics and agreements that inevitably ensue? Sadly, we do, and often we have offered these poor souls the use of our portable UHF radio. I’ve often wondered why people don’t have one of these useful tools for assisting with this task.

Well, there is a great feature on all smartphones called push to talk, and it allows phones to communicate with each other without using valuable data or phone credit, turning your phones into walkie-talkies. Just do a search on ‘push to talk’ apps on the App Store. It could save you $50 or more on a dedicated portable radio.

8. Night light/alarm clock

You can spend hours trolling through all the night light apps on the App Store. There are literally hundreds. Some will have sound activation, others will have various functions like a night clock that is sound activated. There are probably more out there with features you may not have ever contemplated. Either way, making use of your spare iPhone as a night light and a bedside alarm clock can be very helpful.

9. Children’s entertainment

We don’t have children, but on occasion, we have people visit us when we’re in the caravan, and they may bring their kids along. If it’s raining and there is not much for them to do, it may be handy to have a spare iPhone around loaded with a selection of games to keep them entertained without lending them your actual mobile phone.

Younger kids have a habit of destroying things from time to time, so if they do break your spare phone, it won’t be such a hardship. This is, of course, if the kids don’t come armed with a more modern phone than you.


10. Netflix

If you don’t have a newer SmartTV in your RV, you can use the Netflix app on your smartphone to stream TV to a normal television using a device like Google Chromecast. By installing the Netflix app on your spare phone, you will always have a player handy in your RV, and it will allow you to use your personal mobile phone for other applications. I wouldn’t recommend using a smartphone for Netflix unless you were at a caravan park with free WiFi access available.

So there you have it. Ten very practical uses for a spare smartphone that you can keep in your RV to make life on the road just that little bit easier.

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