Without a doubt, internet access has become much more available than back when my husband, David, and I started our world-traveling journey 10 years ago. When we set out in our motorhome for the empty nest adventure we called our victory lap, there were times we would go for a day or more without WiFi.
Oh, the horror!
But, we found ways to get free access to WiFi, tricky though it was. We became some of Starbucks’ best customers, but not for the coffee. Other times we would wander anxiously searching for the elusive hotel with no password protection, just so we could park close by for a few hours. We even remember desperately downloading email while crouching on the curb outside a bar in Italy. Clearly, we have an addiction.
Thankfully, in this modern world, we have found methods to satisfy our cravings no matter what country we are in.
We usually start with the cheapest international internet package our phone provider offers. When no other options are available, a smartphone that creates its own internet hotspot is our go-to solution for our WiFi fix. We can hardly imagine life without it anymore. However, outside of the U.S., using it is a good way to go broke. So, we still need a few tricks up our sleeves to stay connected while gallivanting across the globe.
Intercontinental exploration requires scouting out the free WiFi, while being frugal with the paid.
Almost every hotel has high-speed internet these days, as do many restaurants (not shockingly, we have found this to be a somewhat less than desirable way to pick a restaurant), most trains, and any plane bigger than a puddle jumper.
In foreign lands it is a good idea to check with the hotel at check-in, because we have learned the hard way at check-out that when they say that they offer internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean free. After streaming Netflix all night is not the time to discover this…trust me.
We also like to save webpages to the computer while connected to free internet so we can read them later, when there may not be any access. This especially comes in handy for travel guides and Wikipedia pages about the destinations we visit.
Another way to conserve those precious megabytes is by texting. Believe it or not, texts are often cheaper than email. Check with your provider, but on many plans incoming texts are free in most countries, whereas checking email will eat into that prepaid package.
Other options for access almost anywhere in the world are train stations and libraries. Most have good, free internet, and you don’t have to buy a coffee.
There are also companies that offer mobile hotspots that convert a cellphone signal into WiFi. They can be rented for the duration of a trip, with an additional fee for unlimited service charged by the day. Sounds pricey, but the total is usually less than $20 a day. We have used one of these, called Tep Wireless, on several occasions and had good luck, but be sure to check if the service is available in your destination, because they only work in a few dozen countries.
Lastly, when all else fails, look for a group of teenagers staring at their phones. Chances are they have found the free WiFi.