Long gone are the days when traveling meant unplugging, if only by nature of not having access to the internet. Now, we can get a cellular connection almost anywhere in the world — but even with ever-improving international data plans, that bill can add up quickly. So for many travelers, finding WiFi on the go is the holy grail, whether you need to see where you’re going, order an Uber or just post your latest adventure on Instagram. Fortunately, it’s increasingly possible to locate free or public WiFi all over the globe — here’s how.
Hit up chain coffee shops and restaurants
“Starbucks is the most reliable source of WiFi I’ve found worldwide,” said Paige Brunton, a digital nomad and online business educator. Indeed, Starbucks offers free WiFi in all of its U.S. locations and in many international locations; and other large chains, like McDonald’s, also have free networks. Wherever you are, look for large restaurants such as those or local coffee shop chains that may have WiFi for customers (you just may have to make a small purchase).
You may also have luck in certain retail stores, like large department or tech stores. The Apple Store, for example, typically has an open network, according to CNET.
Visit tourist hotspots
Places like museums, public parks and theatres are also likely to offer free WiFi for visitors. Ask an employee or just try connecting when you go to these places to avoid using data while you’re there; or if you need WiFi to look something up while on the go, see if you can access these public networks while standing in the lobby or near the entrance.
Stop in a transportation hub
Many airports, train stations and bus stations around the world offer free WiFi. You may be limited to a certain amount of time (such as 45 minutes), but if you only need to look a couple things up, that’s plenty.
Connect to your cable company’s network
Before you head out on your trip, ask your cable, internet or phone provider if they have public WiFi hotspots you can connect to as a subscriber — there’s a good chance they do. For example, Cox, Xfinity, Optimum and Spectrum all offer high-speed hotspots throughout the United States part of a collaboration known as Cable WiFi.
Use a WiFi-finding app
You could take a trial-and-error approach, testing different spots as you go throughout the day to see if they have free WiFi. Or, you could let your phone do the work for you. “[Instabridge] tends to be my go-to for WiFi passwords,” Brunton said of the app that allows users to share WiFi passwords and details with the rest of the community. And popular apps like WiFi Finder, OpenSignal and Wefi make it easy to locate various hotspots wherever you are.
Search review sites
Sites like Yelp and Foursquare can be great sources for WiFi info. On Yelp, you can filter your search (even just a general search of the neighborhood you’re in) to only show results with free WiFi; and if you search “free WiFi” on Foursquare, you’ll get a slew of results in the area where that feature has been mentioned by users.
Open your settings
When in doubt, it “never hurts to just open your settings and see what WiFi networks are available,” said Jessica Silber, director of global sales at GeoEx. “That’s how [I] found out that Hong Kong had free public WiFi on the beach... and [I] could access the bus schedule to get back to the city.”
Travel with a mobile hotspot
If you don’t want to rely on public networks, you can bring WiFi with you wherever you go by using a mobile hotspot. You can get a data plan through your cellular provider with a hotspot like AT&T’s Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router or Verizon’s Jetpack MiFi 8800L, or use a pay-as-you-go hotspot like this one from Skyroam. You can even use your smartphone as a personal hotspot if you want to connect your computer or tablet — keep in mind, though, that this will use up data, so make sure you’re aware of your data plan and overage charges. If you’re traveling abroad, make sure you have an international data plan to avoid roaming fees, or consider buying a local SIM card with data.
Wherever you’re connecting, take measures to protect your personal information as best as possible. When you’re on a public network, avoid entering personal information like credit cards and social security numbers; and stick to secure “https” websites. If you want to be extra careful, you can get a VPN (virtual private network) like NordVPN, which routes your connection through a private server so your web activity isn’t publicly accessible.