In this highly digital world we live in, it’s assumed to be a given that we can be online 24/7. However, when you travel, you may not have the same luxury — with roaming charges usually being astronomical, you’ll need to get a SIM card or find a place with WiFi if you have to to get online. But with several portable WiFi hotspots on the market, you can get online with the touch of a button. It’s like an internet router you’d have at home — but in your pocket or travel bag instead.
Although you can just get a new SIM card in each country, you won’t always be able to get one when you need it, so having a hotspot on hand will definitely help alleviate some stress. Believe me, I know; I used to be a SIM-cards-only traveler, but after one too many frustrating moments — such as stores closed for country-specific holidays when I had a work deadline — I now bring along a mobile hotspot just in case. Though they tend to be more pricey than SIM cards — a SIM card in Croatia was about $15 per month and many portable hotspots are around $10 per day — it’s more about having peace of mind (and meeting that work deadline, of course).
“Owning or renting a mobile hotspot is really all about the cost/benefit analysis,” Shawn Forno, senior gear editor for Tortuga’s travel blog, Packsmith, said in an email. “If your livelihood depends on a strong, steady connection, it pays to own your own mobile WiFi hotspot.” For example, he said if you’re earning money as a digital assistant, you can factor this in as a cost of doing business (and maybe even a deduction at tax time). “However, if you’re a blogger or traveling writer, a mobile hotspot might not make quite as much sense,” said Forno.
Although many mobile hotspots can get the job done, it comes down to choosing one that has the features you need. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Skyroam Solis
Skyroam Solis is a bright orange, circular, 4G LTE global WiFi hotspot that fits in the palm of your hand. On its website, the company states that it works in more than 130 countries, so you definitely have options when it comes to where you’ll take it. Plus, you can share it with others — up to five people can be connected at once — and the battery is said to last for 16-plus hours. It also doubles as a power bank (6000 mAh) — and who couldn’t use an extra one of those?
Cost: $149.99 for the device itself — which includes unlimited data, you just pay for what you use, and there aren’t roaming fees — and the usage rates are $9 a day (or $99 a month). Or, you can rent it by the day; prices start at $9.95.
2. ROAMING MAN
ROAMING MAN is a rectangular hotspot that also functions as a power bank, too, and works worldwide, in over 130 countries and regions. Up to five devices can connect to it, and the battery lasts about 12 hours. However, the hotspot is only available with G2 and G3, and 4G LTE where available.
Cost: $149.99 if you buy the device, and pay-as-you-go rates start as low as $3.25 per day, depending on which country you’re in. However, you can also rent a ROAMING MAN. Their website has a convenient rental calculator so you can see how much it would cost per day based on the device you need and where you’ll be in the world — such as $9.99 per day in Asia, Europe and North America; for that price, you’ll get 1G of high-speed 4G data.
3. NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile Hotspot Router (MR1100)
The NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 Mobile Hotspot Router (MR1100) is a Gigabit LTE device and can reach maximum download speeds of 1 Gbps, which is amazing for a portable hotspot. You can also use the square-shaped router with up to 20 devices. Aside from WiFi, it also has Ethernet offloading capabilities and you can stream media from microSD, USB or the external hard drive to your connected devices. Plus, the 5040mAh battery lasts a long time — “all day and night” — which is critical with such a powerful device.
Cost: $233.33 on Amazon; monthly data costs vary depending on your mobile service provider.
4. My Webspot Pocket WiFi
If you only need on-the-go internet access for a short time, you may want to try this instead: My Webspot’s Pocket WiFi. Although it’s technically not a hotspot, it provides 4G WiFi with unlimited internet — with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps and upload speeds around 40 Mbps — and should do the trick. It’s available in more than 100 countries, and up to five devices can use it at once. The battery life is about eight hours, which isn’t bad for internet access you can fit into your pocket. Instead of buying it, you rent it; the company ships it to you, whether it’s to your apartment in your home country or to your hostel room at your travel destination. When you’re done with My Webspot, you just use the prepaid envelope it came with and send it back. Easy.
Cost: Variable; you can go onto the website and put in sample countries and dates. For instance, when you put in Denmark from April 30-May 7, it comes out to €70 (about $78). For comparison sake, when you put in “multiple countries in Europe” for the same date range, it comes out to €78 (about $87). My Webspot also requires a deposit of €180 (about $200), which they do not debit from your account unless you don’t return the device.