Even though we live in a world made smaller every day by advances in remote communications technology, there are still times when we find ourselves traveling for business meetings. On the other hand, perhaps we’re just taking a relaxing roadtrip to get away for a bit. In either case, all too often our dependence on technology turns into a liability when an Internet connection isn’t readily available. We’ve all come to rely on being connected, and frequently stress out when we can’t log in. For those times, try the following tips for finding free, reliable WiFi access while on the road:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask – politely.
Perhaps the quickest and simplest way to score free Wi-Fi wherever you go is to simply ask for it. Even if the business you’re visiting or (rarely these days) the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t offer free WiFi for guests, many will provide you with a login password if you just ask nicely. Most employees are well-trained to be accommodating to anyone with whom they do business, and asking the right one will almost surely have you piggy-backing on their connection in no time. Of course, some companies may have security measures in place prohibiting this, but it never hurts to ask.
If all else fails, you can do a little planning and ask people online. For example, you can identify the airports that offer free Wi-Fi by visiting this Foursquare page or login into your Facebook account to access free Wi-Fi.
2. Know where to look.
Most airports (especially near the airlines’ premium lounges), bus depots, and train stations, as well as museums and community spaces like libraries, city plazas and parks will offer free and reliable WiFi. Hospitals (try the cafeteria!) and even courthouses almost always have free Wi-Fi these days. Bookstores and gyms are also worth checking out. Chances are better than good – bordering on a virtual certainty – that, no matter what city or town you happen to be in, there is some publicly accessible area that will enable you to get online with no trouble.
A few words of caution: Be judicious about which connection you choose to use in public areas. Avoid those that appear to be someone’s private, but unsecured, connection. Look for “official” networks in the list of available options. This minimizes your risk of a breach in security and giving hackers access to your machine or the ability to intercept your data. In either case, make sure to “forget” that network when you’re done, ensuring you won’t automatically – and unwittingly – log in the next time you just happen to be in the neighborhood. You might also take a moment to set your browser to operate in secure mode (https) whenever possible. It’s not an absolutely perfect solution, but it will definitely keep you safer. Lastly, unless it’s an emergency, you may wish to refrain from doing your banking online while using public WiFi. Save that for when you get home.
3. Look for one of these national chains in the area.
There are a lot of national chains that offer free Wi-Fi. Among the most well-known are Starbucks, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Barnes & Noble, Target, Dunkin Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, the Apple Store, Marriott Hotels, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, and Whole Foods. Drop in to one of these places and take advantage of what they have to offer. (You could be nice and actually buy something too!) There is also a free Wi-Fi Pro app (available for either Android or iOS) that includes a database of over 200 million hotspots around the world.
4. Use perks offered by your cable company.
While not technically free, you’ve already paid the cable bill and you can hopefully cash in on a few perks. If you’re an Xfinity, Cox, or Time-Warner customer (or that of a few others), you’re plan probably includes access to hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots at no extra charge. If you’re not sure if this is a part of your plan, contact your provider’s customer service department or visit Cable Wi-Fi.
5. Join Instabridge.
Instabridge is an online community where members share information about thousands of hotspots and passwords. In addition to free locations, a large number of secured locations are included as well. The free app can be downloaded at Google Play or the App Store.
6. Look for “hidden” networks.
In addition to the locations detailed above, there are a few other examples of places that have hidden networks. For instance, most electronics stores have Wi-Fi because they need to demonstrate the products they have on display. You may even get a good signal from the parking lot.
So, the next time you find yourself on a roadtrip and without Internet access, try one of the tips listed above. We’re hoping this helps your trip be more productive!
Do you have any other tips to share? Make sure to enter them in the comments below!