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The Art of Finding Internet Access on the Road

The Art of Finding Internet Access on the Road

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    As I write this post, my internet access is intermittent at best. The wireless router that I’m supposed to have access to seems to work in spurts, and not very big ones. And as someone who depends on the internet to do my work, this is not a good thing. And because I’m on the road, my internet options are a bit more limited than they would otherwise be. But, after consulting the concierge and making a few phone calls of my own, I’ve got a whole list of internet options worth trying in a foreign city.

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    8 Internet Access Points On the Road

    1. Starbucks, Borders, McDonald’s and other chain hotspots. Many big chain cafes and coffee shops offer wireless internet, with varying levels of price (both straight out and a requirement of purchase). I’ve gone so far as adding on the T-mobile plan that allows me to log on to their wireless hotspots at Starbucks and other locations. And while I know the same doesn’t hold true for many people, if I’m not in a town with a Starbucks, I may have other issues beyond a lack of internet access.
    2. Local cafes. Many small coffee shops wireless internet, and usually it’s free. Internet seems to be one of the few arenas in which the locally-owned shops can compete with chains, and it allows you to get a bit more local color while traveling. If you’re staying at a hotel, you can probably get directions. If you’re couch-surfing, visiting relatives or using an alternate means of finding shelter, you may have to try following the hip-looking kids or asking around.
    3. Internet cafes. I’ve only ever used an internet café when I was actually abroad, but I’ve started to notice a few in just about every city I visit. And internet cafes are often listed in the phonebook, which can make for a bit more convenience than going down the list of coffee shops trying to decide which ones offer wireless.
    4. Hotel business centers. Most hotels come equipped with a room full of computers, printers and fax machines. If you’re a guest, you’re likely to be able to use the center for free, but you may be able to walk in off the street and use it for a fee similar to what you might pay at an internet café. Unfortunately, of those business centers that do charge fees to guests, the rates to use a computer are often surprisingly high. My personal policy has been to skip on those with high fees: if I’m going to have to shell out a few bucks for internet, I’d like to at least get a cup of coffee with it.
    5. Public libraries. Public libraries often offer free internet access, but there are some hoops you may need to jump through: time restrictions, library cards, residency. In the past, I’ve been able to explain the situation to the librarian in charge and gotten a temporary waiver. I’ve had the best luck if I’m asking for such a favor during down times. One other less convenient aspect of using public libraries is closing time. Most libraries close right when I’m starting to really get into my work, making them useful but not the best option for me.
    6. Tourism offices. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of tourism offices as the greatest place to find internet access, personally. But I’ve found that many offices have internet kiosks of various types as a service to tourists. I even spotted the following sign as I was driving through Kansas yesterday at a combination rest stop / tourism office: “Maps. Internet Access. Free Coffee.”
    7. College common areas. Many colleges have secured their wireless internet, but quite a few still have computers with internet access commonly available on campus. If those are also password-protected… well, I’d never suggest that anyone do anything wrong regarding another person’s password, but the average college student is very easy to make friends with.
    8. Data cards. Data cards are generally not the least expensive option for getting your computer online, they are an option worth considering if you find yourself on the road on a regular basis. Same goes for using your cell phone to get your computer online. And while you might not generally consider buying a data card or activating a data plan on your cell phone a last minute method of getting internet access, desperate times have driven some people to slap down their credit cards at the nearest cell phone store.

    While it’s perfectly possible to find internet access flying by the seat of your pants, if you know ahead of time that your internet access could be problematic, you may want to do some research. If you can locate a couple of internet access options in your destination — preferably close to where you’ll be staying and open at the hours you tend to work — you may be able to avoid a last minute rush around town, looking for a wireless hotspot just so you can upload some small, vital project after your hotel’s internet access quits working.

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    There are even directories of internet hotspots you can look at — although, since they are all online, you will need to check them out before you entirely lose internet access. Most providers of commercial hotspots, such as T-mobile, also have a list of locations where they provide internet access.

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    • Wi-Fi-Freespot Directory — A list of free wireless access points in the US
    • WiFi411 — A searchable directory of wireless access locations that allows you to limit searches by network provider, cost and other variables
    • JiWire — A list of wireless hotspots
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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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