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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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