8 Internet Access Points On the Road
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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