Finding WiFi on the Road
Back in ancient times (OK, the ‘80s and ’90s), all you needed for sensible road travel was a road map, some coinage for a payphone and a York Peppermint Pattie (no other candy bar will do) for when you wanted to get your snack on.
These days, while the pepperminty goodness remains just as necessary as always, paper maps and phone money have withered into complete and utter obsolescence. What you need now is WiFi; that magical data field which gives your smartphone all the information it needs to make your travel safe, fun and nerd-friendly.
But WiFi doesn’t just happen! Getting access to it can require a bit of planning in advance. Here are our nerdy tips for making sure you’re never high and dry without WiFi (hey that rhymes!). Fair warning though: a readily available supply of pepperminty travel goodness remains your responsibility.
1. Plan Ahead
One should never leave WiFi to chance. Here’s how you can plan to be sure WiFi will always be there when you need it.
Call Your Hotel
It’s tempting to assume that every hotel and motel room will be able to furnish you with crisp, quality WiFi. Sadly, this is far from the case. The last thing you want is to check into your room at 11 pm, only to discover the closest you’ll get to quality data in that particular establishment is using a flashlight to signal in morse code from your motel window.
Pick up the phone and ask if WiFi is currently available. This is crucial: don’t ask if they offer WiFi. That’s way too vague. Ask if they have good, reliable WiFi now. If you get some vague response that their Internet hasn’t been working that great since a family of raccoons was found nesting in their cable room, you might want to carefully consider your options.
Airports Are Pretty Good
Contrary to received wisdom, airports are actually not too shabby when it comes to getting decent WiFi. Be careful though. Don’t connect to public WiFi of any kind if you plan on doing your banking or making an Amazon purchase.
Assume that any publicly available network should be used for non-sensitive data exclusively.
That said, you can get a lot of trip planning done on free airport WiFi.
Check With Your Cable Provider
A lot of providers offer travel plans and free WiFi to their customers. Check with your provider’s website for the latest scoop on their hotspot locations. Xfinity, Spectrum and Optimum all provide WiFi under other network names.
2. Know Your Options
Let’s say you’re halfway through a road trip and you stop at a gas station for a fresh supply of York Peppermint Patties — but they’re fresh out. Will a Payday do in a pinch? Almost certainly not. So, what’s your Plan B? Is your need for the minty goodness so strong that you’ll have to find another gas station nearby?
The key here is situational awareness. When disasters like these strike, it’s crucial to know your options. Much the same can be said for WiFi.
Coffee shops are a great option for WiFi. If you see a Dunkin’ Donuts, chances are you’re golden. In a recent Lifehacker survey of the best and worst WiFi hotspots, this acclaimed donut establishment was found to offer an average speed of close to 20Mbps. That’s crazy good for free data.
Peets and Starbucks aren’t bad either, offering around 6 Mbps. Avoid the Coffee Bean and Caribou Coffee. They’re just bad news from a data standpoint.
From a data standpoint, the golden arches is your promised land. McDonald’s has clocked free WiFi speeds of up to 25Mbps. That’s easily fast enough to stream an audio call or get some solid out of office work done. Panera Bread is another solid option.
If you see a KFC or Shake Shack, keep on driving.
These joints may offer delicious edibles, but from a data standpoint, you’re traveling into the mouth of the abyss. No good can come of such data devoid destinations.
Other Unexpected Places
If you’re in a real pinch on the road, look for libraries or even hospitals. There’s a good chance these service-oriented places can furnish you with a solid data connection.
3. Use a Free WiFi Locator App
Technology can easily be used to help you sniff out a good data connection.
Facebook Mobile App
This free app is a breeze to use. Open the ‘More’ menu. Then tap, ‘Find Free WiFi’. If you are fresh out of luck in your current area, just pull up the map and tap anywhere which looks promising. It’ll bring up a neat list of results you can check out.
This app is free with ads, or $2 without ads. You can check it out here. Again, this data sniffing wizardry is pretty self-explanatory. Just bring up the map and you’ll get a neat view of networks in your vicinity. A particularly cool feature here is that it’s crowdsourced, so you’re working with an organic and growing data-set.
If you like what you see, upgrade to Pro for $30 a year. This opens up downloadable maps (perfect if you’re going through places you know will have patchy data) and VPN access for safer public WiFi access.
4. Bring Your Hotspot With You
Returning to our confectionary analogy, if you wanted to be sure you always had access to the tasty chocolate and cool minty excellence only the great guys at York can provide, you’d pack enough to last your whole trip, right? Why leave such things to chance and the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune?
Same deal with WiFi. If you’re looking for supreme confidence you’ll have data when and where you need it, what you need is a WiFi supply which comes with you — the technological equivalent of a giant magical box of YPP’s which never, ever runs out. We’re talking about hotspot technology.
SkyRoam hotspot gives you a personal global WiFi hotspot you can take with you and use to connect up to 5 devices. It’s even a bonus battery charger! You can grab this device for $150 and activate it whenever you need it. Connection costs $9 per day for unlimited WiFi. A small price to pay for peace of mind.
Oh, and you can also rent one for a flat rate of $10 per day. Too easy.
So, to recap:
- WiFi is an important ingredient these days for safe, reliable, fun and easy travel.
- Having a plan to have access to data when and where you need it makes all kinds of sense.
- York Peppermint Patties are utterly amazing and are an essential component of any road trip.
Safe travels, and stay well connected out there, fellow nerds.
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