There’s no denying that we live in the age of instant information. Gone are the days of dusting off gigantic volumes of the encyclopedia and the Dewey decimal system, and in its place has come the internet. To the savvy internet researcher, most every bit of knowledge can be revealed, and yet, the internet comes with its own Achilles heel.
While traveling, more than at any other time, this weakness shows itself in the form of spotty WiFi connections, complicated logins, and the myriad data service providers and their complicated sim cards, international plans, roaming charges, etc. Here, we will explore some basic options for overcoming limited connection to the internet while traveling and also “the golden rule of internet on the go.”
Internet Cafes & Hotel Computers
Certainly the original way to stay connected abroad, internet cafes still have their place in the internet-needy traveler’s playbook. Generally speaking, internet cafe’s are inexpensive and feature wired connections (which in theory should be fast, though not always!). You pay by segment of time (i.e. 10 minutes or 1 hour) to surf the internet and can also take advantage of memory card readers or usb ports to upload photos. Other examples of this sort of setup are library or hotel computers available to visitors. Of course, in each of these instances, be careful with passwords and content because these are publicly used computers.
Finding WiFi Connections
This is my preferred method, depending on where I'm traveling. If you’ve brought a computer or WiFi-ready device while traveling, connecting to someone else’s WiFi connection is a great option.
When booking accommodations, check to see if WiFi is available in-room or in the lobby area. Often, cafes and other businesses will also offer guest access to their WiFi connections. Airports and other major public services sometimes offer free WiFi in return for viewing ads or agreeing to terms of service, but will almost always also offer faster, ad-free internet connections for a time-based fee. In theory, the free internet is worth the effort, but in practice, sometimes it can be confounding!
Hot Tip: One trick to keep in mind is that if you want to take advantage of your phone's GPS capabilities, it is possible to do so without a consistent WiFi connection. When you do have WiFi, go to Google Maps and zoom in on the area you want to view later. This information will be stored in the app, allowing you to follow your GPS beacon on these maps later without an internet connection.
Bring Your Own Internet Connection
The last thing you want to do is subject yourself to roaming charges from your domestic mobile company. If you’re set on having uninterrupted internet connectivity while traveling, don’t like the idea of wasting precious travel time seeking out spotty connections, or just want to the peace of mind of knowing you can connect to the internet any time to access maps or other travel information, consider a mobile hotspot or a temporary SIM card.
XCom Global provides you with a mobile hotspot that connects to local internet providers in 175 countries. The fee for this service is $15 a day plus shipping the device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
KeepGo is a SIM card provider with single-country, multi-country, and EU SIM card options from 50mb per day to unlimited data. Fees start at about $6-8 per day for limited data, with unlimited 3g data at about $20 per day.
The Golden Rule of Internet on the Go
Be in the moment. There are certain kinds of knowledge that the internet cannot provide. This is why we travel in the first place instead of just reading about places online. If connecting to the internet doesn’t directly support the goal of immersing yourself in the current place and time, enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds of the moment, don’t use the internet. Get lost!