How-To Geek

How to Find Free Wi-Fi Hotspots When Travelling

free-wifi-available-sign

Free, public Wi-Fi access points are popping up in more and more places around the world. They’re extra useful when travelling, as you won’t have your home Wi-Fi network and may not want to pay for international mobile data.

These tips will help you find Wi-Fi hotspots on the go, whether you’re travelling to a foreign country or just to the other side of your home city.

Two Restaurant Chains That (Almost) Always Have Free Wi-Fi

If you want free Wi-Fi, keep an eye out for a Starbucks or a McDonald’s restaurant. These two chains have a huge number of locations all over the world, and they both consistently provide free Wi-Fi. Whatever you think of their coffee and food, their free Wi-Fi is good — and you generally don’t even have to buy anything, as you can just log right in. Of course, it’s probably polite to make a purchase if you’re going to be taking up a seat and using their Wi-Fi for a while.

These are far from the only restaurants with free Wi-Fi, but a Starbucks or McDonald’s is easy to spot from a distance and will probably have free Wi-Fi when you get there.

starbucks

More Places With Free Wi-Fi

Public libraries often offer free, open Wi-Fi access points, too. Cities may also host their own free Wi-Fi networks, which you may be able to find in public parks or just on the street in more active districts of the city. Even a shopping mall might offer free Wi-Fi across the entire mall.

Smaller coffee shops may offer their own Wi-Fi access points. Wi-Fi is becoming more and more common — everything from restaurants to grocery stores  to department stores are offering their own hotspots.

Hotels may provide free open Wi-Fi networks to their guests, so you may be able to sit in a hotel lobby or parking lot and use their Wi-Fi for a bit if they don’t require a code to log on. This is becoming rarer as hotels and motels lock down their Wi-Fi networks with access codes. Many airports also provide free Wi-Fi — but many airports still don’t provide free Wi-Fi. It depends which airports you’re traveling through.

This free Wi-Fi isn’t always “free” — for example, if it’s offered in a restaurant, you’ll have to buy something so you can sit in that restaurant and use their Wi-Fi. Some independent coffee shops and restaurants may require you purchase something before getting a login code. But, if you’re travelling, there’s a good chance you’ll want to stop for some food or a coffee anyway.

If you’re walking down a street looking for Wi-FI, keep an eye out for the “Wi-Fi” logo sign on a businesses’ window, which will tell you whether that business has free Wi-Fi.

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Locate Nearby Wi-Fi Hotspots With an App

If you want help finding free Wi-Fi hotspots, the Wi-Fi Finder app — available for both Android and iOS — can help. When you install and first run this app, it downloads a database of free and paid Wi-Fi hotspots around the world. You can then open the app when you don’t have an Internet connection and use it offline. The app will use your GPS location and show nearby free Wi-Fi hotspots on a map. Install it ahead of time and launch it if you ever need a point in the right direction when you’re looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can also search for a location anywhere in the world and see where free Wi-Fi hotspots may be available, if you want to plan ahead. The app isn’t perfect and not all the listings may be up-to-date, but it’s still helpful.

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Your ISP Might Help

If you pay for Internet access at home, your Internet service provider might have a network of Wi-Fi hotspots you can use. For example, Comcast has been turning its home routers into public hotspots that other Comcast customers can use. If you’re an Xfinity customer, you can log into any Xfinity hotspot and use it for free. These hotspots are becoming more widespread as Comcast rolls out routers that turn people’s home networks into public Wi-Fi hotspots.

This practice is already more widespread in some European countries and other countries outside the US, so be sure to check your ISP and see if they offer a free network of hotspots for you. Of course, this only works if you’re travelling within your own country — you won’t find a network of Xfinity hotspots outside the USA.

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Get More Time on Time-Limited Hotspots

Some free Wi-Fi hotspots only provide you with a few free minutes before demanding you pay up. We’ve seen this time-limited method used at several airports. Luckily, there’s usually a way around this so you can get more free Wi-Fi time without paying.

The network generally identifies your device by its MAC address, and it will refuse to offer more free Wi-Fi time to you if it recognizes your device’s MAC address. So, to get more free Wi-Fi time, you can change your device’s MAC address and then reconnect to the Wi-Fi access point. The access point should see your device as a new device and give it more free time. If it doesn’t, you may also need to clear your browser cookies.

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If you want to be sure you’ll always have an Internet connection for your laptop and other devices, you may want to forget the Wi-Fi hotspots and pay for mobile data instead. Your phone can act as a hotspot, offering Wi-Fi to your other devices so they can connect to the Internet over a mobile data connection. Or, you can get a dedicated mobile hotspot device — this could be better for your phone’s battery. Of course, going this route isn’t free — you’ll have to pay your cellular provider for data. And, if you’re travelling internationally, you’ll have to pay for international data or use a cellular carrier local to the country you’ll be travelling in.

Image Credit: Jerome Bon on Flickr, Marco Pakoeningrat on Flickr, Charleston’s TheDigital on Flickr, Mike Mozart on Flickr, Alexander Baxevanis on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/11/14

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