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Ask the Readers: How Do You Score Free Wi-Fi While Traveling?

The holiday season is in full swing and that means many of us will be traveling–and searching for Wi-Fi nodes in the process. Help your fellow readers out by sharing your best Wi-Fi finding tips and tricks.

Internet access is a necessity for the modern traveler but finding it is a bit more difficult than simply plugging into your home Wi-Fi. This week we want to hear all about your tips, tricks, and methods for scoring free Wi-Fi service in your interstate (and even international) travels. How do you keep the bounty of the internet flowing to your laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones as you traverse the world?

Sound off in the comments with your best tips and then check back on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/30/11

Comments (51)

  1. alseen

    McDonalds

  2. David

    In addition to the aforementioned McDonalds, I would add Dennys, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Panera Bread, and of course lobbies of Hotels w/ free wifi…

  3. Rusty Gates

    Bucks, Starbucks.

  4. Vickie

    Bob Evans

  5. Christopher

    TetherMe on my jailbroken iPhone.

  6. Knight57

    Were I live, Dahlonega, Georgia, we have WiFi from the university, most business’s, the library, most of the eating establishments, and even the laundromat, so wifi is no problem

  7. Marilyn

    tether my phone using PdaNet (http://junefabrics.com/index.php)

  8. Wifi-Hog

    most businesses here in Tallahassee have wifi. I have it at the house also with a wide range.

  9. Bugalugs

    Tether the iPhone…

  10. atomsk

    Tether to Nexus one using Cyanogenmod 7 built in wifi hotspot and tether.

  11. Eileen

    This is not a “free” tip, but might be useful if you find yourself in an airport or train station with non-free internet:

    If all you need to do is send a bunch of critical emails, etc (something that takes a few minutes of wifi time), you can sign on to ATT’s service (and I think Boingo? maybe the same thing) using skype. You log into skype (you need to have some credit balance) and it will connect you to the internet. The price is kinda steep – 30 minutes is way too long as it will cost you like $5, but for things that require just a few minutes, it is perfect, and you don’t have to buy the stupid pass that is like $12.

  12. Jeanne

    Do you guys use a VPN or just connect blindly?

  13. Marcelo

    Eileen: Can you explain it further? I travel worldwide. Can I use it worldwide?
    Thank you.

  14. pn2bade

    Steal money, pay for Internet.

    No, really, I just tether my iPhone

  15. Bizzle

    Starbucks, Tullys usually have free wi-fi. Major Airports too. Hotels, B&Bs and friends have all had wi-fi (so far) so my eee pad Transformer has been awesome on my recent travels. Now it’s part of my travel check list.
    Only got caught out once on a coach which promised wi-fi but it wasn’t working. The coach stopped near the airport so when I got close I hooked onto the airport wi-fi and got my e-mails sent.
    Another tip. If you use Gmail app on Android it caches (keeps a copy of) e-mails so you can read them offline. Useful if you need to present data from an e-mail to someone.

  16. Bizzle

    I’ll add to that: I also found free wi-fi at a library and pubs.

  17. digitalone

    I win for this comment:

    Backtrack 5

  18. indianacarnie

    McDonalds and Libraries

  19. LT

    Downtown Olympia WA most people dont turn on encryption so while i am on the bus or just walkin down the road wifi is free :)

  20. Steve-O-Rama

    I know Marilyn already mentioned it, but PdaNet has proven itself an excellent choice for keeping me connected. It’s not a wireless internet connection per se, e.g. 802.11g, but the speeds are fair along most interstate routes.

    I don’t ‘score free WiFi’ anywhere the general public is allowed to do the same. It’s too risky for me; my business and personal lives are on the same machines, as I am the business owner. But I suppose if your data isn’t that precious, and you don’t mind others prying into your personal life, then go right ahead.

  21. Hisa

    As a business owner and one who travels for business, I don’t do anything on the underside of legal. I make sure all my connections are legit, so no jailbreaking and no “scoring free wifi” for me.

    I have a Sprint phone, and when all else fails, I just call to activate the hotspot, use it for as long as necessary, and then call to deactivate it. Sprint is great in that respect because I only pay for the meager amount I use, not the whole $29.99 package.

    When free wifi is near, I snag it. My favorite hot spots are cafes, book stores, hotel lobbies, and fast food joints where I seem to end up anyway when I travel! Also, the convention centers I attend usually have a wifi option, and it is usually free. I don’t bother “looking” for wifi, I just let my iPad or my droid phone search for it, and when they find it, I enjoy it ^^

  22. andrea

    Hospitals. Even in the parking lots you can usually get a decent signal.

  23. Trevor Dilley

    i use WiFi tether on my rooted sprint EVO 3D. Will not pay sprint an extra $30.

  24. Henning

    @ Marcelo: I use Skype Wifi for short access (just synching emails, i.e.) – all you need is a Skype account and some credit… info here: http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/features/allfeatures/skype-wifi/#t_laptops_tab
    There you also find info about the pricing… You just pay per each minute you stay connected.
    Best where no free Wifi available…

  25. @TechJLS3

    Good ole’ Backtrack

  26. Mike

    I was in Croatia (Zagreb) and got my wifi fix at bars. Beer is cheap (and very tasty) there and I could plug in my AC. I was looking at ebay wifi signal finders, but are there any that will tell you if the signal is unsecured? Seems kind of useless to know that there is a very strong signal, only to find out that it is WPA’d.

  27. Dutch

    I can usually find an open hotspot just about anywhere I travel. However, I don’t connect to them without enabling my VPN, which goes back to my MS Small Business Server. In the event I’m unable to find an open hotspot, I enable WiFi tethering on my rooted Android phone. Like Hisa, I’m a business owner, and can’t afford to chance connecting to unknown hotspots.

  28. Geoff

    A lot paid wireless systems right don’t check for mac address spoofing. These solutions are moderately evil and you should proceed with caution.

    In Europe last summer I ran into a few interesting situations.
    1. The airport I was at offered 15 minutes of internet for free. So if I changed my mac address every 15 minutes I could continue to use the internet as long as I needed.
    2. Sometimes if your mac address just happens to be the same as someone who is legitimately connected to the network or you wait until they have left the network. The router will think that you are the person who paid for it. There is some pretty simple software you can get to scan a network then change your mac address to that of someone on the network allowing you to connect for free.

  29. Desert_Bear

    I look for hot spots and frequent businesses that offer Wi-Fi for free, and even fly AA most often because of the availability of Gogo Inflight even though it costs $$.

  30. Wayneluke

    I don’t. I have an iPad with unlimited 3G service and use it for internet access when I am traveling.

  31. tommy2rs

    When I travel it’s to rest and recuperate. No electronics are taken (except one cell phone kept turned off) so no problems with finding wifi. There’s no outside emergency big enough to make it worth interrupting my breaks.

  32. Jack

    Just look for any free WIFI, if not bring out backtrack and have some fun.

  33. Joe Shmoe

    One HUGE piece of advice…be sure your using w/e legit free wifi service is offered. I can easily sit at McDonalds with my laptop and with a simple freeware program, turn it into a router. That way if I had malicious intent, a lot of people would log into my computer and I’d have free reign to their computer. So if you see two wifi signals with almost the same name, troll the parking lot or go somewhere else.

  34. Paulius

    I had been using internet abroad in many countries in Europe by many ways: catching a WiFi in hotels, at cafes, there are some public PCs in Tourism Information Centers, I even accessed my mail in iDeal shop. In despaired moments I have been using 3G while being abroad…

  35. Jeff Wahlund

    Most coffee shops have free or cheap WiFi. If you buy something, they give you the password.

  36. davey taurus

    On UK virgin trains, connect to the hotspot for free. It will redirect to the webportal for payment. However, it just allows http through (and other protocols I think) for 10 mins to make payment. During this time, you can do what you want. When it times, out, refresh the payment page to restart the 10 mins. have done this thousands of times!

  37. Amateur

    I actually switched hotels after 1 day once, as I was staying in Chicago for a week and my hotel charged an exorbitant amount per day and per device(!) for WiFi, so between my husband’s BB and laptop, my BB and iPad (I’m from outside the US, so my iPad data acct didn’t work without massive roaming fees) it would have cost something like $60 per day.

    I found out about another hotel close by had free WiFi and checked out. I let them know why, too! That’s a pretty stupid way to lose a few hundred dollars a day! I hope hotels start to get the idea! It was during a big conference and the hotel manager actually said to me “good luck getting a room this week”. He seemed pretty smug until I told him the reason I was leaving.

  38. Rob

    I carry the small CradlePoint CTR35 3G/4G Wireless Travel Router. It finds local wifi and uses WPA2 encryption. The router needs plugin power though. Takes less than a minute to set up. It also works with my Verizon mobal broadband 3g/4g but that is a subscription.

  39. Marcelo

    Thank you Henning! I’ll try next time!

  40. techandlife

    When travelling in Ireland recently I used the local library for wifi access. For 3 euro (about $4 just now) you can join for the year giving you a user name and PIN and that gives access at all libraries in that county. And yes it works in the library car park when it’s closed. Okay not quite free but surely cheaper than buying coffee or beer for wifi!

  41. sado

    @Rob I hate to break it to you but what you are doing is in no way adding security, as your portable router is still passing data along an open network to the public router. If you’re doing this for security, you should use SSL and/or get a VPN.

  42. sikas

    linux backtrack (6) and you got all the wireless you need :D

  43. jjb

    Go to a good old B&B where they don’t charge for wifi

  44. flam31800

    If all the wireless connections that are around me are blocked i usually hack it with backtrack 5 which you can download on http://www.backtrack-linux.org/downloads/
    You can find instructions on how to use on their own website but if you can’t find it go to youtube and all you have to put is (how to hack wireless wep with backtrack 5)

  45. randall

    i have an android phone on sprint with unlimited data so i can do everything i could want to do right from my phone.
    if i do want to get internet on my laptop though i can tether my laptop to my phone. i have my phone rooted so it is easy but if you dont have a rooted phone it is still possible. i have an app called klink which works without rooting. i definitely recommend klink for anybody that has an android phone.

  46. Rick S

    Once I drove into a trailer court and used a default router password to scoop a signal.
    I was thinking of telling the people to change their password but I didn’t.

  47. Bill Hayden

    Airports in the UK (eg Heathrow, Belfast International) charge you for wifi – nothing free there.

  48. paul cramer

    HOSPITALS

  49. Brian

    Most major airports in the US do not have free wifi. Atlanta; Chicago; LAX all charge. Do not assume airports have free wifi. BUR and PHX are free.

  50. Perry Dominguez

    Riverside ,Ca have free city wide wifi

  51. Mike

    Quickly scanning the comments I want to thank Geoff for the tip about MAC addresses and point out another use that I consider ethical or only mildly unethical.

    I travel frequently and often find myself in hotels that, like Anonymous described, charge an exorbitant fee for connectivity AND charge it per device. I don’t change hotels because a) I’d have a tough time matching the corporate rate, b) I don’t want to give up the points, and c) other than its fees for wifi and movies, the hotel chain is pretty good.

    I think I’ll try Geoff’s tip to piggyback on myself so I’m only paying one exorbitant fee.

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