How-To Geek

What You Said: How To Score Free Wi-Fi While Traveling


Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite tricks for scoring free Wi-Fi while on the road. Now we’re back to share the wealth; read on to see how your fellow readers stay connected while traveling.

By far the most popular technique was looking for restaurants and coffee shops that offer free Wi-Fi service. Five years ago the idea that every other establishment in the airport or down a busy street would offer free wireless internet would be a dream. Most readers had little trouble scoring free Wi-Fi from such establishments. David writes:

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

Hisa shared a little tidbit that many people may be unaware of:

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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi option, and it is usually free. I don’t bother “looking” for Wi-Fi, I just let my iPad or my droid phone search for it, and when they find it, I enjoy it ^^

We had no idea that Sprint allowed you to activate the hotspot functionality on a need-to-use basis. They certainly don’t publicize it. Perhaps other readers can chime in with information about their carriers?

Geoff offers up two tricks, both of varying ethical and legal fortitude:

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.

While the first one is rather clever we’d steer clear of the second one simply because of the potential problems it could cause for the legitimate customer (you’d be a real jerk if you caused the real customer’s account to get flagged for excessive usage/dual logins because of your MAC spoofing shenanigans).

For more way to connect from the road, hit up the full comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/2/11

Comments (16)

  1. Clinton

    I just connect with my droid through easy tether. A one time charge of $10 and I can use my Unlimited data anywhere i have cell service, no hotspot needed. (although i have to keep my phone connected with a USB cable… minor drawback for being able to watch netflix, youtube, and doing actual work while driving down the interstate :) (i know i can do all that from my droid BUT, its nicer on my laptop.

  2. Chris

    I have had two phones now over the past few years with Verizon that offer the hotspot feature and have enjoyed using and paying only for the days used as well. I used to have to call customer service to turn it on and then call again to turn it off, but now can do it online directly from the phone. Very simple and works great for weekend trips or longer vacations as well. With my 4G phone, it is quite the feature for what amounts to roughly $1 per day. I must say, I appreciate how easy Verizon is to work with.

  3. Truststanly

    I have a PsP with Wi-Fi but i can use my wireless accept am in my friends cafe only then i can use it curse he gives me his password, i do search and find network close to a hotel even when is at 90 percent i cant use it ………. can some one tell me how to use this Wi-Fi when i find such network.

  4. jerry

    does anyone know a good one-click MAC address switcher?

  5. Anonymous

    Hisa doesn’t seem very concerned about his/her exposure. Letting your computer (or whatever) find a WiFi spot to connect to is just asking for problems – not the least of which could lead to identity theft. Buy hey. Walk on the wild side if that’s your thing.

    Now, as far a Geoff is concerned, I too don’t think it’s very nice or ethical to steal connectivity. But then again, it’s not like he/she is really stealing anything either. Quite frankly, it’s a total sham that any ISP imposes any data capacity limits. And when you get right down to it, not only do data capacity limits violate Constitutional rights but they seem to have been dreamed up exclusively as a tool for various ISP’s to pry a few extra dollars out of the pockets of their customers. Paying per byte to/from the Internet is no different than paying for each spoken word over a telephone. But you still don’t barge in on someone’s phone line. And the only person you hurt when you steal WiFi is the poor dumb bastard paying the bills. Therefore, you might want to re-consider what you’re doing and possibly redirect your hostility towards the real jerks who deserve your hate – the ISP’s!

    Lastly, I do want to say this: WAKE UP!!! Learn about SOPA which is currently being considered by the idiots in Congress. If you thought lobbyist groups like the RIAA, MPA or even certain ISP’s were bad before then you’re in for a very rude awakening if this SOPA bill becomes law. SOAP is not law yet and there’s still time to save the Internet the way you know it. But you MUST get involved – NOW!

    Here’s a few links:

  6. rosy

    can i connect my laptop at home with free wifi from my society’s net connection. any suggestions

  7. chris

    there was a program I used to have for xp called wifi radar, that would tell me where the nearest open wifi signals were, haven’t checked to see if there is an updated version or not

  8. Hisa

    I am not concerned about being wide-open on my ipad or phone. I don’t keep my legit personal information such as finances, personal files, etc on either device. Also, I use encryption software for any passwords I do choose to use while on the road and, of course, before travelling anywhere wide-open, I wipe my browsers cache, cookies, etc. It may be walking a little on the wild side, but I tame it up pretty nicely. Also, because they are work devices, along with not having my personal stuff on them, they are listed under my work (yay for work buying and paying for my tech!) and not under my name, social, etc. So in reality, the only thing I am leaving wide-open is the information about my company which is public anyway.

  9. Unknown

    What about public libraries?! They almost always have free WiFi.

  10. Kevin

    For me as an OAP is simple..bring my own dongle (modem) , has it’s own hardware firewall, encryption etc)..also up password protection by enabling virtual keyboard and dual authentication…..all additions to comp are backed up and when I get home these are tiered scanned..only when I am happy is home comp brought up to date..if in any doubt always use Sandboxie
    PS try and stay away from WI-fi hot spots

  11. Kevalin

    @Anonymous: Free Speech is indeed a Constitutional right. There is, however, no provision (or even an updateable indication of one) that those who’ve spent their money creating your ability to access the web must make practicing those rights easier for you by letting you use as much data on their penny as you want. Nor, I suspect, will there ever be, so long as there are bullhorns and town squares available.

    While it *is* ridiculous that many carriers treat data accessibility as if it is limited, and charge accordingly, your assertion that their doing so is somehow a breach of *your* precious rights is typical of too many Americans’ simplistic–and I might add, immature–sense of entitlement, the ” They should give it to me just because I want it,” attitude.

    It’s also really silly.

  12. jester

    Ok, so it works that way with Sprint, but does that also work with Boost (since they are affiliated with Sprint)?

  13. CanWEBada

    Here you go Jerry….one-click MAC address switcher.

    Enjoy !!!

  14. kelltic

    Yes! Pay attention to Anonymous! If the SOPA bill goes through, free WiFi will be the least of our problems.

  15. Hisa

    I am not sure. I think since Boost is a pay-as-you-go plan (contract free), you might not be able to do it that way. On a contracted plan, they get your money either way. But on a prepaid, you would have to purchase the service 1st (and then if you don’t use it all, I can nearly guarantee that they won’t just give you your money back). Either way, you would want to call Boost customer care and ask about it to be 100% clear on how they would work it.

  16. Tracy Croasmun

    This is something most people might not realize while traveling, at least in the state of Washington (not sure about other states) But the rest areas all have wi fi! I stop & use the free wi fi as I travel from the east side to the west side of the state, checking the pass report ect. Lil tip most people don’t realize! Tracy

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