Finding wifi on the road is a pain in the ass. You waste half your day wandering from cafe to cafe sipping 3€ lattes while you try to upload that one hilarious picture of yourself in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Looking for “free” travel wifi is infuriating, inefficient, and oddly kind of expensive.
Don’t waste your precious vacation time begging for wifi passwords like Oliver Twist. Hack the matrix, fellow traveler. Here are 14 ways to find free travel wifi that actually works.
Free Travel Wifi Apps
The easiest way to find free wifi is with your phone. Duh, right? Well, if you don’t have a great T-Mobile travel plan, and don’t want overages, you can’t use your phone plan the whole trip. If you need to download a few larger files or actually get some work done, wifi is still your best option.
Download WifiFinder: Offline Maps of Wifi, Yelp, and Foursquare and let the supercomputer in your pocket find it for you.
This app finds wifi. Sounds simple enough, but there are a lot of “free travel wifi” apps out there, and they are not created equal. Wifi Finder lets you download offline wifi maps, check wifi connectivity and speeds, and it updates hotspots regularly so you don’t waste time tracking down old spots. This app is a solid inclusion to your “travel app folder,” especially if you know ahead of time that you’ll be in one city for a while.
Yelp: Cheap Wifi Finder
I hate yelp. About 99% of the time it’s people whining about the consistency of their eggs benny, but one of the only good features about Yelp is that it can find wifi. Just type “Free Wifi” into the search bar and specify the city and country, and you’ll most likely get dozens of results. Some people even vet and compile these lists. Is it weird that someone spent hours fact checking the wifi at these places and collected that info for free? Sure. Is it helpful? Absolutely.
Here are some sample city wifi lists:
- Yelp Free Wifi New York City (Full List)
- Yelp Free Wifi San Francisco (Full List)
- I found this Free Wifi + Barcelona list in seconds.
Bonus Travel Wifi Tip: Select “$” for cheap places with wifi. If you’re fancy you can even select “outdoor seating.” Freaking Yelp…
Foursquare: Wifi Password Finder
Looking for free wifi on Foursquare functions similarly to Yelp, but with one notable exception—you can get wifi passwords. Foursquare users typically leave reviews for cafes and restaurants. If you check reviews for restaurants with free wifi, you’ll often find travel homies that have hooked you up with the password for free. No purchase required.
Foursquare isn’t a long term free travel wifi plan, but it can help you out in a pinch.
Free Travel Wifi Hacks
Sometimes you can only get free wifi for a short, set amount of time—like 15 mins. On a crappy connection, that’s only enough time to shoot of two or three emails, which almost feels more frustrating than no wifi at all.
If you want to trick the man and get around this barrier, you have to change your Mac address when time expires. If that’s too complicated, just try clearing your browser cookies and logging back in. A lot of the time, that will work.
Public Libraries, Open Spaces & Event Centers
Libraries seem like an obvious option for free travel wifi, but people often forget about these VHS storage vaults. What a sad commentary on our literacy as a society.
Libraries are awesome. When I was living in a van in New Zealand (a country with notoriously expensive wifi plans that charge per GB), we’d hit up a library every few days to check our email, download a few podcasts (I had an iPod touch), and catch up on all the best young adult literature.
Libraries are relaxing, quiet places where you can actually get some work done. Libraries are also some of the coolest places in town. The New York Public Library at Bryant Park is stunning, and the Seattle Public Library is one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever been in. Seriously. I saw Harry and the Potters play a live show there once (they’re a Harry Potter themed “Wizard Rock” band. No biggie), and it was the greatest live show I’ve ever seen. And I was in the photo pit at Wu Tang.
Seattle Library Pro Tip: Go to the top floor for one of the best views of Elliott Bay through the atrium style transparent glass ceiling.
Event centers are also wifi hotspots. The best part is that you don’t even need to get inside. Just hang out outside or in the lobby and enjoy that sweet, sweet free wifi. Wear a lanyard if you can swipe one and try to find the happy hour accounting mixer.
This is a random one, but public parks often have blanket free wifi coverage—albeit slow public networks. Jump on a local government page (if you have access), and find out where you can find more. I always just wander around parks occasionally opening my wifi settings. You can get lucky a lot of the time.
Starbucks & McDonald’s
I know you wouldn’t be caught dead in a Parisian McDonald’s, but this list would be remiss without them. Sometimes you gotta make a deal with the devil to check Tumblr. Or MySpace. Or Friendster. Or Alta Vista. If you’re too young to get that joke, we’ll never understand each other.
Chain restaurants and coffee shops are a capitalistic blight on the global marketplace and a homogenizing cultural locust, but they do have reliable wifi. Right now there are over 11,500 McDonald’s worldwide with free wifi. And there are roughly 16 trillion Starbucks, so your odds of finding one on your travels is pretty good. Swallow your pride (and a Shamrock shake if you’re lucky!) and gobble up some of those bites. I mean, bytes.
Abuse the free wifi.
Bonus Travel Wifi Tip: Use the Starbucks Store Locator to find the nearest Starbucks. Or just turn around. There’s one right behind you. There always is.
Rent Travel Wifi: Travel Wifi Routers
Ok, I understand that this option isn’t exactly “free” wifi, but you get what you pay for. My biggest complaint with free wifi is slow connection speeds, unreliable security, tiny download (and upload) limits, and just the horde of other travelers bogging down the signal. TravelWifi.com offers reliable, fast internet in your pocket without changing your cell phone plan or hassling with buying an expensive travel router. That’s kind of amazing.
Right now the availability and rates vary based on European destinations, duration, and usage, but you plans in France start at around 500MB/day (3G) for 5.5€/day. Double your day rate for unlimited wifi at (4G) and share the hub with other travelers. The rate is higher in other European countries (11€+/day) and speeds are lower (1G), so maybe just stick to France for right now.
The battery lasts 6-8 hours, and the best part is that they mail you the device. You don’t even have to pick it up anywhere. It’ll be at your hotel or hostel. Same goes for dropping it off. Just pop it in the prepaid envelope and mail it back to them.
The reviews for this place are off the chart (super rare), and they provide a much needed service for just 5€/day. That’s nothing. You’ll spend more on a croissant and an espresso looking for free wifi in Paris. Bite the bullet and rent your wifi for a few days.
Other Travel Wifi Router Options
Hippocket Wifi offers a similar service, primarily in France but with extended coverage throughout Europe.
SkyRoam promises unlimited wifi for just $8/day in countries all over the world. Just pay for the days you use it, skip the days you don’t. You can also just outright buy the router for $99 and pay for days you travel in the future.
ISP Free Wifi: XFinity Hotspots
One weird way to find travel wifi is by using the internet that you already pay for back home. If you’re a Comcast customer, for example, you have access to Xfinity wifi networks away from home. Download the wifi finder app of login, and boom, you’re wifi… ing. Airports are notorious for this type of velvet rope wifi, but hey, if you’re paying for it already, might as well use it.
Bonus Travel Wifi Tip: Here’s a running list of free wifi airport passwords.
T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan
I’ve written about T-Mobile’s roaming international wifi and internet plans many times before. A T-Mobile plan is basically free internet anywhere all the time (if you’re already a T-Mobile customer). If you travel internationally, just get it. T-Mobile for the win.
Public Wifi & Security: Understanding Encryption
The thing to remember about any public wifi connection—from parks and libraries to cafes—is that your information is inherently less safe on a public connection than your home network. Encryption and wifi security are confusing topics that many of you probably don’t really care about, but here’s a simple rule of thumb to know if your site is secure.
If you’re not sure if a page is encrypted, just look for “https” instead of “http” at the beginning of every url. Http means: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. The “s” at the end just means “Secure.” If you use a site without https security, think twice before using your credit card.
Travel Wifi Security Pro Tip—Ditch the App: Apps don’t typically encrypt your data. If you really need to transfer funds from a public connection, use your bank’s mobile browser site instead of the app.
No matter how you use travel wifi—Facebook, emails, Instagram, digital nomad business—when you want it, you need it. Use these hacks and buying guides to get the wifi connectivity that works best for your trip. Don’t waste another second trying to connect. Get on wifi, get your work done, and get out there and really “connect.”
- WiFi Finder rules
- Foursquare has all the wifi passwords
- Yelp is full of wifi lists
- T-Mobile is still the king of international data plans
- SkyRoam is a reasonable, reliable plan
- Don’t be too proud for Starbucks
- Look for secure connections with https urls