Holiday travel: how to keep your PC connected on the road

Visiting relatives and faraway cities doesn't mean you have to leave your email behind.

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Finding free, public Wi-Fi

If youre looking for free Wi-Fi, your best bet is to find a coffee shop. Starbucks locations commonly offer free Wi-Fi, and you may not even have to buy a product to use it. (Of course, if youre camping out in a coffee shop to use their Wi-Fi for a while, its only polite to actually buy something.) In some cases you may have to buy something first and request the password to the shop's Wi-Fi network. Businesses offering Wi-Fi often have a Wi-Fi sign on their window or door.

Luckily for us, free Wi-Fi is spreading to other types of businesses. For example, youll find free Wi-Fi in McDonalds, Starbucks, Panera Bread, some grocery stores, many bookstores, and even some car dealerships and gas stations. Of course, if youre planning on pulling out your laptop and staying a while, youll probably be better off finding a cafe or restaurant rather than sitting in a grocery stores parking lot.

You may also find free Wi-Fi in public spaces. Free Wi-Fi is spreading to public parks in various major cities, and public libraries also often offer free Wi-Fi. This will vary by location.Indeed, while you can find free Wi-Fi in public parks in New York City and Paris, you probably wont find wireless Internet access in small-town parks.

WiFiFreeSpot.com offers a solid list of open Wi-Fi spots, but the most comprehensive list of Wi-Fi hotspots we've been able to find comes courtesy of the JiWire Wi-Fi Finder app for iOS and Android. Its database of hotspots is massive, and the app sorts hotspots by free and for-pay status. Even better, JiWire Wi-Fi Finder works offline, guiding your way to the Web in otherwise Internet-deprived locales.

Buying Wi-Fi Access

If youre staying in a hotel, be sure to check if it offers Wi-Fi ahead of time. Believe it or not, some hotels still do not offer Wi-Fi! Many only offer a wired Ethernet connection, while others offer no Internet access at all. If you're in a cable-only destination, the free version of Connectify can turn your Windows PC into a Wi-Fi hotspot for your phones, tablets, and other devices. (The premium offering unlocks other helpful tools.)

Some hotels offer Wi-Fi for free to all their guests, while some charge extra for the privilegeusually about $10 to $15 a day. You can often pay for Wi-Fi access while booking your room. If you dont buy Wi-Fi access ahead of time, you can generally contact the front desk when youre there and purchase Wi-Fi access, assuming the hotel actually offers it, of course.

Airports often offer Wi-Fi, too. Some airports offer free Wi-Fi. Others offer time-limited Wi-Fi and charge you for additional time. And still others charge for all Wi-Fi access entirely. You can check an airports website for information before you go if youre curious. Any time spent off the cellular networks saves you data and, by extension, money.

Many airports and other locations that offer paid Wi-Fi access use Boingo. While you can buy hourly or pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi access at these locations, you can also easily connect to paid Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots and get unlimited usage if youre paying for a Boingo subscription. The cost varies by location, with unlimited access to Boingo hotspots costing $10 a month in North America, $35 a month in Europe, and $59 a month globally for two devices. If youll be travelling near a lot of Boingo hotspotsyou can view Boingo hotspots by location on Boingos website, and download their location for offline usethis may be a good deal, particularly in North America.

Alternatively, you could always go the tried and true "Internet cafe" route, though they may be difficult to find away from larger cities.

Wi-Fi On Your Journey

You can also go online while travelling. If youre flying within the US, youll be happy to know that in-flight Wi-Fi has become fairly common, although its not free and not available for all routes. A Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi pass for a single day will cost you $14 if you buy before you fly. If youre a frequent traveller, you can pay $40 for a monthly pass. These prices go up if you wait until youre on the plane to pay. However, in-flight Wi-Fi is still fairly rare in other parts of the world, so dont count on having it if youre flying out of the US.

Wi-Fi is also becoming more common on trains, such as Amtrak in the United States, where Wi-Fi is included free of charge. As with airlines, Wi-Fi is not available on all routes. Look ahead of time to see if youll have Wi-Fi on your train journey.

Free Wi-Fi has even spread to some bus lines, such as the BoltBus that travels between major destinations in the northeast and Pacific northwest.

Bear in mind that Wi-Fi on planes, trains, and busses is in its infancy and may not work perfectly. You may experience slowness or connection drops during some parts of your journey, so don't plan on nailing that crucial frag in a championship gaming round while you're in transit.

This story, "Holiday travel: how to keep your PC connected on the road" was originally published by PCWorld.

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