For many travelers, at least part of the reason for being on the road is to disconnect from the digital world, but sometimes you have to check in with that world to make sure there are no emergencies at work or home. Or maybe you just want to give your family and friends an update on your travels.
Whether you are a full time RVer, taking an extended summer vacation or just on a week-long trip, it is still important to connect to WiFi now and then. Whatever the need for Internet, if you don’t have a source of WiFi or a Mobile Hotspot on the road – or you want to save some of your data usage – here are a few places that consistently offer an Internet connection for any weary traveler.
1. Public Libraries
Best option for: families with kids / penny pinchers
- Bonus: 100% Free! / computers available
- Con: No Phones
If you need to get in a few of hours of work time, the library may not be your best option unless you can be phone-free.
Libraries always offer public Internet and it is always free! This is a major bonus for all travelers, as you need to make a purchase at most locations in order to access their WiFi. Libraries are also in almost every town, so they are an extremely consistent option.
Plus, this is the only place where you don’t have to bring your own computer, if you’ve chosen to travel with no devices. Libraries always have computers available to the public, or you can bring your own laptop.
You do not need to have a local library card for access to library Internet. Smaller town libraries usually have no limits on their Internet access, but in some cities and larger towns you may need to ask the library for a guest password. This is simply for the library to ensure that no one is hogging computer time from another visitor.
The one issue with libraries is that you cannot talk on your phone. So if you are looking for a place to get in a few work hours, it probably won’t be the best option.
2. Local Cafes
Best option for: relaxed environment / office work
- Bonus: Local culture / specialty coffees
- Con: Harder to find / may not always have WiFi
It’s important that you ensure a local coffee shop does indeed have WiFi before settling in with a drink or driving a long distance out of your way! Give them a call or ask a local first.
There is no guarantee that a town will have a local coffee shop or cafe, and there is no promise that it will have WiFi access if they do. However, in my experience almost all local coffee shops offer WiFi, and the answer is always a quick phone call away if you are uncertain.
Coffee shops with WiFi are very common in moderately to well populated areas. They certainly are the hardest to find and access of the free WiFi options, but they tend to be the most rewarding spaces to work or hang out in for long periods of time.
The best way to find a local coffee shop is by a) asking a local or b) searching “coffee” on a GPS or a smartphone app (I recommend Google Maps) on your phone.
3. Coffee and Fast Food Chains
Best option for: a quick stop / highway driving
- Bonus: Consistency / availability
- Con: Busy / corporate
Chains like McDonalds and Starbucks offer free WiFi at every location they have, and they are readily available along most major highways. If you need a quick stop to check in on work, chains are probably the most consistent of the available options.
At a chain you generally know exactly what to expect as they are all the same. Some might be nicer than others based on management, but the menu and the general atmosphere are usually very similar. While I don’t personally love stopping at chains for WiFi needs, they usually are the easiest and most consistently reliable option.
One random issue that tends to happen at certain chains over coffee shops or libraries is a lack of outlets – mostly at older McDonalds over other places. If you need to charge a laptop this can be quite inconvenient. Nonethless, this is a sporadic issue, not a consistent one.
Bonus tip 1: Starbucks WiFi is usually faster than McDonalds.
Bonus tip 2: Starbucks usually has more outlets than McDonalds, in case you need to charge your laptop.
If you don’t like supporting corporations, this is not the option for you!
What are your favorite spots to grab free WiFi on the road?