How to Access the Internet While Travelling

It's becoming increasingly hard to do anything on a computer offline. Most apps assume you have constant high-speed broadband but when travelling this is rarely the case. Internet companies and mobile providers gear their services for use in a particular country and can impose hefty charges abroad. So where can you get Internet access while travelling without paying a fortune?

Hotels, guesthouses, youth hostels and even campsites will often have free wifi. However the quality of reception is often terrible and the security will be poor too. You should assume that anything you pass over the internet can be read by someone else on the network, unless the connection is encrypted (encrypted connections will show https rather than http in the url bar and/or may show a locked padlock). Encrypted connections are specific to a website so be careful. You also have to be careful that no one is looking over your shoulder!

Other places that may have free wifi are cafes, shopping centres, libraries, tourist information centres and public transport. Libraries may also have computers that you can use, sometimes for free, but bear in mind that the keyboard layouts in other countries vary. Dedicated internet cafes are rare nowadays but you may still find them in some cities. Be wary of typing sensitive information on a computer that isn't your own.

If you don’t want to rely on public wifi an alternative is to use mobile broadband, usually 3G or 4G though 2G will also work albeit very slowly - in many areas 2G is the only option. There are a number of ways to use mobile broadband. You can simply access it using a sim card on a phone or other enabled device, or you can use a dongle or other type of mobile router. Both prepaid and metered connections are available.

Mobile broadband isn’t limited to phones. Many tablets and laptops have sim card slots for mobile broadband. A usb dongle is another option. You can also buy wifi hubs that will supply mobile broadband to a number of devices simultaneously. Another option is to 'tether' a laptop or tablet to a mobile phone though this may not be possible for all setups and networks.

Mobile broadband is generally more secure than using public wifi, however it does have a number of problems. Bandwidth is usually very limited or costly, download and upload times are slow, and moving between countries can be complicated and expensive. You can save money by buying a sim card aimed at the country you are in. For this reason it is useful to have an unlocked phone that takes dual sim cards. This way you can still make and receive calls to home on your usual number and access the Internet on the cheaper local network.