You know the scenario: you’ve just stepped off a plane, train, or cab, and arrived in an unfamiliar destination, and desperately need to check your email and reply to the messages that have been accumulating during your travel-related hiatus.
“This is simple,” you think. “I just need to connect to any public WiFi network, and then I can check my email, and even pay my bills. Easy peasy!”
Sounds straightforward, right? Unfortunately, this mode of thinking can set you up for failure, as finding a reliable and safe WiFi source on the go can be a challenge.
For example, some hotspots set up as public routers may actually be hackers disguised as a free WiFi source. These hackers want you to connect to their fake free WiFi so they can see what information you are sending over the web to mine it for important information (e.g. credit card numbers) they can use to steal your identity.
Savvy travelers must, therefore, be able to identify safe public WiFi networks and take safety precautions in order to protect their data from the intrusive eyes of hackers.
How to Find WiFi Anywhere
1. Know which restaurants and hotel chains have free public WiFi.
As a general rule of thumb, many restaurants and hotel chains are an excellent source of free WiFi.
These establishments include retailers such as Safeway, Target, and Barnes and Noble; restaurants and coffee shops such as Dunkin, McDonald’s, and Starbucks; and hotel and motel chains including Marriott, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn.
Some free public WiFi networks require you to sign up with your email address or create an account, and you can protect your internet identity by signing up with an unimportant or “spam” email address.
2. Consider using a VPN or WiFi hotspot app.
A virtual private network or VPN is a network which enables internet surfers to access internet content safely and privately from anywhere in the world.
There are many VPN apps and software available, but it may not always be easy to use a VPN, especially if you do not have the right software installed on your computer or mobile device.
VPNs enable web surfers to visit unrestricted websites, protect one’s browsing activity from curious eyes on public WiFi networks. In some countries, they can bypass firewalls imposed by the local government.
For those who do not have easy access to a VPN, there are several apps available to make finding a reliable and safe public internet connection an easy process.
Apps such as the Facebook mobile app and WeFi can help you look for public WiFi networks. Some apps can enable you to connect to public WiFi networks that you cannot readily view.
3. Utilize public WiFi in a common space such as a library or park.
If you are on a budget, you may not have the financial means to visit Starbucks for free WiFi and all-day coffee each time you need to send an email.
Therefore, you may want to use public WiFi that is available for free across the United States and in some public locations internationally.
Most libraries in the United States offer free public WiFi. Several museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Louvre, the Byzantine Museum, the British Museum, and China’s National Museum also offer free public WiFi.
If you are traveling by bus in the United States, BoltBus and Megabus host free WiFi for all their passengers, as does the train service Amtrak.
4. Become internet savvy to avoid becoming the target of prying eyes on WiFi hotspots.
While the best part of free public internet is that it is both free and public, these WiFi hotspots can also become a hot target for hackers who seek to gain web users’ information.
Make sure that you avoid submitting your personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or other financial or personally identifying information over a public WiFi network.
If you do have to check your bank balance, make sure your internet connection with the website is occurring over an encrypted network.
Website addresses beginning with HTTPS mean that the data being sent over the network is being encoded into information that cannot be readily be accessed by hackers.
It is a good practice to ensure that all your bills are paid before going on a trip so that your information doesn’t get sent over the public WiFi network, where it can easily fall into the wrong hands.
Finding WiFi on-the-go can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
Need more advice? Check out the Panda Security blog for 10 tips on how to safely locate and navigate public Wi-Fi networks for users of Windows, Android, or Apple devices.