Whether you’re using your laptop, smartphone, tablet or other connected devices, saving on data costs and knowing your plan limits can be headache inducing. Finding free Wi-Fi can allow you to hop online, send texts for free and in some cases, even make phone calls, so it’s a smart option to keep costs down, especially while traveling.
In 2009, the advocacy organization Consumer Affairs reported a class action lawsuit with Radio Shack and AT&T for violating Oklahoma consumer protection laws. The suit started after an Oklahoma woman bought an Acer Aspire One notebook for $99 and signed up for the required two years of mobile service with AT&T for roughly $60 a month. Imagine her sticker shock when her first bill was over $5,000. She maintained that she was unaware that exceeding the gigabyte limit would dramatically skyrocket her costs.
Since then, people are still getting stuck with huge wireless bills, in particular while traveling outside of their coverage zone and not turning off their cellular services. Finding wi-fi while traveling that’s free or inexpensive isn’t always simple. Fortunately, there are several ways to get your devices connected while on the road without breaking the bank.
Check Your Internet Provider
You may be unaware that your current Internet or cable provider can hook you up with Wi-Fi on the road. Comcast, AT&T and Verizon FiOS subscribers get free Wi-Fi access at various hotspots throughout the country. Check the areas covered in advance, to ensure your provider has hot spots in your destination area.
Tether Your Devices
Leverage your smartphone’s data plan and Internet access by tethering it to your laptop. Not every smartphone or tablet can do this, but iPhone and Samsung devices can. Some devices require a gadget, app or USB cord to connect smartphone to laptop, but ideally, you can tether directly with your phone’s current features.
For example, later generation iPhones and the Galaxy Note 4 features a Wi-Fi hotspot option. It takes a few seconds to switch the feature on, set up and connect. Tethering can quickly drain your smartphone battery, but you’ll never need to go hunting for Internet access for your laptop again.
Find Free Programs and Hotspots
Many hotels offer free wireless, but only if you sign up for their loyalty program. Other businesses, hotels and motels leave their Wi-Fi password free so anyone can connect. Starbucks, McDonalds and public libraries are usually a good place to start your search whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad. Do some research before you go, using the WiFi Finder app to help identify areas where you can readily connect without it costing a bundle.
International roaming charges can cost a small fortune just to check your email or send a text. Skip the headaches altogether and choose an international roaming plan from your wireless provider for unlimited talk, text and data while using their network. With T-Mobile, there are no overages or annual service contracts.
Another option is to pick up a European SIM card to temporarily transform an unlocked smartphone into a local phone while abroad. This way you get cheaper rates than your U.S. carrier, and European SIM cards usually don’t charge if you receive domestic calls and texts. You can also rent a smartphone for your adventure abroad to keep costs down. National Geographic and Cellular Abroad offer rental options for international travelers. Service is pay-as-you-go, so you don’t have to be burdened with skyrocketing bills from personal use, or in case it’s stolen and used by someone else.
If all else fails, a good rule of thumb is to always have your data roaming option turned off. Also, while traveling, turn your cellular data off, which will restrict all data, including emails, browsing and push notifications, so they’ll only be available once you’ve connected to a Wi-Fi source.