Wi-Fi and pocket Wi-Fi travel essentials

Wireless internet access, most commonly referred to these days as “Wi-Fi”, is an indispensable tool for travelers. Rather than paying expensive data service charges or cellular roaming charges to use your phone, you can access your data services by joining available Wi-Fi networks, often for free!

You can access free Wi-Fi connections in countries all over the world. On a recent trip to Argentina, I was amazed by how much free Wi-Fi was available all over the country. Many airports, cafes, restaurants, bars, salons, and shops offer free Wi-Fi, often without requiring a password. If you are having trouble discovering available Wi-Fi networks, there are several apps that can help you, or you can purchase a pocket Wi-Fi device to create your own Wi-Fi networks.

Regular cell phones cannot access Wi-Fi networks, but virtually all smartphones, and some cell phones that use data services, can. When you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, all of your services that would normally use data service (such as MMS, online apps, online maps, email, and internet browsing) will transfer information over the Wi-Fi connection rather than using expensive data service. Wi-Fi connections will not replace cellular connections though, so if you are expecting a phone call or SMS text message, then you will need to keep roaming with your phone service.

Tip: Sometimes Wi-Fi connections can cut out unexpectedly, so if you want to be sure you’re only using Wi-Fi, make sure to turn off your data service.

Pocket Wi-Fi

In recent years, pocket Wi-Fi routers that can support several Wi-Fi enabled devices have become more and more popular. In this case, you have a mini router that is connected to data service through a data service provider. You can switch Wi-Fi on or off when you need it, and it will create a Wi-Fi signal. You can then search for the Wi-Fi signal with your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and Wi-Fi enabled cell phone, and all these devices can use the signal at the same time.

Data service still costs money, but many companies offer data bundles for different destinations which are tailor-made for travelers’ needs, and usually much cheaper than regular data service. But the biggest convenience is for people who travel with multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices. Rather than paying for a data bundle for each of your devices (laptop, tablet, smartphone, MP3 player, etc.), you pay for one data bundle and share it across devices.

Photo credits: kristinmarshall

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