Want to stay connected while traveling, but don't want to pay for the privilege? The good news is you may not have to – finding free Wi-fi is becoming increasingly easy around the world, especially if you know a few little tricks to tilt the odds in your favor.
Here are five of the best ways to get and stay online without spending a cent.
Start With Your Internet and Phone Companies
Surprisingly, the easiest way to get online may be through your existing Internet and phone companies.
Comcast, Verizon and AT&T subscribers all get access to their company's network of hotspots around the world, while a group of cable companies including Time Warner Cable and others offers a similar service within the United States.
McDonalds and Starbucks
Next on the list: big chain restaurants. McDonalds has something like 35,000 restaurants around the globe – almost all of its US locations offer free Wi-fi, as do many of the international ones. Overseas, you may need to make a purchase to get the code – but a coffee or soft drink will do.
Starbucks is also a promising place to find that elusive free connection, with over 20,000 locations. All 7,000+ stores in the United States offer it for free, but your mileage will vary overseas.
While unrestricted free access is available in some international Starbucks locations, others require a phone number, or an access code received with a purchase, while still others charge for the service. Regardless, it's always worth asking.
Local chains often also provide a similar service -- do a bit of research ahead of time to find out the names of a few large coffee and fast food chains in your destination.
Free Wi-Fi Finder Apps
In a world where free Wi-fi is so highly prized, it's no surprise to find plenty of smartphone apps to help you find it. Some of the better global apps include Wi-fi Finder, OpenSignal and Wefi, but it's also worth tracking down country-specific versions as well.
For example, there are a couple of apps that will find free Wi-fi in Japan, one that gives you access all over the UK if you're a Mastercard customer, and many others. Just search the Apple or Google app stores for appropriate apps for your destination – you never know what you'll find!
FourSquare to the Rescue
One useful place to find free Wi-fi is FourSquare, the well-known local search site. Most people use the app on their phones, but the actual website is full of user updates for cafes, bars, restaurants and transportation hubs that contain the relevant Wi-fi details.
The easiest way to find it is to Google for 'wifi <place> foursquare' – I've used this trick in several airports around the world, for instance, and it's worked surprisingly well. Just remember to do it while you've still got Internet access!
Time-Limited Wi-Fi? No Problem
While unlimited free Wi-fi is slowly becoming more typical, there are still plenty of airports, train stations and hotels that only offer a certain amount of time for free before insisting you hand over your credit card details.
If you still need access when you hit the limit, but still want to stay connected, there are ways around the problem. The method is different for Windows and MacOS, but both rely on temporarily changing the 'MAC address' of your laptop's wireless card, which is what the network is using to track your connection time.
As far as the network is concerned, a new address is a new computer, and your connection time starts all over again.
Sorry, phone and tablet users – it's much harder to do on standard Android and iOS devices. If you're traveling with a laptop, though, it's a handy little trick.
Don't forget that even if you aren't able to change the MAC address, the limits are per device, not per person. If you're traveling with (for example) both phone and tablet, use one until your time runs out, and then use the other. Don't connect them both simultaneously!