So today I took my wife’s car into the Toyota dealership to have one of those “mystery” car sounds diagnosed. You know one of those strange noises that only happens when you are not at the dealership…yeah that one. Anyways, I sit down in their waiting area and the thought occurs to me to write a post about how to get free wifi and more importantly “how to get free (or very low cost) wifi almost anywhere” while you are traveling.
Let’s start with the obvious…
Today I’m at a Toyota dealership with awesome semi-private cubicles to work from, good stuff. Not all dealerships are created equal and some are just down right stuck in the 80’s. However, they are a good source of finding a free wifi connection. Sorry, haven’t found one that offers Netflix yet, but I’m sure that is coming.
Pro Tip: The nice dealerships will provide free coffee and light snacks.
I haven’t been to a library yet that hasn’t offered fairly fast and free Internet and wifi access. Libraries are good because most all of them will provide computer access as well if you should find yourself in a situation where your laptop or mobile device isn’t handy.
Fast Food Establishments: McDonald’s is probably the cheapest place to get almost free wifi. You can get a small coffee for under $1 and then sit at any of their locations all day if needed. Other fast food wifi spots would include in order of preference Dunking Donuts, Panera Bread,
Now I know this works for anyone with a Mac device, but I’m not sure if you own a Windows machine. If you own a Windows machine you can try and disguise it like a Mac…maybe? Either way, as long as you are not getting in the way of customers, Apple stores are generally ok with you taking up some bandwidth.
Hotels are still hit or miss as well. Some provide free access in their lobbies while others lock down their wifi completely. As a side note…most hotels that have bars in them usually offer some sort of free wifi in the bar and/or lobby area.
I’ve found that most organic and/or health conscious type grocery stores like Sprouts have free wifi access. Other supermarkets like King Soopers, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly Albertsons and Shaw’s are intermittent at best.
Pro Tip: Go when they are doing free samples and you could possible score a free lunch as well…just saying!
Open air or public type markets like the Oxbow in Napa, California are super awesome. These spots can be completely free or they can cost you a small fortune. If you get there early enough you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner all in the same place without eating at the sample establishment. After dinner you can meet up with friends for happy hour and get their thoughts on the new brand logo you are working on.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check the markets event calendar before going.
One of my favorite places to get free wifi access is Barnes & Noble bookstores. I pay the yearly membership to get 10% off everything (including Starbucks drinks for those that have a cafe) in the store and this makes it feel a little better when just leaching bandwidth in a pinch. The membership isn’t required and unless you are disturbing the other customers they generally won’t care how much wifi you soak up. Other stores that are hit and miss are Target, Office Depot, Office Max, Staples and Best Buy.
Travelers have known for years that airports are some of the best free wifi available on the go. The only problem is that most airports are a pain in the ass to get in and out of and cost to park. All of that aside if you rough the parking, crowds, security and noise you could literally live in one of these places and have free wifi for life.
While not completely free many breweries will allow you to access their wifi for the price of a beer or flight. In most cases these can be well under $5 and if you nurse the beer there isn’t any reason why you couldn’t stay there all day long. If you like warm beer that is.
Pro Tip: Wait for happy hour to get even cheaper rates!
WiFi Location Apps
If all else fails download one of the many free or paid wifi locators available on your iPhone of Android device. These apps can literally pick up free spots and how good their signal is as you drive down the road.
Some public areas will offer wifi, think downtown districts, parks, city hall, municipal buildings, recreation centers, hospitals and such. Some larger office buildings lobbies, museums, amusement parks, sports venues and transportation (trains, busses etc).
That should about wrap this up…
If I missed any places feel free to post below. Also, while at public wifi hotspots be sure to protect your ass. Make sure you are running firewall software or something similar to protect your data from the creeps out there…just saying.
Hope this comes in handy for those digital nomads working on the go or anyone just looking to get out of their pajamas for the day.