PUBLISHED WORK > Connected Traveler: Wi-Fi Off the Freeway
PC Magazine February 01, 2008
Wi-Fi Off the Freeway
Our road trippers Karen and Eric give you their tips for getting wireless when you think you're out of luck.
By Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl
During our three-year road trip through North, Central, and South America, we have been avoiding big cities in favor of small towns-or no towns. Here's our down-and-dirty guide for getting a wireless connection even when you're officially in the middle of nowhere.
Some states, including Texas, have installed Wi-Fi technology at all their highway rest stops and welcome centers. Stops on the New York Thruway are also proudly Wi-Fi, and visitor information centers across the country provide free Wi-Fi access, including the State Information Center in the tiny town of Calais, Maine, where we stopped for a quick e-mail check before crossing into Canada.
Amazingly, most motels still don't lock their Wi-Fi signals (one exception is the Best Western chain), which means that discreetly lurking in the parking lot near the registration office, where the router is usually located, can be a quick and easy way to connect.
Many public libraries, even in the smallest towns, now offer Wi-Fi access that usually doesn't require an access code. Signals are often accessible from the parking lot-but many libraries turn off their routers at closing time.
No one needs to stay in touch on the road more than long-haul truck drivers. That's why trucker haven Flying J offers Wi-Fi hotspots at more than 300 locations in the U.S. and Canada (www.fjcomm.com/internet-hotspots.asp). Plans start at $4.95 per day.
If you still can't find a signal, you can try one of the hot-spot locator services. With a database of more than 208,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in 135 countries (including Zambia and Lichtenstein), the Web site JiWire (www.jiwire.com) can help you find hot spots no matter where the road takes you. For $25 a year you can download and use an application from the site that lets you see these hot spots offline. And Boingo (www.boingo.com) provides Internet access at almost 6,000 Wi-Fi hot spots across the U.S., including every Barnes & Noble and every Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café-for $21.95 per month for laptops and $7.95 for mobile phones.
Even with so many Wi-Fi networks out there, you still might find yourself outside the sweet spot of a hot spot's range. The InField Wi-Fire ($79, www.hfield.com/wifire.htm) is an external USB antenna that claims to triple the standard laptop wireless range. We've found it useful for boosting a weak signal and finding networks that didn't otherwise show up.
Copyright © 2008 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings, Inc.