10 Places to (Legally) Get Free Internet while Traveling

Places to get free internet while traveling

Places to get free internet while traveling

When we’re traveling, we try to get internet every couple days or so to stay in contact with friends and family members (it’s good to let the grandparents know we’re ok, right?) and to check current weather, etc., even though with cell phones we can stay in contact more easily.  In recent years, finding free internet has become more difficult as security has become more of an issue to businesses, and the formally open-access networks have been closed down with passwords and pay-per-hour access.  The good news is that free options are also exploding, as I’ll detail below.

 



 

Libraries are a great place to find free Wi-Fi

Libraries are a great place to find free Wi-Fi

Libraries

If you want the most inviting, intentional place to find free Wi-Fi, try the local library.  Most are simply free to access from the lobby or inside (often, there are benches, chairs, or even desks, most with power outlets close by), though a few don’t offer the service or require users to have a library card.

 

Visitor's Bureaus and Visitor Centers also often have public Wi-Fi

Visitor’s Bureaus and Visitor Centers also often have public Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY-SA 2.0 (Jack at Wikipedia)

Visitors’ Bureaus

Sometimes visitors’ bureaus or local visitor centers will offer free Wi-Fi as a public service.  Sometimes they even have rooms set aside for out-of-town visitors to settle down and use their laptops in peace.  At the very least, they should be able to point you in the direction of free Wi-Fi (often at the local coffee shop).

Sometimes rest areas offer free Wi-Fi

Sometimes rest areas offer free Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mark Goebel)

Rest Areas

Rest areas in some states (namely, Iowa and along the New York Thruway) offer free Wi-Fi.  You might have to go inside, and sometimes the router needs to be reset, at which point, you’re sunk.  But it certainly is convenient.

Walmart now offers free Wi-Fi to its customers! Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Walmart now offers free Wi-Fi to its customers! Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Walmart

We’ve slept in Walmart parking lots for years, but just last year the company began offering free Wi-Fi in Walmart stores.  There are usually benches, and sometimes even power outlets, near the customer service desk or along the front of the store.  This is totally awesome to me, especially since I’ll use the internet and then pick up milk, bread, fresh fruit, ice, and whatever else we happen to need.

Staples has long offered free Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Staples has long offered free Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Staples

I recall one day when one of my group members was working en route and had to get internet.  We parked in front of a Staples somewhere in Massachusetts while he completed a couple hours of work.

Office Depot is another store that consistently offers free Wi-Fi.  Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Office Depot is another store that consistently offers free Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Office Depot

On another trip, parked in front of Office Depot, part of the group ran into the grocery store to get bread, milk, and fruit (the necessities!) while I frantically searched the internet for a new, short hike to do the next day – I found one, and it worked out great!

Panera Bread is one restaurant that offers free Wi-Fi to its customers

Panera Bread is one restaurant that offers free Wi-Fi to its customers. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Panera Bread Restaurants

I knew someone who did her master’s thesis in a Panera Bread so she could get peace and quiet.  It works for travelers, too.

McDonald's was an early restaurant to offer free Wi-Fi

McDonald’s was an early restaurant to offer free Wi-Fi

McDonald’s / Burger King

Some McDonald’s and Burger Kings offer free Wi-Fi, though not all.  Others may shut down the Wi-Fi when they close for the night, so those late-night emails may have to wait for morning.

Dunkin' Donuts offers free Wi-Fi and often has a police presence

Dunkin’ Donuts offers free Wi-Fi and often has a police presence. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Mike Mozart)

Dunkin’ Donuts

The cool thing is that cops frequent Dunkin’ Donuts for free coffee, so it’s one of the safest places to use your laptop.

Starbucks are just about everywhere!

Starbucks are just about everywhere! Photo CC BY 2.0 (Nicholas Smale)

Starbucks

Starbucks are found just about everywhere, including inside other stores.  So in any metropolitan area, this is almost a given to be able to find.

Many stores and restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi

Many stores and restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi. Photo CC BY 2.0 (Daniel Oines)

Other Stores & Restaurants

Many other stores offer free Wi-Fi – Kohl’s, Best Buy, Target, Whole Foods, Apple Stores, Lowe’s, and even Michael’s.  So do other restaurant chains, including Taco Bell, Arby’s, Denny’s, Chic-Fil-A, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Wendy’s.  Other thoughts include car repair shops (I’ve heard that Jiffy Lube has free Wi-Fi, and I’ve certainly used repair shops’ Wi-Fi when I’ve had to stop by for a fix while traveling – though often, these shops will require you to put in a password displayed at the desk or in the waiting area).  And motels often have free Wi-Fi.  If you’re desperate, try to find a mall – one or more stores is sure to have something!

 

Remember, just because the internet is free doesn’t mean it’s secure.  Never send sensitive data over a free Wi-Fi network, turn off file sharing, don’t update your phone / computer or apps / programs over a free network, etc.  Use courtesy when you’re on public Wi-Fi, especially if it might be someone’s personal network, and be respectful of others’ space and privacy, especially in public places.

 

Where do you go for free internet?

 

The fineprint: I provide information based on my knowledge and experience.  I am not liable for the information provided on this page, or anything that might happen when you’re using a network or while using information from this page.  Nor am I offering any kind of legal counsel.  Always follow rules, regulations, etc.  Thanks!