3 Tips for Getting Online While Traveling Internationally

By Gary Arndt, Everything Everywhere

Easter island
If you are a traveler in the 21st century you are probably going to need to get online frequently during your travels.

I have been traveling around the world non-stop for the last five and a half years. During that time I’ve traveled to over 100 countries and have gone online in almost every single one of them.

Whether you are a road warrior, a backpacker or on a family vacation, odds are that you will be in need of internet access at some point. Here are three tips that will help you in your quest for connectivity.

1) Get A Boingo Account
I’ve been using Boingo since I kept seeing it pop up as an option for getting online when I was in Japan in 2007. Since then I’ve used Boingo to get online in dozens of countries around the world. With a Boingo account you can log on to over 500,000 hotspots around the world. Many telecommunications companies and municipal wifi spots around the world use Boingo as one of their login options.

You can be standing on most street corners in cities like Bangkok, London or Zurich and be able to use wifi with your Boingo account.

They offer an array of account options depending on how you will be traveling. They include cheap options for traveling within the United States and options that will let you log on anywhere in the world.

It isn’t quite as ubiquitous as 3G, but it is the next best thing and much cheaper for international travel.

2) Frequent Cheaper Hotels
One of the counterintuitive realities of travel is that the more you pay for a hotel room, the more you end up paying for internet and usually the worse it is.  Lower cost hotels, motels and hostels will usually provide you with free internet.

I’ve found the best internet connections to be at business hotels like Four Points Sheraton, Hotel Indigo, and Ibis in Europe.

There are some higher end hotels which will provide free internet if you are a member of their loyalty programs. Kimpton and Fairmont will provide free internet for their program members, and membership is free. Hilton provides free internet to Gold level members of their program as well.

3) Buy an Unlocked Phone

If you need something more than wifi, then you will have to use a local 3G network. If you use data roaming from your home provider, you run the risk of a data bill which will run into the thousands of dollars. International data roaming is by far the most expensive bandwidth in the world.

The way around this is to get an unlocked smartphone. Some providers will unlock your phone if you ask and some will not, in which case you will have to buy a separate device.

Once your phone is unlocked you can usually buy a local sim card which will give you a local phone number and data account.

Make sure that your phone is a GSM phone, which is the mobile system used throughout most of the world. Verizon and Sprint in the US use a CDMA network which is not compatible with other networks. (Note: the iPhone 4S and up are dual band phones which can work on both networks).

Likewise, GSM iPads are unlocked by design and it is easy to get new sim cards in new countries you visit.

For more tips from Gary, follow @everywheretrip on Twitter. Check out his travel plans on TripIt.