Whether you’re traveling or just trying to get out of the house a bit more, there’s one thing that plagues us everywhere we go: Wi-Fi. We may not have that cloud of Wi-Fi covering the planet yet, but you can find free Wi-Fi almost anywhere, if you know how to look. Here’s what you need to know.
10. Know Which Hotels and Businesses Always Have Wi-Fi
A lot of businesses these days offer free wi-fi, even big chains like Starbucks and McDonalds. Learn which ones do and remember them. You can start off by checking out this list of unexpected places you can get free Wi-Fi, as well as our our guide to Wi-Fi friendly hotels and our #freewifi tag. You might be surprised at how many people actually offer it with no strings attached. Photo by Ken Hawkins.
9. Use a Hotspot Database
If you don’t have one of those locations around, though—or if you can’t stand the smell of coffee—it’s time to turn to a hotspot database like WeFi. They have a huge list of over 100 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, including rural areas you might not expect. They’ve also got apps for iPhone and Android, so you’re never without a search engine to find yourself a connection.
8. Search for Hidden Networks
If you aren’t near a documented hotspot, that doesn’t mean you can’t sniff one out. We’ve shown you a number of apps that’ll help you find free, hidden Wi-Fi networks, and we’ve also mentioned that electronics stores are a great place to start looking (since they need Wi-Fi for their display units), as are premium lounges in airports. With a little bit of searching, you can bring all the hidden hotspots out of the woodwork. Just don’t tell too many people, or they might start protecting their network.
7. Browse the Right Sites
This won’t get you access to the whole internet, but if you’re just looking for Wi-Fi to pass the time, see if the local paid hotspots offer any sites for free. Delta Airlines, for example, offers free access to Amazon, People magazine, and the Wall Street Journal in-flight. It won’t help you check your email, but you can certainly keep busy browsing Amazon and reading news, and you won’t need to spend a dime.
6. Sign Up for a Loyalty Program
Some businesses—like Kimpton and other hotels—will offer you free Wi-Fi if you join a loyalty program with them. It’s not a bad deal considering most loyalty programs are free, and as long as you have a good spam filter in place, you won’t have to deal with those nasty newsletters they send out after you sign up.
5. Find Some Coupon Codes
With a little foresight, you can rack up some coupons and have them ready when you need Wi-Fi access on the go. Sites like RetailMeNot are always great for finding vouchers, and you can often see if that hotspot company has any partners that regularly offer deals (You can often find GoGo deals through their partners like Gadling, for example). Following that company on Twitter can often score you some coupons, too. If you’re in a big building like an airport, you may even be able to find some codes at nearby shops, too.
4. Get Around Time Limits with MAC Spoofing
Sometimes you find free Wi-Fi, but you’re only limited to a few hours. If you don’t want to get up and find a new hotspot, you can do some simple MAC address spoofing to extend your time. Either spoof a new MAC address to get another few hours, or if you’re really sneaky, spoof someone else’s MAC address that has unlimited access to the paid service, and get unlimited Wi-Fi that way.
3. Get Wi-Fi From Your Cable Company
You might not realize this, but if you subscribe to cable internet at home, you probably have free access to all of their Wi-Fi hotspots around town. If you live in a big city, you might even get hotspots from other cable providers too. Check your provider’s web site for a map of nearby hotspots, or if they have one, download their mobile app from your app store of choice and find them that way.
2. Tether Your Phone
If you have a smartphone, one of the more obvious—but always useful—options is to tether your 3G or 4G connection to your computer. We’ve talked about our favorite tethering apps for both iPhone and Android, but know that they’ll take a little preparation beforehand. iPhone users will have to jailbreak first, and Android users will have to root (but only for Wi-Fi tethering; USB tethering can be done without root access). The nice thing about this method is that it works pretty much anywhere, so as long as you prepare your phone beforehand, you’ll never be without a connection. Photo by Paul Irish.
1. Hack Into Protected Networks
If you’re in a Wi-Fi emergency and you absolutely have to connect, you can take some desperate measures and do a little hacking. We’ve shown you how to crack both WEP and WPA passwords, and all you need is a live CD. However, it may take a bit of time, so it may or may not work in a bind, and it probably isn’t worth getting in trouble over. We don’t really recommend doing this, though it can be useful to do it to your own network so you know how to protect yourself. You’ve been warned.
With all of these tips, it’s very important to remember that when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, you’re opening a lot of your data up to the world. So, when employing these strategies, be sure you’re also doing everything you can to stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks. Got any of your own Wi-Fi hunting tips to share? Let us know in the comments.
Title image remixed from VeryIcon.