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How to get WiFi on the go

Tourists look at a mountain from the back of their car.
Mostovyi Sergii Igorevich / Shutterstock.com

Staying connected while traveling can be tricky if you̵

7;re not in a hotel, but it’s possible. Whether you’re on a cross-country trip or camping trip, or even if you just need some Wi-Fi on a long drive, there are ways to stay connected while you’re on the go.

Use the hotspot function of your smartphone

Probably the simplest solution, your smartphone’s hotspot mode can be a life saver when it comes to staying connected on the go.

With Android and iPhone, both are easy to do, by creating a secure local network, complete with a password. This method allows you to connect other devices (like a laptop, for example) to the network if you need to send a few emails, or if you just want to stream shows on a bigger screen.

Before going this route, make sure you are familiar with the limits of your wireless contract. If you have an unlimited data plan, you probably avoid costs due to increased data usage. If you don’t, know how long your data will last and plan accordingly. To save energy and megabytes, download entertainment to your phone or hard drive before you go.

Also check that hotspot data is being sent at the same speed as your phone. Even if you have a 5G device, your carrier may limit hotspot data (also known as “tethered”) to something slower, like 3G.

If you’re going this route, you’ll definitely need a car charger and/or a power pack to last your phone’s battery for a long time. Hotspot mode burns through the power quite quickly on most phones.

Bring a mobile hotspot

You can create a network similar to a mobile hotspot with a dedicated mobile hotspot device. It’s basically just a router, so you can’t browse it, but it still works if you’re using something like a lightweight laptop as your main device and don’t have a hotspot-compatible phone.

The price for one of these devices can range from $100 to over $200, and some require a monthly service charge. They usually plug into a USB port and can come with an internal battery, making the network they create more portable.

You want to find something that fits your budget and offers:

  • high data rates
  • a flexible subscription
  • multiple wifi options
  • good battery life
  • a portable form factor

Portable hotspots can also be great if you’re traveling internationally, as they help you avoid huge data roaming costs and may offer faster speeds than the local internet. Your wireless service provider probably has one you can buy, but be sure to shop around to find the best deal.

RELATED: The Best Portable Wi-Fi Hotspots for 2020

Use an OBD-II device

These devices differ from a typical mobile hotspot in that they do not connect via USB. Instead, they plug into your car’s OBD-II port, the same port mechanics use to connect a diagnostic tool.

That means you can’t get far from your car using this device’s network. But if you’re only going to use it on the way to the campsite or the hotel, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Because it plugs into your car’s diagnostic port, an OBD-II device can send diagnostic information to an app on your smartphone. In addition to a local wireless network, you also get statistics such as vehicle tracking data.

One of these will run you anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on how advanced the device is and what kind of contract you get with it. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all offer these devices with data plans. Contracts are about $20 and up, usually paid monthly.

Find a public Wi-Fi connection

If none of these options are an option or you have no service, there is always the old standby of public Wi-Fi hotspots. McDonald’s, Starbucks, and even big chain stores like Target usually have public Wi-Fi that you can use in a pinch — often while sitting in the parking lot.

If you’re not sure where to find free Wi-Fi near you, apps like NetSpot and Wi-Fi Map provide databases of public hotspots. Even Facebook’s app can help you find the nearest free network.

If you must use a public connection, be as secure as possible with your data. Use a VPN if you have one and avoid entering sensitive information or payment details on websites you visit.

RELATED: What is a VPN and why would I need one?

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