Tips for Getting Internet: What to Do When There is Bad Connection While Traveling

Not having a stable internet connection is difficult,  And not having any signal in areas when you are traveling is worse.  Years ago, I traveled to many countries, and this was before the internet was developed.  I used snail mail to be in contact with my family, and usually, the letter arrived three weeks later to my Mom, which, by that point, I was already somewhere else.

Now we rely on the internet for everything: maps, directions, our friends’ phone numbers, our work, our entertainment, and our learning.  So when you mention to people that you don’t have internet, they wonder, “How is that even possible?”

Trust me, it is possible.  The culprit can be staying in a building where the cell towers seem to be blocked by another building.  Or being in smaller remote areas where the connection is just spotty.  

These last two weeks, I had hardly any internet.  Many other large apartments surround the apartment I stayed in, and there was no access to data on my phone or internet connection.  This scenario is frustrating as something that can take 30 minutes to do can take the whole day as you move around looking for a safe place to use the internet.

As this has proven to be a common occurrence for me in some Latin American countries, I have learned a lot about what is going on and what I can do to get the internet.

Understanding the Problem

Importance of Reliable Internet While Traveling

Without the internet, I can feel less productive and stressed about all that I need to do online.  As many remote workers or digital nomads depend on a stable internet connection while traveling, it has become the priority for deciding where to stay or where to go.  

Not only for work but accessing information for your trip and keeping in touch with family and friends is why we all rely on the internet these days.

Common Internet Issues During Travel

Unfortunately, internet connectivity can be spotty when you're on the road. Here are some common issues you might encounter:

  • Unreliable Wi-Fi: Many hotels, cafes, and other public places offer free Wi-Fi, but the signal can be weak or inconsistent. This can be frustrating when trying to get work done or stay in touch with loved ones.
  • Limited Data Plans: If you rely on your mobile data plan, you may quickly run out of data or face expensive roaming charges. This can be a problem if you need to use your phone for navigation or other data-intensive tasks.
  • Network Congestion: In busy areas like airports or popular tourist attractions, network congestion can slow down your internet connection. This can make it difficult to load web pages or use apps requiring a lot of bandwidth.
  • Technical Issues: Sometimes, internet connectivity issues are caused by technical problems with your device or network. For example, outdated software or hardware can cause compatibility issues, while network outages or maintenance can disrupt service.
  • Location:    As my carrier once told me, there were no cell towers near where I was, so it was hard for me to connect. Being in a city or location with other large buildings can also affect the signal for you.  

Pre-Travel Preparations

Before you embark on your travel adventure, it's important to prepare for the possibility of a bad internet connection.   Most importantly, know that you may need better internet.  Then, when it happens, you can tap into your flexibility and PATIENCE.

Researching Your Destination's Internet Infrastructure

One of the first things you should do when planning your trip is to research the internet infrastructure of your destination. Find out what internet connection is available in the area and whether it is reliable. You can do this by checking online forums, travel blogs, or by asking locals or your hotel staff.

If you're traveling to a remote location, consider bringing your own portable Wi-Fi router. These devices can help you stay connected even in areas with poor internet connectivity.

Choosing the Right Data Plan

Choosing the right data plan is crucial when traveling. You want to avoid paying exorbitant data usage fees while abroad. Before you leave, check with your mobile service provider to see if they offer international data plans. These plans are often cheaper than paying for data usage on a pay-as-you-go basis.

If you will be traveling for an extended period, consider getting a local SIM card. This will allow you to access the internet at local rates, often much cheaper than international roaming rates.

Downloading Offline Resources

Another way to stay connected when the internet is slow or unreliable is to download offline resources. This includes maps, travel guides, and language translation apps. By downloading these resources before you leave, you can access them even when you don't have an internet connection.

You can also download your favorite movies or TV shows to watch offline during your trip. This will help you pass the time when you are stuck in an area with poor internet connectivity.

By taking these steps, you can ensure that you stay connected even when the internet is slow or unreliable. With some preparation, you can make the most of your travel adventure without worrying about internet connectivity.

On-the-Go Solutions

Here are a few things I do when I am on the road for longer periods of time, or better yet said, any period of time.

Using Local SIM Cards

One option is to purchase a local SIM card for your phone or mobile device. This can be a cost-effective way to get internet access while traveling, especially if you stay in one place for an extended period. You can often find SIM cards at airports or local stores, and they typically come with a set amount of data that you can use for a certain period. Make sure your device is unlocked before you travel so you can use a local SIM card.

Investing in a Portable Wi-Fi Device or Mobile Hotspot on Your Phone

Mobile hotspots can be created using a dedicated piece of hardware, such as a portable hotspot device or software built into your smartphone or tablet. 

When you decide whether to use your plan at home for going abroad, get a local SIM card, or buy a portable Wi-Fi device, ensure you get enough GBs for your mobile hotspot. 

A mobile hotspot, also known as a portable hotspot or personal hotspot, is a wireless access point that allows you to share your cellular data connection with other devices. This means you can use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot and connect your laptop, tablet, or other devices to the internet, no matter where you are.  It creates a Wi-Fi network that other devices can connect to, just like a regular Wi-Fi network. The difference is that a mobile hotspot uses your cellular data connection instead of a wired internet connection.

Mobile hotspots are handy when traveling, as they allow you to stay connected even outside your home network.

1. Stay Connected

A mobile hotspot ensures you stay connected to the internet, no matter where you are. This is especially important for people who travel frequently, as it allows them to stay in touch with family and friends and to keep up with work emails and other important tasks.

2. Convenience

A mobile hotspot is incredibly convenient, allowing you to access the internet without searching for a Wi-Fi hotspot or plug in an Ethernet cable. This is particularly useful if you're in a remote location or traveling internationally, where Wi-Fi may be limited.

3. Cost Savings

Using a mobile hotspot can actually save you money in the long run. Instead of paying for expensive hotel Wi-Fi or using your cellular data plan, a mobile hotspot allows you to connect multiple devices to the internet using a single data plan. This can be particularly useful for families or groups of friends who want to share the cost of internet access.

4. Security

A mobile hotspot can be more secure than using public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, meaning anyone can access them and potentially steal your personal information. With a mobile hotspot, you can create your own secure network, which can help protect your data and keep it safe from prying eyes.

Please note that in order to use the mobile hotspot on your cell phone, the cell phone itself has to be connected.  The problem I ran into recently was that although I had a lot of GBs for my mobile hotspot, I couldn’t get my phone to work via data or Wi-Fi due to my location.  Otherwise, I use my mobile hotspot daily to work on my computer and other devices.

Finding Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

Public Wi-Fi hotspots while on the go are always an option, although I would rather not use them. Many coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels offer free Wi-Fi, and you can often find hotspots in public areas like parks and airports.

Remember to take security precautions when using public Wi-Fi or unfamiliar networks. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your data and avoid accessing sensitive information on unsecured networks.

Emergency Measures

If you find yourself in a situation where you have no access to reliable internet, there are a few emergency measures you can take to get back online. Here are some options:

Data Roaming

If you have a mobile phone plan that includes data roaming, you can use it to get internet access while traveling. However, be aware that data roaming can be expensive, so it's important to check with your provider to see what the costs are before you travel.

Here are some tips for using data roaming:

  • Turn off automatic app updates and push notifications to avoid using your data allowance.
  • Use Wi-Fi whenever possible to avoid using up your data allowance.
  • Check your data usage regularly to avoid exceeding your allowance and incurring extra charges.

Move to Where There is a Signal  

If you are staying on the 16th floor of a building but are having trouble accessing the internet even with your data, go to the ground level and see if it works.  If it doesn’t, go to a coffee shop where it will probably work.  Don’t sit back and wait, as the internet may never arrive!  Just find safe places with internet connections where you can work or keep in touch with family and friends.

Look At All the Options

Living with a bad internet connection while traveling can be frustrating, but there are several solutions to help you stay connected.  But I would say the most valuable lesson of not having access to the internet is becoming patient and learning how to improvise.  You will find the solution!

How Much Data Does Netflix Use on a Mobile Hotspot?

I sometimes need a break and use Netflix for that reason.  Being able to travel with streaming services like Netflix has changed the way we consume our favorite shows. With a tap on our mobile app or a click in our web browser, we are connected in real-time to a world of video content. But when streaming over a mobile hotspot, understanding the data consumption is essential, especially if you're not on unlimited data plans.

I recently went to my carrier for the local SIM card I have.  The salesperson said I had used 50Gb of data in one week.  I had only used Netflix twice during the week, but then realized I had no idea how much data it consumed.  

Netflix Data Usage

The video quality you choose for playback is at the heart of data use. Netflix offers a range of video resolution, from low quality to ultra HD. Here's a breakdown:

Standard Definition (SD): Consumes less data, about 0.7 - 1 GB of data for an hour of streaming.

High Definition (HD): This HD video quality is a middle ground, eating up about 3 GB of data for an hour.

Ultra HD: For those craving higher resolutions, ultra HD or 4K can use a significant amount of data, up to 7 GB per hour.

Why Quality Matters

When you're on a Wi-Fi connection you might not think twice about streaming in the highest quality. But on a mobile internet connection, especially if you have data limits, video quality becomes crucial. Streaming in lower resolution will consume less data, whereas HD resolution or ultra HD will consume a lot of data.

The Netflix app has data usage settings that allow you to choose the desired playback settings, a great way to manage mobile hotspot data.

Factors Influencing Data Use

Several factors come into play:

Length of time: A two-hour movie will naturally use more data than a 30-minute episode.

Connected Devices: The number of people or different devices using the hotspot can impact data speed and consumption.

Internet Speed: While you might be on a 4G or 5G network, the download speed can vary. A lower speed might automatically reduce the video streaming quality.

Other Activities: Using social media, making a video call, or watching YouTube videos on the same mobile hotspot can affect how much bandwidth is available for your Netflix account.

Other Considerations

Not all streaming services are equal. HBO Max, Amazon Prime, or even watching videos on social media can have different data requirements. It's always a good idea to be aware of your internet plan, especially if your internet service provider or cell phone carriers impose an internet data cap.

While unlimited plans might sound enticing, remember that some have a monthly limit, after which the data speed might reduce. Cellular data usage can soar if you're not careful, especially if a family member or friend unknowingly streams a high-quality video on their iOS devices.

Comparing Devices and Services

It's also worth noting that streaming Netflix via a mobile app can have slightly different data needs compared to a smart TV, Roku device, or a web browser. The frame rate, playback settings, and even the Wi-Fi network you're connected to can change the total data consumed.

For those conscious of their data consumption, there are wireless hotspots with larger data allowances or even unlimited hotspot data. Always check with your service provider for the best rates and offers.

Using Netflix on a mobile hotspot is convenient, but it requires awareness of data use. A single movie can exhaust a GB of hotspot data if you need to be more careful. It's always a good idea to monitor your data speed, limit video quality when necessary, and be mindful of the number of connected devices. This ensures you can enjoy your favorite content without the stress of hitting maximum data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get reliable internet while traveling?

Getting reliable internet while traveling can be a challenge, but you can do a few things to increase your chances of success. One option is to use a mobile hotspot, which allows you to connect to the internet using your mobile phone's data plan. You can also look for hotels and other accommodations that offer high-speed internet access.

What are the best options for internet access when traveling abroad?

When traveling abroad, your best options for internet access will depend on where you are going and your needs. In some cases, you can use your mobile phone's data plan to connect to the internet. In other cases, you may need to purchase a local SIM card or use a travel portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Research your options before you go so that you can be prepared.

Is it possible to get internet without WiFi while traveling?

Yes, it is possible to get internet without WiFi while traveling. One option is to use a mobile hotspot, which allows you to connect to the internet using your mobile phone's data plan. Another option is to use a portable travel Wi-Fi hotspot, a small device that connects to the internet using a cellular network. You can also look for hotels and other accommodations that offer high-speed internet access.

What are some tips for improving your internet connection while traveling?

You can do several things to improve your internet connection while traveling. First, try to stay close to your router or hotspot. Second, make sure that your device is up-to-date with the latest software updates. Third, try using a wired connection instead of a wireless connection. Fourth, avoid using too many devices on the same network at the same time. Finally, consider using a travel portable Wi-Fi hotspot or your phone’s mobile hotspot, which can provide a more reliable connection than public Wi-Fi networks.