Remember studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in your college psychology class? Maslow’s theory is that we can’t reach our full potential until certain basic and psychological needs have been met. This theory is often visually represented as a pyramid with five levels of needs narrowing until it reaches self-actualization at the top. Someone on the internet jokingly added Wi-Fi to the bottom of the pyramid.
For digital nomads like me, however, this is not a joke. If I don’t have Wi-Fi, I can’t work, which means I can’t even meet the physiological needs that are used as the foundation of the pyramid — food, water, shelter.
Most of the time, I have reliable Internet access at my home base, whether that’s my daughter’s house in Germany or the Airbnb or hotel where I’m staying while “on the road.”
But it gets trickier when I’m in transit or when the Wi-Fi signal is weak where I’m staying. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work online when you have to wait forever for a page to load or deal with spotty audio and video on a conference call.
Luckily, I have access to a vast network of fellow travelers and digital nomads who have shared the ways they get around this problem.
Here are some of the ones that have worked best for me and other digital nomads:
Unlocked Phone + SIM Card
Forget international data plans. Those are for tourists who are on a short vacation.
The cheapest, easiest way to get Wi-Fi when you need it is to use a local SIM card in your unlocked phone and use the phone as a hotspot. Many countries sell SIMs that offer you unlimited data for a week or even a month at very affordable prices.
When I’m in Croatia, I buy a SIM card that gives me unlimited data for seven consecutive days for the equivalent of $12. Though it slows from 4G to 3G once I reach 16GB, it still offers me more than adequate service for an entire week of teaching English online, surfing the internet for material for writing articles, keeping in touch with clients via email, and even streaming Netflix on breaks.
Mobile Router + SIM Card
If you’re still locked into a contract and can’t use your phone as a hotspot, you can use SIM cards in a mobile router. Using a router has the added advantage of not draining your phone’s battery and shortening its lifespan.
Skyroam Solis X
Skyroam’s newest product, the Skyroam Solis X, is billed as a “smartspot.” A new age hotspot, this orange puck offers 4G LTE Wi-Fi in more than 130 countries across the globe and also serves as a power bank, remote camera, and smart assistant.
I haven’t tried any of the Skyroam products yet, but really wish I had one when I was on a cruise this past winter and had very limited access to Wi-Fi away from the shore. If you’re traveling with a group, you can share your access with up to 10 users (or devices) at a time. Owners of Skyroam products can purchase a day pass, pay for a monthly plan, or buy gigs of data as needed.
Wi-Fi On the Go
I usually have access to Wi-Fi on FlixBus, long-distance trains, and even in the air. When you’re under a deadline, consider using your time in transit to get some work done. Transportation hubs like airports and train stations often have limited Wi-Fi available as well.
Coffee with a Side of Wi-Fi
I’d like to give a shoutout to Starbucks for having consistently good Wi-Fi all around the world.
No matter where I am, I know that if there’s a Starbucks nearby, I have a place to work while sipping on a latte and enjoying their excellent choice of music.
There are plenty of other cafes and restaurants that offer free Wi-Fi to their customers, of course, but the culture of Starbucks is such that you won’t feel out of place while you’re on the clock.
If working in a coffee shop is not for you, there’s a growing number of co-working spaces in most places where digital nomads tend to congregate. These spaces are often run by people who understand the nomadic lifestyle and want to make you feel at home while you’re working. They provide office-like amenities that you can use on a short-term or long-term basis.
When I was in Split, Croatia, I had a chance to visit three of the city’s co-working spaces. Each catered to a different clientele and had a unique atmosphere, but they all had places to work by yourself or collaborate with others, plenty of outlets to charge your electronics, and, most importantly, excellent Wi-Fi.
If you have any other solutions for finding reliable Wi-Fi on the go, we’d love to hear from you. Add a comment below or email [email protected] so we can include your ideas in future updates.
About the author:
Beth Hoke rejoined the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.
Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.
Beth has been traveling around Europe for two years. She’s filed posts for Dispatches Europe from at least seven countries including France, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Turkey and Madeira, Portugal.
Read all of Beth’s Digital Nomad and travel posts here.