We’ve all been there: riding down the road on the way to a huge sales meeting when the half-caff no-foam double latte spills and ruins the directions. The only thing that will save the day is a WiFi hotspot so you can get your directions and get back on your way. All perfectly legitimate, right? Right…
The reality is that there are people with real reasons to need wireless access when they’re on the road, the freer the better. My husband is one of them, and I’ve picked his brain on the best places to find free wifi access in practically any area. For many of these, you may be able to find a usable signal from the comfort of your car.
Anywhere but Starbucks! That’s right, most caffeine crack-houses are a hotbed of wifi activity; the most notable chains are Caribou Coffee and Panera Bread (aka St. Louis Bread Company). Some offer an unprotected signal, others don’t (ala Starbucks), so your mileage may vary. Either way, if your local coffee shop is in a stand-alone location, you might be able to get a connection simply sitting in you vehicle in the parking lot, saving you the shame of ordering a half-caff no-foam double latte. If, like me, you have moral objections to Starbucks, support local business and try bogarting some wireless from the parking lot of another coffee house.
McDonalds: Please don’t ask me who thought a fast-food restaurant needed to offer wifi, because I’m hard pressed to imagine how this could ever be a good idea. Regardless, many McDonalds restaurants now offer wireless access.
Apartment Complexes, Office Parks, and Hotels: Odds are good you’ll find an unsecured network from the parking lot of any of these locations. If you get busted for stalking, being a peeping tom, or some other variation of ‘creepy perv’, don’t blame me.
Local Library: Most libraries offer a wireless connection for patrons to use, and the signal is frequently available from outside the building. Check the website for your local library and see if they specify if wifi is available. When you’re going to be on the road, do some prep work and research the libraries in the areas you’ll be visiting.
Bookstores: Especially the variety sporting a coffee shop (see Starbucks above). Whether you chose to go in or stay in the parking lot is up to you.
Try the Mall: You’ll probably have to pack you act up and take it inside for this one, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a signal in there somewhere for you. Good places to check are the food court and benches in front of any computer store.
Head Downtown: No, this isn’t a dirty euphamism. If your downtown is anything like ours, you can pull into any parking spot or sit on any bench and find multiple networks available.
Visit a College Town: Between dorms, coffee houses, pizzerias, libraries, offices, classrooms, non-profits, etc, a college town is a wifi seekers dream come true. So many networks, so little time…