Where's the Wifi? Travelling with internet

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I have just returned from travelling overseas (I landed four hours ago after a 17 hour trip on 3 trains and a plane.. and feeling it) but I wanted to share one application I found invaluable and some tips, from experience.

In this modern age we can get used to the services we have at our fingertips in our community but this can be a lot harder to figure out when travelling.

Heading to Japan I assumed internet would be fairly easy to come by. Interestingly many hotels do not have wireless still. Mobile roaming data is over $20/mb for Australians. Your best bet if you need to use your devices and have truly mobile internet is to walk into a phone store and rent a 3G or 4G dongle (most even have built in wifi) or sign up for an account (this is important).

When you do see free wi-fi, check it really is. Wireless was free on trains and in coffee shops etc but once you connected to the wireless you then needed to login to your provider, otherwise no access. Unlike here where free wireless means internet access. Without an account, and in some cases without a translator, this proved a little difficult.

There is of course always the internet cafe option. Very cheap, cheerful, usually found within a few blocks, often not very nice, unless you are at the airport.

My wife and I had this discussion packing for the trip. We have between us an iPhone, an Android phone, an iPad, a netbook, a kindle and a small android tablet. What do we really need?

The phones were in, as was the kindle (it has it's own 3G which is another story), but do we take the iPad or the netbook? The other android is kindle sized, so we decided it was out immediately. So why do we want it? Well we like to get into the action and explore new cities, so it is always great to book rail tickets, buy tickets for shows, get a map of the area and look up places to see the night before heading out into a new city. This can be painful on a phone. Without wireless I argued we should take the netbook as we can't plug anything else in and use it in the hotel room and we always had free (properly free) LAN internet. If we only had the iPad we could be in trouble.

This turned out to be correct but we don't really like using the netbook as much and unless we needed to book something big we do prefer to use our phones. So what I wanted was a way to make a wireless hotspot in our hotel room taking advantage of the free internet.  I didn't want to fork out for a rental dongle or a plan and all we needed was access at night.

First thing I thought was can I setup an adhoc network. Fired up the netbook, opened the browser, hit OK to connect and then set it up using the Wizard in Windows 7. Only the iPhone worked. Tried Wi-Fi Direct on the Android phone but the laptop was not compatible.

That's when Connectify came in (see my review here). Connectify is an application for Windows that creates a proper wireless hotspot from your laptop (not an ad-hoc one) and it just works. In each hotel I simply plugged my laptop in, resumed it from standby the night before, saw connectify start, opened the browser and walked away. I could leave it there my whole stay and every time we walked into our room we had wireless internet on all of our devices. I can't praise this more highly.

Lastly, the Kindle.  The Kindle Keyboard may look old fashioned but GET IT WITH 3G if you travel!! With this model 3G is free if you purchase the device with it built in and hidden in the experimental settings is a browser. While my wife loves to use it to read books at night, I should caveat, it is hers... I found it invaluable on our trip as I could steal it on long train rides to catch up on the news websites, we could do a quick search for maps, travel timetables or location suggestions as we travelled all for FREE on 3G.  Yes it is painfully slow at times and the browser doesn't work with lots of stuff but on a 2 hour train trip, I could afford to wait. I am packing it next time.

Happy travels.

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