How to access the internet during a road trip in the USA?

  • I'm traveling from Europe (Belgium) to USA soon. While on a road trip from New Orleans to Miami, I'd like to access the internet without paying exorbitant amounts of money on roaming fees. I was thinking about getting a pre-paid SIM card from an American provider to lower the costs.

    It seems hard to order a pre-paid SIM from an American provider without an address in the USA. What are my options?

  • M C

    M C Correct answer

    7 years ago

    I traveled all the way through the USA from the east coast to the west coast, by car and RV. I thought about getting a UMTS / LTE stick for my Notebook, too. But there really wasn't any need for this.

    You can get FREE WIFI almost everywhere:

    • Coffee Shops (Starbucks, etc.)
    • Fast food Restaurants (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC, etc.)
    • Camp grounds
    • Hotels
    • Shops / Malls
    • Libraries

    In rare cases you get WIFI access even here:

    • Cinemas
    • Grocery Stores
    • Gas Stations

    I can also tell you, that the UMTS internet coverage isn't that good when you plan to visit national parks or other nature reserves.

    Whilst driving through the less populated middle of the USA there are times when you even don't get your cell phone working --> NO Service!

    So if you really feel the need for uninterupted internet access, you should carefully check the coverage of your Mobile-ISP

    I live in the U.S. and I’d be inclined to remove “gas stations” from that list. If there are gas stations that offer free Wi-Fi—or any Wi-Fi at all—I haven’t come across them.

    Same with grocery stores. Lots of stores don't offer wifi because they are concerned with customers using apps to price check everything on their shopping list.

    Along the same line as the other two comments. This answer is generally correct in that you can find free wi-fi all over the US, but... 1) Gas stations, grocery stores, and cinemas do not usually have wi-fi, free or paid. 2) Many budget hotels have free wi-fi, but (a bit paradoxically) nicer hotels often make you pay ~$10 per day to use the wi-fi. 3) If you are on a road trip your best bet for finding free wi-fi is at coffee shops and McDonalds particularly in rural areas.

    I hope there's no free wifi in cinemas (except maybe the foyer or cafe), imagine being sat behind someone who is online on their phone during the film... bright glow and facebook message noises every 20 seconds... Then half way through they say to their friend "Huh, says on IMDB that this guy dies", "Yeah, about 10 minutes from now. That other guy does it with a chainsaw, sounds cool"

    In small towns, the best free wi-fi is often at public libraries (policies do vary though, sometimes it's totally open, sometimes it's members only, or you need a guest pass). Plus, they often have computers you can use (handy if you're travelling with just a tablet and need a "real" computer, or if you need to report the theft of your tablet or laptop!). Sometimes you can print as well. Plus, you can read books on the local area there. Also, surprisingly, many Best Buy (electronics), Barnes and Nobles (books), Home Depot, and Lowes (both building supplies) big-box stores have free wifi.

    @Chris Mueller and the others: Thanks for the comments. I updated my answer.

    @bdesham: I think he might be referring to the Flying J type gas stations.

    @user8272: Target offers free wifi for guests along with Lowes Home Improvement and Home Depot

    @ChrisMueller: Target, Lowes, Home Depot, Apple Stores, McDonald's, Panera Bread, Fazoli's, and Starbucks have free wifi.

    @staticx Oh, good thought. I don’t usually use the “travel plaza”/“truck stop” kind of places but they do seem more likely to offer amenities like Wi-fi.

    @bdesham: They are typically for truckers, but regular joe's can use it.

    I converted the answer to community wiki. Feel free to modify the answer to include the information from your commments.

    Cell phone stores such as AT&T may offer free wifi. So do some computer stores, such as Apple stores. And the chain of Denny's diners, as seen in this list of fast food places with wifi.

    Some of the overland busses in the US have free wifi on board (and advertised on the outside of the bus). Check the schedules, then follow the bus as he leaves the station. Your Co-pilot and your passengers can now enjoy free wifi as long as you stay behind the bus. Cruise control is your friend :)

    another option for wifi is this:

    This is as exactly what I did in exactly the same situation. I looked into other solutions but they were all pricey and fiddly.

    @bdesham As of 4/26/16 WaWa (East coast USA) gas stations offer free wi-fi at 700 locations.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM