How to find good internet while traveling

internet-speed

We’ve been to roughly 30 countries so far, and here’s how we find good internet while traveling.

Not having internet isn’t an option for us. Here are the things we’ve learned to continue to work no matter where we are.

Cities naturally have better internet than remote locations

Any large city is going to have good internet just because modern business requires it. This doesn’t mean that just because you’re in Rome that any location will do, but it does give you quite a bit of options. Going to the rural parts of the country can be very hit or miss as the infrastructure isn’t there.

Rural area internet is often based off of cell towers. This can bring unique problems. For example, in Ollentaytumbo Peru, the internet would crash when 3+ tour buses rolled into town at 10AM. Everyone on the buses had mobile devices and it was simply too much for the system to handle. The internet would magically come back on right as the buses left town. Another issue with cell towers is that the house needs to be in line-of-sight of the tower. The reception will be poor if a house is in a small valley or on the wrong side of a peninsula, as we experienced in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Check internet coverage maps of rural areas to check if your place is in a blind spot

This doesn’t mean you have to stay in a big city all the time! We typically schedule city stays for when we know we’ll have a higher workload. We still expect to get good internet in the rural areas by following the advice below, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal if it wasn’t great internet.

Airbnb internet is vastly better than Hotel internet 99% of the time

In one year alone, we stayed in 33 Airbnbs and 24 hotels across the world and have never found hotel to be better than Airbnb. There’s always some jerk in the hotel downloading the entire internet. Airbnb internet is better because there are fewer people on the router. Many times it’s just your devices only. A hotel has to accommodate not only 3+ devices per guest, but also the employees working there.

Note that some Airbnb’s are actually hotels pretending to be Airbnb’s. These are hit or miss. If each room has its own router, then it’s probably OK. If there’s a router per floor, it’s almost always poor.

How to Read Reviews

If the review has ANY bad mentions of internet, move on. There’s so many places to stay that you don’t need to put up with this.

Trust business traveler reviews over normal travelers that just want internet to post a picture or check email. Business travelers often need to download large files or screen-share.

Look for reviews that mention streaming or gaming (two bandwidth intensive activities) to get a sense of how good it is.

Have a backup plan

Let’s say you stayed in a big city Airbnb and read all the reviews, but you didn’t get good internet. That’s going to happen if you travel enough.

Starbucks and McDonald’s, not local coffee shops

Sure it feels bad hanging out in McDonald’s while in a foreign country. But Ronald McDonald doesn’t screw around with internet quality: it’s consistently good from country to country. Starbucks is good too, but there will be more people slowing it down because it’s more typical to go there for internet.

A local coffee place is usually worse for internet. There’s a higher chance the employees are leeching it. Or as we saw in Peru, locals sit on the steps outside and leech it when it’s turned on (it’s usually off since it’s based on a prepaid cell phone plan and not unlimited). We visited several places just for internet, and everywhere we went there became a little group of people sitting on the stairs outside because this is how they got internet access.

Co-working spaces

These are becoming very popular in any large city. While they are more expensive than hanging out in Starbucks, they also will have great internet, a quiet environment, and comfortable chairs and desks.

SIM cards

Installing a local SIM card in your phone and purchasing a local phone plan is cheaper than you think! You can find prepaid plans in most convenience stores in any country for $30 that offer several GB of high speed data.

NOTE: Your phone must be unlocked and/or an international version. The reason phone companies pay for your smartphone is because it’s locked to their network. If you leave their network, then you have to get a new phone. That’s how they keep you. We have iPhones simply because you can buy them unlocked directly from Apple and it’s the most compatible with SIM cards around the world. (I basically despise my iPhone otherwise)

Mobile hotspot device

In some countries you can purchase a personal internet device that’s basically a cell phone. It can’t make calls like a phone can, but it has WiFi that your devices can connect with. We’ve found these to be more expensive than a SIM card and payment plan, but it does have the advantage of freeing up your phone.

Phone plans

T-mobile is the BEST. No contest and no arguments. Free 2G data wherever you go, right off the plane. 2G data isn’t enough to load most webpages, but it’s enough to load email and your social apps. We’ve found it to work incredibly well across 20 countries in South America, Central America, Oceania, SEA, and Europe.

T-mobile also has high speed data packages you can buy for $50 for 500MB, but that’s too expensive and should only be used in a pinch. Call them up and they can enable it right away if you need it for that meeting in 5 minutes. Most of the time you should buy a local SIM and plan instead.

Internet is a necessity

Using the above, we met uninterrupted international deadlines and meetings for several years while traveling.

The only place in the world where we were cut off from a client call due to bad internet? When we got back to our home in Minnesota.

Airbnb has replaced hotels

airbnb

After staying in several Airbnb locations across many countries, I can safely say that Airbnb has replaced hotels for us.

Everything the hotel does, Airbnb does better

That’s a bold statement, but let’s take a closer look.  If you don’t know what Airbnb is, it’s a system that let’s people rent out rooms/apartments/homes to guests seeking accommodations.  It can be anything from a studio to a full home, with other guests or completely private.  Go onto Airbnb and play around with some ideas for your next trip. You might like what you see!  If you want to try your hand at hosting, you can do that too!  (Using the links gets you $25 off your next stay, FYI)

airbnb-many-locations
Whatever part of town you want to stay, there’s sure to be a lot of options.

 

Location – Hotels are limited to certain areas and districts and are often clumped together in a few sections of town.  People rent out their apartments and homes all over the city.  If you want to find another place one block over, you can.  If you want to find a place in the trendy section, you can.  Fine tuning your location with Airbnb is extremely easy.  Advantage: Airbnb

This was our view of Sydney from Ollie's apartment.  We watched fireworks through the full-length windows while laying in bed!
This was our view of Sydney from Ollie’s apartment. We watched fireworks through the floor to ceiling windows while laying in bed!

Rooms – Just like hotels, Airbnb rooms will differ greatly in the size and offerings.  Airbnb will tend to have higher highs and lower lows.  On average they will be equivalent.  There is something to be said for a hotel where you know exactly what you are getting.  However, no hotel is able to replicate some of the experiences we’ve gotten with Airbnb.  Some places we show up and find out we have the entire home to ourselves.  Advantage: Even.  While some Airbnb hosts really suck, others make up for it by being spectacular.

Concierge services – Sometimes as travelers, we need a little help from the locals.  Hotels have front desk people called concierges who can make appointments for you if you can’t speak the local language or just need a hand.  But your hosts for Airbnb will help you out too!  They’ll give you a local opinion of what to do and where to go, and sometimes will help you out with booking.  However, they are not professionals at this and some hosts are more helpful than others.  Advantage: Hotels, but it’s close

joes-place-cairns
Joe’s place in Cairns saved us $200 over all other options, and we got an entire apartment to ourselves.

Cost – Airbnb blows away hotels in terms of cost.  If you’re looking to stay somewhere cheaply, hostels and Airbnb will be the low cost options.  We don’t like hostels because it’s typically community rooms and community bathrooms.  These are deal breakers for us.  Who doesn’t prefer their own room?  Advantage: Airbnb.  Cheap as a hostel, accommodations like a hotel

Website – Unless you’re booking through Expedia/Orbitz/Kayak/Agoda/etc, hotel websites are some of the worst in the world.  They are generally very hard to book through, have outdated information, and broken payment processors.  Since the hotel website is often in another country, your credit card often gets locked for potential fraud.  The Airbnb interface is slick and problem free.  Advantage: Airbnb, and it’s not even close

Responsiveness – Hotels will often contact you through the phone number provided, leave a message if they can’t get in contact with you, and then stop trying.  There are times where we’ve missed that phone call and showed up to a place only to find out there wasn’t a room available.  So in the middle of the night in an unknown city (Chiang Mai, Thailand), we had to walk door to door to try and find a hotel.  Ugh.  Airbnb hosts can reach you through email, text, phone, and the Airbnb website.  When you contact them through email or the website, Airbnb sends notifications to their phone that you need something.  Airbnb even measures the response times of the hosts, and you can make sure to pick one that is quick to answer your questions.  Advantage: Airbnb

Breakfast – Not all Airbnb locations or hotels offer included breakfast.  Similarly, the breakfast can be anything from continental to a fully cooked meal.  Advantage: Even

Internet – Hotels generally have professional grade internet while individual homeowners do not.  However, hotels also have to accommodate many more people.  A few bandwidth hogs can bring the entire system down.  In the end, I think it’s a tie.  We’ve had good and bad in both, and there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.  Advantage: Even

Checking in, Checking out – You just got off the plane.  It’s hot, you’re tired, and you just need to fall onto a bed and pass out for a few hours.  Nope!  It’s time to wait at the front desk for 30+ minutes while some guest has a temper tantrum that they have to deal with.  When you’re finally at the front desk, it somehow takes another 20 minutes.  They need your credit card because you booked through Orbitz, they need your address and copies of your passport, then the WiFi password, then make the digital keycard, and finally you can go to your room.  With Airbnb, the host will give you the key and you can go right to napping.  Advantage: Airbnb

Picking a good one – Finding a place to stay that meets your needs is sometimes difficult.  Who do you trust?  While reviews abound for both Airbnb hosts and hotels alike, you can sometimes end up in a bad situation even when you did your research.  We have the same rate of poor experiences with both Airbnb and hotels.  Advantage: Even

What to expect – Here is where hotels win out over Airbnb hosts: hotels are going to be more predictable on average.  Maybe the internet doesn’t work or the breakfast isn’t to your liking, but the hotel is a known quantity.  They’ve been around forever and almost all of them operate in exactly the same way.  Airbnb is quite new, and the hosts are often completely new at hosting guests.  If dislike change and/or greatly prefer absolute solitude, hotels are probably going to be best for you.  Advantage: Hotels

joy-and-daves-place
If you’re in New Zealand down by Hamilton, do stay with Joy and David. Some of our fondest memories of our trip were made with them.

Meeting People – Finally, getting a chance to meet wonderful people in the world is something that hotels just can’t offer.  Sure the staff at a hotel can be friendly, but the Airbnb hosts take you into their home and make you feel welcome.  It has added to our experiences in ways that hotels never could.  Advantage: Airbnb by a mile

The next time you travel, try out Airbnb

Go sign up on Airbnb and have a great time meeting people while saving money on your travels.  The link gives you $25 just for signing up.  You won’t regret it!

Airbnb pros and cons

Bill-and-Nics-House-City-Center-in-Cusco

Airbnb has a bunch of pros and cons, most of which we figured out quite quickly in our travels.  As we get better at picking out places to stay, our experiences get better too.  But at the start we didn’t really know some of the downfalls to Airbnb over a hotel or hostel type of option.  The idea of Airbnb is to try and get the best of both worlds: the community atmosphere and price of a hostel with the convenience and comfort of a hotel.  Usually it works out and it’s great: here we talk about how Airbnb has replaced hotels for us.  Sometimes it is hell…

Special thanks to Bill and Nic’s House, City Center Cusco for inspiring this article

First, the major pros that we’ve come acro…

mom!!  Moooooommmm!  MOOOOOOOMMMMMM!  MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!

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