Internet connections can be unreliable when traveling and while it can be an inconvenience, more and more lack of a good wireless connection means missing out on work, contact with family, and figuring out just what to do on your short trip to Istanbul. In most cases however you can plan to stay connected to those barely-there signals and find out where Internet might be hiding right under your nose.

laptop in coffee shop

Research Before Your Trip

You’ll need help yourself out here, so first thing’s first. Check to make sure your hotel or hostel has a wi-fi connection, preferably free. Most hotels will say they offer Internet, which usually means a “business center” or pay-by-the-hour wireless. Also, many hostels tend to say “wi-fi” but be sure to see if it’s only in the lounge area or in each room as well. Typical wireless routers give you a range of roughly 46 meters (~150 feet) indoors and any physical barriers (like walls) will reduce that even further.

  • on the lookoutAsk – Don’t be hesitant to email the hostel or your Couchsurfing host to find out exactly what the digital environment is like. The review section of most booking sites will also have good information.
  • Scope For Connections – Use WiFinder or WeFi to find out if there are any buildings nearby the place you’re staying that might have free wi-fi.
  • Increase Your Range – Extend your wireless radius with long-range USB antenna, a tool that has saved me on many occasions. (They can also be used to crack encrypted wireless networks as well.)
  • Find – Hidden wireless networks using NetStumbler.

Finally, if you do get stuck at a hotel that charges for wireless Internet access you can try looking around the walls for an Ethernet jack (you’d be surprised). These connections are expensive to restrict, so if you’ve got an Ethernet cable (an inexpensive yet essential travel gadget) you’ll be good to go and can even set up wireless connections for your travel mates.

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Make The Most Of What You’ve Got

man sticking out tongueSo you’ve got that tiny wireless signal, taunting you with an Internet connection every few seconds. You’re close but just not enough to get online for any meaningful amount of time so try these minor changes be just efficient enough.

  • Prioritize Your Connection – When you do connect to a wi-fi signal, all of your open applications are going to try and get a piece. Instead, make the most of what you’ve got by shutting down bandwidth hogs (i.e. Skype) and using only one Internet-needy application at a time.
  • Find The Wireless Router – If the wireless router – they look like this – is positioned in the left side of your hotel hallway (look along the edges of the ceiling), you’ll want to sit on the side of your hotel room that’s closest.
  • Move Other Nearby Wireless Devices – Your iPhone, wireless mouse, and other radio-enabled devices should be moved away from your laptop. Turn off the iPhone, use your laptop’s trackpack, and don’t use any wireless devices right next to your computer.
  • Use Google Gears – Many of you using Gmail, Google Calendar, or Google Reader can use all of these services offline. (Go to Settings > Offline > Enable Offline Mail For This Computer.) You can read and respond to emails (which will be sent when there’s a connection), check your RSS reader, and review your schedule all without the benefit of a good Internet connection.
  • Try To Get Something For Nothing – Let’s just say you wanted to play around with getting hotel wireless without paying for it, but just sayin’.

You should also try and avoid mirrors – it’s a long shot but these metallic surfaces can reflect wi-fi signals so try adjusting to various angles to see if you can get a stronger signal (tin foil hat optional).

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typing fastTake Initiative And Become Proactive

Often part of a flaky connection means you can see a wi-fi network, have a strong signal, and yet nothing happens. You can become your own traveling tech support by doing what the hostel or hotel may not be able or willing to do.

  • Reset The Router – Many hostel routers don’t have passwords, or use the default. You can reset most routers very easily from your own laptop with this technique.
  • Skype Credit To Access Hotspots – Many wireless hotspots now accept Skype credit if you have any. Launch Skype to find out, it will automatically tell you if it’s possible with any nearby hotspots.
  • Tether Your Mobile Phone – Your “jailbroken” iPhone or Android phone can be used as Internet connections for your laptop. If you’re using this method outside of your home country, get a local SIM card otherwise you might pay massive data roaming charges.
  • Renew Your IP Address – Here’s how on Windows and Mac.

Try as you may, despite your best efforts you might not be able to get online or connect to that flaky Internet connection. Rather than make it a complete bummer, turn off your wireless card to extend your laptop battery and try to connect again late at night or early in the morning when less people are likely to be online. There just might be enough bandwidth for you then to send out those remaining emails and let mom know you arrived at your destination.

[photos by: Mr Munnings on Tour (laptop in coffee shop), CB Photography (on the lookout), eloquentlight (man sticking tongue out), John Flinchbaugh (typing fast)]