How to get connected while travelling the US
I'm currently travelling across North America, and day-to-day it's proving a fair pain in the arse to stay connected with the internet. Access isn't the problem; there's oodles of wifi everywhere, but nearly all of it is locked down and requires payment. The other difficulty is being unable to establish a connection when you're constantly travelling; the US is fricking enormous, so when you're traversing such mammoth distances, it can mean going without internet access for hours.
I've tried a number of ways of staying online as I've bounced around the states, so here are some suggestions if you're considering something similar; as always, if you have any suggestions then please let us know in the comments:
Travelling between neighbouring states can still take the best part of a day. If you're on the East coast there's a cracking alternative to flying that, once you've taking into account transfer times and waiting at the terminal, means similar journey times and I can haz internet.
Behold the Bolt Bus! It's a coach service that ferries folks between Boston, New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia. What's so great about it? The fares start from just $1 each way - even if they're a rarity, book just a few days a ahead online and you won't pay much more than $20. There's also the fact that there are power supplies built into the back of every seat, so your laptop will never run low.
The real deal-breaker is the free wifi. Yep, wifi on the Bolt Bus along the whole goddamn route. Having tested it between New York and Washington, I can honestly say that given the choice between flying or taking the bus, you'll find me on the road. The connection was a little sluggish at times, but connection remained solid through the journey, disconnecting only twice in four hours.
There are thousands of premium hotspots across the US; two of the better packages you can buy for accessing them are from Boingo and T-Mobile.
Boingo claims to offer up unlimited access through 100,000+ hotspots for just $9.95 per month, but this is restricted to laptop use. They also offer unlimited access on mobile handsets (including VoIP) for just $7.95, which includes access abroad in Europe as well as the US. First impressions? I signed up to Boingo's international service while in Europe, but despite claiming to service major airports, there wasn't a sniff of access of Frankfurt. It performed perfectly in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, however. Now I've reached the US, I've cancelled the global package - at least I think I have; despite the site telling me I can cancel at any time, nowhere does it tell me how to do so, so I've had to blindly email customer services and hope for the best. I've signed up for Boingo mobile's 30 day free trial - I'll let you know.
The T-Mobile HotSpot package offers unlimited access for $29.99 without commitment, to over 45,000 locations worldwide, but unlike Boingo is available across all wifi-enabled devices.
While internet access six miles above the ground is still a relatively new concept, it's starting to catch on in the US. Thanks to Gogo, a handful of flights, mostly between the East and West coast (but also some shorter routes servicing the West coast) have the facility, but they promise that over 300 of United's domestic routes will be online by the end of the year.
Most hotels will offer wifi or an internet connection in their room, but few will allow its use for free. In many cases, you're looking at a cost of $10 to $15 dollars a day, which you're unlikely to take advantage of if you're on a sightseeing trip.
If wifi is critical, then search for hotels that include free wifi in the price, before you book. If you can't compromise on location and service, then book your hotel and worry about the eye-watering access charges. But before you pay them, see if there are any open sources available from your room. If you're in a city location, you'll sometimes find there's a hotel on the same block generous enough to offer its guests free wifi - depending on their protocols, often you won't need an access code to hijack it. Sounds like common sense, but I've met plenty of people so far who've paid up to ensure they've got a solid connection where free access was available.
It's also worth checking in with the likes of Boingo again - their flat rate no-committment plan may cover your hotel, for far less than the hotel will charge.