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.
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.
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.
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.