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How to find “free” wireless internet

Updated on February 16, 2010

The modern office?

Free wifi spots

The internet, and especially email, are almost indispensable in today's world, and hard to leave behind even while on the road. Laptops and public wireless internet, or wifi, make it much easier to stay in touch and find the information you need while traveling.

Some public wifi systems, such as the T-Mobile network at Starbucks locations, require users to pay for the privilege of accessing the internet, either through a monthly subscription or an a la carte day charge. However, more and more places of business are offering "free" wifi. I say "free" because, though there is no charge for accessing the internet, it is expected that you would be paying for lunch or coffee or whatever the business sells while you are there. But, since you have to eat or drink somewhere anyway, the wifi really doesn't affect your budget at all.

Wifi, though, is invisible. So, if you are on the road and in an unfamiliar place, how do you find free wifi spots?

Online Directories

One way to find free wifi is to go to directories such as, which lists many (not all) free wifi hotspots by city and state. The obvious flaw with this system is that you have to have internet access to find the internet access points. So, when traveling, I copy and save (or print out) the results for whatever areas I am heading toward-even entire states, if I don't have an exact route planned out.

You can also download wifi directories that you can search without being connected to the internet, such as's Hotspot Helper. Though the program has some added functions, it also costs money, so I prefer free services such as's wiPod. If you have an iPod, you can download wifi directories for any state at no cost and access them on your iPod screen.

Free Chains

Even without a directory, you can often find free wifi by knowing which chain stores offer the service at their locations. Panera Bread and Buffalo Wild Wings are two large chain restaurants that offer free wireless in all (or almost all) locations. You can stop, grab a bite to eat, and surf to your heart's content-providing they are not too busy. Many restaurants politely request you not spend too much time surfing the web during peak times like the lunch rush. Go during the slow afternoon hours, and you should have no problem.

Rest Areas

A few interstate rest areas have free wireless internet you can access from the parking lots, inside the safety of your car. Iowa, of all places, is one state that has a free wifi network at most of its rest stops. It does require registration, but registration is free. Other rest area hotspots are scattered. The New York State Thruway (I-90) has wireless at all of its travel plazas. Texas has free wifi in at least some of its rest stops.


Free wireless is almost a given at more expensive hotel chains, but you might be surprised at some of the budget or mom-and-pop places hat now also provide the service. If you are paying for a room anyway, there is usually no reason you cannot find a place that will throw in free internet as well.

Hope that is helpful for you. This article was written from a free wifi hotspot at White Rock Coffee in Dallas, Texas.


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