This article is a travel topic
Internet access has become a basic need for many leisure travelers. You may be glad to be free of it for a while, but keeping in contact with family and friends can be cumbersome without it. It is essential for most business travelers, and there's no doubting the value of accessing WikiTravel.org for information wherever you are in the world.
There is an attitude among some people that the internet should be avoided during travel so one can enjoy their trip. Even for those who feel this way, the internet can still be a very useful tool to the traveler. It allows travelers to read about attractions they plan to visit, and to see maps of how to get there. VoIP services, including Skype, allow travelers to keep in touch with family and friends back at home often for free, when the same could come at a hefty cost over a traditional phone line. The internet can also come in handy for those who have incomplete travel plans and need to book or change a hotel mid-trip, or for those who arrive at a hotel unhappy and want to find a new place to stay.
The more developed is your destination, the easiest (and probably cheaper) would be for you to access the Internet. Keep in mind that in developing countries such as many countries in Africa or in countries that apply a lot of censorship like North Korea, Internet access might be a lot tougher for a foreigner. If staying online is crucial for you, ensure the availability of the required services before going there. If necessary, ask your tour guide for any options.
Nowadays most electronic devices can access the internet.
A desktop computer is a computer that includes a separate keyboard, monitor, mouse, speakers, and more. Due to the large number of pieces of equipment it has, it is typically placed on a desk, hence the name. Desktop computers are decreasing in popularity as smaller, more portable devices are growing, and they are used today only by IT professionals or developers of executive level software.
For most casual users, a desktop computer isn't exactly what you would think of including in your suitcase. Most desktop PCs are only capable of connecting to the internet via an Ethernet connection.
A laptop computer is a device that folds in half, with one half containing the screen and the other half containing the keyboard. Laptop computers vary in size. The smallest laptops, which are typically 7-10", are sometimes referred to as "notebooks." Laptops, which are capable of performing most of the functions of desktop computers, are usually toted around by travelers, whether the purpose of the trip is more business than leisure.
Most laptops nowadays can connect via WiFi, although some older models only have ethernet access. You can purchase, however, a USB WiFi stick at a low price.
A tablet computer is a flat device that is mostly taken up by a screen. Tablet computers have no hard keyboards and few hard buttons. The keyboards of tablet computers are virtual, popping up on the screen when needed. There are many brands of tablet computers, and all of them are able to connect to the internet through WiFi (but not through other means).
When comparing tablets to laptops, the one significant difference (apart of the missing keyboard) is the Operating System usually tablets run: iOS or Android, where most notebooks/laptops run Desktop-based OSes, like Windows.
Tablets are the most popular devices among travelers today, for their operating systems are designed for "quick internet access". However they are not suitable for "point and shoot" access, as their larger size (when compared to smartphones) rarely allows them to be used efficiently as cameras. If you want to combine acceptable camera features and internet access in one device, you have to use a Smartphone.
A smartphone combines the power of a tablet and a phone to a single device. Almost all travelers carry cheap to very expensive smartphones, but for browsing the internet almost all are similar: You will have a hard time typing long text, if you must, and the screen is significantly smaller, which would prevent you reading long text, e.g. an e-book, conveniently.
Methods of Access
Dial-up internet involves the use of a computer hooked up to a phone line that dials into the network, achieving the theorerical max of 57200 Kbps (in reality, the speed is much slower). You need a modem to get connected and this is only feasible with a desktop computer nowadays. You are unlikely to be connecting to such a network, for even if you find it, it would be almost useless to you due to it's very low speed.
This allows you to use an Ethernet cable for wired access. This is only feasible in desktop or laptops, for mobile phones and tablets cannot connect via a wire. In addition, only one device can be hooked in an Ethernet socket. Ethernet can achieve up to 100 MBit/s.
The advantage of the wired method is that it's the one with the best speed available. If speed is crucial and you have a laptop, prefer to connect it via Ethernet than via WiFi.
There are cheap adapters that can plug into an Ethernet socket and create a WiFi network in a close range. If you must connect through WiFi but Ethernet is the only option, buy one of those.
This is your main option of connecting. Most hotels offer WiFi access, and the advantages are that you don't need cables, all devices can connect through it and you can connect more than one device to a single access point. WiFi is found in many homes around the world, and is also provided in many hotels and public places, including cafes, libraries, and airports. WiFi can even be provided in moving vehicles, such as buses, trains, planes, and ships.
This is the method of connecting to the internet via the mobile phone signal. This may be your only solution when nothing else is available, but keep in mind that:
Most smartphones can enable data and access the internet via the GSM signal. In addition, some tablets that also include GSM capabilities can be used if you have a SIM card. These tablets are usually the more expensive types of their without-GSM-access relatives.
Some locations might provide you with satellite access to the internet. While this is very rare, it might be the only option if you are in the middle of nowhere, where even mobile phones have stopped working. This requires special equipment, it's almost certainly only compatible with desktop computers, needs dial-up modem connectivity as well (for the satellite is only used for downloading), needs pre-arrangement with the local authorities and, most important, all this comes to a very hefty price.
Internet access in hotels varies, depending on the location and the hotel rating. In developer countries, almost all 4 and 5 star hotels have complimentary, limited or paid internet access.
Most hotels have a "WiFi free" area (usually at the lobby, restaurant or other public places) which allow you to get connected for free. This free connection usually suffers from low speed, for there will be lots of customers trying to connect at the same time as you.
Hotels also offer an in-room wired (Ethernet) or wireless (WiFi) access for a usually ridiculously high price for standard rooms (often, suites and luxury rooms get this for free). Check with your tour operator to verify the availability. Notable exceptions are the all-inclusive hotels and hotels in areas where there's not much to do except hanging around the hotel's facilities, like those in the Dead Sea.
There are no internet facilities on most planes, except in special aircrafts, usually in overseas flights and in A-class carriers like Qatar Airlines. Should you need internet access on the plane, you can check with the tour operator whether your flight includes internet facilities.
If available, internet services will be offered via WiFi and, usually, at a premium rate with either limited bandwidth (i.e. Pay per KB) or limited time (i.e. Pay per min). Check below about the costs. Also note that most VoIP services are firewalled (check below about the restrictions).
Most airports offer complimentary WiFi access to the passengers. The quality of the connection depends on the country and the airport area.
When you are in the road, at the camping, in the desert, in the Moon or elsewhere where it doesn't seem easy to get connected, your options are:
Cost and Speed
Cost remains an issue when accessing the Internet while on travel. Keep in mind the following:
Security and Censorship
Security and censorship issues can vary, depending on your location. The most developed country, the least security and censorship issues you might encounter.
All public WiFi providers, whether paid or free, do not allow inbound access to the connected device. This means that you cannot setup a server while using the service. While this is unlikely a problem (for you usually only want IM and email access), if it is a problem you have to arrange internet access with a local.
Firewalls also block certain outbound activities, like VoIP. However this might be tricked by changing the port used by those services if you have that option.
Some countries restrict access to special sites, for example Turkey used to ban access to YouTube, where North Korea users do not have access to Facebook. Check beforehand if the services you want are available. Some countries are unstable and their policy can change without notification.
Typically the following sites may be blocked: human-rights NGOs' sites; opposition sites; universities; news outlets (BBC, CNN, etc); blogging / discussion forums; webmail; search engines; and proxy servers. Often they will duplicate the sites that have been blocked but (not so) subtly modify the content. Pages or URLs containing certain banned keywords may also be blocked.
Almost all public services block by firewall any P2P activity, such as file sharing. Be sure to get in touch with a local if this is needed.
An increasing number of services on the internet are restricted to IP address ranges corresponding to a certain country. If you try to access those services from outside that country, you will be blocked. Examples include video-on-demand (Movielink, BBC iplayer, Channel 4), web radio (Pandora), and News. Content providers want to make sure their service is only available to residents within its legislation, usually to avoid possible copyright breaches in other countries. IP geofiltering is a simple, if somewhat crude way of achieving this. For travellers this can be very frustrating, since the system discriminates based on where your computer is located, not on who you are and where you live. So even if you have legitimately signed up for a movie rental service in the US, you can no longer use it while you are spending a week in the UK.
Fortunately there are straight-forward ways of getting around IP-geofiltering. Your best option is to re-route your internet traffic to an IP address in your country of origin. The service will then think that your computer is located there and allow access. One way of doing this is to sign up with a VPN provider. See below for details.
IP filtering might be used for security reasons. For example, if you try to access an e-banking account you may be blocked. Notify your bank beforehand that you plan to access their site from abroad and be sure to understand their limitations on what you can and what you cannot do.
Some countries like Sudan block access to credit cards. In others you might be denied access to various paying sites like PayPal. Check what you need in advance.
Logging,Spyware and Encryption
Security is the top issue, especially when you try to manipulate money.