Last updated on February 2nd, 2019 at 03:16 pm
If you are a thrifty traveler like myself, chances are you don’t have an expensive cell phone plan with unlimited data. Or perhaps you do, but the area you are traveling to has no service for your cellular provider. Either way, knowing where you can find free wifi wherever you travel in the United States can come in handy.
I came up with the list of over 40 places to find free wifi through research and experience. Our family took a 5 1/2 month RV road trip a few years ago, and during it, I had to get work done that required me having a wifi connection.
Before I left on my trip, I was told by my smartphone service provider that I could use my phone as a wifi hot spot. I was planning on doing just that whenever we stayed in a campground that didn’t have free wifi, but it turned out the network my pay as you go smartphone runs off of rarely had service our entire trip, leaving me scrambling to find reliable wifi to get work done during the majority of our trip.
At the end of the trip, my husband asked if I regretted not changing my super inexpensive cellular plan for a more expensive one that might have allowed me to work from our RV more often. I told him that I honestly didn’t regret it. Although it did take me a while to find a place with free wifi in some of the remote areas we visited, I did find a free source of wifi everywhere we went. And what I saved on cell phone bills easily paid for the coffee or soda I had to buy to stay and work for a few hours. Plus, I found I got more done in a shorter amount of time when I wasn’t trying to work in a 27 foot travel trailer with three teens and my hubby inside it with me.
Tips For Working In Free Wifi Areas While Traveling
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Before I share my list of places to find free wifi across the USA, I thought I would share with you some tips I learned during our trip that made working in free wifi areas easier and safer.
If you are working in a restaurant or a coffee shop, don’t ask for a big old free glass of water and work for hours. That is rude! Consider the price of your drink and/or food your wifi fee and buy something.
Of course, you can save money by using the chain’s app or rewards program if they have one–here is a list of 50 apps for places that serve food, coffee and more.
Always Use A VPN
Using public wifi hotspots does make it easier for hackers to steal your information. I decreased the likelihood of this happening on my travels by using a VPN service. I use Express VPN and you can get 30 days free when you use my referral link (these words in red).
Using a VPN service does take an extra step to get connected to the free wifi source, but the safety it provides you is well worth those extra seconds.
Purchase A Wifi Booster
I bought this wifi booster before we left on our trip just in case I might need it. I ended up using it several times a week during our entire trip. It allowed me to strengthen the signal of the free wifi in campgrounds that didn’t have a common room I could work in (more on why common rooms work better in a moment).
I have never done this personally, but I have heard of people who use wifi boosters in their vehicles so that they can work from the parking lot of a place with free wifi instead of going inside.
Free internet is provided for customer use so this is kind of on the shady side, however, I could see doing this when the only place that has free wifi in the area is a Lowe’s or another retailer where you can’t exactly go inside and sit and work for hours. And I have dumped thousands of dollars into Lowe’s for renovations to our home and our rentals over the years so I am a paying customer. Anyways, what I am trying to say is wifi boosters can be super helpful if there is no place to sit in the place offering free wifi, but you might want to go in and buy something (even if it is just a chocolate bar) as a thank you for the free service.
Have Your Laptop Fully Charged Before You Go
Many places with free wifi do not have places where you can charge your laptop and if they do, most only have one outlet. To avoid the frustration of sitting down to work only to discover your laptop has just 5% battery life and you have no way of charging it once it dies, I suggest making sure it is fully charged before you even start looking for a place with free wifi where you can work.
Pack An Extension Cord Or A Battery Charger
If you are forgetful like me, you will forget to charge up your laptop before going out to work more times than you wish to admit. There will be a kind worker who shows you a hidden outlet that is a lifesaver, but is in a very inconvenient place, and you end up sitting beside a smelly garbage can all afternoon. To avoid this, always pack an extension cord in your work bag, like I now do.
Another option is a battery charger just big enough to charge your laptop once or twice. Theses incredibly handy to have while traveling. With one of these and a wifi booster, you can work a lot more places than most people who are chasing the free wifi.
Try To Avoid Peak Business Hours
If you are working at a restaurant, make sure you are not hogging valuable seating during the peak meal hours. Look up from your laptop every now and again and make sure that there are a few empty tables around–if there are not and people appear to be looking for a place to sit and eat, it might be time to pack it up and look for somewhere else to work.
Use Google Maps
Most chain style restaurants, coffee shops, etc., have an app with a locator service within it, but I don’t find these to be very accurate, they often seem to miss newer or smaller stores. Instead what I liked to do is use the Google Maps app to find the closest one near me and then use it to drive or walk to the store.
Free Places To Find Dependable WiFi While Traveling
Coffee shops are my favorite place to work at if I can’t get good wifi where we are staying when we travel in the USA. They generally have good wifi and it is pretty typical for me not to be the only one there who is working on a laptop for a few hours while slowly sipping coffee.
Starbucks is the first place I look for wifi since it is very rare that they have spotty wifi. They also tend to have outlets to plug your laptop into all over the place. I stick to drinks that come with free refills with the Starbucks rewards card and use these 8 Ways to earn free Starbuck gift cards.
2. Dunkin Donuts
3. Tim Hortons
4. Krispy Kreme
5. Locally Owned Coffee Shops
When traveling, finding a locally owned coffee shop with good wifi was an experience I enjoyed. I loved feeling like one of the locals as well as getting to try new to me coffee drinks. However, I was surprised at how few locally owned coffee shops I crossed paths with had good wifi.
What I started doing was opening up my phone to test out the wifi before I placed an order, and if the wifi was slow, I left and went elsewhere. I did this because I can’t drink more than a coffee a day without getting jumpy so I wanted to save my daily indulgence for where I was working. Sorry local coffee houses, I wanted to stay, but my caffeine limit is low and my need for wifi is high.
Fast Food Restaurants
My top two on this list of fast food restaurants are McDonald’s and Panera. I generally find they both have good wifi. They also both have free refills on their drinks and usually there are at least a few other people there working on their laptops. I feel strange when I am the only one in a public place typing away madly on her laptop. If a town has both, I will choose Panera over McDonald’s since it usually has more seating and food that I like better.
12 Taco Bell
14. Jimmy John’s
The problem with using free wifi at retail stores is that most do not have a place to sit. You could pull your car up close to the store and use their wifi with a wifi booster as I suggested above. What I tended to do is use these places just for quick social media updates or a brief look through my email inbox to make sure something urgent had not come in while out in no wifi land.
Many Targets either have a Starbucks or a small cafe style restaurant inside where you can sit and work.
24. Best Buy
Ikea has a restaurant inside with seating. You do need to be a member of their family rewards program to use their free wifi, at least last time I used it you did, but the sign-up process is quick and simple and gets you discounts off purchases from time to time.
Grocery Stores And Warehouse Stores
I lumped the grocery stores and warehouse stores together because as we traveled it became apparent to me that in general grocery chains that offer free wifi usually also have an eatery of some sort just like the warehouse stores offer. This is not a firm and fast rule though, so you might want to double check before you let your hubby drive off with the vehicle, leaving you stranded until he is finished with his errands. Yes, that has happened to me.
One other thing you might not know is that you don’t need a membership to go in and eat in the food court at Sam’s Club or Costco. You do, however, need to go in through the exit door area and say you are heading to the food court.
29. Sam’s Club
Oil Change Centers
I did not know oil change centers had wifi until I was researching this article. This tip would have been handy during our long road trip since we did get several oil changes done during the trip.
30. Jiffy Lube
31. EZ Lube Oil Change
32. Grease Monkey
Most hotels now have free wifi, but there are still one or two chains out there that charge extra for it so check before you book.
33. Campground Common Areas
When you book a campsite the website might say it has free wifi–and indeed it does–but the truth is (with rare exception) the wifi will be SLOW. If you’re old enough to remember the speed of dial-up in the early ’90s, campground wifi is close to it as far as speed goes.
However, what I discovered is that if the campground has a common room, the wifi speed in there will be significantly faster. It still might not be as fast as your internet speed at home, but it will be fast enough to get most types of online work done. Some of these common rooms are super cozy with comfortable couches while others are nothing but plastic lawn chairs and plastic tables.
Generally gyms don’t have places to sit and work, but if you have a gym membership and your gym has a location where you are staying at, you could work on basic work tasks that can be completed on your phone while walking on the treadmill–and trust me, you won’t be the only one doing this.
Most libraries now have open free wifi networks with no need for a password. These are great places to work since they are quiet and have various areas to spread out and work.
36. Barnes and Noble And Other Large Book Retailers
Barnes and Noble stores often have a coffee shop inside or several places to sit within the store, making it a decent place to work.
37. College Campuses
Not all college campuses have open free wifi, but most do. I feel a bit out of place going there when I am not a student, but it is an option if you are without other options. I would stick to cafeteria areas or the library.
38. Shopping Malls
Usually shopping malls require you to give them your email for free wifi, at least the ones near me do. However, if you are okay with unsubscribing to their newsletter later, a shopping mall food court can be a place to get some work done.
39. Visitor Centers
On our trip I found that most visitor centers had wifi and often it was excellent quality. This includes visitor or nature centers at state and national parks. Usually there are a couple of places to sit too.
My bank chain offers free wifi for its customers and I don’t think they are the only one. Now, you are not about to spend hours at a bank working in the lobby, but if you have something quick to do online, going to a bank might work for you. Just don’t stick around so long that you get security called on you–lol.
Hospitals often offer free wifi. Go to the cafeteria and order something to eat or drink and get a bit of work done. I have never done this as it seems a bit odd to me to camp out in a hospital cafeteria to work, but in a pinch I think it is a valid option.
Chances are if the area is big enough to have an airport, they probably have lots of other places with free wifi that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to park at, but most United States airports do have free wifi so I thought they deserved to be on the list.
43. Museums And Other Local Attractions
Museums and local attractions often boast about having free wifi since they are hoping you will use it to spread the word about how much fun you are having at their facility with your friends on social media. These types of places might not be an option for a long work session, but I found them great for little work tasks like checking email or posting social media updates and other short blogging tasks.
That said, don’t think I was on the phone the entire time while my family enjoyed the sites. Nope, besides taking pictures my phone was off limits while we explored, but when we were done everyone was okay with strolling around the gift shop while I took 15 minutes to check off a few short work tasks.
If You Can’t Find Something On This List, Try A Free Wifi Finder App
I have tried a few wifi finder apps, but never had excellent luck with them. What I like to do instead is before I leave one place with wifi I take time to open up my Google Maps app and see what places are available in the next town we are visiting that are known to have free wifi.
However, some people swear these apps are indispensable, so I am including the three I found mentioned over and over while researching for this post.
- Wifi Finder
- Open Signal
I hope this list helps you on your next trip in the USA when you need wifi. Is there any place you would add to my list?
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