When you leave your home (and I hate it when that happens), you leave a lot of familiarity and comfort behind, not the least of which is your Internet connectivity.
Away from home you can use your smartphone, cellular-connected tablet or a MiFi Liberate to create your own mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, as we discussed yesterday.
But with so much free and low-cost Wi-Fi connections out there, why DIY a hotspot?
Here are your Wi-Fi access anywhere options, both free and paid.
Of course you don't want to pay for to connect to a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot if you can help it.
Municipalities, often in conjunction with a telecom company or local businesses, offer free public Wi-Fi, often in public facilities or areas such as libraries, municipal buildings, parks and downtown shopping districts.
Plus, an increasing number of businesses such as restaurants and hotels also offer free Wi-Fi in their premises.
Your device's Wi-Fi settings will list available Wi-Fi networks. If you may want to plan ahead or find a more optimum free Wi-Fi network nearby, download a "find Wi-Fi" app, such as JiWire's Free Wi-Fi Finder for iPhone/iPad or for Android, which lists 145,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide (there's also a version which expands the list to include more than 650,000 free and paid hotspots).
But caveat connector: public Wi-Fi hotspots are "open," which means someone could be wirelessly peaking over your virtual shoulder, stealing your data or your identity.
To ensure your public Wi-Fi privacy, you should use a VPN – Virtual Private Network. VPNs are explained in my "Public Wi-Fi Hotspots: Is Someone Eavesdropping?" post.
If you've done any travelling you know that most motels and hotels offer Wi-Fi. Make sure when you book you're getting Wi-Fi in your room, not just the lobby.
Ironically (and to me, inexplicably), budget/reasonably-priced hotels are more likely to offer free Wi-Fi, while pricier joints make you pay as much as $25/day (greedy so-and-sos).
The problem is, you get little or no assurance your Wi-Fi connections will be private or secure – another reason to subscribe to a private VPN service if you're a frequent traveler.
There's also no assurance you're going to have a speedy connection. Depending on your room location, your $25/day could buy you lousy Wi-Fi connectivity.
You could remember to schlep along an Ethernet cable, but then your in-room mobility is limited to the length of your cable, which you always end up tripping over.
If you're a frequent traveler, consider a mobile router. These small devices, such as the Belkin Wireless Dual Band Travel Router ($80) or the TP-Link 150Mbps Wireless N Nano Router(TL-WR702N) ($25), plug into a hotel room's Ethernet jack (both include a short Ethernet cable). Your room is then bathed with high-speed Wi-Fi.
You'll likely still have to pay for Wi-Fi, however, for the router itself to connect.
I've used both travel routers and you I got the same experience with the $25 TP-Link as I did with the more expensive and slightly larger Belkin. But the Belkin does come in a nice leatherette travel case.
If you plan on using one of these travel routers, make sure the hotel room you book has an Ethernet jack. Many budget hotels don't.
Planes, trains and Boingo
One option to cover a multitude of Wi-Fi connectivity situations is Boingo, a Wi-Fi service provider with more than 600,000 hotspots worldwide, including more than 70 airports, and more than 230,000 in the U.S.
You essentially pay as little as $10/month (to connect up to two devices simultaneously) and you get to connect to any Boingo hotspot for as long as you like, streaming an unlimited amount of data. (I am a Boingo subscriber.)
You can download Boingo Wi-Finder apps for Android, Apple iOS, Windows and Mac smartphones, tablets and laptops to easily locate and connect to Boingo hotspots.
Boingo doesn't operate all 600,000-plus hotpsots; they usually partner with folks who already run Wi-Fi hotspots.
One of Boingo's partners is an outfit called Gogo, which provides in-flight Wi-Fi on a number or airlines including AirTran, Delta, Virgin America, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Frontier, United and US Airways.
You can pay-as-you-go, or you can pay $55/month (obviously recommended only for George Clooney Up in the Air-like frequent fliers) or $14/day.
But if you're a Boingo subscriber, you pay $4.95, $9.95 or $12.95 per Gogo flight, depending on the flight's length, for laptop and tablet connectivity; smartphone connectivity is $4.95 or $7.95, depending on flight duration.
Each Gogo-equipped airline offers their own Wi-Fi connect deals; a Gogo-supplied Wi-Fi Delta 24 Hour Pass is just $12, for instance, a monthly pass for Delta's Traveler Pass is just $35, while an year-long all-you-can-surf Delta Annual Pass runs $400.
Of course, a Gogo pass gets you Wi-Fi on all partner airlines.
The links for the airlines listed above take you to each airline's individual Wi-Fi pages.
Not all flights offer Gogo Wi-Fi; if you need Wi-Fi on your flight, double-check before you book.
JetBlue will start offering Wi-Fi connectivity next year through a company called ViaSat; no word yet on fees. The carrier already offers free or paid Wi-Fi connectivity at more than 50 of its airport terminals.
While airlines charge for Wi-Fi, Amtrak does not (I knew there was a reason other than lack of TSA intrusion why I like the train better than a plane).
But not all Amtrak cars on all routes offer Wi-Fi. Check here for Amtrak routes and stations offering Wi-Fi; check for window stickers in the train cars themselves to make sure you're in one that offers Wi-Fi.
One other mobile Wi-Fi connection option, especially outside the U.S., is Fon, a combination DIY/service provider.
While Fon has created partnerships with major telecoms around the world, the spread of Fon hotspots – more than a whopping 7 million worldwide – is via crowdsourcing.
You have now created a Fon hotspot, which gives you access to all the other similarly-constructed Fon hotspots for free. That's right – just pay for the hardware and hook it up to become a hotspot, and all your Fon mobile Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity is free.
As noted, Fon hotspots are more common outside the U.S. On the island of Manhattan, for instance, there are only a couple dozen Fon hotspots. By comparison, there are more than 200 Boingo hotspots just within a 100-block area around Columbus Circle.
I have a Fon rig and am playing with it now and will report back once I get a sense of how it works.
But as you can see, there's no reason why you can't stayed connected when you're away from home, by supplying it yourself or accessing free or paid connectivity.
Happy and safe mobile surfing!