Back in 2008, I didn’t have an iPhone or iPad and travelled with a bulky laptop which I had trouble connecting to the Internet. So in 2008 I did what I had done on previous trips, track down Internet cafes and spend an hour here or there connecting with everyone through email and downloading and printing my work and travel materials – if that was even possible in the hot and sweaty cafes I found myself in.
This time around I had a fairly busy travel schedule, hitting 5 cities in 6 days. I wanted to stay well connected with family and work as it was busy times for both. To make sure I could travel quickly and flexibly as well as ensuring that I could be in touch most of the time, I needed to have regular access to the Internet and would need more than Internet cafes. Equipped with an iPhone and an iPad, I had portable devices that would keep me connected and let me do my work, but I needed to figure out how to get online regularly. Before the trip I was trying to decide whether or not I buy a data plan in Europe or pay through the nose for an international travel plan through my Canadian carrier.
I got as as far as unlocking my iPhone, a new freedom here in Canada, before I stumbled across some blog posts that described staying connected solely via free wifi when traveling in Europe. I was skeptical as I wouldn’t want to travel here in Canada relying solely on wifi that may or may not be available and free at airports, hotels – I know I can always get free wifi at Starbucks or Subway here in Canada but that’s not often convenient and often not even an option in rural areas. What the heck I thought, lets give it a try – with an unlocked phone I can always grab a SIM card and data plan if i get frustrated by the lack of wifi access in my travels in Ireland and the UK.
I soon discovered that wifi was available at an extraordinary number of locations and almost all of it free and of good quality as well. I almost always had at least 5Mbps download and often more than 10 Mbps through the free wifi. On this trip I was able to have Skype calls in pubs such as this one in rural England; FaceTime with my wife and kids as I crossed the Irish Sea on Irish Ferries as well as stream satellite radio while I watched the beautiful Irish countryside go by on the Irish Rail trains. Even as I left to come home, my shuttle bus to the airport in Dublin had free wifi which let catch up on email, check the weather and send off some chats to let family know I was successfully on my way home.