Last Updated on 03 May 2023
As a digital nomad, the freedom to pick up and travel anytime and anywhere is a privilege I rarely take for granted. From sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, and bustling cities to tranquil countryside, the world is my oyster, and I have had the good fortune to see it all. However, as much as I love traveling, there is one massive roadblock that has consistently disrupted my travel plans over the years – unstable or non-existent internet connection.
As a digital nomad, a reliable internet connection is key to my livelihood. I need it to communicate with clients, submit assignments, and conduct research. The internet is also my gateway to news, entertainment, and social media – my lifeline when I am on the go. But when the internet connection is patchy, slow, or non-existent, everything comes to a grinding halt.
I remember one incident vividly. A few years ago, I was backpacking through Vietnam, and I had just arrived in a sleepy coastal town. After a long day on the road, I was looking forward to unwinding and getting some work done. I had seen a promising little coffee shop earlier, and I made my way there, looking forward to getting online. I ordered a coffee and some food, pulled out my laptop, and tried to connect to the Wi-Fi. And that’s when the trouble began – the signal was weak, and the connection was agonizingly slow. After several frustrating minutes trying to load a simple webpage, I gave up and left the coffee shop, defeated.
Over the years, I have faced similar connectivity issues in countries across the globe – from Europe to Africa, Asia, and beyond. But every time I have faced such challenges, I have learned from them, finding ways to overcome the roadblocks and continue my work. Here are some of the strategies I have found most useful:
Research and Plan Ahead
Planning ahead can often be the best way to overcome internet connection challenges. Nowadays, a quick Google search can tell you almost anything about the internet connection in a particular place. Before I travel to a new location, I always make sure to do my research and find out what the internet situation is like in that area. For instance, I might search for “best coffee shops with high-speed internet in Bangkok” or “coworking spaces with free Wi-Fi in Berlin”. I’ve found that online communities such as Reddit, Facebook groups, and tech forums are also great resources for information about internet connectivity in various locations.
Another approach to planning ahead is finding accommodation that offers reliable internet connection. You can read reviews and ask the hotel or hostel beforehand, to give you an idea of what to expect. Staying in a hotel, Airbnb rental, or homestay that advertises a fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection can be an assurance that you will have a productive stay.
Get a Mobile Hotspot
A mobile hotspot is a device that allows you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot from a cellular data connection. Essentially, it turns your cell phone or tablet into a portable Wi-Fi router. This device can be a lifesaver for digital nomads, especially when the Wi-Fi network is weak or non-existent.
Many mobile providers, such as T-Mobile, offer mobile hotspot plans that you can use while traveling without having to worry about data roaming charges. You can also purchase a mobile hotspot device directly from a provider or Amazon and install a local SIM card for a cost-effective data option.
I’ve found that mobile hotspots work great in areas where Wi-Fi is spotty. A mobile hotspot can also be beneficial if you have multiple devices that need internet connectivity, such as two laptops, a phone, and a tablet.
Get a Local SIM Card
When traveling to a foreign country, purchasing a local SIM card can also provide a fast and cheap data option. By using a local SIM card, you can connect to the local cellular networks and access the internet. Depending on the country, unlimited data plans can be purchased for as little as a few dollars a month. Using a local SIM card is also an excellent option for travelers who want to avoid data roaming charges when traveling internationally.
Before purchasing a SIM card, you need to ensure your phone is unlocked and compatible with the local network. Once you get a SIM card, make sure to check for data plans and activate the plan that suits your usage best.
Invest in a Portable Router
Portable routers are small, lightweight, and easy to carry around, making them great for digital nomads. They work by connecting to an available wired or wireless internet connection and then creating a Wi-Fi network that other devices can connect to. A portable router is especially useful in areas where the Wi-Fi connection is weak or unreliable. The device is also a good solution if you have multiple devices that need to connect to the internet, such as a laptop, phone, and tablet.
When using a portable router, it’s important to check with the local internet service provider if there are any restrictions on the usage of multiple devices on one connection. The router’s battery life is another factor to consider, and devices with long battery life, such as the Huawei E5577C, are recommended for easy travel.
Switch Your Work Hours
Sometimes, the best way to overcome internet connectivity issues is to work during times of the day or night when the internet connection is strongest. Depending on the location, the internet connection may be faster or more stable at certain times of the day or night. For instance, in some parts of the world, the internet may be faster in the early morning hours when people are still sleeping. Depending on your work schedule, it might be worthwhile to adjust your working hours to take advantage of the stronger internet connection and get more work done.
Explore Different Locations
Exploring different locations within your area can also be a way to find a more reliable internet connection. When my Wi-Fi signal is weak, I often move to a different area within the building or move to a new location altogether. Different cafes, libraries, and coworking spaces may have stronger signals, and it can be worthwhile to discover these little gems.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the places you choose to work from, especially if you could be working with sensitive data. If you are working with data that requires an extra layer of privacy, use a VPN to secure your internet connection.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be an excellent tool for remote workers to protect their data and privacy while accessing the internet. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your device and the internet, securing your connection from possible cybersecurity threats. A VPN can also help improve internet speeds as it can bypass any internet throttling that may be taking place.
VPN’s are relatively easy to download and install, and services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer trial periods so you can test the effectiveness of different VPN’s and choose the best option for your needs.
Test Your Internet Connection
Before starting a work session or a video call, always test your internet connection. You can download a speed test app or access speed test websites to check your internet speed and latency. This will help you gauge the quality of your internet connection and decide whether it’s appropriate for work.
Manage Your Data Usage
Data usage can sometimes be a challenge when traveling. Some countries have data caps, while others may charge extra for data usage beyond a certain limit. Managing your data usage and using it only when necessary is essential. Apps that minimize data usage, such as Opera Mini and Firefox Lite, can help reduce your data usage and maximize connectivity.
Backup Your Data
Even with the best internet connection and the most reliable tools, there is no guarantee that you won’t experience unexpected connectivity issues. It’s essential to backup your essential data using a cloud storage service or an external hard drive. This way, if you experience an internet outage or other connectivity issues, you can still access your data and get work done.
Be Patient and Flexible
Finally, when traveling as a digital nomad, it’s important to be patient and flexible. Connectivity issues may arise unexpectedly, and it can be frustrating. However, with a little patience and flexibility, you can work around these issues and find a solution that works best for you.
Use Offline Tools
While the internet is essential for a digital nomad, there are many offline tools that can be useful as well. For instance, many software and tools have an offline mode, allowing you to take advantage of them without needing an internet connection. Utilizing offline tools can keep you productive while maintaining the quality of your work.
Invest in a Good Laptop
Having a reliable laptop is critical for the productivity of digital nomads. Investing in a high-quality laptop with sufficient storage, battery life and processing power can lend a hand in adapting to internet connectivity issues. Additionally, it’s convenient to have a laptop that is easy to carry around without compromising on functionality.
When in doubt, asking locals about the best internet spots can always come through. It could be a café with a great signal or even a coworking space. Such information will come in handy and save on time spent looking for internet connectivity.
Avoid Peak Times
Peak times, especially when traveling internationally, should be avoided. Depending on the internet providers, peak hours could be in the late evening or early morning. Establishing a pattern of avoiding peak hours can help make the most of the available internet connection.
Upgrade Your Connection
Sometimes all you need is an upgrade to your internet connection. Choosing a higher-quality service provider, switching internet plans could be an option if the available internet isn’t meeting expectations. Investing in a faster Wi-Fi connection or a better data package might cost more, but it is worth it in the long run.
Downloading content in advance can be an excellent option especially for those consistently experiencing internet connectivity issues. Downloading movies, apps, and content in advance can ensure that you remain productive without the need for an internet connection.
Utilize Local Libraries
Most public libraries and universities have Wi-Fi which is free and reliable to connect to. For instance, tourists in Paris can visit the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which has kid-friendly areas, study areas, and working areas with a super reliable Wi-Fi connection.
Upgrade Your Hardware
If you are consistently struggling with bad internet connectivity, it could be a sign that it’s time to upgrade your hardware. Upgrading your devices, such as your router or modem, can improve your internet connection. Alternatively, an earlier model of your preferred device could use significantly less power than the newer versions and enable your device to run longer without draining your battery.
Take Advantage of the Cloud
Cloud storage options such as Dropbox, Google Drive or even iCloud can help ensure that your data is synchronised in real-time between your devices without the need for internet connectivity at all times. This strategy can help to minimize the impact of connectivity issues, especially when collaborating – you can work online while connected, then sync later.
In conclusion, the challenges faced by digital nomads without reliable internet connectivity can slow down their work, but overcoming these challenges can be easy with the right tools and strategies. There are many ways to get online, and being prepared with the right gear, applications, and a little patience and flexibility can help ensure connectivity and productivity while traveling the world as a digital nomad. With these strategies and tips, digital nomads can continue to work from any part of the world without having to worry about internet connectivity issues.