WiFi hotspots are incredibly handy. With many folks having limited cellular data connections, or if you're a traveller, being to hitch a free ride on a public WiFi network to grab some email, check on social media or browse the web is handy. But those hotspots are also a potential security risk. So, how can you use a public WiFI hotspot safely?
The first thing to know about public WiFi is that any data you send and receive is effectively open to anyone with a moderate level of IT skill. So, if you use a public WiFi hotspot to read email or conduct internet banking, your username, password and any data you send or receive is open to the world.
If you're planning to transact any data over a public hotspot and you care whether someone else snoops, you need a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN encrypts all the data between your computer and the internet. So, even if someone snoops, all they get is the equivalent of static.
However, choosing a VPN is really complicated. I use Norton WiFi Privacy on my phone and tablet (disclosure: I was gifted a free subscription by Norton when the product was first released but have since purchased a second license and renewed my subscription with my own money). I chose that product because I trust Norton's reputation for security.
For your laptop, you could install the Opera web browser which has an integrated, and free, VPN. That should protect you if you use that browser for secure tasks.
If you don't want to use a VPN, then I'd suggest either increasing the cellular data allowance on your smartphone and using it as a private hotspot (with WiFI security enabled) or only using public WiFi hotspots for tasks where your security exposure is limited.