You check into your hotel after a hard day of travelling. All you want to do is kick off your shoes, set the temperature to whatever hot or cold extreme you wouldn't be able to get away with at home, and say hello to your Netflix queue before some much-earned rest. And then you realise the terrible truth: Your Wi-Fi connection is horrible or, worse, non-existent.
Photo: KEEM IBARRA (Unsplash)
For a weary traveller — or even a well-rested one — there are few things more annoying than paying a small fortune for a hotel room, only to quickly realise that your wireless connection is terrible. Gone are your dreams of getting any work done on your trip, streaming your favourite music to get you in the mood for a big theme park day, or uploading all of your daily holiday photos to your social network (or cloud storage) of choice.
Here are a few tips you can use to address potential wireless woes before they become a problem.
Before you book: Check for awesome Wi-Fi
Screenshot: David Murphy
As you're booking your next holiday, consider your wireless needs when you're deciding where to say. This can be as easy as pulling up a third-party reviews site like TripAdvisor and seeing what past guests have had to say about a hotel's Wi-Fi capabilities. If there are a bunch of complaints, you might want to consider booking elsewhere. That, or know that you're going to have to go into holiday mode with more of a wireless game plan.
While you're looking for the perfect hotel, consider its proximity to any nearby public hotspots — as a last-ditch backup plan, of course. This could include a nearby Starbucks or McDonald's, a local library, or just any general public hotspot that you can find using an app like WeFi (iOS, Android) or WiFi Map (iOS, Android).
As The Points Guy's Katie Genter notes, there are also a few sites that specifically profile hotels by their wireless capabilities. They're not perfect, but sites like hotelwifitest or SpeedSpot should have listings for at least the major properties wherever it is you're looking to go.
While you're packing: Bring along the right gear
If your hotel is confirmed to have spotty Wi-Fi, or you just want to be super-safe (spoiler: I always go the "just in case" route), the easiest way to ensure a great wireless connection in your room is to bring your own router.
There are plenty of great travel routers you can buy; they aren't expensive, nor do you need anything high-powered. A simple N300 travel router with WISP capabilities should be sufficient — something like the TP-Link TL-WR802N, which should cost you less than $30 and fit in the palm of your hand.
In theory, you should just be able to plug one into the wall, connect your room's Ethernet cable to the router and connect to your own Wi-Fi network instead of the hotel's. Routers that support the aforementioned "WISP mode" can also work as a wireless repeater of-sorts, giving you a stronger connection to a hotel's Wi-Fi signal without the hotel figuring out that you're sharing that connection with multiple devices in your room.
Either way, it's possible that your hotel has found a method to prevent you from using your own router in your room — up to and including disabling the Ethernet connection entirely. That said, a typical travel router is super-tiny and shouldn't be much of a burden to stash in your luggage or carry-on bag.
I'd much rather have one to try out than to not have one at all... and have a crappy wireless connection.
You can also try picking up a beefier external antenna for your router. An antenna that you connect to your laptop's USB port might give you a little more firepower than your laptop's built-in capabilities, and it could give you a shot at getting a better overall connection.
This can get a little expensive, however; I'd recommend trying the travel router first if you don't want your troubleshooting to cost more than one night's stay at your hotel.
A third option is to pick up a dongle for your laptop — assuming it doesn't have built-in Ethernet port — just so you can use your hotel's (hopefully faster) Ethernet connection. Same warnings apply: Your hotel might have turned off your room's Ethernet, your Ethernet connection might still be not-so-great for huge downloads or high-quality Netflix streams, et cetera.
Before you arrive: Ask the front desk
It almost goes without saying, but if your wireless needs are great, you could always try asking the front desk for a room that's closer to the hotel's wireless access points. Odds are good they will have no idea what you are talking about, but it's worth a shot.
When you're in your room: Hotspot your laptop
If you didn't feel like going for the travel router option, you can also just share your laptop's Ethernet or wireless connection. (For example, suppose it gets a signal in one corner of your room, but you can't get on the Wi-Fi with your tablet at the other corner of your room.)
To note: You'll only be able to share your laptop's wired Internet connection, not repeat a wireless connection. You'll need a separate Wi-Fi adaptor for that, which puts us right back into "buy new hardware" territory.
You could tether your smartphone's connection, but...
If worst comes to absolute worst, you could always just connect your laptop (or tablet, or whatever) to your smartphone and use the latter's data connection.
If it has five delicious bars of 4G compared to your hotel Wi-Fi's insufferable signal, you'll be set. That's assuming, of course, that you don't burn through your data plan; your carrier isn't limiting your connection in any way; you're actually allowed to tether with whatever plan you're on; your smartphone doesn't burst into flames from overuse — things like that.
Our advice? If you're considering this route, just pick up a mobile hotspot.
Tweak your system's DNS settings
Just in case a hotel's network is doing a horribly laggy job about responding to DNS queries — because it's overwhelmed with other guests all using the network at the same time — you can try switching the default DNS server your device uses. We recommend giving Google's a try: free and speedy.
Don't forget to VPN
Illustration: Jim Cookie/GMG
First, your hotel's Wi-Fi is probably open and unsecured. You should feel a little nervous about using it. You'll feel a lot less nervous if you fire up a VPN while you're doing all of your working, browsing, and video-watching. If you're lucky, a VPN will also allow you to bypass any restrictions your hotel places on content — like, say, limiting the speed of your YouTube connection — if its network has no idea what kind of traffic you're sending back and forth.
Check your rewards status / bug the front desk
If your wireless connection is truly terrible — perhaps you can connect, but it's taking forever to load a single video — be sure to check and see whether any kind of rewards status you have with the hotel grants you access to faster wireless service. Perhaps even signing up for a hotel's loyalty program is enough to give you access to its speedier Wi-Fi, or even regular Wi-Fi without having to pay an annoying daily fee.
And you can always bother the front desk over the fact that your favourite website is taking too long to load, though you might want to phrase it differently than that. If you put up a polite stink, but a firm stink, you might get to go play in the hotel's business centre (if you don't already have access to it), or possibly even land yourself a promo code that lets you access faster wireless service.
The hotel would probably rather have you as a happy patron than be stingy about the Wi-Fi — one hopes.
Otherwise, you could always just go hang out in a more populated area that has a better Wi-Fi connection — like the hotel lobby or even another better-equipped hotel nearby, a trick I have been known to do on trips — if you just need a quick hour or so of recharge time with your laptop before you head out to enjoy your holiday once more.