How To Get Online On Holiday

We make sense of mobile data and dongles

Going online is a necessity for many travellers. It enables us to get accurate weather predictions, to check flight statuses and to find out about local tourist attractions. So how do you get connected when you’re far from home?

Many hotels, resorts and attractions promise free Wi-Fi, but in some cases the Wi-Fi is limited to a single device, and you’ll often find that the service is too slow to stream TV programmes. In some cases the Wi-Fi will block specific servers and websites.

You can get around the single-device limit if you have a smartphone with a Personal Hotspot feature. This creates a Wi-Fi network that other devices can connect to, but all the data runs through the phone. It won’t change any blocks on streaming – if you’re determined, you can get around them using Virtual Private Networking software – or speed up very slow internet connections, but it does mean the kids can connect their Kindle Fires or other devices when the weather isn’t brilliant.

Sometimes, the best way to go online is to use your phone’s data connection – 4G coverage in most big holiday destinations is very good. The main concern is the potential cost, with some tourists running up massive mobile phone bills during their holiday.

But mobile data needn’t be expensive. It might even be free. Each major operator has a list of countries where you don’t need to worry about big data bills, so for example Vodafone offers free roaming across 48 different countries on Pay As You Go and 77 countries on contracts that include Global Roaming Plus. Always check before you go: if your phone contract doesn’t include roaming you can usually buy a roaming add-on, such as a certain amount of data for a fixed fee. It’s usually much cheaper to buy a data bundle than to incur charges when you’re abroad, and if you need more you can buy another one via your provider’s app or website. But check coverage – you can’t use your phone if your destination has no signal.

If you want to connect laptops or other devices and your phone doesn’t have the virtual hotspot feature, another option is to invest in a data dongle. This can be a device that plugs into your laptop’s USB port to give it mobile data access, or it can be a dedicated device that creates a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. At the time of writing, Vodafone’s mobile Wi-Fi hotspot is £50 on Pay As You Go. That price includes 15GB of mobile data, which lasts for up to 90 days before expiring.

If you’re using public Wi-Fi networks, be very careful: it’s really easy to set up a convincing-looking but fake Wi-Fi hotspot to intercept people’s internet traffic. If you need to do secure things such as online banking, consider investing in an app such as Tunnelbear. It creates a secure, your-eyes-only tunnel between you and the site or service you’re using.