Ask Wirecutter: What’s the Best Way to Get Fast, Reliable Internet on Vacation?

Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining stuff. Email your biggest product-related problems to askwirecutter@wirecutter.com.


Dear Wirecutter,

Sometimes my family’s work schedule conflicts with our jam-packed camping schedule, and rather than cancel our trips—which are my favorite thing in the world—one of us needs to work the occasional day from the campsite. What’s the best way to get fast, reliable internet while camping in national parks?

AJ


Dear AJ,

This whole remote-hybrid-back-in-office tango has only added to the blurring between time on and time off for many people. Working on vacation seems inevitable sometimes, and I’m not going to pile on about the need to totally disconnect and take mandatory time off to prevent burnout, because you do not deserve a lecture from me.

Instead, I checked in with our staff experts to see what solutions they had to your problem.

Consider what work can be done offline or ahead of time

“If your work allows for it, downloading any cloud files you need before you leave will help speed up the process of not relying solely on a connection,” said Thorin Klosowski, Wirecutter’s editor of digital security coverage. That way, if your internet is weak, you can do most of your work offline and just need enough internet to check in and send anything along.

I also find it wonderful that many emails and Slack messages can now be scheduled ahead. I prefer to compose the message when I’m most focused, then schedule it to send at a more reasonable time so I’m not disturbing someone who is off hours or on vacation. If it can wait, it should wait.

Bring a backup battery

Your biggest challenge may be your phone’s and laptop’s battery usage. I recently answered an Ask Wirecutter question about charging on the go that includes several affordable solutions from senior staff writer Sarah Witman. If you need even more juice and weight isn’t an issue, consider a bigger (pricier) external battery, such as a portable laptop charger or a portable power station.

Anker Powerhouse 100

This compact, 1.9-pound portable charger has an AC outlet, a USB-C PD port, and two USB-A ports, and it can charge even the most power-hungry laptops while they’re in use. Unlike many competitors, it also comes with a 45 W wall charger and a flashlight!

Jackery Explorer 300

If you need more power than just a quick device recharge, this budget pick has greater battery capacity and more charging ports, and it’s more ruggedly built than our portable laptop-charger picks.

Connect with your existing data plan (if you have solid cell-service)

Tether from your phone (or an iPad). Using your phone or another data-connected device like an iPad can be a simple and convenient way to get your laptop running. “Most up-to-date plans have some amount of tethered data allowance. If you have an older plan, you may be able to add on data without spending (much) more,” said senior editor Mark Smirniotis.

This method isn’t fail-safe, though. There’s the possibility that if you’re deep in a national park, you won’t have cell service either. “This is a ‘test before you’re forced to rely on it’ kind of situation,” added supervising editor Arthur Gies. “You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and realize things aren’t working the way you need them to without an internet connection to figure out why. And try it on every device you’re planning on using.”

Check your cell service’s coverage map. Our tests of wireless carriers focused on the greater New York City area, but for more remote destinations, you can also ask around on any destination-oriented Facebook groups, Reddit subthreads, and other relevant online communities for people’s experiences to gauge your likelihood of connectivity .

Get a Wi-Fi hotspot. If your carrier doesn’t cover where you’d like to go, consider a hotspot with a data-only prepaid plan. Verizon is more consistently reliable than T-Mobile in remote areas of the country (but don’t take our word for it—that’s where checking the coverage map comes in).

Verizon Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L

The 8800L works on the fastest, most reliable LTE network and has sufficient battery life to crank through all but the longest workdays.

T-Mobile Inseego 5G MiFi M2000

The M2000 connects to T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G network for fast service that’s increasingly available throughout the US. It also provides adequate battery life and comes with decent pricing options.

Find internet elsewhere (if your cell service stinks)

It may be less stressful to find a location that already has a strong internet connection than to try and manufacture it from your remote vacation destination.

Coffee shops, restaurants, and other businesses usually offer Wi-Fi and are often okay with letting you squat for a bit if you purchase something. I love a local library for this purpose. They usually have air-conditioning and solid internet, and some are even extending the range of their signal to outside the building to increase accessibility in situations where you’re unable to go inside. You can also check with your local branch to see if they loan hotspots so you don’t have to purchase one.

Often the camp’s office/main building has Wi-Fi. “Bring a chair, an umbrella, and some water since there may not be seating available,” said senior editor Grant Clauser, who frequently camps in state parks.

The National Park Service has a list of parks and other facilities with public Wi-Fi. But beware: “When I’ve used it, it felt like the speed was more for checking a map or seeing if I got a text rather than sitting down to work,” said Ria Misra, an editor on Wirecutter’s outdoors team.

If she needs to do more dedicated work, Ria sucks it up and drives into town. The other advantage of going elsewhere is not disturbing your neighboring campers. “As someone who might have the campsite next to them, I’m pretty grateful to not have to wake up to the sound of someone else’s Zoom call.”

This article was edited by Jason Chen.

Leave a Comment