I beat the Las Vegas heat by heading up to Montréal last week. I ended up with two full days to myself (sans client meetings and traveling) to explore this beautiful Québec city that I hadn’t visited in 15 long years. And I also experienced the digital nomad’s worst enemy: connectivity issues!
Yes, Montréal was lovely, but while I was able to take in the sites and sounds of the city when I wasn’t meeting with my clients, much of my other work ended up on the back burner. This is because Wi-Fi wasn’t my friend this trip.
Over the past five years I’ve spent unchained from a desk, I’ve encountered all kinds of problems finding my way online. And I seem to have run into all of them on this simple week-long trip. I won’t bore you with the litany of ways Wi-Fi was not my friend, but I will provide you with a few key takeaways that may help you be a better prepared digital nomad.
Never expect in-flight Wi-Fi
You can’t rely on being able to access the internet for your work when in the air. Weather, flight patterns, or a crew member forgetting to flip a switch can mean that the Wi-Fi may be inaccessible. Also, not all planes are equipped with this modern marvel, so your aircraft may not have it, even if you were told it would.
If you will be in the air for a considerable amount of time on a “working” day, prioritize and plan your work. Get anything that absolutely must be done online over with before you depart.
Before you board, queue up anything you need to work on. This includes opening web pages, saving screenshots, and downloading like nobody’s business. That way you have whatever you may need to tackle your tasks all set for you, and you may even save money by not needing to buy Wi-Fi.
Be ready to blow through some data
If you are on an international trip, you probably want to shy away from using your phone as-is. International data, text, and calls can create a giant bill before you know it.
I can’t speak to phone plans for folks living outside the United States, but for those in the U.S., your international options aren’t good. But if you have T-Mobile and are headed to Canada or Mexico, as you may be able to continue to use your phone just like you do in the States.
But this isn’t the case for most carriers and destinations. Using your phone the moment you pass a border could be pricy, but many carries offer international options. These still aren’t cheap, but they lighten the blow to your wallet. If you have an unlocked phone–a necessity for a digital nomad who has international aspirations–you really just need enough data and texting to tell people you’ve arrived, grab an Uber, and use Google Maps to make sure you aren’t being taken the wrong way to your Airbnb.
Then you snag a local SIM card and top off that shiny new local number with ample amounts of data. Bonus points if you found a SIM from a carrier that allows you to tether to your computer, which means Wi-Fi wherever!
Read the reviews
Having a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb with bad Wi-Fi can kill your productivity. This is why I now read reviews, looking for any mentions of Wi-Fi issues from previous guests. If there is a hint of connectivity problems and I really want to stay somewhere, I’ll reach out and find out if it’s been fixed. Even if there hasn’t been any Wi-Fi-related reviewing, I may still check in with my host or hotel before I book if I’m planning on doing a substantial amount of work in-house.
And if you find that the Wi-Fi is less than fantastic somewhere you stay? Pay it forward for the next digital nomad: leave a review to this effect for others to find.