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The best portable wifi hotspot for travel
Internet connectivity. It’s usually a love-hate relationship for many, especially those who believe they have become a slave to being “on” all the time. For us, and me in particular, I love being connected and hate that feeling of being disconnected. Sure, I can become a slave to it like anyone else, but I truly love having it there at MY beck and call, whenever I need it.
The more we travel, the more I realise how much we rely on connectivity for every part of our trip. Gone are the days when we carry huge and heavy guides around, and I wouldn’t even know how to find a phone number now without the internet. It’s our source of information, guidance, help, communication and even fun and entertainment.
Having access to constant, fast speed internet, therefore, is a priority for us when we head overseas.
On our latest trip, we travelled with the aptly named Travel Wifi to keep our travels on the rails. Having also just spent some time travelling with people from another country and watching their issues with connectivity, I know how frustrating this topic can be. Searching for, and finding the right wifi that will suit your needs in another country can be difficult and downright confusing.
We’ve found the best portable wifi for use when travelling in Europe. Whether you use wifi a lot or a little, here’s what you need to know to assist you with your decision.
Getting the best internet for travelling
There are several ways of being connected to the internet when you are travelling.
Local sim card
Buying a sim card in the country you are travelling in is one option. This gives the added advantage of being able to make phone calls as well as access to data via a cellular connection as opposed to wifi. Local sims must be purchased at stores in the country you are travelling in and can often involve having to complete a lot of paperwork. You will also need to work through the various plans on offer.
Local sims will only work in the country in which you purchased it. So, for example, if you are travelling in three European countries, you will require three different sims, each time you change a country. There are EU sims that cover all countries of the EU and some non-EU that have agreed to the terms but these are not a simple transaction and will usually require proof of EU residency.
Buy a plan from your provider at home before you leave
An alternative is to extend the service you usually use at home to overseas. These range in price and quite often only have a low data allowance included. Additional data usage can be quite expensive. Similarly, this is a cellular connection and not wifi.
We recently travelled with some people from America who had plans with their international provider. One of them blew all of their allocated monthly data allowance in one day using Google Maps. From thereafter, things got very expensive to use more data and she had to try and rely on public wifi.
Another option is to rely on public wifi. Public wifi can be great but it can also be sporadic, slow and it’s usually never around when you truly need it. You’ll often find you’ll have to buy a beer at a bar, or food and drink from a cafe to get access to the passwords. Also, public wifi isn’t secure so you wouldn’t be able to do anything of a sensitive nature like banking.
Rent a personal travel wifi hotspot
These can be called many things. A portable wifi hotspot, a portable wifi device, mobile hotspot, portable wifi, pocket wifi, portable wifi router….the list goes on. Essentially, it is a small device that contains a sim card that allows you to connect to it as you would your wireless router at home. It opens up wifi access to your devices. Travel Wifi is one of these and you can read on to find out more about this particular brand of portable wifi hotspot.
What is the Travel Wifi?
Travel Wifi is a portable wifi device or hotspot which provides you with constant wifi access wherever you go. The device is small enough to fit into a pocket or small handbag. Once turned on and connected to your devices, it offers 4G/3G internet speed with a password protected connection.
Up to 10 devices can be connected at once, meaning your smartphones, tablets and laptops can enjoy continuous connectivity. More than one person can use simultaneously. It’s up to you who to give the password to. Generally speaking, most people would just be connecting with other family members.
Summary of features
Many of these are explained in further detail below, but these are the key features of the portable wifi device run by Travel Wifi.
- Secure online booking and ordering.
- Wifi device can be picked up and/or delivered to your location of choice meaning your trip starts off hassle-free.
- A range of plans to suit your needs and countries.
- No expensive global roaming charges.
- Excellent coverage in countries all over the world.
- Fast and constant connection.
- Connects up to 10 devices simultaneously.
- Password protected wifi connectivity.
- Easy connection with no installation or configuration required.
- Fast to charge with 5-7 hours of battery life (general guide)
- Fits in your pocket. It’s small and lightweight.
How does it work?
It’s super easy. Whilst I am technically literate, there’s no skill required to activate and use the Travel Wifi. It arrives all ready to go, with some very basic instructions. These aren’t the basic instructions you get when you buy a new piece of electrical equipment and they somehow expect you to have a degree in rocket science.
Turn it on. The button is on the front of the device.
Allow the portable mobile device to find a network in the local area.
Go into the settings on your phone, device or laptop and find the name of the Travel Wifi network. Select the network.
Tip: The mobile device actually has the name of the network and the password on the back of the device.
It will then prompt you to enter the password. Enter this into your device and you will be connected.
Once you have connected initially to each device it will automatically connect you each time you turn the Travel Wifi back on. There will be no need to keep entering in passwords.
That’s it. There’s no need to configure anything yourself and there are no apps to download either.
How do I get it?
Receiving the Travel Wifi couldn’t be any easier, with a number of options available to suit your travel plans.
Pickup at the Travel Wifi office
The Travel Wifi office is in the centre of Paris at 9 Rue aux Ours, 75003 Paris (1st floor).
Access is easy from either the Metro Rambuteau or Etienne Marcel Metro stations.
Pickup from a Paris airport or Tourism Office
At Charles de Gaulle and Orly Airports, Tourist Information desks are the pickup locations, should you wish to pick the wifi device up as you are passing through.
There are also key locations including stores located in other parts of central France. Tourist offices also play a role in French regions such as the Alps, Provence and the Riviera.
Delivery to your preferred location
Travel Wifi will deliver to your hotel, your apartment, a post office or even a store. A few things are worthy of noting here. If you choose a shop, be sure to know that it will be happy to accept a parcel and check the opening hours fit in with your arrival and planned pick up. It wouldn’t be great, for example, if you arrived on a Saturday, only to find the store closed for the entire weekend and you were leaving the city again before the store re-opened.
Similarly, be careful with Airbnb apartments. Whilst I have had items delivered to apartments before, my experience this time was a little more frustrating. Prior to asking Travel Wifi to send the mobile wifi device to our apartment ahead of our arrival, I sought permission from the Airbnb landlord. He agreed, approved me passing on his details, and said that there would be no issues in delivering the item. I then passed all of the required information on to Travel Wifi.
Unfortunately, a few things went wrong. The landlord didn’t live in or near the apartment. The mailboxes for delivery were inside a “residents access” area only. A key, or someone at home, were vital for this transaction to occur. This meant the courier company couldn’t leave the parcel. Travel Wifi contacted me to say that delivery had been unsuccessful and we then sought to attempt re-delivery.
I could not get any further assurance from the landlord that this wouldn’t occur again, so we went to Plan B to have it redelivered elsewhere. As we were doing this, the courier company attempted the redelivery again, this time leaving it in a shop near the apartment.
This issue had nothing to do with Travel Wifi and their service throughout was amazing. It serves just as a gentle reminder to be very particular with where you ask your device to be delivered to.
What is in the Travel Wifi kit?
It will arrive in a satchel with a few items inside to ensure you are connected in no time.
A zippered case contains the portable Travel Wifi device, along with a USB charging cable (with European plug). The cable separates from the plug, meaning it is capable of being put into a smartphone charging unit or USB port of a computer also. A return, self-addressed envelope is also included, along with some quick instructions on how to get connected. The case is great for keeping all the bits and pieces together.
In a nice touch of customer service, the portable wifi device arrived fully charged and ready to go.
Where does it work?
It works in countries all over the world, offering 4G and 3G speeds, depending on the plan you sign up for.
To look at the areas you will be travelling to, click the coverage map.
How long does the battery last for?
The battery surprisingly lasts quite a while, on average 5-7 hours. As a general rule, I charged the wifi device every night and then turned it off until the morning. This kept it going all day without having to recharge.
It recharges quite quickly, although it’s always best to recharge constantly as opposed to it being completely flat.
If you are travelling in a car, the wifi device can also be charged via a 12-volt socket.
How can I keep track of the data I use?
The data usage is shown on the front screen of the wifi device. If you go over your data allowance, the speed is slowed down until the next day.
Can I use it to make phone calls?
Technically, the answer is no. This is a mobile wifi device and does not contain a sim card for making calls in the usual way via the phone. However, because it is a wifi device, methods like Skype and Facetime, which allow for audio and video calls to be made via a wifi connection are absolutely possible.
What does it cost?
Travel Wifi offers a range of plans for their portable wifi device, meaning there is a plan for every traveller who wants hassle-free access to wifi.
Three main categories of plans cover usage in France, Europe and the world. Prices depend on the plan, the data allowance and the number of days you will rent the mobile device. The longer the rental, the cheaper the daily rate.
For current plan prices, see the Travel Wifi website. The Travel Wifi portable hotspot can only be rented.
There is also a postage cost for delivery and return of the wifi hotspot, depending on the location and standard of mail. Picking up yourself is free.
It’s really important to keep the Travel Wifi portable wifi device secure as failure to return it will result in a fee of €150 being charged.
Is it secure as other people can see my network on their devices?
Other people around you, in the range of the mobile wifi device, will see the network pop up on their screens if they are looking for a network to connect to. It’s like being able to see your neighbours at home, or if you live in an apartment building, there will be heaps of networks around you.
The great thing about the Travel Wifi though is that it offers you a personal, secure connection. Only those with the password can access the Travel Wifi network. Others can try, but when they go to connect, it will ask for the password. If they don’t have it then they can’t connect it.
To keep your password protected, ensure the Travel Wifi portable hotspot is kept with you at all times, especially if you are sharing an area with other people. It also means you are protecting your data usage as well.
How do I book and pay for it?
Like everything associated with Travel Wifi, they’ve made this part simple as well. Bookings are made online and only require a few pieces of information. Payments are made at the same time using either a credit card or Paypal. Confirmation is received online, locking in your mobile wifi device, ready to be delivered to the location you have requested on the appropriate date.
How do I return it?
If it’s easy to receive it, it’s even easier to return it. The easiest by far is returning it in France. Here you simply package up all the cables and other things that came with the device, including the mobile travel wifi device itself, pop it into the small satchel that was in the original parcel and place it into a yellow La Poste box in France. That’s it. Nice and easy.
Were there any issues?
Not a single one. There were some locations where the wifi signal strength dropped to 2G or we had a few dead spots, but this is completely normal. On these occasions, we were in reasonably remote areas, where the infrastructure was not available. For all other times in both France and Portugal, it worked like a dream. At most time, there were two of us connected with four devices.
This is the best part (well apart from the device itself). All contact I had with representatives from Travel Wifi was excellent and they were always helpful. Being able to receive the device directly to your location of choice in France is also a huge advantage and all part of the customer service process.
What did we use it for?
The quick answer…..everything! The travel wifi hotspot was with me at all times.
Tip: I also carried the charging cable with me, especially on long travel days, just in case I used the wifi device a lot and the battery needed charging. Some might decide that if it runs out, then that’s a chance to detox. As I said at the outset, that’s not me, so carrying the light cable with me wasn’t an issue.
- Using the internet (constantly) for general searching, social media and accessing apps.
- Google Maps, both when we were driving in a campervan in Portugal or in any of the cities we visited to find certain destinations in otherwise difficult to find streets and locations.
- Calling family on Facetime back in Australia.
- Sending emails.
- Streaming Netflix. Unless you have a huge data plan it’s probably not ideal but this was all part of my testing how good the portable hotspot worked.
- Booking Ubers.
Where did we use it?
- Airbnb apartment and hotels.
- Airports and train stations.
- Public transport including the Paris Metro and buses, trams and trains in Portugal.
- Out in the street all over Portugal and in France.
- Bars, restaurants and cafes.
- On a luxury barge on the canals of France.
- In a campervan on our road trip in Portugal, in a lot of areas that were quite remote.
The list is endless really. Wherever you have a connection you can use it anywhere.
Would we use it again?
Yes, we would. As I’ve noted above, this travel wifi hotspot worked just about everywhere we went. Using any sim card or personal hotspot will never be perfect as you are relying on the telecommunications infrastructure in the location you are in. This was fairly close to perfect though. Having constant wifi access with us streamlined our travel and work requirements.
The use of wifi is something upon which we are heavily dependent and this ticked all of our boxes in terms of access to a reliable connection and data speed. Being easy to book, set up, carry and charge just adds to its usefulness. The Travel Wifi portable mobile hotspot is great for international travel and we are happy to recommend and use in the future.
Travel Wifi provided us with a mobile device for purposes of trial and review. All editorial content is completely independent and all thoughts and opinions are our own.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.