How To Get Portable Wi-Fi for Traveling


Dave Schafer
Dec 12, 2023
bullet10 min read

Whether you’re heading out for a short vacation or a full-time digital nomad, you need reliable internet to stay connected. Fortunately, there are options to get Wi-Fi wherever you go. 

In this article, we cover your best options for domestic and international Wi-Fi while traveling so you can make an informed decision on what best suits your needs. Let’s jump in!

Domestic travel Wi-Fi options

There are several portable internet setups for U.S. travel. These include hotspot plans—both for your smartphone and for dedicated hotspot devices—as well as satellite internet.

Free Wi-Fi

These are all paid options, and public Wi-Fi is free. While you can bet on using it occasionally or as a backup option, we don’t recommend relying on it for your primary internet connection for a few reasons:

  • Security: Public Wi-Fi is, well, public. If someone wanted to, they could spy on activity on the network, making it a poor choice for banking, email, and other private activities.
  • Availability: You can’t always count on public Wi-Fi being available when you need it. You could check ahead to see if a given campground or other area has Wi-Fi, but if you need internet access, that restricts your travel options to areas that offer it.
  • Reliability: You can’t control a public Wi-Fi network, so its accessibility, speeds, and quality is subject to wide variability. Public networks can also get overwhelmed by too many users, which results in slowdowns.

If you need internet on the go without paying anything extra, check your phone plan. Many have a hotspot feature included at no additional cost.

Cellular internet options

Domestically, you can use mobile data and a dedicated hotspot device or your smartphone and mobile plan to create a personal Wi-Fi network.

Phone hotspots

Nearly all modern smartphones have hotspot tethering capabilities, and many (if not most) phone plans include at least some hotspot data, plus the option to purchase more if needed. Some even offer unlimited hotspot data, albeit at reduced speeds.

These plans typically include a certain amount of data—often called high-speed, premium, or priority data—to use at full 5G speed. Once that’s gone, some providers charge for further hotspot data use. Others let you continue with slower but unlimited data (this is more common with major carriers these days).

If you intend to use a phone hotspot as your primary travel internet—in an RV, for example—you want a plan with enough high-speed data to cover your monthly use (or the largest amount of data available—usually 50–60GB) along with unlimited data at reduced speeds. T-Mobile, Verizon, and a handful of others offer plans that fit the bill.

Some of our favorite phone plans for hotspot use are:

If you go this route, you may also want to consider a cell signal booster to enhance your smartphone’s reception, which can increase the quality of your Wi-Fi network.

The main advantages of using your phone as a hotspot are convenience and cost. You likely already have your phone with you, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing or carrying extra devices or service plans. Just toggle the hotspot on, and you’re good to go.

The main disadvantage of this approach is that you have to use your phone as the hotspot. It’s a major battery drain, which can be problematic if you’re unable to charge. Additionally, some plans (like Mint Mobile’s) draw your hotspot data from the pool of your regular cellular data allotment, which can be limiting. Finally, phone hotspots can also struggle with multiple connections.

Pros
pro Built in to most smartphone plans already
pro Doesn’t require carrying extra equipment
Cons
con Can quickly drain phone’s battery
con Slow drastically after data high-speed allotment is used

Dedicated hotspot devices

If you’d rather not use your phone as a hotspot, you can opt for a dedicated mobile hotspot device and accompanying data plan. Functionally, this is the same as using your phone’s hotspot—it’s based on a 4G LTE or 5G cell signal, and the hotspot turns that into a Wi-Fi network your devices can connect to.

There are two main differences between a hotspot data plan and your phone plan’s hotspot feature:

  • Dedicated hotspot plans can have more high-speed data. This depends on the plan, of course, but some offer up to 100GB, which is nearly double the largest phone allotments.
  • Dedicated hotspot plans typically don’t offer unlimited data. Once your high-speed allotment is used up, you can usually purchase more on an as-needed basis. In contrast, many phone plans let you continue using the hotspot at a (drastically) reduced speed.

Truth be told, there is less reason these days to use a dedicated hotspot. The hotspot function included in phone plans has gotten pretty generous, whereas in the past it was often an expensive add-on with a tiny amount of data.

The main reason we’d advise a separate hotspot device is if you needed to regularly connect multiple devices at one time. A dedicated hotspot device may give better performance in this scenario without destroying your phone’s battery. Some carriers may also put dedicated hotspot data at a higher priority level on the network, meaning you may see better hotspot speeds during high-traffic times.

 

Pros
pro Can often handle multiple simultaneous connections
pro Won’t deplete your phone’s battery life
pro Won’t eat into your phone plan’s data
Cons
con Need to buy, charge, and carry a separate device
con Need to pay extra for service

5G home internet

As 5G coverage has expanded nationwide, major providers like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T have started offering 5G home internet services. These are exactly what they sound like—home internet built around 5G signals, rather than cable, fiber, or satellite. A router in your home acts essentially like a giant hotspot, grabbing the 5G cell signal and turning it into a home Wi-Fi network.

Since these services use 5G, many users wonder if they can be used for travel. Technically, they are portable, in the sense that they can be easily moved to a new location (say, if you move). However, the terms of service for these plans almost always require that they be used only at a single location—we aren’t aware of any exceptions to this.

As such, they aren’t really great options for travel Wi-Fi. However, they make great home internet plans, and they’re affordable, so if you frequently travel to one location, like a cabin, you could set one up there.

Pros
pro Unlimited data with wide availability
pro Affordability
Cons
con Not portable—traveling with it can violate terms of service

4G LTE internet

The previous generation of cellular internet 4G LTE is still widely in use alongside 5G, often working as a fallback network for areas without 5G coverage. You may not notice switching between 4G LTE and 5G, as the speeds can be similar, but 5G is generally faster.

Pros
pro Wide coverage
Cons
con Slower than 5G
con Resellers can be somewhat shady
bullet

A word of caution on Nomad Internet:

Nomad Internet is a third-party telecom reseller that is currently being sued for violations against the Deceptive Trade Practices Act by the Texas Attorney General and has lost its accreditation from the Better Business Bureau.

Satellite internet on the go

Satellite internet is known for its wide availability. That’s kind of the point: You can get it where no other internet options are available. Unfortunately, most satellite internet options are meant to be used at a single location. In fact, there’s currently only one real option if you want satellite internet for traveling: Starlink.

Starlink Mobile

If you want to be able to use satellite internet on the road, Starlink Mobile (also known as Starlink Roam) is your only option. Though it’s expensive (the equipment alone will cost $599–$2,500 up front, depending on your plan), it’s a good option.

There are two plan options:

  • Starlink Mobile Regional is the basic Starlink Mobile/Starlink Roam plan. It offers unlimited mobile data across most of the U.S. for $150 per month. With speeds up to 50Mbps, the plan is slower than Starlink’s standard home internet plans, but the unlimited data, portability, and flexible service make it unique and awesome.
  • Starlink Mobile Priority is for use in motion—say, in a moving RV or boat. This Starlink package gets you unlimited mobile global data inland, plus your choice of 50GB, 1TB, or 5TB of Mobile Priority data with faster speeds. Prices range from $250–$5,000 per month.

It’s pretty easy to decide on a plan. If you need either in-motion or global capability (or both), get the respective plan. If not, go for Mobile Regional.

Keep in mind that, if the plan is for personal use in an RV or similar situation, you could probably get away with using your phone as a hotspot when you’re in motion to save you from shelling out for the Mobile Priority plan.

HughesNet

HughesNet is one of our favorite satellite home internet providers. Unfortunately, HughesNet doesn’t offer portable internet—you can only use your service at a single address. It’s possible this will change in the future, but as of this writing, we haven’t heard of any plans for HughesNet to offer mobile internet access.

Viasat

Like HughesNet, Viasat doesn’t offer travel internet plans. It’s an excellent home internet provider with faster speeds and more data than HughesNet, but it won’t work on the go.

Satellite phones

If you’re only concerned about emergencies, you should consider a satellite phone. These portable communicators can send messages or make calls from remote locales where other service types might be unavailable. Satellite phones can also be convenient for keeping in touch during remote activities like hiking, deep-sea fishing, or mountain climbing. But depending on the nature of your travel, a satellite phone could be the difference between timely rescue and tragedy.

Note that this is not the same as the satellite connectivity on the newest iPhones. The iPhone feature is suitable only in emergency SOS situations—more of a bonus feature than something we’d rely on.

International travel Wi-Fi options

There are a ton of ways to get connected when traveling internationally. You can opt for an international cell plan from a U.S. provider like T-Mobile or Verizon. You can also get a local SIM card from wherever you’re traveling and use that. Finally, you can go with satellite internet from Starlink or try TravelWiFi, an international service provider that sells data plans, SIM cards, and hotspots.

Hotspot device

T-Mobile’s dedicated hotspot plans all include up to 5GB of high-speed international data. There’s a caveat in the fine print that states they’re not for extended international use, though, and 5GB is not much.

Aside from that, you’re more or less out of luck when it comes to getting an international hotspot from a major U.S. carrier. If that’s what you’re after, your best bet is pocket Wi-Fi from a third party like TravelWiFi.

International cell plan from your carrier

If you want to stick with your domestic provider for international travel, you have some options. But the goal is to avoid data roaming or pay-as-you-go charges. These are almost always painfully expensive (sometimes several dollars per megabyte), and you can easily rack up hundreds of dollars in fees over the course of a trip.

Verizon

Verizon’s TravelPass is an add-on to your existing phone plan. For $10 per day, it adds unlimited talk, text, and data (2GB high-speed) in 140+ countries. You pay only for the days you use the TravelPass, so you don’t have to worry about canceling or otherwise messing with your service between trips.

For longer trips, Verizon also offers a monthly international plan, which is $100 per month for unlimited data (up to 20GB high-speed). Just remember—this is on top of your normal monthly bill.

Finally, the Unlimited Ultimate plan includes international talk, text, and data by default, although there are some limits (10GB per month high-speed data, plus you can’t use more than 50% of your data in a foreign country).

T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s Go5G plans all include 5GB of international high-speed data, along with unlimited data at 256kbps (basically unusable, but hey, it’s unlimited!). If you need more, or you’re on a different plan, you can add an International Pass for more data.

AT&T

AT&T offers an International Day Pass for $10 per day. This feature allows you to use your plan’s regular data allotment internationally, so if you have an unlimited plan, you’ll get unlimited international data.

You can add additional lines to your Day Pass for $5 per day, as long as they’re used on the same calendar day. AT&T also charges for a maximum of 10 days in a month—even if you use it more than that—which is perfect for extended trips.

Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile doesn’t really have an international plan or program. It does allow data roaming, but since it’s a prepaid carrier, you need to purchase credits in advance, in $5, $10, or $20 increments.

Mint calls these credits UpRoam to make them sound exciting, but it’s just prepaid roaming with prices to match. You’ll pay $0.02 per megabyte in most countries, which works out to $20.00 per gigabyte—ouch. You can check rates in the countries you’ll be visiting with Mint’s quick search tool.

Some users have reported that Mint has a hidden $60.00 cap on international roaming credits that is not communicated in any of its documentation. In this particular instance, the user only found out when they tried to add more data and were told they had to wait. With Mint’s prices, $60.00 amounts to only 3GB, which is not much.

Visible

Visible offers international services in Mexico and Canada on its more expensive Visible+ plan. Frustratingly, data speeds slow dramatically after just 0.5GB of use per day, but at least these features are already included in your plan, so there’s no additional cost.

Ultra Mobile

Ultra Mobile uses an identical setup to Mint Mobile—down to calling its roaming credits UpRoam (possibly because both companies are actually owned by T-Mobile). To recap, there are no international plans. Instead, you can prepay for roaming data in increments of $5, $10, or $20.

Local SIM card

Another option for internet abroad is purchasing a local SIM card and prepaid plan. For example, in England, you could grab a Vodafone or O2 SIM card and a month-to-month plan. You can then use the SIM card in your unlocked phone or mobile hotspot device.

This strategy is usually better for people who will be in the country for an extended period—say a couple weeks. You can likely get a better experience with a local SIM for less money than sticking with your U.S. carrier, but you’ll have a different phone number. So just remember to let people know how to reach you.

Pros
pro Costs less than data roaming, especially for longer stays
pro Won’t eat into your domestic plan
Cons
con Uses different phone number

TravelWiFi service

TravelWifi is an interesting service that offers SIM cards, hotspot devices, and even a hotspot rental service, all designed for international travel. The rates and plans vary depending on location, but prices are generally reasonable (for international data, anyway). For example, a 30-day, 20GB data package for Australia will cost $102.

The hotspot rental service is pretty unique. You can choose your destination, where the hotspot will be delivered, and where you’ll return the hotspot. There are several data plan options as well, priced on a per-day basis.

TravelWifi’s plans seem to be based on 4G LTE instead of 5G, which means potentially slower performance than in the U.S. That said, we’re usually more concerned with staying connected while traveling without emptying our savings than we are about having the absolute fastest speeds. Plus, LTE is still quite fast in most cases.

Pros
pro Affordable data plans
pro Hotspot rentals
pro Lots of options
Cons
con 4G LTE speeds
con Expensive plans depending on data use

Starlink Roam Global

Finally, if you prefer a satellite option, Starlink offers global mobile satellite internet service in the form of Starlink Roam Global. There are two service plans: Starlink Mobile Global, which uses the provider’s standard satellite antenna, or Starlink Mobile Priority, which uses the Flat High Performance dish and allows in-motion use.

The main differences are hardware and cost. The standard Starlink dish has to be set up every time you connect from a new location—not a difficult process, but potentially annoying if you do it a lot. The Flat High Performance dish is always ready to go, but it has to be mounted to your vehicle, which isn’t ideal.

As for cost, here’s the breakdown:

Plan
Monthly cost
Hardware cost
Starlink Mobile (Global)$200.00$599.00
Starlink Mobile Priority (50GB Mobile Priority data)50GB mobile priority data - $250.00 $2,500.00
Starlink Mobile Priority (1TB Mobile Priority data)$1,000.00$2,500.00
Starlink Mobile Priority (5TB Mobile Priority data)$5,000.00$2,500.00
Pros
pro Wider coverage than cell service
pro More available high-speed data than most international cell plans
Cons
con Extra equipment
con Expensive monthly costs

Methodology

At SatelliteInternet.com, we base our analyses on thorough research, including customer interviews, first-hand testing, results from our speed test tool, and proprietary internet provider data on speeds and pricing. We also dive deep to get all the details on plans, fees, and future developments. We then bring this info together in one place so you can find it easily. Finally, we use our satellite internet industry expertise to help you make the best decisions you can for your household. As always, thanks for reading!

Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).