How to Find Good Internet While Traveling Internationally as a Digital Nomad – Podcast 033

In this episode, B and Jack talks about how to find good internet while traveling internationally. First, they go over what is good internet and also what likely is your internet speed needs. After that, they go over how you can optimize your internet speed. Finally, to conclude, they provide three options for getting internet during travel, and they also point out which option is likely the best.

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1. Summary

Aim of the episode

1.1. The topic of finding good internet while traveling internationally within the Digital Nomad Life System

The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step meta-system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.

The fifth step of the system is called “Nomadic Living”. It is the broadest of all steps in the system. This step can be understood as a collection of all the advice that would be relevant to a digital nomad when he is living in a base. This is very much context-sensitive depending on the specific situation of the digital nomad. You only start to look into good internet connection when you are living in a base. So it makes sense to place it in this step.

To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you can listen to this episode.

1.2. What is a “good internet” connection?

The term “good internet” is a bit vague. Thus, we need to dig a bit deeper.

I am not an expert on the subject but I have noticed that usually when we are talking about a given internet connection, there are four main attributes of a connection we talk about. These are the following: bandwidth, ping, download speed, upload speed.

Let us define each:

Bandwidth: Bandwidth is how much information you receive every second. The higher the bandwidth the better.

Ping: Ping refers to how much time a signal takes to travel to its destination and back. The lower the ping the better.

Download speed: How fast the data can be downloaded on your device. The higher the better

Upload speed: How fast the data can be uploaded from your device. The higher the better.

So what is a good internet connection? Well, that depends on what you need exactly.

Are you into gaming? If you are into gaming, then ping is a very important thing. Otherwise, you will have lots of lag.

Are you a Youtuber? If that is the case, you will need to constantly upload videos, which means upload speed is very important for you.

Do you like working in crowded places like popular coffee shops? If so, then you need an internet connection with high bandwidth to support a number of devices at once, while providing a reasonable speed.

That being said, for the majority of people, the most important factor is download speed. Now the question is how fast is fast enough? Once again, that depends on the nature of what you intend to do online. Hence from here on when I talk about “fast” internet I mean the internet with a high download speed.

1.3. Define your internet needs

We have already established that, for most people, the download speed is perhaps the most important factor. Yet, as I said previously how fast you need will depend on what you want to do online.

Internet download speed is generally measured in Mbps, which stands for megabits per second. The higher the Mbps of an internet connection the better.

So now let us look at the most common internet usage for most people:

Activity

Required Minimum Speed

Recommended Minimum Speed

Email

1Mbps

1Mbps

Web browsing / Text-based work

3-5Mbps

10Mbps

Social media

3-5Mbps

10Mbps

Video calls / Image and Audio based work

3-5Mbps

10-20Mbps

HD streaming

5-10Mbps

10-20Mbps

Online gaming /Video-based work

3–6Mbps

25-35Mbps

4K streaming

25Mbps

35Mbps

Of course the faster the download speed the better, but if you have an internet connection between 10-20 Mbps, then you should be ok for doing most work as well as leisure activities.

The question now follows is: How can I know the internet download speed of a given connection?

The simplest and easiest way is by using an internet connection measuring tool.

There are a number of those available. The one I recommend and personally use is speedtest.net.

Also, the good thing about Speedtest is that you can measure the speed of the internet both on PC and mobile, which makes things much handier.

1.4. 9 things you can do to optimize the speed of your internet while traveling internationally

When we talk about having a fast connection, certain things are under your control and vice versa. Here are the things you can do to improve your internet speed:

A. Consider the general internet speed of the country/city

Different countries have different average internet speeds. Therefore,  if having fast internet is really important to you, then one thing to consider is which city will be your base. What you can do is to select a city with fast internet connections. One good tool to help you figure out the average internet speed of a country is Nomad List. All you need is to search the city you want to go to and see the average internet speed.

B. Upgrade your very old laptop

I do not think this is relevant for most digital nomads since from my experience digital nomads tend to have up-to-date laptops. Nonetheless, for the sake of completion, the tip is here to stay. If you have a laptop that was produced more than a decade ago, then perhaps you should consider upgrading it. That is because sometimes the laptop’s wireless network card might be outdated and consequently incompatible with newer bandwidths from some internet connection. Hence, this outdated hardware might be the bottleneck for your internet connection.

C. Use the internet while plugged into an energy source

Some laptops, by default, minimize the performance of wireless internet connection when they are running on their battery in order to save energy. Therefore, a quick and easy way to potentially increase the speed of your internet connection is by simply plugging your laptop into an energy source.

D. Use an ethernet cable

Nowadays, when we think about using the internet we automatically think about wifi. Yet, if you want the highest internet speed, it is better to use ethernet rather than relying on wifi. So I always carry with me a small ethernet cable. Keep in mind that in most situations, using a cable is not necessary, wifi should be enough. Also, it is impractical, you need a cable connection to use the ethernet, and in most places, these are not available.

E. Combine multiple networks using Speedify

You are probably not aware of Speedify, but this app exists. Speedify is an app with so-called channel bonding technology that allows you to combine multiple internet sources into a single faster, more reliable connection. This means if you have trouble using a single wifi channel, you can combine it with more wireless connections to make it into a stronger network. Granted, you need to use something like an external wifi antenna such as the one in the next tip. I haven’t personally use Speedif myself, but I have been recommended a number of times by other digital nomads.

F. External wifi antenna

All laptops come with a built-in antenna for wifi. The problem is that sometimes this antenna is not the best one. Thus one possible way you can increase your internet speed and reliability is to use an external, plug-in wifi antenna. By having this additional antenna, one additional benefit is you can combine two wifis with Speedify. The wifi antenna I recommend is this: Maxesla USB Wifi Dongle

G. Minimize the number of apps running on your laptop using the internet

The more apps on your laptop that are using the internet, the slower it will be. This is especially the case when it comes to certain kinds of apps like torrent clients, cloud backups. Thus, one simple way to improve your internet speed is to close those kinds of apps while working. If you want to go even further you can use apps like tripmode.ch in order to see all the apps that are using the network as well as being able to block the unnecessary ones. TripMode not only helps you with your internet speed but also saves data usage, which is relevant when you are using something like the special global sim cards.

H. Move around in the room to be closer to the router

Your position with the internet router matters considerably with the internet speed. So one thing you can do in order to increase your internet speed is to move around the room and see where you have the strongest wifi signal. What you are looking for is to stay as close as possible to the wifi router and avoid any physical obstacles between your laptop and the router.

I. Reconsider your VPN

VPNs allow you to browse safely the web. To a certain extent, they tend to slow down the speed of the network. Thus one thing you can do is to turn on the VPN only when you are doing something sensitive on the web (e.g. banking). Whereas when you are doing something less sensitive, you can turn it off to improve the network speed. The VPN provider I have tried that seems to slow the internet speed the least is ExpressVPN. I highly recommend it.

1.5. 3 options in terms of getting internet access while traveling internationally

Now that we have talked about things you can do to have fast internet. Let us talk about the other part of the equation, how you are going to get your internet. Below, I list what seems to be the main options for digital nomads in terms of internet access. Also, the items are in a hierarchical order from the best to the worst.

Plan A: Internet from the accommodation

In my option, the best way to access fast internet as a digital nomad is by renting a place with high-speed internet. That is why this is always my plan A.

There are three reasons why I think this is the best option. First, it is “free”. I mean the cost is most likely included in the rent. Second, you will probably be the only person using the network, which means a stable network. Third,  there is not much guessing involved. You will know in advance about the internet speeds.

Now the question that might follow is: How can I know if the place that I am about to rent has fast internet or not?

Well, that is simple. You can simply ask the landlord to measure the internet speed for you by using speedtest.net. What you need to do is to call them and ask for a screenshot from the internet speed test. Compare your accommodation options and choose one that fits your needs.

Better of all, Airbnb, which is likely the platform you will use to rent, just released a new tool that allows hosts to measure their internet speed using the Airbnb app and put that information in the property listing directly. So you can simply ask your host to do that.

Plan B: Coworking spaces, well-research public wifis, local sim cards

Ok, let us assume that plan A did not work either because you could not find an accommodation you like with good internet, or you simply do not like to work from home.

So what are your options now? I think there are three options that are equally good. Each of those with its own pros and cons.

Coworking spaces: If you are a digital nomad, you probably are already aware of what coworking spaces are. To quickly summarize the idea, these are places where you pay a certain fee to have a working environment. These usually include fast internet, rooms where you can work, snacks, the ability to network with others, among other things. I think coworking spaces are great. The only downside is that sometimes they can be a little bit expensive especially if you are not staying long in a place. Also, in most cities, there are not so many coworking spaces, so you will need to commute quite a bit on a daily basis. Anyway, if you don’t mind the cost and commuting, I think coworking spaces are a great way to find fast reliable internet. But just to be on the safe side, if I were you, before committing myself to a coworking space, I would still check the internet speed using the speedtest.net tool. The best way to find coworking spaces in different cities is by using coworker.com.

Well-research public wifis: You might be asking yourself, what exactly are well-researched public wifis? Well, it means the wifis you researched beforehand with a high likelihood of providing you with fast internet. These can be wifi from a coffee shop, hotel lobby, street wifi, etc. I contract those with what I call random public wifis, which are simply the wifi in the random coffee shops which you have no idea if it is fast or not.

Also, you might be asking yourself how can I research public wifis? There are a couple of different ways. One way is to ask the local digital nomad Facebook group for good public wifis in places like coffee shops. Another way is to use a crowdsourcing service to locate wifis like wifimap.io. Also, you can check nomadlist.com to see their recommended coffee shop in each city. Finally, one good service is https://workfrom.co/. This app is a crowdsourced service where users can input a number of features of different public wifi locations. Among those features internet speed is one.

The good thing about well-research public wifis, especially when we are talking about coffee shops or hotel lobbies, is that sometimes you can get something very similar to a coworking space for free. Yet, keep in mind that even though fast internet is important for working, it is not the whole story. There are other things you also need to consider like energy plugs, sitting arrangements, etc. Anyway, we will record a future episode on what to look for when you selecting a place to work as a digital nomad.

Tethering from a local sim card: This option involves buying a local sim in the country and use it to tether the internet from a device. Typically this device will be your phone. The problem with using your phone as a hotspot is that when you are using the phone for other things, it might render the internet unstable. Also, it will consume a great deal of battery of your phone. Thus if you are considering doing it, you should bring a power bank with you. The alternative to the phone is a travel router. These are devices that you will insert your local sim and it will tether the internet to your laptop. Usually, the benefits of such devices are that they do not consume the battery of your phone and the internet signal tends to be more reliable. The travel router I recommend is this one: TP Link M7000.

The main benefits of using local sim cards as your source of the internet are that they tend to provide you with good internet (e.g. 4G or even 5G) in many places, local sim cards are inexpensive in most places and you can use those to tether internet from basically anywhere. This means you can basically work from any coffee shop, your house, etc.

I will not extend myself too much talking about local sim cards here since we will have a future episode to talk exclusively about that. The things you should watch out for when you acquire a local sim and you only want to use it to tether the internet. The first thing that I would check is if the sim card allows you to tether to the internet at all. It is not common, but some carriers block this function altogether. Another thing I would check is the internet speeds provided by the local carrier. Are we talking about 3G, 4G, or 5G? The difference is quite drastic and perhaps if you are doing work like video-based work, only some of these options will work for you. Finally, the last important thing to watch out for is the amount of data you are able to use. This varies drastically from carrier to carrier. My suggestion is that if you want to get a local sim card for the purpose of using it to tether the internet and your work does not rely on the internet heavily, then I would get at the very least a sim card that offers me 5GB a month. On the other hand, if you need a lot of data, I would look for a local sim card with an unlimited data plan.

Plan C: International hotspot device, special global sim cards

Ok, let us assume that for some reason the internet in the coworking space or the internet that you were tethering from your local sim card stops working. In the meantime, you have a very important video call in 30 minutes. What do you do? That is when plan C comes along. I do not see these as an everyday solution for fast internet, but rather as a backup plan.

International hotspot devices: These are devices that are very similar to travel routers. The only difference is that instead of inserting a local sim, you already have a built-in sim that will allow you to access the internet from most countries. The internet speed from this hotspot tends not to be amazing, but it is good enough. Also, they provide you with the flexibility to work from anywhere. The only big downside of international hotspot devices is the price of their subscription. Usually, these are quite expensive, and to be very honest, it is not worth it considering that there are so many other good options. Yet, among the different global wifi hotspots, the one I like the most is the Skyroam. This is because Skyroam allows you to pay per day, around 10USD per day, instead of forcing you to buy monthly subscriptions. This means that you can use Skyroam Mobile Hotspot as simply a backup option (i.e. you only use it on the days you need.)

Special global sim cards: Once again I will not go in too much in terms of sim card options here since the purpose of the podcast is to talk about how to acquire fast internet. We will have a separate podcast to talk about the different sim card options for digital nomads. But what I mean by special global sim cards are sim cards that offer data worldwide. This means that you will be able to tether the internet to your laptop in a very flexible manner (i.e. you can do it from anywhere that has a signal). There are a couple of famous special global sim cards like Google Fi, World Sim, and GoSim. The reason why I classify this option as a backup option to acquire fast internet as a digital nomad is that the internet speeds offers by such sims vary considerably depending on the country. Also, the monthly subscription is not that cheap. Nonetheless, these are still good viable options as a backup plan especially if you want the additional benefit of having a phone number that works across the globe.

The other options: Roaming from the home-country sim card, global wifi hotspots, random public wifis

I wouldn’t say these other options are necessarily bad for everyone. But they are for most people in most situations.

Roaming from the home-country sim card: This option is bad because it tends to be ridiculously expensive if you want to have reasonable internet. Also, a lot of these sim cards cannot even provide you with fast internet. So unless you are doing a very short trip and really can’t be bothered to find internet, I would skip this option.

Global wifi hotspots: These are wifi networks that you pay a subscription fee to every month. With a subscription, you are able to access a number of different wifi hotspots around the city. Also, the wifi tends to be reasonably fast. The only problem with global wifi hotspots is that I never found one that is really global. This means that since you cannot access those in many cities around the world I do not think these make sense for digital nomads. Conversely, if you only stay in restricted areas (e.g. Europe), you might find one plan that fits your needs.

Random public wifis: We already talked about well-research public wifis. I think those are a great option. On the other hand, random public wifis tend to be unreliable. The reason for that is because it is very much a hit-and-miss approach. Sometimes you might be walking around a city and enter a coffee shop with great wifi. Sometimes the wifi does not even work. Therefore, I do not think you should rely on this option if you want to consistently find fast internet.

2. Transcript

3. Resources