Wireless on the Road
You also may find that you pick up a nearby pay access point instead of the free one you were hoping for. Most of the pay services serve you a DHCP address and correct DNS info, but you aren't able to make any mail or SSH connections. In a situation like this, fire up a browser and visit any Web page. Most of the pay wireless services intercept Web requests and serve up a page with information on subscribing. Once you see this, you know what's up and can choose to subscribe or not.
Another common problem is latency. Maybe you got a good DHCP address and DNS is working okay, but periodically the network simply disappears for a few seconds or minutes at a time. This situation, unfortunately, is common among public and hotel wireless setups, and you should be prepared to deal with it. If you can, handle your mail with batch processing: download it all with POP or off-line IMAP, read it locally and then synchronize your mailbox later. If you need to use SSH or a similar interactive protocol, be aware that the network may disappear at any time; save your work often.
What if you weren't able to book a room in a hotel that offers Wi-Fi? What are the options then? Many truck-stop chains offer paid wireless access, as do many airports, coffee shops and a few other stores. Usually these businesses offer access by intercepting browser requests and directing you to a subscription form, on which you can buy access for a day or for longer periods. If you fill out one of these forms over an open wireless link, consider checking that your browser shows you certificate information for each SSL site--you probably checked a "don't show me this again" box for that at some point. In this case, you want to make sure, before typing in credit card or other personal information, that the site requesting the information really is who it says it is. Aside from that, buying access should be a straightforward task.
Ask around town about Internet cafes. In the places I travel, people give me funny looks or else I end up finding a place that has a few Windows computers that people can use for $5/hr or something--not much help. But your luck might be better. Some Web sites are available too that try to list wireless access points (see Resources), but I haven't found them to be accurate for small rural towns.
If your wireless card supports it, you could try driving around town scanning for open wireless networks-- sometimes called wardriving. You might find an Internet cafe where you can sip a latte or a public library with a wireless connection open to everyone. Until the Yellow Pages adds a category for Internet, scanning is sometimes the only way to find such places. Try iwlist eth0 scan, replacing eth0 with the name of your wireless card, if different. Or use one of the Net sniffer programs listed in Resources.
Wireless Internet access is becoming increasingly common, even in rural areas. If you're prepared to deal with a few glitches, you probably can keep your Linux laptop connected while traveling without ever having to fuss with a telephone line. You even may find that it's easier to get a high-speed wireless connection than it is to find a local modem dial-up number.
Wi-Fi Locator Pages
Wiredfreespot - hotels that offer wired Internet access
Google - add "Wi-Fi" as a query keyword
Net Sniffer Tools
Akkana Peck is a software developer who has been working with Linux, UNIX and open source for longer than she cares to admit. When she's not fiddling with her laptop on trips, she lives in the Bay area with her husband and a collection of obsolete computer hardware. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.