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Should You Get Pocket Wi-Fi for Your Next Trip?

Should You Get Pocket Wi-Fi for Your Next Trip?
Jeff Edwards

When a FlyerTalker solicited advice about renting a portable Wi-Fi device for an upcoming trip to Japan, the world’s largest community of expert flyers came through in a big way. Apparently, pocket Wi-Fi routers or Mi-Fi devices, as they are sometimes known, are not only a thing that is available to rent, but renting one can be surprisingly easy and economical as well.

Before posing a serious question, one user asked the community to “keep in mind I know nothing.” You’re not alone squeakr, you’re not alone, but the FlyerTalk community is here to fix this knowledge gap for us all.

“We are planning to travel in Japan for two weeks in December – I hadn’t given much thought to data, Sim cards etc. except a friend who just came back said she found it invaluable to rent a pocket Wi-Fi and extra battery,” squeakr wrote in a post. “I searched in this form for pocket Wi-Fi but all I saw was information about Sim cards. And I’m guessing a pocket Wi-Fi is something you use with your own phone? If there someplace I’m missing to search please let me know but I’d love to know more about pocket Wi-Fi and if there are better alternatives.”

What Exactly Do You Get When You Rent a Pocket Router?

Depending on the plan, a pocket Wi-Fi rental can include quite a lot. Some FlyerTalk members recommend paying a little extra for a spare battery, but even basic plans generally include everything one might need to surf the web on your own mobile devices while exploring the world.

The pocket-sized devices can allow users to connect as many as a dozen different devices, and it operates on a rechargeable battery similar to a mobile phone. The charger (and sometimes even an international power adapter) are included in the rental price. Services available for an extra fee might include inflight connectivity, concierge tech support and bundled international phone plans.

Some providers also offer “Kitestring” security services for those traveling alone. If the person renting the device fails to respond to a daily or semi-hourly text message, then emergency contacts back home are automatically alerted. The pocket router can then be used to help track down the missing solo traveler using the device’s current and previous locations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Isn’t a Mobile Hotspot the Same Thing?

According to testimonials in the FlyerTalk forums, so-called Mi-Fi devices and mobile hotspots share many of the same features, but there are a few advantages and disadvantages to choosing to rent a pocket router rather than using an international SIM in one’s mobile phone and then taking advantage of the phone’s personal hotspot.

For those planning adventures beyond simply sightseeing or business travel, the relative ruggedness of pocket routers might hold some appeal. The devices also tend to be more or less plug-and-play which has obvious advantages to repeatedly changing SIM cards and hoping everything from a technical standpoint works as advertised. The rented Mi-Fi type devices also make it just a bit easier to control costs; pricing structure is generally more cut-and-dry than purchasing an overseas voice and data plan for one’s specific phone.

The pocket Wi-Fi devices are ideal for those traveling in large groups. Several travelers can use the same mobile router through their own devices and split the cost of the rental rather than each member of the group having to rent their own device.

Wait Won’t My Hotel Have Wi-Fi?

Unless you intentionally stay somewhere “off-the-grid,” then your hotel will likely have complimentary or reasonably priced Wi-Fi available. For those travelers who just want to check email at the end of the day, download a few maps and send some vacation pictures home, a pocket Wi-Fi rental might be overkill. On the other hand, for those who absolutely need to stay connected with work (or Instagram), the Mi-Fi router might just be what the doctor ordered.

Of course, not everyone has the same connectivity needs. Sometimes, gaming just can’t wait for a free Wi-Fi zone.

“If you’re on TMO, you probably don’t need to rent a pocket Wi-Fi,” vletnguyen offered.“I and a bunch of other people I know traveled to Japan without renting a pocket Wi-Fi and it worked fine, slow … but fine. I used it for g-maps, apps for the train/subway and some Pokemon go.”

Renting A Mi-Fi Device Sounds Like a Hassle

FlyerTalkers who have used Mi-Fi or other rental Pocket Wi-Fi devices say the process was surprisingly easy. The rental agreement can be handled online and the devices can be delivered and returned from home before and after traveling. Major airports in Japan also have kiosks where the devices may be picked up or returned.

What If the Rental Pocket Router Is Stolen?

For those traveling to Japan, there is apparently no need to purchase extra insurance to protect against theft of the rental pocket Wi-Fi device. The FlyerTalk forum might have you convinced that you don’t even need to lock the hotel room door when leaving for the day (please always lock your hotel room door).

“As for your iPhone being stolen…wont happen,” vletnguyen promised. “My cousin left her phone and wallet at a coffee shop and came back an hour later, it was still there. A friend left his wallet at a busy restaurant in one of the train stations, it was still there when we returned. Bikes with shopping bags left outside unlocked everywhere. It’s not San Francisco thats for sure. Japan is an amazing country, do not worry.”

Sounds Expensive

For those traveling solo, a pocket Wi-Fi device can be cost-prohibitive depending on the data plan. The rental fee and data fees can cost more than $10 per day. Most companies charge additional fees for shipping, handling and sometimes even dropping the routers off in person.

What Is the Best Plan?

Finding the best plan for renting a pocket Wi-Fi device can be a challenge. What is a good deal for someone sticking to mostly metro areas could be useless for someone exploring more far-flung destinations. A business traveler won’t likely be happy with rental companies geared towards backpackers and someone visiting multiple countries might want to consider another option altogether.

There is no need to despair being spoiled for choices – the FlyerTalk forums have tested, compared and contrasted nearly every pocket Wi-Fi outfit in Japan and abroad. Finding the right plan is just a click (or two) away.

Is Mi-Fi Even a Thing in Countries Other Than Japan?

Unlike many other gadgets and conveniences, rental pocket Wi-Fi devices aren’t just available in Japan. The devices are remarkably popular in North American and Europe as well, but that is perhaps a forum discussion for another day.

Have you ever rented a Mi-Fi Device, mobile hotspot or similar pocket router type device? Was it reliable and convenient or just another unnecessary travel expense? In the travel technology forum, the FlyerTalk community is discussing the pros and cons of paying to keep the world wide web in your pocket while traveling abroad.

 

[Featured Image: Flickr/Junpei Abe]

View Comments (4)

4 Comments

  1. Dalo

    September 25, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    In Thailand you can buy a pocket wifi at an AIS dealer for about $50 . Then you need an AIS (pay as you go cell provider) sim card with the price varying depending on GB and duration . The wifi works with up to five devices and works anywhere you have cell connection .

  2. Jason Tsongas

    September 27, 2019 at 4:53 am

    That picture is not an OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA as labeled but rather a EMobile router.

  3. bon mot

    September 27, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Do NOT fall prey to the myth of no theft in Japan! While it is decidedly less problematic than in other countries, it does happen. Remember, people from all over the world visit Japan and many of them value individualistic wants over the welfare of the group. My daughter had all her possessions stolen while on a train to Fukuoka including ID and electronics. She has caught men trying to unzip her things (presumably to steal). It does happen.

  4. grumbler

    October 1, 2019 at 7:11 am

    I routinely use mifi devices in Korea and Japan because of the speed.

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