For travellers on the hop, free Wi-Fi is a godsend

John Gushue
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As I type this, we are, as they used to say in the movies, somewhere in England. To be exact, we’re heading out of London and on the highway to Oxford, in the latest leg of a family vacation that has been altogether wonderful and filled with exciting moments.

On this particular journey, we’re on what’s called the Oxford Tube, which isn’t a subway at all, but rather a bus (a double-decker, of course).

A feature that caught our interest was free Wi-Fi. It was hardly the key selling point, but I can see why the operators pitch it. Compared to rail and other bus lines that run the same route, the Oxford Tube offers a competitive advantage.

Having been on the road for a couple of weeks, I’ve come to see

Wi-Fi (and the evolution of how we gain access to it) as a key ingredient in the many decisions that travellers make along the way.

Don’t get me wrong: one of the pleasures of a holiday is unplugging … or at least being able to pull many of the plugs. I knew I was relaxing when I had to ask what day it was, and I’ve successfully avoided work emails for quite a few days in a row.

But it has been handy to have wireless connections for a variety of reasons, from researching our next stop to posting pictures to relaxing with an online game or two. And, of course, to make sure a line of communication with family and friends is maintained.

That’s the balance of modern holiday-making: cutting yourself off for much of the time, then enjoying a burst of connectivity when you can find it.

That said, I take it for granted now that Wi-Fi will be available with accommodations. That indeed seems now to be a given, even with the apartment rental route that we followed on this particular trip.

Outside your room, however, things really vary. I appreciated the service when it was provided in situations where your time might be better spent, like waiting areas in airports or subways, or in queues for attractions. In other words, those moments when you have no choice but to stand (or sit) and wait.

There are interesting developments afoot for transportation and wireless. In the U.K., authorities are working on a plan to provide high-speed wireless on most railway lines by 2019, with speeds faster than commuters will likely have at home. The policy seems driven in part to encourage productivity as much as to promote mass transit.

Here at home, Metrobus in 2010 introduced (rather quietly, I think) free Wi-Fi on some of its buses, namely the low-floor ones. An expansion would be in order; perhaps soon the outdoor bus shelters themselves may also have a wireless hub. That might help attract new riders.

As well, having encountered several pay-as-you-go airports and train setups in Europe, I’m especially happy with the easy access to wireless in St. John’s and similar airports, not to mention the easy-to-find powering stations. Trust me; that can be a blessing.

Domestically, I’m still waiting for a major advance to arrive for travellers, and that is in-flight wireless. Air Canada is a client of Gogo Inflight Internet, but it is still only available on some flights over the U.S. I very much enjoyed an experience I had on a flight more than two years ago, but things have not yet fallen into place for domestic flights to have this service.

That’s enough thinking, and surfing, for now. Time to rest my eyes, and get ready for the next round of sightseeing.

John Gushue is a digital producer with

CBC News in St. John’s.

Twitter: @johngushue

Organizations: Oxford Tube, Air Canada

Geographic location: Europe, U.S.

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