Travelling in Eastern European countries, particularly those in the Balkans, is a great budget alternative to experiencing Europe without the cost of Western Europe. But how easy is it to access Internet there and continue working while you travel around?
The truth is in 3 years of travel we’ve found very few locations and countries where Internet wasn’t readily available and sufficient for most work needs. Even in the ‘lesser developed’ areas in the Balkans accessing the Internet was no harder than anywhere we visited in Western Europe. In some cases it was easier to find free WIFI there than it was in France, Germany or the UK.
Yes it’s true that connection speeds will most likely be slower than you are used to, especially if you are from the USA or Canada. You might not be talking to clients on Skype with video while uploading photos to Flickr and surfing the Internet at the same time, but most of the time it will be fast enough for anyone’s purposes. I’m a developer who needs to upload and download a reasonably high amount of data, plus keep in contact via Skype with clients and in all honestly there were only a couple of instances where we struck a location where connection speeds were so slow that working was too difficult. Occasionally it took half a day of searching to find a cafe with fast enough WIFI but I could always find something.
Searching out free WIFI
As with almost any country, the larger the city or the more popular a destination is with tourists the easier it is to find decent Internet. If you have a deadline coming up or a backlog of work, it’s a good idea to head to a capital city or tourist beach.
Two of the most reliable and easiest to find sources of fast, free WIFI in Eastern Europe are McDonalds and KFC. You’ll find them everywhere in capital cities, and to a lesser extend in smaller cities. One of the benefits of working from a big western food chain is that they are likely to have a no-smoking policy. A rare thing in Eastern Europe where it’s quite common for smoking laws to be ignored indoors, if those laws exist at all. At the best you might find a restaurant that has a smoking section and non-smoking section, but they’ll usually be right next to each other. Of course if you are a smoker, you’ll probably love Eastern Europe and the fact that you can work, drink coffee and smoke in public all at once!
In the capital cities of Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia you’ll also find Starbucks and a wide range of coffee shops with WIFI. Cafes in larger shopping malls often also offer WIFI, as do restaurants in hotels.
Hotel restaurants can often be your best source of WIFI in smaller towns. The great thing about working from a hotel is that often they built in the best locations so you can enjoy a nice view while you work. Like this one in the Balkans …
Book accommodation with WIFI
Free WIFI can take time to find, especially outside of large cities and tourist areas. But even in big cities if can take you at least a morning to track down somewhere with not only WIFI but fast WIFI and power points (and a non-smoking section!).
To save you that hassle, it’s a good idea to try to always book accommodation that has WIFI. Almost every hotel and hostel we looked at staying in had WIFI. It was almost always fast and reliable.
Privately booked apartments didn’t always have WIFI. It’s definitely worth seeking out ones that do. Honestly it will save you a lot of time!
Prepaid mobile plans and WIFI networks
Pre-paid SIM cards with data plans are easy to acquire and cheap. In Serbia for instance, data plans through Telenor are available for as little as 7 euros for 1G with the initial card costing 2 euros. Simply go into a Telenor shop, which you’ll find all over the country, to purchase your card and buy extra credit. You can then top up at any Telenor store or most newsagents and adding more credit is as simple as sending a free SMS.
The process is similar throughout the rest of the Balkans. Whether you want to add a data plan to your smart phone or use a USB dongle, just ask around at your hostel and someone will be able to point you the right direction for the best company and where to go.
You will need a new SIM card for each country so unless you are in a country for a few weeks it may be cheaper to just use free WIFI.
Some countries in the region offer WIFI networks within certain cities, or even in rural areas. It’s not free but you can pay a small amount per month to access the network anywhere in the country that that network is available in. Did you know Macedonia was the first country in the world to offer a country-wide WIFI network of hotspots?