Whenever I travel, there's one item I make damn sure is in my bag: my mobile hotspot.
It's an older MiFi, but it works. And it comes in handy all the time, like when the hotel Wi-Fi isn't working (or isn't free) or I'm trying to get some work done in someone's office and don't have their network password.
Why don't I just use my iPhone as a hotspot? For one thing, hotspot mode sucks up battery like nobody's business. For another, I'm on Cricket, and that low-cost carrier doesn't offer the hotspot option. (It's the one thing I don't like.)
And consider this: My phone might be getting no or poor service, while a hotspot on a different network might fare a lot better. (I've seen this happen many times.)
See where I'm going with this? Sometimes you just can't beat the convenience of a standalone mobile hotspot. Like this one: For a limited time, StackSocial has the Novatel MiFi 2 unlocked 4G LTE global hotspot for $89.99, shipped. That's after applying coupon code globalmifi10 at checkout. (Look for the little "promo code" link under the Checkout button.)
StackSocial's regular price is 10 bucks higher, and the MiFi 2 normally sells locked for at least $70. In fact, according to my little bit of research, you can't typically buy the MiFi 2 unlocked in the US. Only our Canadian friends to the north have that option, and it often involves the dreaded two-year contract.
Here, you can shop around and choose whatever GSM carrier will give you the best data deal. Even better, if you head outside the US, you can immediately use the MiFi 2 on foreign networks, just by popping in the appropriate SIM card. Some 150 countries run on GSM, FYI.
Indeed, this is not your father's MiFi. It not only has a screen, but a touchscreen. And not only a touchscreen, but a color touchscreen -- the easier to check status, modify settings, and so on. It supports up to 10 simultaneous connections, provides wireless access to microSD cards, and runs for up to 16 hours on a charge.
Do note, however, that StackSocial estimates two to three weeks for shipping.
Assuming you can score a sweet pay-as-you-go data plan (as opposed to one that charges a flat monthly rate), I guarantee this will become your new favorite travel companion. Or at least your favorite save-the-day tech gadget.
Bonus deal: I can't imagine these will last long, but as of this morning, Groupon still has stock of the refurbished Google Chromecast for $20 -- the lowest price I've seen. Shipping is free, though for some reason I had to pay sales tax.
The Chromecast, of course, is an HDMI dongle that delivers all manner of streaming services to your TV, with your phone or tablet serving as the remote. Ultimately, it makes a non-smart TV smart, and for just 20 bucks. Yes, please!