How to get wifi passwords & free wifi when you are traveling

Inventing is so much fun. When you think you’ve invented something new, it’s an awesome feeling. Then when you realise that your invention would never work, instead of being depressed, you find yourself slap bang in the middle of another potential invention, and so the cycle begins again.

My first solution-vention was this solo travel safety location device, but when I tested out my theory, I discovered that it wouldn’t work because I didn’t actually buy a Sim card when I got to Peru.

As a result, I found myself in the middle of another problem – where can I find wifi passwords to access free wifi when I am traveling? All of a sudden, I became hyper aware of my desire to find wifi passwords everywhere I went.

On one occasion, I was in Ollantaytambo, Peru, with a few hours to kill before grabbing the train to Machu Picchu. I had sent a friend in town a Facebook message before arriving to arrange to grab dinner with her. But when I got there, my only option to get wifi was to pay and sit to get coffee. I didn’t want coffee. I didn’t want to sit. I just wanted to see if she had written back.

In the end we just bumped into each other by chance (Ollantaytambo is a pretty tiny town) so we didn’t need technology’s help, *gasp*; but I can often be found hovering outside coffee places just to send a quick message or check my email. I even snuck into Starbucks in Cusco recently, *only for their wifi*, and hid in a corner until I had done what I needed to do 🙂

I wondered why I couldn’t just have a crowdsourced list of wifi passwords to log into one of the many wifi hotspots in Ollantaytambo. [Having open wifi in cities will happen sooner or later, and perhaps that’s a bigger solution-vention for when I graduate from these smaller thought exercises… I need to build up to it 🙂 ]

I remembered foursquare tips contained passwords, and so my brain got to solution-venting.

Foursquare wifi password for Ollantaytambo

Why couldn’t I scrape all the passwords from foursquare, add in a community element so people could comment when they are or aren’t working, and make it available offline?

I was ready for my third solution-vention exercise! So next I went looking for competitors.


I found the usual iPhone wifi hacking apps  for proper hackers with jailbroken iPhones and a desire to crack passwords, or take advantage of hardware loopholes.

But then, after more searching and a useful Reddit thread, I found it – 4sqwifi.

Released 2 years ago.

Invention is so humbling.

4sqwifi to find wifi passwords when you are traveling

I downloaded it but lucky for me, I was disappointed. Why?

  1. I had to log in with Foursquare. Foursquare? That’s lame.I understand it makes it easier for users to add more tips of wifi passwords directly to foursquare, and you are always aggregating the latest tips… but no one uses Foursquare!
  2. It doesn’t work offline. So it’s basically the equivalent of what I already do whenever I remember to do it – which is go into foursquare, and do a search for wifi. Why not just use Foursquare then?

My design

So not to waste my weeks invention exercise, I set to work improving this already extremely well executed app.

Ideally I wanted a clean dataset, pulled from multiple sources including Foursquare, maintained by a community.

I wanted it to work at least for the situation in Ollantaytambo so it needed the following functionality:

– Be available offline

– Be able to search by name of town, or name of coffee shop

Some extras:

– Background tasks to check up to date-ness of wifi passwords

– Allow users to login to add a comment or help improve app

In a future version, I envisioned it being able to automatically log in to an available wifi network, but I tend to shy away from solutions that are off limits by Apple rules. I like to think of these rules as creative constraints, but perhaps that’s naive of me…  

There are rules and restrictions about scraping data from Foursquare, or caching/storing that data for later use. As this is just a thought experiment, I just ignored them for now to see if I could even get the data I need.

So I tried their explore API, searching for wifi near Ollantaytambo using this query:,-72.264268

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 19.59.41

And got what I wanted – a venue list with wifi tips attached:

Using Foursquare explore API to get Wifi Password Dataset for Venue

Using Foursquare explore API to get Wifi Password Dataset for Venue

Next step – put the relevant data in a database somewhere and clean it up… and do this for every city I am planning on attending in the next few weeks/months.

Unfortunately, this is where my time ran out for this week’s solution-vention experiment, but I will keep you updated on my progress! To hear more, subscribe for a weekly newsletter here

Some learnings: 

What’s useful about seeing someone else’s execution is becoming aware of the business opportunity – which in this case is ridiculously small. But luckily, that’s not the point of this experiment of mine. I keep having to remind myself that this is not about building a multimillion dollar company, but about training my invention muscles.

Have you ever used 4sqwifi when you’re travelling or otherwise? Any feedback?

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3 thoughts on “How to get wifi passwords & free wifi when you are traveling

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