Mike is wondering if he should do anything to protect himself while using these public hotspots though. Leo says this is an important question because he's on the same network with other people, so there are risks. Other people could see traffic sent to and from his computer, and could use hacker tools that are widely available to get that data. This is mostly an issue when accessing email, but since he uses gmail, it's encrypted and won't be a problem. If the sites he's on use 'secure http' (https), then he should be ok.
He still could get attacked from other people on the same network though, so it's always a good idea to have a firewall turned on. Windows and Mac both have them built-in, so he should just make sure it's on. He could get a VPN for a monthly fee, but he wanted to save money and disconnect his home internet, so that might defeat the purpose.