4 Reasons Why You Need a Travel WiFi Router

November 8, 2018

As we go deeper into our nomadic lifestyle, we are realizing that one of the most useful tools we have for staying connected is a portable router. In this guest post, my husband, Clint Bush, shares his reasons for why you need a travel wifi router.

For those who might not know the function of a travel wifi router, here's a quick IT lesson. Internet connection gets sent in analog form through a cable from the cable company into your hotel or home. The cable connects to a modem that converts it from an analog signal to a digital signal.

A travel WiFi router for international travelers

A router then connects to the modem (or is built into the modem) via a cable. That router turns the internet signal into radio frequencies that are broadcast out. This is WiFi - the radio broadcasting of internet signal.

This post was updated on May 18, 2020.

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Benefits of a travel WiFi router to travelers

Since the WiFi signal is a radio frequency, it is subject to interference that can be caused by other radio signals in the air, microwaves, concrete walls, etc. The point is if you only have a single router outputting a signal on one end of the house or hotel, and you are on the other, do you think the signal is going to be very strong?

For travelers, and especially digital nomads who rely on reliable internet for work, one quick fix is to carry a portable router. Here are four benefits to carrying a travel WiFi router with you when ever you travel.

1. WiFi repeating

This is the first benefit of your own travel wifi router: repeating the signal. Many routers these days have the ability to pickup an existing WiFi signal and extend or repeat that signal.

By placing an additional portable router closer to the WiFi signal, you can extend the distance of that WiFi signal. This increases your coverage across the house or hotel room. You will lose a bit of speed when you do this. Keep that in mind if you are trying to stream video or gaming online.

2. Optional hard-wiring to skip spotty public WiFi

This tip will only help you if you are in a hotel that has an ethernet cable available to you. This is usually the case in business hotels, or if the home or AirBnB you are staying at has the router directly in the unit.

If either of those are the case, and you have the option to plugin an ethernet cable, then having a portable router can allow you to create your own WiFi network off of that wired connection. That means all of your devices can connect to a single WiFi source. This is way more reliable than the Public WiFi available to you.

3. Easy connecting for multiple devices

One of my favorite reasons to use a portable router is the ease of connection setup when I get to a new location for all of our devices. Between our family we have multiple laptops, tablets, phones, and a Roku. Setting up each of these with new WiFi would be a pain in the neck.

My solution is to connect them to the WiFi network I created on the portable router. That way, I just set up the portable router at the new connection. Voilà one device setup and all devices are connected.

We’ve done this while we were slow traveling in cities like Jakarta, Indonesia and Guanajuato, Mexico.

4. Running VPN directly through a router

If you are using a VPN (and you absolutely should be using a VPN when you're connecting to WiFi outside your home!), you usually run it through each device through an application or VPN configuration. This works perfectly fine for my wife and me, since we remember to turn it on before using the Public WiFi.

Using phones for travel WiFi routers

My kids, on the other hand, they never remember. So if they jump on a device, they are accessing the internet without protection. Of course, they are not logging into bank accounts or sharing sensitive information so it’s not that big of a deal. However, for ease of mind, I still want to make sure they are keeping our information secure.

Read up on the other useful travel gear and tools we travel with around the world.

Using a VPN Connection with your travel WiFi router

Having a travel WiFi router that allows for VPN connection directly through the router is the way to go. ExpressVPN has a list of routers they directly work with, but I find them too bulky and expensive especially for travel. I prefer a smaller portable router like Amazon Link: GL.iNet GL-AR750 Travel AC Router that can run OpenVPN directly.

The downside to using something that needs OpenVPN rather than the ExpressVPN routers is the OpenVPN setup is much more involved. It requires a little network knowledge (although ExpressVPN has a good walk-through).

Another major advantage the bulkier approved travel WiFi routers have over the smaller OpenVPN routers is speed. This is especially important when using a VPN. My little router does a great job, but if we need to stream video it can be taxing on it. VPN speeds can throttle quite a bit. Getting one of the bigger approved routers can increase your connection speeds and handle larger bandwidth loads better.

By running the VPN directly through the router, I now know that my kids are automatically connected to the VPN as soon as they start using their device.

Advantages of running a VPN through a router

There are several other advantages of running VPN this way too:

  1. ExpressVPN and other VPN services usually limit your devices you can connect to the VPN at a single moment. ExpressVPN for example limits you to three devices at a time. Have two phone and two laptops between my wife and I alone, we already exceed that. By running the VPN through the router, it only counts as one device rather than four.
  2. My work laptop can’t run a VPN application on it for a number of reasons, so using it through the router is the only option I have.
  3. Roku and other similar devices usually don’t have a way to connect to VPN, so running them through the router that has VPN is the only way to go.

Setting up your travel WiFi router

The actual steps on setting up a portable router will vary from router to router, but here are some tips that helped me:

  1. Find a spot that is centrally located if possible and sit the router mid-level or higher for best broadcasting.
  2. Plug the router directly into the modem or existing router if possible using an ethernet cable. This will give you the best signal strength.
  3. When repeating the existing WiFi signal, do some speed tests on the existing network to find the fasted available network to connect to. Sometimes that is only 1 network, so you won’t have any options there. If there are 5GHz vs 2.4GHz options, experiment with both to see which of the connections your router works best with. There’s a whole side discussion about 5GHz and 2.4GHz that I am going to skip for now, but hit me up if you have any questions regarding that.
  4. Plug the router into a surge protector if possible. Since it will always be plugged in, there is a high risk of power surge. Protect your investment by unplugging at night or plugging into a surge protector.
  5. Use a WPA-2 password key when creating your WiFi network on the router. This will give you the best protection.
  6. Remember when using your portable router, your data is not encrypted unless you are using a VPN. Sometimes there’s a false sense of security because you are using your own router and not the existing Public WiFi. Always use a VPN.

Read here to learn more about the digital nomad worldschooling lifestyle we lead.

A must have for a nomadic lifestyle

For those of us living a nomadic lifestyle, and even if you aren't, have a reliable internet connect while you travel is important. A travel WiFi router can be beneficial for ensuring that we stay connected to the internet.

Do you have recommendations for your favorite travel WiFi router? Share them in the comments below!

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