Travel routers - handy tools

Travel routers can make life easier for travelers that carry multiple WiFi-enabled gadgets.

A travel router is a device that can perform the same functions as a home router, but they are generally pocket-sized and optimized for use on the go.

The most common use for a travel router is for an individual or a family with multiple WiFi devices to connect to hotel/motel/other venue WiFi service without every device having to connect individually.

The usual process for this is that you have previously set up your various devices to connect to your travel router (you can set this up at home, or do it in the field, you only have to do it once per device unless you clear your WiFi settings). Then, you fire up your travel router on-site, and connect a device to it so that you can then connect the router to the local WiFi and get through the usual captive portal. Once this is done, all devices connecting to the travel router pass through the router to that single connection.

There are several advantages to doing it this way beyond quick connecting of all your devices.

If you are concerned about data interception on unencrypted connections, which are common in hotel/motel service, most travel routers support use of VPNs for securing your connection.

Also, if you are at a venue that charges per-device for WiFi service, you can pay for one link and all your devices connect through the router on that single connection.

Many venues implement client isolation, which means that devices can only go to the internet via the venue gateway, and cannot communicate to other devices on the venue network. All the devices on your mini-network can communicate with each other freely. If you are familiar with how normal home routers implement NAT, this is the same thing. This also adds a layer of attack resistance to your devices.

Many travel routers have an Ethernet WAN port. For those who may not be familiar with the history of hotels and Internet, there was a period before the era of WiFi when some hotels installed Ethernet cables in guest rooms for connectivity. Some facilities retrofitted this during renovations, others built it in during facility construction. You will not see this in new hotels as WiFi is considerably less expensive to install during construction. Older facilities can retrofit WiFi by putting transceivers in hall ceilings. For those facilities that did install Ethernet, travel routers can turn the Ethernet cable into a WiFi service point.

Many travel routers also have one or more Ethernet ports for clients. If you have an old device with only Ethernet connectivity, this will let you use venue WiFi on such devices.

One use I make of my travel router is to watch Crunchyroll on hotel TVs using a Chromecast, where I have to be on the same network with my phone and the Chromecast for it to work.

You can also do things like connect your phone to your laptop via the travel router for backing up pictures and other data, depending on what your phone supports.

I generally have to keep my work tablet and work phone handy in case of emergencies, the travel router speeds up the process of connection, and lets me link the tablet and phone if needed.

The potential uses of a travel router are limited by your imagination. I mentioned this elsewhere, but will repeat it here as it is relevant. On a recent trip to Canada, I was getting some auto work done, and I got the WiFi password from the shop, setup a mini-network in the waiting room, and used Skype on one of my e-readers to call Boost Infinite while I tried to get Canada roaming fixed. I could have used the phone for this, up until they needed me to reboot it, that’s where it would have fallen down. In the end I still couldn’t use BI service and had to rely on an eSIM profile, but the travel router made for quick setup of the network so that I could try to get the issue fixed while I was actually in Canada. On top of everything else, I was running the router from a power vault, aka: big battery. I also visited some friends and only needed one connection when they allowed me to use their WiFi.

Adding an extra hop might complicate life for on-line gamers, but most things worked well. I’ve been on Zoom, Skype and Teams calls via my travel router with nary a blip. I was able to use WiFi calling on Mint Mobile as well.

One planned use for this summer is when I will be at an event where, depending on which section of the motel I’m in, I may not be able to use WiFi directly on devices less than about 4.5 feet off the floor. Seriously, this drove me nuts until I figured it out. I can put the travel router in a high spot and not have to worry about the issue this year.

While not useful for everyone, a travel router can be very handy if you have multiple devices to drag around, and don’t mind a bit of technical jiggery-pokery.

My specific travel router is a GL.iNet GL-AXT1800. One handy feature of this router for me is the programmable switch on one side, which in my case toggles the VPN function. I just get the connection made, then flip the switch and my connection is encrypted to the VPN endpoint. You have to set this up once. The AXT1800 supports OpenVPN, WireGuard and TailScale (that last may require a plug-in).

To check into these devices, feeding “travel router” into search engines or YouTube will get you lots of information.