A travel router can be a huge time saver when you’re on the road. You know how annoying it can be having to drop your luggage on the bed and spend 30 minutes connecting all your devices to the hotel Wi-Fi. So much wasted time.
But what does a travel router have to do with this? Well, as it turns out, all you have to do is plug in the travel router and all of your devices should automatically connect to it because it’s a saved network. Now you have extra time for unpacking and relaxing.
You will have to do a bit of fiddling depending on your hotel’s network setup, but as long as you ensure the SSID and Key are the same each time, then all your devices will connect. Most of the time, it works without a hitch.
Also, you can bring along your Apple TV or Roku to stream movies from your laptop. You can also get streaming video from Netflix, Hulu, etc. and bypass the oft-terrible hotel TV offerings. (Though some hotels block Netflix, unfortunately.)
Here’s how to set up a travel router of your own.
For this tutorial I’m going to use the Satechi Mini Wireless Router, but there are other great travel routers out there. For advanced users, you can pick up the TP-Link Portable Router instead, which you can flash with DD-WRT, giving you extra router features to play with.
1. Set Up the Basics
It’s easiest to do these steps before you’re on the road. Plug in the router and connect your laptop to it via Ethernet or by connecting to the router’s Wi-Fi network.
Once you’ve connected, open your web browser and go to http://192.168.1.253. Log in using the router’s default admin credentials.
Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be on the status page for the router. The first thing we need to do is update the username and password. Expand the Management menu and click on Management.
Enter your new username and password on this screen and click Apply Settings. You’re going to use this on unknown networks, so make sure to use a strong username and password. After a few seconds, click Status and a prompt will pop up for you to log in with your new username and password.
The next basic step is disabling WPS. This older router feature is a security risk as it makes it trivial for others to crack your wireless network.
Expand the Wireless menu and click on WPS. Check Disable WPS and click Apply Settings. Allow the router to reboot, and then we’re going to go through the setup wizard.
2. Set Up the Operation Mode
The Satechi router has several different operation modes.
When in this mode, the Satechi treats the hotel network like your router at home treats your ISP: it asks for an IP from the network and manages traffic for all your devices. I like this mode because your router is the only thing that shows up as a client on the hotel’s network.
This means you can easily share out files between your devices. It also means that the guy down the hall doesn’t see your iTunes library as an available share. This won’t stop any serious attacker, of course, but it does offer one layer of security through obscurity.
To enable this mode click on Wizard, then select the Router mode. Then click Next.
On the next screen, leave “Automatically obtain an IP address (dynamic IP)” checked. Then create your SSID. Leave Channel set to Auto. Change Security Mode to WPA2 Personal. Create the key and click Save & Reboot. This should be the default mode you use and it should work 90% of the time.
Access Point Mode
If you have a network that doesn’t cooperate with a router, or you want to connect to devices on the wider network, set up Access Point mode. The difference here is that the travel router will pass along IPs from the network’s gateway.
You’ll still get your own wireless network, but your devices are visible to other users on the network.
Click Wizard but select AP mode this time. Click Next.
On the next screen, put your same network settings you used above. Click Save & Reboot.
If you’re staying at a hotel that only has wireless internet, you will want to turn the travel router into a Wireless Bridge instead. Using this mode will allow you to keep your pre-set networks while connecting to the hotel’s Wi-Fi.
Be aware, this will not get you any extra security. Even if you have encrypted Wi-Fi, only the traffic between you and the travel router is encrypted. You’re at the mercy of the hotel’s network for security from the travel router out to the internet.
To set this up, select Bridge on the Wizard page. Click Next.
Set your SSID and security level. Then select the network you are connecting to and input the key if needed. Click Save & Reboot.
And that’s it! If you chose one of these three modes and if you set everything up correctly, your travel router should be ready to go. Connect your devices to the router using the LAN ports and now you can take them anywhere with very little hassle.
What About Repeater & Client Modes?
You’re not always on the road. It’s nice to have things in the travel kit that can still do duty at home. If you have these modes, your travel router can also work as a Wireless Repeater or a Wireless Adapter. Just make sure to set it back to Router mode with your saved network settings before your next trip.
A Wireless Repeater mimics your network’s SSID to extend its wireless range. This is great for large homes and big venues, but the problem is that devices connected to the repeater lose about 50% of the Wi-Fi’s normal speed. But if you need more coverage, this is a good option.
On the Wizard page, select Repeater and click Next.
Connect to the network you want to extend, entering the key if needed. Click Save & Reboot.
Setting up the router in Client Mode lets you use the travel router to connect to a wireless network. If you have an older machine with a slower wireless card, this is an easy way to speed it up. Or you can set up a wired network printer or NAS without having to put them next to your router.
Select Client mode on the Wizard page and click Next.
Connect to your network, entering the key if needed. Click Save & Reboot.
Don’t Underestimate the Travel Router
These modes are just the basic settings. Satechi includes options for Firewalls, DMZ clients, IP/MAC Address filtering, and port forwarding — just like your home router. Advanced users can ensure that their gear travels with their normal settings intact.
Though it sometimes requires fiddling, a travel router is a huge time saver. This single device to configure will ensure all your devices are online in a few minutes.
What is the tech you can’t live without on the road? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Travel by Billion Photos via Shutterstock, Jellaluna via Flickr, Leonardo Rizzi via Flickr