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Whether you are going on a business trip and need to communicate with your colleagues or are just going on a vacation and need to have access to the Internet on the go so that you can check what the coolest restaurants in your destination are, staying connected on the road is likely important to you.
In this article, I’ll explore the three ways you can stay connected on the road, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as the equipment including travel routers you will need for each of the methods.
If you are in a hurry and are specifically looking for a travel router, I suggest you to have a look at the Satechi Smart Travel Router that I look at in more detail further down in this article.
Otherwise, keep on reading to learn more about the topic.
The Three Ways to Stay Connected on the Road
While this article focuses on international travel, the below three ways of connecting to the Internet on the road apply (less the expensive roaming charges) for domestic travel as well.
Method #1: Connecting Using a Mobile Network
The first, easiest, and most convenient way to connect to the Internet on the road is to use your cellphone’s data connection. Now, of course, if you are traveling abroad then you need to either make sure that your data roaming fees are reasonable or that you get a local (or travel) SIM card.
The reason I point out the roaming fees is that depending on your provider, if you switch on data roaming and have, for example, apps updating in the background or photos syncing into the cloud, you might unknowingly accrue hundreds if not thousands of dollars in data roaming charges. Luckily, my provider only charges about 10 dollars per day of use in the vast majority of countries.
Even with that, however, I find it more reasonable to get a local SIM card whenever I travel to a foreign country for more than two or three days. While you can certainly get the SIM card after arriving at your destination, I prefer to find one on Amazon, so that I can set it into my phone on the airplane and can get connected as soon as I land.
As far as the device you use to connect is concerned, if you are data roaming then you can just use your regular cellphone. If you are planning on getting a local SIM card, at the very least, you will need to make sure your cellphone is SIM-free (unlocked) so that you can use the local SIM card with it.
However, I suggest you to either get a cheap Android smartphone (such as the Asus ZenFone 3) or a dedicated 4G travel router (such as this one from KuWFi) that you can use to tether the Internet to your regular smartphone and computer. That way, you can keep your primary phone number active on your regular cellphone in case someone needs to reach you and use the local SIM card in your “dedicated travel device.”
Method #2: Connecting to a Public Wi-Fi
The second option is, of course, to use one of the many public wi-fi networks that you will be able to find during your travels. While the benefit of this method is the fact that it is free most of the time, the obvious drawback is that you have to be near a wi-fi network that you have access to in order to be able to connect to the Internet.
And so, you will not be able to just stop on the side of the road to check whether that restaurant you just found has good reviews or to find out when the next bus is scheduled to come.
As such, as much as possible, I suggest you to not rely on this method but instead use it as a supplement to a cellular data connection which oftentimes comes with data usage limits.
Besides places like cafes and even buses, the place where you are most likely to connect to wi-fi on the road will be hotels. Most of them nowadays offer free and decently performing wireless Internet access in both the lobby and public facilities, as well as guest rooms.
Still, sometimes you will find a hotel where there is wi-fi connection only in the lobby or where you are assigned a room on the very edge of the building where the wi-fi signal is weak. In that case, you might want to consider getting a travel wi-fi extender (also called repeater) that help you strengthen the (among others) hotel’s wi-fi signal.
It can also come in handy when you have strong reception in the room, but it’s great weather and you want to be able to connect outside on your room’s balcony.
Method #3: Connecting to Wired Internet
The last way of connecting to the Internet on the road is the least portable of them all and slightly outdated. I am talking about a wired connection using an ethernet cable.
While you are unlikely to find this type of connection on the airplane or in a cafe, wire connection is still fairly common in hotels. The problem, of course, is that many of today’s devices do not even have a LAN port.
So what can you do in case a wired connection is the only option available?
Well, first of all, make sure to pack your own LAN cable since you will find that many hotels do not provide the cable, only the port.
Second, make sure you have a way to connect your device to the cable. In an ideal case, your laptop will have an ethernet port. However, many of them don’t. And so, you will need to either get a travel router that will let you convert wired to wireless Internet (such as this one from GL.iNet) or a dongle that will turn one of your computer’s USB (or other) ports to a LAN port.
Personally, I recommend the first way of converting a wired connection to a wireless one rather than using a dongle as it will allow you not only to connect your computer, but also your cellphone and any other devices to the wireless network you create.
What Is a Travel Router?
Now that you know what the three ways in which you can connect to the Internet while traveling are, let’s take a step back and take a look at what a travel router is.
According to Wikipedia, a router is “a networking device that forwards data packets between computer networks.” In layman’s terms, although slightly inaccurately, it’s the device that allows your device to connect to the Internet.
As such, at least for the purpose of this article, a travel router is a device that will let you connect to the Internet on the road in one way or another. Based on the three method described above, this article considers devices that do one or more of the following three things to be travel routers:
- Connecting to the Internet using a cellular network
- Extending existing wi-fi signal
- Creating a wireless network out of a wired connection
Of course, since we are talking about travel routers and not routers in general, the device also need to be fairly portable.
Best Travel Router for All Situations: Satechi Smart Travel Router
While, as described above, in many cases such as when using data roaming or a public wi-fi network with strong signal you might not even need a travel router, if you decide that you need one, below is a quick look at one that recently caught my attention.
The Satechi Smart Travel Router caught my attention because at first sight, it seems just like a normal travel adapter that converts one kind of a power outlet into another. And, that is also what adds to its multifunctionality – not only can it help you stay connected on the road, but it can also help you keep your devices charged.
As for its “networking capabilities,” it can operate in four modes allowing you not only to turn a wired connection into a wireless one and to extend a wi-fi signal, but also to use it as a regular router that connects to a modem using your ISP (Internet service provider’s login credentials) and as a device that turns a wireless signal into a wired connection. That said, you will likely only use it in either of the first two modes.
While the small size, power adapter, USB charging port, and a wide variety of modes in which the travel router function can operate make this device a versatile travel partner, it’s got its drawbacks too.
The first of the drawbacks is that the router cannot connect to networks which have special characters in their password. Given that many of the wi-fi’s out there have passwords like “1234567890” and “abcdefgh” and so on, it should not be much of a problem, but every now and then you encounter a password like “123456789!” which would deem the travel router unusable.
The second is that while it is versatile in terms of taking an existing network and broadcasting it in one way or another, it cannot be used to connect to a cellular network. But, then again, if you are looking for a device like the Satechi Smart Travel Router, you are likely not looking to use it while on the move but rather in a hotel room or at your client’s office.
Staying connected on the road can be challenging at times, especially so when you travel overseas and your data roaming charges are outrageously high. However, that can be solved by either getting a local or travel SIM card, or connecting to wired or wireless networks at hotels, cafes, and so on.
If you decide to go the local SIM card route, I suggest you get either a separate portable hotspot or a cheap Android phone to tether the Internet to your other devices.
Finally, in case you will be connecting to the Internet using either your hotel’s wired connection or wireless connection, you might consider getting a travel router such as the Satechi Smart Travel Router and a spare LAN cable.