The 6 Best Wireless Travel Routers of 2021

Pocket routers for Wi-Fi networking on the road

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The Rundown
TP-Link’s TL-WR902AC is an impressive little travel router that offers lightning-fast performance despite its small size.
This device can support up to 20 devices at once, giving you fast, powerful, and secure internet speeds.
Offers exceptional coverage for its size by focusing solely on the 2.4GHz band.
A built-in VPN gateway and encrypted DNS protects your online privacy anywhere you happen to land.
Best for Road Warriors:
GL.iNet Mudi GL-E750 at Amazon
For business travel, where speed and security are paramount, the GL.iNet Mudi GL-E750 is an excellent choice.
This budget pick has a small price tag and a lot of features.

Modern smartphones are great for keeping you connected on the road, but using your 5G data can get expensive if you’re planning to do any serious work, or even just stream movies on Netflix. The best wireless travel routers will avoid these hassles by letting you set up your own private bubble of Wi-Fi anywhere you happen to land, whether that’s in a conference centre, hotel room, or airport lounge. 

These handy little devices are especially useful when working in places where you only have a wired internet connection, but they can also help improve performance by giving you a stronger Wi-Fi signal even in hotels and conference centres that already have public Wi-Fi hotspots. Plus, many also offer security features like VPNs that will keep all of your internet traffic private from snoops. The best wireless travel routers are ideal for anybody who wants to stay connected without being forced to rely on spotty and insecure Wi-Fi hotspots.

Best Overall: TP-Link TL-WR902AC AC750 Travel Router

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Portable Wireless Travel Router
What We Like
  • Compact size is ideal for frequent travelers

  • Fast performance

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Included cables are short

  • Older units have security issues

TP-Link's TL-WR902AC is one of the fastest travel routers that we've seen, which is especially impressive at this size and price. Measuring 2.64 x 2.91 x 0.9 inches and weighing in at only 8 ounces, it's small enough to carry in a pocket, briefcase, or backpack, so you’ll be ready to set up your own bubble of Wi-Fi pretty much anywhere you go.

For such a small device, the TL-WR902AC offers impressive dual-band Wi-Fi performance, with AC750 speeds of up to 433 Mbps on the 5 GHz 802.11ac side. It’s also really versatile, since it can be not only be used as a router or access point to create a wireless network, but also as a range extender, private Wi-FI hotspot for WISP networks, or even as a bridge to connect a wired device to a Wi-Fi network by using its built-in Ethernet port in the opposite direction. 

A built-in USB port lets you share files and media from a removable USB storage device, and it can also provide up to 2A of passthrough power to charge your smartphone or tablet. The only real downside is that the port layout can be a bit awkward, since the USB and microUSB power ports are on the opposite side from the Ethernet port. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"Since power is supplied via a micro-USB port, this router could easily be powered via a portable battery pack, which means you don’t necessarily even need a wall outlet to use it." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Travel Router

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Splurge: Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 Mobile Hotspot 4G LTE Router

Netgear Nighthawk MR1100
What We Like
  • Great choice for heavy internet users

  • Supports up to 20 Wi-Fi devices at once

  • Long battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Can occasionally overheat

Netgear already makes a whole line of great home and business routers, so it shouldn't be surprising that it offers a premium mobile travel router as well. While it’s not the most affordable option on our list, it’s well worth the splurge if you need to get several devices onto the internet from just about anywhere at blazing fast speeds.

With support for up to 20 simultaneous devices, Netgear’s Nighthawk MR1100 can easily handle your whole family or project team, and unlike most travel routers on this list, the one works as a 4G LTE mobile hotspot too. This means you'll be able to connect to its Wi-Fi network and get online even when there's no other Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection around. It's also the first mobile hotspot to support Gigabit LTE, with 4X4 MIMO and four-band Carrier Aggregation, so it's capable of providing internet speeds that can rival your home broadband connection.

It’s not just about LTE, though—the MR1100 works as a traditional portable router too. Just plug a normal internet connection into the Ethernet port, and you can share access from it to your Wi-Fi devices. A large 2.4-inch colour LCD screen also ensures that you can keep track of the router's status and how much data you're using. The rechargeable battery can keep you going for up to 24 hours before you need to charge it, and in a pinch you can also use some of that capacity to charge your smartphone or other mobile devices. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac / 4G LTE | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports:

"While mobile hotspots go above and beyond most travel routers by letting you get online from just about anywhere, you’ll want to be careful about how much data you’re using. LTE data doesn’t usually come cheap, and unlike smartphones your laptop will still think it’s using a Wi-Fi connection so it won’t limit its data usage. Plus, with Gigabit LTE it won't take long to rack up a huge data bill." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer

Best Range: TP-Link TL-WR802N N300 Wireless Portable Nano Travel Router

TP-Link N300
What We Like
  • Fast single-band Wi-Fi performance

  • Low price

  • Easy setup

What We Don't Like
  • No USB port

  • Not the fastest internet speeds when connected to multiple devices

TP-Link’s TL-WR802N is an older single-band router that sets itself apart by offering surprisingly great range in its small package. While the single-band N300 rating won’t break any speed records, it still offers more than enough performance for lag-free 4K Netflix streaming and uninterrupted video conferences on Zoom

Like most travel routers, the TL-WR802N is designed for use by one or two users when you’re on the go, and the 300Mbps 802.11n speeds will likely be faster than the internet connection at most hotels and conference centres you find yourself in. Since it focuses exclusively on the longer-range 2.4GHz band, however, this little pocket-sized router offers exceptional coverage, so you won’t need to worry about staying connected while you’re roaming around the boardroom. 

The N300 draws its power via a micro USB port that can connect directly to a wall charger or even a laptop, so you won’t have to worry about how to power it, and it can also function as a repeater, Wi-Fi client, or even an extender for a public WISP hotspot. The only downside is that, unlike its dual-band sibling, the TL-WR902AC, it lacks a USB port, so you won’t be able to use it for sharing files. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11n | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: N300 | Bands: Single-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"Choosing a travel router that can be powered over a micro USB connection will greatly simplify things when you’re on the go as you’ll be able to power it straight from your laptop without having to pack an extra power adapter." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer

Best Security: GL.iNet GL-AR750S-Ext Gigabit Travel Router

GL.iNet GL-AR750S Wi-Fi Travel Router
What We Like
  • Fast download speeds

  • Multiple connectivity options

  • Excellent VPN support

What We Don't Like
  • Can be complicated to set up

  • Finicky in certain configurations

GL.iNet’s GL-AR750S is a travel router that offers a surprising amount of power and flexibility for power users, while remaining reasonably easy to use. Out of the box, you get a straightforward router with dual-band Wi-Fi speeds of up to 733 Mbps and full 5 GHz 802.11ac support, plus no less than three Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be used to plug in wired devices.

Advanced users will appreciate how much more this one offers, however, since it uses the versatile OpenWrt firmware, with both OpenVPN and WireGuard pre-installed. This means it’s ready to go as a VPN gateway to protect your online privacy—something that’s essential when you’re surfing from insecure hotel rooms and airport lounges. It even has 25 VPN popular service providers pre-configured, plus it automatically uses Cloudflare’s encrypted DNS servers for additional security, whether you’re using a VPN service or not. 

As if the three Ethernet ports weren’t enough, there’s also a built-in USB 2.0 port and a microSD card slot for connecting external storage devices or adding up to 128GB of storage directly to the router to use it as a portable file server. The OpenWrt firmware also lets you easily configure it as a repeater/extender, bridge, Wi-Fi client, hotspot, USB modem, or even perform network diagnostics. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 3

Best for Road Warriors: GL.iNet Mudi GL-E750 Portable 4G LTE Router

GL.iNet Mudi GL-E750
What We Like
  • Works as a 4G LTE mobile hotspot

  • Open source

  • Excellent VPN support

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • No external antenna

GL.iNet makes some of the most secure travel routers on the market, since they all use open-source technology and include features like OpenVPN and encrypted DNS support, and its latest portable router expands that technology onto the airwaves with 4G LTE support. It’s a great choice for road warriors who need to stay connected securely and reliably no matter where they happen to land.

With WireGuard encryption, support for multiple open source VPN protocols, and even Tor anonymous network routing, this router ensures that you can always have a secure and private connection to the internet. Whether that’s over your hotel's shared network or your carrier's LTE network, all of your traffic will be encrypted, and you can even have an always-on tunnel back into your home or office network. 

It’s not just for mobile LTE access, however; it's also a capable Wi-Fi access point, with dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz support with 733Mbps throughput across both bands, along with a built-in battery that offers up to eight hours of use and a USB port and microSD card slots that can be used for sharing files with your connected devices. Since it’s designed to be used from anywhere, it also features a built-in rechargeable battery that promises up to eight hours of use on a single charge. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac / 4G LTE | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports:

If you need a powerhouse for running your business from the road, this 4G hotspot will easily give you fast download speeds and plenty of security.” — Katie Dundas, Tech Writer

Best Budget: GL.iNet GL-AR150 Mini Travel Router

GL.iNet GL-AR150 Mini Wi-Fi Travel Router
What We Like
  • Built-in VPN support

  • Dual Ethernet ports

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • Can be complicated to set up

  • Only supports 2.4GHz 802.11n

This budget pick has a small price tag and a lot of features, making the GL.iNet GL-AR150 a smart solution for travelers who want to quickly convert wired networks into wireless ones. Weighing only 1.41 ounces and measuring 2.28x2.28x0.98 inches, the AR150 comes with OpenVPN pre-installed for increased security.

Compatible with over 20 VPN service providers and with TOR firmware, the GL-AR150 provides maximum protection while surfing on insecure web networks. Powered by any laptop USB, power bank, or a 5V DC adapter, the GL-AR150 is perfectly sized for tucking into a carry on or backpack for use at a hotel, remote workplace, or in the office. Available with dual Ethernet ports, 64MB of RAM and 16MB of flash, the GL-AR150 can increase its memory with external USB sticks. With a top speed of 150Mbps and low power consumption, GL-AR150 can also be used to take a smartphone’s 3G or 4G connection and convert it into a private Wi-Fi network for your other devices.

Wireless Spec: 802.11n | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: N150 | Bands: Single-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"150Mbps may not sound especially fast, but it’s actually better than the speed you’ll get from most hotel networks, and should be more than sufficient for a single user—even for high-bandwidth tasks like video streaming and conferencing." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer

Final Verdict

TP-Link’s TL-WR902AC offers the best bang for your buck, checking all the right boxes when it comes to ease of use, performance, range, and features. If you’re looking for something more versatile that will secure your internet traffic against prying eyes when using public hotspots, the GL.iNet GL-AR750S is hard to beat, as it comes ready to use as a VPN gateway right out of the box. 

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings.

Katie Dundas is a writer and journalist with a passion for technology. She has written for Business Insider, Travel Trend, Matador Network, and Much Better Adventures. Katie specializes in travel technology.

Andy Zahn has been writing for Lifewire since April 2019. When he’s not obsessing over (and writing about) the latest gadgets and consumer technology, he can be found traveling and photographing the wild Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, or tending to a herd of obnoxious goats on a small farm in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens.

FAQ
  • If your hotel already has Wi-Fi, why do you need your own travel router?

    Even though most hotels already offer free Wi-Fi, it’s often struggling under the load of many people using it, so having your own travel router can offer better performance, especially if you can plug it into a wired connection in your room. Plus, most public Wi-Fi hotspots are completely insecure, allowing your traffic to be easily intercepted by anybody else on the same Wi-Fi network.

  • Are travel routers more secure?

    The best travel routers offer industry-standard WPA2 encryption—the same type of security used by your home router—which means that all of your wireless traffic is safe from prying eyes. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are open networks that use no encryption at all, but just keep in mind that if you’re using a travel router as a wireless extender for a public Wi-Fi hotspot, your traffic will still be unencrypted between your travel router and the hotspot. For the best security, be sure to use a wired connection wherever possible, or better yet, a VPN.

  • Can hotels see what websites you visit on Wi-Fi?

    Even if you’re using your own travel router in your hotel room, your internet traffic still travels over the hotel’s network. While most sensitive sites and services like email and online banking use SSL encryption, this won’t prevent the hotel or other public hotspot provider from seeing where you’re going, they just won’t be able to see what you’re doing. If you want to make sure your connection is as private and secure as possible, we recommend using a travel router that offers built-in VPN support.

What to Look For in a Travel Router

Let's face it, most of the routers on the market are pretty big and bulky devices. This isn't a huge problem if you're parking them in a corner at home, of course, but they're definitely not suited for taking on the road with you.

This has given rise to a whole new category of travel routers: devices that are specifically designed to be extremely portable—often small enough to be carried in a pocket—and run from internal batteries or a simple USB-powered connection that lets you plug them into a laptop or portable battery pack to create your own personal Wi-Fi network. 

Most importantly, since public Wi-Fi hotspots are usually insecure, a good travel router can also offer additional peace of mind by offering a private, encrypted Wi-Fi network for your traffic, securing the connections not only between your devices and the router, but making sure that the traffic leaving the router is also encrypted. 

This means that you can take them just about anywhere you happen to land, whether it's between your home and the office, to a coffee shop where you might want to have more secure Wi-Fi, or on the road with you to use in hotels, conference centers, and airport lounges.

Netgear Orbi
 Lifewire

Portability

Any wireless travel router should be portable enough to take on the road with you, but there's still a range of sizes and features here to consider.

For example, a travel router that includes an internal battery will naturally be a bit bulkier, but it can also save you the trouble of having to carry a separate power adapter. The larger the battery, the longer it will last. However, you will still need to charge it when the battery runs down, so leaving the power adapter behind might be fine for short jaunts to a coffee shop, but you're still going to need to pack it for business trips. 

Those that don't include built-in batteries will have to be plugged in somewhere before they can be used, but most can be powered over USB, so you can run them from a laptop. If you're going to need to tether your travel router to your laptop anyway, that might also defeat the purpose of having one, since you could just as easily plug your laptop straight into the wired Ethernet connection and use that as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Bandwidth and Performance

When shopping for a primary router for your home, you're looking for things like enough range to blanket your home with the kind of strong Wi-Fi signal you need to support streaming and gaming from multiple devices. 

This is not the case with travel routers. In fact, you may find that even a basic N150 router—that's one that offers 802.11n support at 150Mbps speeds—is more than enough. Remember that in many cases, a wireless travel router only needs to support one user. Even if you plan to use it with your laptop and smartphone and tablet while you're traveling, you probably won't be streaming movies or downloading large files on all these devices at the same time.

If you plan on using a travel router for family road trips, it certainly doesn't hurt to move up to something faster, but even in that case, an AC750 router, which offers dual-band performance at 750Mbps, should be more than adequate. To put things in perspective, streaming a 4K movie from Netflix requires a mere 25Mbps.

There's a good chance that anywhere you plan to actually use a travel router isn't going to offer especially fast internet speeds anyway. In most hotels, you'll be really lucky if you're sharing a Gigabit connection with every other guest in the hotel, which means that you're likely to be limited to around 20Mbps, and that's on a good day.

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Travel Router

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Range and Coverage

In much the same way that you don't need your travel router to have the fastest speeds, you probably don't need to be too concerned with its range either. You'll notice that almost no travel routers include external antennas, simply because they don't need to cover much more than a single room. 

In fact, it can be a disadvantage to have too much range on your travel router, since you don't really want to be broadcasting your Wi-Fi network to everybody in the vicinity. If it can reach your own devices, that's really all you need, and in most cases that simply means getting to every corner of your hotel room. Most offer enough range to accomplish this even in a larger suite or condo.

Wireless Frequencies: Single-Band vs. Dual-Band

Like other wireless routers, travel routers come in single or multi-band versions, which basically refers to the frequencies they use. A single-band router works only on the 2.4GHz frequency, while a dual-band router offers both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies on two separate bands. 

In practical terms, you'll get better performance on the 5GHz band and better range on the 2.4GHz side. Since as we already explained, range and speed aren't too critical in a travel router, these specs don't matter as much as they do when purchasing a home router.

That said, a dual-band router can offer one very important advantage if you plan to use it in busier places like hotels and airports. The 2.4GHz frequency is usually a lot more congested, since not only do more people (and devices) use it for Wi-Fi, but many other devices like cordless phones, security systems, and even microwave ovens create interference on the 2.4GHz frequency. The 5GHz band, on the other hand, is usually pretty clear of anything except other 5GHz Wi-Fi devices, which are still considerably less common than those that use the 2.4GHz band.

Note that you won't find any tri-band travel routers—that is, those that offer a second 5GHz band—as there's really no need for this. The purpose of a tri-band router is to divvy up the 5GHz devices in busy homes and offices onto separate bands to minimize congestion and maximize performance. However, a given device can only use one Wi-Fi band at a time, so a second 5GHz band on a travel router would be a waste as it would sit there unused.

Security and Privacy

As a bare minimum, every modern wireless travel router should include support for the Wireless Protected Access 2 (WPA2) encryption standard. This is even more important in a travel router that you'll be using in more public spaces.

However, if you're concerned about security and privacy, there's also not much point in using WPA2 encryption if the signal that leaves the router on the other side is "in the clear," which it will be in most cases. 

If you're extending from a public Wi-Fi hotspot, in fact, WPA2 encryption is basically pointless, since a hacker can simply intercept your traffic between your travel router and the public hotspots, and while a wired connection is slightly more secure, you're still going through your hotel's wired network, with plenty of opportunities for somebody to monitor your traffic on the way out.

While this probably isn't such a big deal if all you want to do is stream movies from Netflix, if confidentiality is important, we strongly recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connecting through a travel router, and while you can do this directly from your devices, you'll probably find it even simpler to pick up a travel router with built-in VPN support, so that your connection is automatically encrypted as soon as you plug it in.

Netgear Nighthawk C7000

Connectivity

Almost all travel routers offer the same type of connectivity that your home router does—turning a wired connection into a Wi-Fi network. However, as more hotels move toward offering guest Wi-Fi networks instead of Ethernet jacks, you'll probably find it more useful to get a travel router that can connect to a public Wi-Fi network as well.

Since most hotel Wi-Fi networks aren't encrypted at all, this has the advantage of giving you a WPA2-secured Wi-Fi network of your own. It can also sometimes offer a performance boost over the hotel's own Wi-Fi since the travel router also acts as a range extender.

Lastly, there's a third category of travel routers that can act as mobile hotspots to offer internet access for your mobile devices over an LTE cellular network. This is usually accomplished either by including their own built-in LTE modem that you can activate with a cellular carrier or simply supporting a third-party LTE modem through a USB connection. This second option can be a bit more complicated to set up, but it's also a less expensive way to go, since you can add cellular connectivity later on if you decide you need it.

Additional Features

At a basic level, a wireless travel router really just needs to be able to do one thing: provide you with a Wi-Fi network. Some go the extra mile, however, offering features such as integrated USB ports or microSD card slots that can be used to share media and other files with your devices, or even acting as a portable battery pack to recharge your smartphone while on the go.

These can be useful features if you need them, but you shouldn't get caught up too much in the bells and whistles. After all, media sharing is great if you plan to use a travel router with friends or family members, but if you're a solo business traveler, chances are you can plug a media card or external hard drive into your computer just as easily, where you won't have to worry about Wi-Fi streaming performance. 

Similarly, while it's always good to have some emergency battery power while on the go, any wireless travel router that offers a large enough battery to make this practical is going to be bulkier, so there's a definite tradeoff there.

Brands to Know

TP-Link

Well-known for its lineup of affordable routers, TP-Link has some pretty solid entries among travel routers as well, offering good range and performance, even among single-band models. While you won't get all of the bells and whistles with these, they do the one important thing—creating a Wi-Fi network—and they do it very well.

GL.iNet

GL.iNet's entire business is making small, pocketable routers, and when it comes to security features, they're among the best, thanks to their use of open-source OpenWrt firmware. Most of GL.iNet's little boxes not only offer versatile connectivity, but include a full slate of built-in VPN security features, which come pre-configured to make them easy to get up and running without needing to be a networking expert, but surprisingly there's a lot of room for advanced users to tinker with GL.iNet's routers as well.

Netgear

Netgear is a leading name in traditional home routers, making some of the best options on the market, and while it doesn't offer nearly the same wealth of options among travel routers, it does offer the Nighthawk M1, a mobile hotspot router that can offer Gigabit LTE speeds, along with the versatility to be used as a traditional wired travel router whenever you have a wired connection available.

Netgear Nighthawk RAX80
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Conclusion

Whether you're heading to the cottage or attending business meetings around the globe, there are wireless travel routers that will have you covered. 

If you need to be able to connect from anywhere, whether there's a Wi-Fi network around or not, be sure to pick a travel router that at least offers the option to add cellular connectivity, and if you're taking a family road trip, having features like media streaming can be a great way to keep your kids occupied. 

When choosing a good wireless travel router, however, the emphasis should be on portability, versatility, and security, so it's important not to get bogged down by things like speed and range—remember that a travel router doesn't need to handle the gaming and streaming needs for your whole household.

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