The 6 Best Wireless Travel Routers of 2021

Pocket routers for Wi-Fi networking on the road

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Modern smartphones are great for keeping you connected on the road, but for frequent travelers battling poor cell service, dubious security and extortionate hotel and airport wi-fi fees, a good travel router can often save your bacon (and bank balance) when working away from home.

The best wireless travel routers 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. 

For most people, you should just buy the TP-Link TL-WR902AC - it's small enough to chuck in a backpack, and can even double as a Wi-Fi range extender. If you also want a cellular connection as backup, the Netgear Nighthawk M1 is for you, as it doubles as a mobile hotspot for your hotel room or car.

The Rundown
TP-Link’s TL-WR902AC is an impressive little travel router that offers great 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.
A built-in VPN gateway and encrypted DNS protects your online privacy anywhere you happen to land.
Best for Advanced 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.

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

  • Doubles as a Wi-Fi extender

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Included cables are short

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. 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 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

  • Doubles as a mobile hotspot

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Can occasionally overheat

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 centers you find yourself in. 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, 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.

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

Best for Advanced 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

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 if you're a relatively advanced user. 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

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 is compatible with over 20 VPN service providers. 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. The 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. 

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. Using a router plugged into ethernet will also often save you money as you won't have to pay for the actually usable 'premium' internet package.

  • 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.

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 router—that's one that offers 802.11n support at 150Mbps speeds—is more than enough.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

There's also a category of travel routers that can act as mobile hotspots to offer internet access for your mobile devices over an LTE cellular network.

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.

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