Using a Mobile Router for Hotel Room Wifi

by Gray Cargill on October 23, 2013

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Late last year, I started traveling with just a tablet and smartphone. Getting rid of the ball-and-chain weight of my netbook was liberating for my back. Unfortunately, there was a tradeoff: Lack of hotel options. Almost all of the hotel rooms I stay in have wired Internet in the rooms, but not all of them have wireless in the rooms. And I don’t have a data plan for my tablet. No wifi, no Internet. (My smartphone doesn’t count; it’s too small for me to effectively do anything online other than tweet.)

Personally, I don’t want to have to hang out for hours in the local Starbucks or McDonalds, or even in the hotel lobby–where there usually is free wifi–just to check my email and social media accounts. I like to get online at the end of a hard day of traveling while I’m snuggled in my hotel room bed. So what’s a tablet user to do if the hotel room doesn’t have wireless Internet?

Get yourself a mobile router, that’s what.


ZyXEL Router

Front view

How is it I never heard of this little marvel of technology until a few months ago? I would give a shout-out to the Vegas message forum where I read about this tip, but sadly, I can’t remember now which one it was. I’d never heard of a “mobile router,” but as soon as I read those magical words, I logged into my Amazon account and started researching routers.

For $33.40 (including shipping), I wound up purchasing the ZyXEL Wireless N Pocket Travel Router and Access Point. Is it the best mobile router out there? I’ve only tried one, so I have no idea. All I know is it got great reviews on Amazon, is light-weight, and is small enough to fit in my pocket—meaning it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my carry-on bag.

As soon as the ZyXEL arrived, I set it up at home to make sure it worked. I have to say that the manufacturer could have done a better job at including step-by-step instructions. To call the print materials that come with it “instructions” is laughable.


Laughably brief setup instructions

When I couldn’t get it to work, I wound up Googling better instructions online. Turns out I was putting the Internet cord into the LAN slot instead of the WAN slot (hey, the tiny print on the router is hard to read!). In any case, if I could get it to work, anyone can.

ZyXEL Router

Back of router. For mobile wireless, plug Internet jack into WAN socket.

This past week, I had the opportunity to actually use it on the road. I had booked the Luxor Las Vegas because it’s a budget resort, and I was on a budget. Unfortunately, the Luxor is pretty dated when it comes to technology. Not only is there no in-room wifi there, but the wired Internet is plugged in behind the flat screen TV. So if you did bring a laptop, you’d have to stretch the cord all the way across the room in order to use your laptop in bed or at one of the chairs at the little table in front of the window. How 1990s.

ZyXEL to the rescue! I plugged it in, turned it on, and logged into my tablet using my security key and voila! Instant in-room wifi. (And once I logged in once, I didn’t have to log in again, it just automatically connected after that.) Am I pleased with my purchase? You bet I am. Now, I am no longer limited to booking hotel rooms based on whether they have in-room wifi. All I need is wired Internet and my mobile router.

Wireless Connection

And there’s the ZyXEL wireless connection on my tablet. Ta-da!

The only drawbacks to the ZyXEL are the lack of quality step-by-step instructions for setting it up and the fact that the charger doesn’t fit in the pouch that the router itself comes in—but to me, that’s a non-issue, since I have to carry a ziploc bag full of chargers (for my cameras, tablet, and cell phone) with me anyway. Now if only I could find a universal electronics charger that doubles as a universal camera battery charger, my life would be complete. Until then, this will do.

Rebecca June 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

I’m going to Egypt, where there is actually no Wifi at all… If I were to purchase this, would it give me the wifi that I need in order to contact home (England) through social media on my iphone?

Thank you for the advice, very clear!

Gray Cargill June 29, 2015 at 11:21 am

Hi, Rebecca – Wow, that is a great question. I’m afraid I’m not enough of a techie to know the answer to that. My gut tells me it would not work (how can you access wifi if there is no wifi to access), but I don’t know that with 100% certainty. If I were you, I’d find someone who is a total techie who can answer that question for you. Good luck!

JackieS October 27, 2013 at 11:34 am

This is a great tip, I think I’ll purchase this for my trip 🙂

Gray Cargill October 28, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I’m glad you found it helpful, Jackie!

Mike's Road Trip October 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

This looks like a great solution. Thanks for sharing.

Gray Cargill October 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm

You’re very welcome, Mike. I figured if it was something I found useful, others might, too.

GRRRL TRAVELER October 25, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Really good find, Gray! Hows the signal? I wonder if that sends a strong signal or it it’s reach is just within the room… The LAN and ethernet jacks in some hotels still shock me. I guess it costs a lot for them to upgrade.

Gray Cargill October 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

I’m pleased with it, Christine. I haven’t tested it at a further distance, but I wouldn’t expect the signal to reach beyond a hotel room. If it does, great, but I wouldn’t expect it.

reeder October 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Mobile router can imply that you’re using 3G or LTE aka mobile hotspot router. What you’re referring to is a travel/pocket router. The costs and capabilities for mobile with 3G/LTE vs travel router with ethernet are a bit different.

This works for most P&S camera batteries

Gray Cargill October 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Hmm…my DSLR and P&S batteries are very different, reeder, but I’ll look into that. Thanks for the link.

Maria October 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I love these – they’re very helpful to stay connected – not a gadget… no they are a necessary tool.

Gray Cargill October 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Definitely necessary if you only travel with a tablet, Maria. I can’t believe how many hotel rooms still don’t have wifi capability.

kateconvissor October 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I’ve taken the plunge and will do my next trip (6-7 months in Mexico) with only a tablet and a camera. Not sure I’m even taking a phone of any sort. I’m a little concerned about organizing my photos, but I think my Asus tab can handle just about anything else, blogging and email-related. I’m committed at any rate, and I’ll just have to make it work.

Gray Cargill October 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm

You might consider setting up some folders on your tablet before you leave on your trip to organize your photos, Kate. (By day, by location, by topic, etc.) I love just traveling with my tablet. I’ll never go back to a netbook.

blonde4ever000 October 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I am SOOO doing this! I get so aggravated at the WIRED hotel rooms! Thanks!

Gray Cargill October 23, 2013 at 6:43 pm

You’re welcome, Bonnie. God knows you’ll have plenty of opportunity to use it in Vegas. 🙂

Shane October 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

I use an Apple Airport Express for my travel router. Instructions are simple (it’s Apple after all) and includes ports to charge my devices. I don’t leave home without it.

Gray Cargill October 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Good tip for Apple users–thanks Shane!

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