Sometimes figuring out how to get online is the last thing you want to be bothered with when you’re in a foreign place. But if you’re on an extended vacation or business trip it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll want to check your e-mail, transfer money between accounts, pay your rent, or simply post pictures on Facebook or Instagram of the beautiful things you’ve seen. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Even in Africa, it isn’t hard these days to find an internet café where you can hop onto the wi-fi or connect to a wired network to do your business. Most hotels and conference centers supply coupons for internet, but a lot of the time these coupons are limited to one device and you only have a certain amount of data per day. This can get pricey. If you’re traveling on business, you can’t really go without internet for more than a day, and conference centres in particular have an annoying tendency to charge outrageous amounts to access the internet.
What is more, open connections (where anyone can join) aren’t very secure, and you don’t want someone accessing your personal information from the coffee shop where you’re browsing. Where the network is wired, you can’t connect your smartphone or tablet to it, and even if you’re a business traveller, you might not want to lug your laptop with you on a trip.
The simple answer to all these problems is a travel router. It’s a personal wi-fi hotspot that creates a secure connection that you can access over and over again without a data cap, and it lets you share this connection with more than one device. It’s the best way to get internet access in Africa while you’re traveling.
How does it work?
It works almost exactly like a router you would use at home to create a wireless network inside your house or apartment, to which you can connect more than one device and onto which your friends can hop when they visit.
When you’re using the internet in a hotel, you might be limited to only one device. With a portable router, you can create a wireless network that your laptop, smartphone, tablet, and spouse or colleague’s tablet can connect to.
This network that you’re creating for yourself off of the public one also becomes a secure network. That means that no one in the coffee shop can “eavesdrop” on your internet conversations. On an unsecure network, anyone is able to observe the pages you’re browsing and jump in after you’ve typed your logins. But with your own router, the network is secure and your passwords are safe. This is especially important with internet banking, but just as much so with social networks.
At a conference centre, you can hop onto the same network every day, automatically, without having to pay for the day’s internet access.
How does it look?
Seeing as portable routers are made to travel with, they tend to be very small and compact. It’s usually a stylish little box, only a few inches in diameter. It will either have a power cable that you plug into a wall socket, or the router itself plugs straight into the wall. Most of these routers can also switch between the different wall sockets of the world. Some reviewers believe that the signal is poorer when the router is directly in the wall, because it’s much closer to the ground, but these ones tend to be more compact, because you don’t need an extra power cord.
What does it cost?
Portable routers aren’t expensive and you can pick up a good quality one for as little as US$20. Off course, some routers are more pricey and go up to US$100. These may have extra bells and whistles to make your life even easier, but if you’re on a tight budget, then you don’t have to pay this much. Here are our favorite routers, all of them good quality and easy to use, and all of them under US$50.
When you’re connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot in a restaurant which is free to begin with, then you won’t be paying any data charges to connect with your wireless router. If your router supports a 3G/4G data card, you can access the internet anywhere, regardless of whether there is a wi-fi connection or not. In this case, it all depends on the mobile service provider you are using. Data plans differ, but these plans tend to be cheaper than simply using your mobile phone to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot.
Four great travel routers
Look out for these when you’re shopping and don’t have time to read reviews and scrutinize features:
TP-LINK: TL-MR3020, TL-WR700N & TL-WR702N: TP-LINK makes three great travel routers. The TL-MR3020 is the standard portable router, while the TL-WR700N and TL-WR702N are almost the same size, but cheaper and with fewer features. They are all between two and three square inches and range between $22 and $30 on Amazon. All three are great buys.
Satechi Travel Router: This router fits straight into the power point and has a switch for selecting between the plugs of different countries. It will set you back $50.
Apple Airport Express: I you’re an Apple fanatic; you’ll have to scrape out $100 to buy their own travel router. But as it goes with Apple, the setup and syncing of devices is easy if you’re other devices are Apple too. It fits in the palm of your hand, but requires an external power brick. It does, however, have a few extra features that the others don’t.
D-Link’s DIR-510L: Staying the price range of the Apple router, the D-Link will also put you back $100, but it is perfect for connecting with a PC laptop. It’s definitely one of the best travel routers out there at the moment.