If you’ve ever spent much time in a hotel or dorm room and wished you had access to all the streaming services you enjoy at home, this article is for you.
Bringing a streaming device on the road with you is a great way to upgrade over the standard basic cable or other in-room entertainment options you’ll often come across. But there are factors to consider, and you might need to jump through a few more hoops than you’re used to before you can start binging away from home.
(Editor’s Note: This guide is based on our recent video deep dive, which you can check out at the embedded link below.)
Picking Travel-Friendly Streaming Devices
Theoretically, many streaming devices should work on the road. Where it gets tricky is when you’re traveling outside of your home country, or when connecting to a WiFi network is more involved than usual.
With that in mind, we’re focusing on a handful of travel-friendly devices that offer great portability and solid performance for an attractive price. After all, you probably won’t want to disconnect your main streaming device every time you head out on the road. So having a portable, affordable secondary option likely makes the most sense.
So let’s talk about the familiar streaming stick or streaming dongle style of hardware.
They’re relatively small and easy to pack. And with an HDMI connector built right into the side, you don’t necessarily need to bring your own HDMI cable. And of course, the fewer components and pieces of hardware you need to worry about, the better.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is well-suited for life on the road. Since it plugs straight into an open HDMI port, it doesn’t take up any counter or table space — which could be at a premium in a cramped hotel or dorm room.
Fire TV Stick 4K Max
The recently released Fire TV Stick 4K Max shares the same basic form factor and dimensions as its predecessor, the Fire TV Stick 4K. And both make for fine travel streamers.
Really, any member of the current Fire TV Stick line would work well on the road, especially in situations where the available TV isn’t capable of 4K output. That said, even if you’re limited to a non-4K TV, you still might want to bring along the Max thanks to its improved performance.
Chromecast with Google TV
The Chromecast with Google TV differs slightly in design, compared to the Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick. But it’s still an excellent streaming device to use on the road thanks to its portability and performance.
Other Options to Consider
Several other streaming devices make sense as travel buddies, like Walmart’s onn FHD Streaming Stick. The compact, 1080p streamer offers a capable experience in an extremely affordable package.
Where streaming devices start to differentiate themselves is in the ease of setup on the road, with some offering dedicated options for hotel or dorm room life.
How to Connect Your Streaming Device on the Road
Connecting to the internet in your hotel, dorm room, or other short-term living space may or may not be similar to the process you’ve experienced at home.
Some locations use a captive portal, which is a web page where you’ll need to provide info before you’re allowed to use that particular network. Those details may include your last name and hotel room number, or maybe a temporary password that the staff provided to you.
On Roku hardware, you can use your smartphone to make the connection process easier. First, connect your streaming device to an available HDMI port. Once it’s up and running, head to Settings, Network, and then Set Up Connection.
Pick the Wireless option and select the intended network. For captive portals, you might see an option that lets you select that you’re connecting to a hotel or college dorm.
At that point, you might need your smartphone to act as a go-between. The Roku device will start up its own WiFi network, and you’ll be asked to connect your smartphone to that new network. Once connected, you should see the captive portal sign-on page appear on your phone.
Just enter your credentials and, once you’re logged in, the Roku streaming device will take things from there, and connect itself to the network.
On Fire TV devices, the process might be easier. Head to Settings, and then Network to set up a new WiFi connection. You should see the captive portal web page on your TV screen, where you can log in and start streaming.
For the Chromecast with Google TV, you might need to download the Google Home app to connect your device to the hotel or dorm WiFi.
Keep in mind, the above methods are best-case scenarios — not all situations are the same. And as we’ll explore farther down, you may have to try different approaches if these routes prove unsuccessful.
Coming Soon (Apple TV)
For Apple TV fans, it’ll soon be a bit easier to set up your device on the road. As of February 2022, Apple is currently testing beta versions of tvOS 15.4. One of the new features is the ability to use your iPhone or iPad to make Captive Portal sign-ins easier. So definitely keep an eye out for tvOS 15.4.
Pro Tips and Things to Consider
Travel Routers Can Help Simplify Setup
If you want to make streaming on the road easier and more convenient, you might want to consider a travel router to act as the main internet hub in your dorm or hotel room. They generally operate like the regular WiFi routers you might already own, but travel-friendly models are often more compact and/or affordable.
You’d need to connect the router to the proper network, which may feature a captive portal. Once you’ve established that connection, you can then hook up your streaming device, your smartphone, and most any other gear like you would at home.
Maybe you’re traveling with your family and each member has their own go-to tablet, smartphone or other device. A travel router might make connecting multiple devices a much smoother process.
This route could also bypass sign-in issues you might have when trying to connect your streaming device directly to the network. And they might also fare better when trying to connect to congested and/or crowded networks, so your streaming device’s own WiFi antenna only needs to be strong enough to connect to the router.
Travel-friendly routers can start at around $30 or $40, so they might make for a worthwhile investment depending on your needs. Options like the TP-Link TL-WR902AC Travel Router and the GL.iNet GL-MT1300 Beryl Gigabit Wireless Router have earned high marks from several sites for their price and performance.
Consider a WiFi Hotspot
You can also use your PC or Mac as a go-between to connect a streaming device to the network. You’ll need to connect your laptop to the available network and then create a mobile WiFi hotspot so you can connect your streaming device.
A quick heads up: On Macs, Apple requires that the MacBook connect to the network via Ethernet before it can share that connection with other devices.
Can’t Change the TV Input? Look for Controls on TV Itself
Sometimes, accessing those HDMI ports might be harder than it is at home. For one, some hotels might swap out the original remote controls that came with the in-room TV. And in its place is a simpler, easier-to-navigate option that might not offer the buttons necessary to switch inputs.
If that’s the case, then check around the TV itself. Some models offer controls along the side or tucked away underneath that allow access to change inputs so you can select the proper HDMI port.
What If You’re Traveling Outside Your Home Country?
Many streaming devices will work in different countries, although it varies.
Roku devices work in many locations overseas, although specific streaming services may vary from location to location. And even if, say, Netflix is offered in your travel destination, the content might be different from what you’re used to at home. So just be aware that the actual available content may vary.
As for Fire TV, here’s a current list of countries where Fire TV devices are currently supported. Amazon also offered a Fire TV Stick Basic Edition a few years ago, which worked in a larger number of countries, but it’s no longer available. If you have one handy, however, here’s a link to the list of supported countries.
And yes, we know that VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are often used in these overseas situations. By and large, though, we tend to avoid covering the topic as using it in certain ways can sometimes breach the terms and services of a streaming platform. Still, we wanted to acknowledge that yes, we know VPNs exist.
Your Mileage May Vary
This last point is very important because we’re talking about a broad range of use cases here. So yes, your mileage may vary when it comes to setting up your own streaming device in a hotel or dorm room. WiFi signals can vary from hotel to hotel, or even from room to room. And not every location or business will use compatible equipment or reliable networks.
So while you’re packing your favorite streaming gear, make sure to pack some patience as well. You may need to jump through a few more hoops than you’re used to in order to start streaming on the road. But the end result could well be worth it.