How I remade an old Raspberry Pi on a travel router

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Spring Break 2022. It was my first real opportunity to travel in exactly two years, after a small thing called a global pandemic thwarted a family trip to (all places) China. In that time, you will lose a lot of muscular memory of the road fighter. What to pack and how to pack it. Treatment of airports and other passengers.

But it was also an opportunity to rethink and evaluate how I travel. And one fix this year was to include a travel router.

Why? In my old age, I am becoming more and more conservative, which means that I care more about my (and my family’s) online safety, not only at home but also on the road. And that means you no longer have to connect to the Airbnb host network, at least not directly. The same goes for hotels.

So it was time to finally come to the road router. Here’s how I did it.

Background

The new Raspberry Pi is currently almost impossible to buy due to supply constraints. But the old one still works well. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

While there’s no reason why I couldn’t buy a travel router and call it a day, I didn’t want to spend a few hundred dollars (or more!) On what would ultimately go into the company’s marketing budget. more than anything. This is something and The Raspberry Pi is perfect for.

Just one problem: Since mid-April 2022, it is still quite impossible to buy a new Raspberry Pi due to supply chain problems. At least not without paying a pretty stupid premium online.

For the ignorant, a Raspberry pie is a small Linux computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It is powered via USB-C, which almost everyone should have on hand, and uses a microSD card for storage on board. And the operating system is open source, which means you can do various fun things with it. And you don’t have to have a chin on your neck to get Linux moving. You need to be able to search for things on the Internet and copy and paste orders – and have a little patience and willingness to mess it up one or three times.

Inside the Raspberry Pi.
Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

I already have a couple of Raspberries Pi (this is an unofficial plural that I’m still trying to realize) in my house. One is connected to an antenna that helps track the aircraft. An ad blocker is also running throughout my home network. The second was used as a bridge between all our intelligent devices. So things like Nest cameras and thermostats – which don’t play well with the Apple HomeKit – can work well with Apple’s built-in smart home hub. But that’s less important of my Pi. I don’t care so much about HomeKite.

So after a few weeks of hunting and waiting, I gave up and decided to do what any self-respecting jerk would do. I’ve cannibalized the gear I already own, and I’ve given up the luxury of seeing when my front door unlocks as an Apple alert, and instead I’ll have to come to terms with seeing it as a Nest alert. Horror movie.

But first we move the Pi-hole

Raspberry Pi 4 along with NAS Synology 1815+.
Synology NAS and Raspberry Pi 4 basically do the same thing. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Actually, this is the part where I have to admit that I forgot which Raspberry Pi is doing, and I actually disconnected the wrong one to turn into a roaming router. I thought I was sacrificing Ad blocking box with holesand I decided it was time to move it to a network-attached storage, which is also in my living room and is woefully underused.

Most of the time, it does exactly what its name suggests – it serves as a repository. However, it can do much more, including acting as a server. After a few minutes of searching and a few other real settings, I launched Docker on Synology NAS, installed Pi-holes there, and pointed the router at it.

As if nothing had changed at all. And because I’ve become truly intelligent and backed up ad blocking lists from another Pi-hole instance that is now doing exactly nothing, it’s literally the same, just in a different network location. Ads are still blocked on my network, only blocked by another processor. And my family is no wiser. (I told them what I did, and I was given blank faces to indicate a job well done.)

Construction of a travel router

Confession: I spent a little money on this project just because I wanted a Raspberry Pi in a more sturdy case than I had buried in my entertainment center. The sky is the limit when it comes to cases on the Raspberry Pi – you can even 3D print your own if you want – and I end up went with a case for $ 20 who looked sturdy enough to live in a gear bag. I figured it out, too another $ 12 for Wi-Fi antennawhich was really the only necessity I didn’t own yet.

So $ 12 (or $ 32) for the whole project – that’s much better than buying a router from a company.

I will not go through the whole project step by step. But I will connect you with broad moves.

I’m crazy, but I still need a good hand when it comes to Linux.

The operating system itself is OpenWRT. Open, as in free, as in beer (which in fact is not what “open” means, but what already), and WRT, as in Wireless RouTer. It’s a free, open source operating system that turns everything you have installed into a customizable router. Very cool.

OpenWRT also plays well with any number of VPNs via OpenVPN. So I made sure I installed it, given that the goal of this little project was to secure the Internet on the go. Of course, you will need a VPN provider. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two of the most popular – I pay for ProtonVPN for my personal use. The process is almost the same in both directions.

I’m crazy, but I still need a good hand when it comes to Linux. So. free tutorial Network Chuck is what guided me through this whole process. I don’t mind admitting that it took a few attempts to do it right – but it’s up to me. It is an excellent guide to an uncomplicated process.

And while we’re at it, we could add ad blockers again. (There’s nothing more disturbing than leaving your home and remembering how horrible the internet is today.) Instead of Pi-hole, I’m this time went with AdGuard. Same price (free!) And same basic premise: The network requirements of any device connected to travel will first go through AdGuard and suppress anything it considers bad. Like ads. Or other things.

So what was any of it worth?

OpenWRT screenshot.
Screenshot

The whole set took several hours, mainly because I actually went through it twice to make sure I had things right and I called exactly the way I wanted. The new parts cost about $ 32, but that could be less if you only need a Wi-Fi antenna.

The important thing is that when I’m on the go, I can now control the route that takes all my devices to the internet. I don’t have to worry about connecting my phone, laptop and tablet individually to a VPN – I can connect them all to my new luxury travel router. The same for my family. I don’t have to worry about what else a landlord may have on the same network. Or what a hotel network can be. (I honestly can’t decide what’s worse.)

And again, I’ll have the added bonus of blocking ads and other trackers when I’m on the go. It’s not as fast or powerful as my complete network system at home, that’s for sure. But it is much cheaper and much safer than nothing.

Not bad for a small Linux computer that you can’t even buy right now.

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