Traveling with a Roku: Everything you need to know

You’d be surprised how useful a Roku Streaming Stick or Roku Express can be when you’re traveling. I have spent years hopping on planes with my Roku in my suitcase. Here is what I learned.

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Streaming Netflix is probably not on your mind when you think of vacation. But you’d be surprised how useful a Roku Streaming Stick or Roku Express can be when you’re traveling.

I have spent years hopping on planes with my Roku in my suitcase, taking trips to Aruba and other islands in the Caribbean. I have come back with some important first-hand knowledge about traveling with a Roku. 

Not all streaming services that you signed up for at home will work outside of the U.S. Most of them don’t. But I’ve found plenty of options you’ll want to know about before taking your next vacation.

I’m giving you a rundown of all the Roku apps that have worked well for me.

The success you will have with using these same apps outside of the United States may vary. Your live TV options on Roku may be limited.

Even though Roku sells its streaming hardware across much of the globe, including Europe and South America, streaming platforms may not be available in other countries. And global platforms such as Netflix implement certain geo-restrictions. 

My goal here is to cut down on the time you’ll have to spend on figuring out what works. You’re on vacation after all, so you should be relaxing, and not wasting hours searching through Roku’s thousands of apps.

What to bring with a Roku on vacation

Before boarding the plane or boat for vacation, you should do a quick inventory of your streaming setup while away from home. 

A Roku Express or Roku Express 4K+ are the two most economical streaming devices currently offered. So that’s what you should bring. 

Leave your Roku Ultra at home. At $99, the Ultra is pricey. And you will be mad if you accidentally leave it behind at the hotel or house you are renting.

Make sure your Roku remote control has fresh batteries. If your physical Roku remote isn’t working well, remember that the Roku app on your smartphone can serve as an alternative remote control. 

You just need a WiFi connection so you can connect the Roku app to your Roku. Even if you keep your smartphone on Airplane mode to avoid data roaming fees, you can still turn WiFi on and connect to the internet.

Most hotels these days have Internet service. 

Before you catch your flight, you may want to double check that you have WiFi. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, then maybe the Roku Ultra should come along for vacation. 

Be sure to bring an Ethernet cord as well so you can hardwire the Roku to the Internet.

You might scoff at the idea of watching TV while in a sunny locale.

Here’s the truth: there’s some nights where you will be indoors. The weather may not always be great. And if you’re traveling with kids, bringing along some entertainment from home can make your trip a lot more enjoyable for everyone.

YouTube: Best overall app for vacation

YouTube was the most useful app during the trip for its overall versatility. There were PBS Kids shows like “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” for my nephews and daughter to watch. 

Once the kids were in bed, there were plenty of free concerts, stand-up comedy and documentaries for the adults. Even when you’re home, you can find hours of free documentaries and independent movies up for grabs. 

The same is true when you’re traveling with your Roku.

Note: The PBS Kids app restricts streaming outside of the U.S. so YouTube really came through big. Adding the YouTube Kids app to your Roku before you hop on a plane is a good idea.

Netflix: Diverse content from other countries

If your home base is the U.S., you will find plenty of familiar shows on Netflix that are available at your vacation spot. 

Depending on where you travel, you may also find your favorite show in a different language. That’s fine. You should be able to control language and subtitles under settings.

During one trip years ago, my brother-in-law scrolled through Netflix’s menus and soon realized that there were a number of TV shows and movies available in Aruba that you couldn’t get in the U.S. 

There were Showtime produced series like “Billions”. And movies like “The Empire Strikes Back”. The movie’s scrolling opening narrative was in Spanish, but the actual dialogue was in English.

CBS News: Live news while on vacation

Having the CBS News app gives you live around-the-clock news coverage so you can keep up on breaking news. This is great for anyone who wants to keep up on what’s happening in politics, oddball weather around the U.S. or breaking news.

In between its comprehensive news coverage, you’ll find segments from “60 Minutes” and “CBS Sunday Morning”. 

CBS News is one of the best news apps out there, and being able to stream it outside of the U.S. makes it even more valuable.  

tubi: Movies and TV shows

Tubi says that it’s available in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Australia. But I have also used it elsewhere in places such as Aruba. 

The free streaming service has over 30,000 free movies and TV shows. 

The live TV section may or may not work. But it’s library of movies alone make it worth having on hand while traveling.

PLEX: Photos and videos on laptop

You’ll likely be taking along a camera or using your smartphone to capture the memories from your vacation. 

I brought along a GoPro to capture some video and still photos of my daughter and nephews during their various trips and daytime adventures.

I downloaded the photos and videos to the laptop. Since I had my laptop set up as a Plex server, we were able to watch them on TV without casting. 

Being able to stream video and photos to the TV in the living room using the Roku and Plex app was really neat. 

During one trip, my in-laws could easily check out all the neat video footage I shot from a butterfly farm in Aruba that we visited earlier in the day. Nobody had to wait until we got home to share photos.

Plex has been growing its streaming footprint on an international level, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you also find some ad-supported movies and TV shows to watch.

Popcornflix: Best app for thrillers

Adding Popcornflix to Roku proved to be useful while I was traveling. The best movies were in the Thriller section. The list here is from a while back so I’m sure these titles are long gone. 

But during a recent trip, I noticed, “Shutter Island”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy and the Mesrine films were available for streaming and worthwhile to watch. 

The Mesrine films have been called the French version of Scarface.

What Roku apps didn’t work outside the United States?

Just about every so-called TV Everywhere app restricted viewing, particularly for live streaming, outside of the U.S. Amazon Prime Video didn’t work for me.

Can I use Hulu outside of the United States?

No. There are exceptions for U.S. Military bases, and Japan. Hulu suggests that may change one day.

Want more information about Roku? Check out my hands-on guide about the best Roku to buy.

Jim Kimble is a seasoned industry expert with over two decades of journalism experience. He has been at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement since 2016, testing and writing about TV-related products and services. He founded The Cord Cutting Report in 2016, and serves as the editor.

Major publications, including MarketWatch, Forbes, and South Florida Sun Sentinel, have interviewed Kimble for his years of expertise. He gives advice on the complexities consumers are navigating with streaming options, and over-the-air TV. Kimble has been a staff writer or correspondent for several award-winning, daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe.

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