Using a VPN while traveling will help you secure your data while you are on the road. Whether you are traveling internationally or you are just going to your local coffee shop, you need to protect your devices from unwanted snooping. Read on to find out what a VPN is, why you should use it, and how to choose a provider.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a private network of computers, that gives you encrypted access the internet while ensuring anonymity. The VPN service providers encrypt your data downloads and uploads and they send your internet traffic cloaked through their own servers. This means that the ISP that you are using is hidden from prying or censoring eyes.
Major companies have been using VPNs for years. VPNs allow employees to travel or work from home while still having a highly secure log-in for critical business systems. In fact, I’m currently doing a consulting gig for a large corporation and have their VPN installed so that I can access internal files, emails and resources.
But VPNs aren’t just for big businesses. Your personal data is important too and if you travel at all, you should consider getting one.
Why Use a VPN While Traveling?
While I recommend that you use a VPN while traveling, I’m not just talking about using a VPN for international travel. I’m talking about using a VPN any time that you travel away from your home network. You could be going as far away as Ethiopia…or you could be going to your local library. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you are away from a secure log-in to a network that you control, your data is at risk.
What follows are the my top three reasons for why you should consider a VPN.
Bypass Restrictive or Censorious Countries
Some countries have policies that restrict internet access or that limit access to specific kinds of content. Ethiopia, Turkey, UAE, Oman, Belarus, North Korea, Cuba, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Syria and Iran are known to be particularly strict. And while I won’t be going to Syria because it’s still a war zone, some of these other countries are on the tourist trail.
I was in Cuba last year and even getting internet access was a tricky dance involving under the counter deals with dudes lurking in public parks.
Read More: If you are keen to visit Cuba, check out this guide with practical tips on how to prepare.
Bypass Geographically Filtered Content
Websites make assumptions about what kind of content they think you want based upon where you are. One feature of a VPN is that you set the ISP location to be from where ever they have a server. You can be in Argentina and set the ISP for Los Angeles….or you can set it for Buenos Aires. Streaming services like Netflix don’t recognize you as an American customer if you are logging on from a server in Argentinal. Log onto Google from Mendoza and it will serve up answers in Spanish. Using a VPN and then choosing an ISP location from your home area ensures that you get the content as you intend it.
Conversely, you may want to be seen from another location. For instance, airlines will serve up a different fare to you if you appear to be originating from one country vs another. This is particularly bothersome in Argentina where the local’s only airfare rates are significantly lower. So, you can sometimes score a better deal if you use the a local server location, which can trick the system into offering you a lower rate.
Protect Your Personal Information
If the two previous reasons sound a bit too cloak and dagger for you, consider this; open wi-fi networks are like a public bathroom. Gross hacker germs lurk there waiting vacuum up your data.
Using a VPN while traveling will help you protect your personal information because the data is encrypted. As it is uploaded (and downloaded) the data tunnels through the filthy public ISP to a more secure VPN ISP. This is especially critical if you need to use a password to log onto anything important, such as your email, credit card provider or bank.
What to Look for in a VPN
(Full disclosure: I have been given a free year of ExpressVPN and will receive a commission if you choose to purchase a subscription from them. However, my opinions are my own.)
You want to look for a VPN provider who has the following: a good reputation, fast servers, a wide range of server locations and an easy to use interface. You can check out some reviews at PC Magazine.
I’m currently using ExpressVPN. It’s a paid service which offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Monthly plans run as low as $8.32/month. Some services restrict you to one device. But ExpressVPN allows you to install the software on as many devices as you wish and you can use it on three devices simultaneously. They have 148 servers in 98 countries, including the aforementioned countries of Turkey, Pakistan, Belarus, Russia and Vietnam.
I’m quite happy with the service. I had been using a free provider but they deliberately make you wait in a queue before starting-up, so you are still vulnerable during that period. They tend to limit how much you can download and you get what you pay for in terms of speed. ExpressVPN boots up immediately and doesn’t slow down my internet service. Even better, installing it was pretty idiot-proof.
You can check out ExpressVPN and get free 30 days here.
How to Set Up a VPN
Getting VPN set-up is very easy. When you sign-up, you receive a confirmation email that sends you to a page with your special activation code. You then download the app to your desktop, laptop, phone and/or tablet and use the code to activate the service.
Once installed, you simply log onto your internet connection while traveling, then activate the VPN. When you are finished, just hit the green button to shut it off. You could leave it on all the time but I prefer to minimize app usage in order to reduce battery drain. If you are at a hotel for multiple days or at your favorite coffee shop, you can tell that particular wi-fi network to automatically connect you. However, if you do that, you’ll also need to remember to turn on your VPN, or you won’t be covered.
Learn More: Protect your travel investment and look into getting Allianz Travel Insurance.
Use a VPN for international travel or while on the road domestically. You don’t need to be a digital nomad or travel blogger to benefit from traveling with a VPN. You just need to be someone who uses your phone or laptop away from home. Practicing good data hygiene now means that you’ll have a measure of protection against hacks and snooping eyes.
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