The Internet and its uses are wondrous. And you may think that no matter where you are in the world, you can access whatever you want as long as you there is an available internet connection, right?
Unfortunately, that’s wrong.
While the internet might hold the answer to everything, there are actually a lot of restrictions and legalities involved with what kinds of content you’ll be able to access in specific parts of the world.
Not every country believes in providing free and open internet to their citizens, and you might find when traveling that your internet access is limited, and the government has blocked certain websites.
This means that if you’re traveling internationally, you might want to do a little research and prepare yourself for the browsing and streaming complications that might arise while you’re on your trip.
While you’ll want a VPN for China, and other similar countries where the governments limit the internet, there are many VPN’s out there to choose from. The following are things to consider when making a purchase.
How to Get Around Censorship of the Internet: Travel With a VPN
Why You Need a VPN
If you’re traveling to another country and you try to watch your favorite Nextflix show, you might be met with a message about the content you’re trying to access not being available.
I can feel you rolling your eyes, so for an example less frivolous than that, let’s say you’re traveling through China, and want to Google something. Or share a photo from your trip on Instagram.
You actually won’t be able to do either, because the Chinese Government has censored a lot of the internet. It’s called the Great Firewall of China; the government has blocked sites that include social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, news sites like the NY Times, and even search engines like Google.
If you want to access these sites you’ll need a VPN service to break the barrier. A VPN is effective in this sense as it routes your internet through a server in a different country, which doesn’t have any censorship.
Other Affected Location Based Services
Media streaming and government censorship aside, you might also find when traveling that your location means your bank account and/or email has been restricted, as I did when Outlook completely blocked my email access because I logged in from Peru.
Banks and email providers freeze accounts all the time if you’re logging in from somewhere unusual. Your account gets flagged, and while banks are a lot better at restoring access, you might have an uphill battle when it comes to restoring your email account.
To prevent this from happening, use a VPN. Find a service which allows you to connect to a server in your home country; your bank and email provider then assumes that you are at home, and there are no issues.
What Exactly IS a VPN?
Normally, when you connect to the internet you first connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) which then connects you to your websites.
The reason you’re restricted when you’re in another country is that local ISP’s have to adhere to local laws, and if the Saudi Government tells them they’re not to connect any-one in the country to Facebook, you’re not going to have any luck connecting.
However, a VPN establishes a connection with a private network that has an IP address based in a country of your choosing. So it masks your connection point, and allows you to connect to the internet through a provider in Europe, or Australia, even though you might be in Saudi Arabia.
It’s basically a middleman between you and the internet.
This workaround not only works for government censorship, making previously blocked sites suddenly available, but also works for tricking streaming services into thinking that you’ve never left the country.
Suddenly, you have access to all your media again!
That said, governments are obviously aware of this work-around, and there are certain VPN’s that work better in certain countries.
Do Certain VPNs Work Better in Certain Countries?
A VPN is a great idea to travel with regardless of whether the government of your intended destination censors the internet.
The majority of VPN’s will work perfectly throughout most of the world, but when you travel to a country which practices government censorship, you’ll need to research which specific VPN’s work best.
Governments are onto the most mainstream and well advertised VPN’s, and quite a number just won’t work in China, for instance. It’s much better to know this before you go, because getting there and finding out that the VPN you chose doesn’t get around the kind of restrictions that the country has in place is pretty frustrating!
The best way to find this type of info is to Google ‘best VPN for *Country Name*’, and read recent independent reviews for that service.
Governments are updating their lists of blocked services all the time, so something that worked for someone last year, might not be working today. It’s therefore important to pay attention to the review date.
Other Considerations When Choosing a VPN
Having a VPN isn’t just about accessing blocked or restricted content. It’s also the best way to protect yourself from being hacked when you connect to public networks (which we do all the time while traveling).
It also cloaks your internet usage, so it allows you to hide your activity from government bodies. You may not think that this is worth worrying about, but many travelers have been arrested overseas for commenting on political issues, forgetting that free speech is not a right in every country.
But the biggest reason VPN’s are growing in popularity is for the cyber security benefits.
Travelers are more vulnerable to cyber hacks as we’re constantly connecting to open, unsecured networks (hotels, cafes, airports, libraries). Most of these public networks are open networks, which aren’t safe, and allow anyone using the same network to access your information.
Of course, most people wouldn’t know how to do that, but criminals have been known to set up WiFi hotspots specifically to trick people into connecting, so they can hack or infect your device.
Being a private network, that is completely secure, a VPN means you can connect without worrying about your security, and without any-one seeing you’re even using the internet.
Know Your Needs and Make Your Choice
Before you dive in and just grab the first VPN you run into, make sure you assess what your needs are.
While you’ll want to choose a VPN that is relevant for the country you’re visiting, you’ll also want to choose one with the right speeds for the kind of things you’ll be using your connection for. For instance, media streaming is going to require a lot higher speeds than you need if you only want to check your emails securely.
Price is another thing that varies greatly, and you can find a wide range of VPN plans, from those which are free, to those which might cost $12 – $20 a month.
A free VPN is usually a basic security package, which allows you to connect through a limited number of servers. The more you pay, the more features you’ll get access to, like faster speeds, and more choice of countries to connect through.
The bottom line is, when buying a VPN you should choose one that hits all the marks for what you need it for. You’ll be safer and free to browse the Internet the way you want , whenever you want, and wherever you go.
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