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Virtual Private Networks (VPN) have been around for a while now, and while they might have previously been viewed by travelers as a ‘nice thing to have’, nowadays they’re internet security 101, and firmly on the list of “must pack”.

A program you run on your devices which gives you security and privacy when you surf the internet, the perks of using one as a traveler include getting access to region-restricted websites, minimizing your risk of being hacked while using public WiFi, and preventing your bank accounts and email from being frozen.

The following are 7 reasons why you shouldn’t travel overseas without a VPN, plus a description of what it is, how it works, and why you need one.

7 Reasons You NEED to be Traveling With a VPN

What is a VPN

Normally, when you connect to the internet you first connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) which then connects you to your websites.

All of your internet activity passes through your ISP servers and anyone using the same network (which could be thousands of people if you’re connected at a hotel, café, or airport) can easily see your data: usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, how much adult content you’re streaming!

However when you use a VPN, it encrypts your traffic before it reaches your ISP, which means that only you and your VPN server can “see” it. It’s basically a middle man between you and the internet: you’re able to browse the internet anonymously by connecting through a secure network.

Dave Dean describes how they work fabulously: “think of the Internet as a river. Drop a load of dye into the river — that’s your (unencrypted) data. Anyone standing along the riverbank can see that dye: what color and consistency it is, and where it ends up.

Now, put a small pipe in the river, running from wherever you are to somewhere along its length, and tip your dye into that instead. Until it emerges from the end of the pipe, nobody on the bank can see the dye or knows anything about it. Your VPN is that pipe.”

fashion-legs-notebook-working

Reason #1: Secure Public Wifi

Everybody loves getting something for free, and especially when we’re traveling, free internet is something we’ve come to expect.

But it’s because we’re traveling, and constantly connecting to different networks, that we’re most vulnerable to cyber security threats. Whether at the airport, hotel, or a café, public WiFi networks tempt us at every step of the way, and we often don’t hesitate when connecting.

But most of these public networks are open networks, which aren’t safe, and allow anyone using them to access your information (remember the river analogy). Criminals have even been known to set up WiFi hotspots specifically to trick people into connecting, so they can hack or infect your device with malware.

A VPN means you can connect without worrying about your security, and make sure you’re protected from these types of attacks.

Computer phone RF

#2: Bypass Government Internet Censorship

The Great Firewall of China is the best example of this; many countries don’t believe 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.

In China specifically, the internet is highly censored, and blocked websites include popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, media websites like the New York Times, and even search engines like Google.

If you want to access these sites while in China 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.

VPN services like Nova VPN Service will let you choose from hundreds of server locations in countries all over the world, meaning you can bypass these restrictions easily, and choose which country you connect from.

Nova VPN specifically offers top-notch security technology together with high-speed connection, so you can have the fastest VPN experience despite connecting through servers in a different country. And you can connect up to 6 devices simultaneously with one account meaning you can benefit from a VPN on your desktop, phone, and other devices.

Chinatown

#3 Bypass Location Based Restrictions

You don’t have to be traveling in China to have your internet access restricted. Using a computer at certain locations, like a school or library, will usually mean you have access to a filtered version of the internet.

In most cases the reasoning behind this is to protect its users from certain content, and as a traveler you might not think you’ll be frequenting a school or library, but it will definitely affect those who might be overseas on a student exchange, teaching abroad, or are drawn to beautiful libraries!

But you might also find that your location has meant your bank account and / or email has been blocked / restricted, as I did when Outlook completely blocked my email access when I tried to log in from Peru.

Banks and email providers freeze accounts all the time if you’re logging in from somewhere unusual, or trying to gain access from a country you don’t live. 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.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library by Dieter Weinelt

#4 Hide Your Internet Activity

As we mentioned above, your ISP has total access to viewing your internet activity. Everything you do is logged, every website you visit; your complete browser history. You might not care about this type of surveillance if you’re not doing anything wrong, but if you do care about your privacy a VPN is the way to stay anonymous.

But it’s not just your ISP who’s watching you (not to sound ominous). Sites like Google also know everything about you, and store information about your internet movement, downloads and activities. They gather your data and track your online use to better target ads.

And this also goes for secure messaging. Communication primarily occurs online these days; from email, to apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat. Not all of these messaging apps are encrypted, so there’s the potential for your messages to be read. A VPN allows you to take control of your privacy and browse with an extra layer of security.

#5 Avoid Location-based Price Targeting

Ever heard of the trick that you can find cheaper flights / hotel rooms by searching in an incognito window? Businesses not only use your internet data to target their ads, they also use it to adjust their pricing.

For instance, an airline website will use your browser history to know how much they can up the price on your ticket.  If they know that you’re already planning a trip to Sydney, they’ll increase their flight prices just for you. And some websites will charge you more, or less, depending on where you’re browsing from (ie the US vs a third world nation).

A VPN evens the playing field; being able to choose your VPN server’s location means you can change where the internet thinks you’re browsing from, and making sure companies don’t have access to your data and browsing habits mean you get the real price, as opposed to the one you’d have got from your real-world location.

Blogging Sydney Blog Computer Laptop

#6 Access Netflix Anywhere!

Let’s be honest, tricking your internet into thinking you’re connecting from a different country is mainly done to access music and Netflix! And I don’t blame you – it’s nice to have the comfort of your favorite TV shows when you’re trying to relax after a long day, and there’s nothing worse than having to watch Game of Thrones in Spanish.

If you’ve not yet traveled overseas you’ll quickly realize that popular streaming services like Netflix are restricted in certain countries. This is because of copyright agreements which dictate where they can and can’t broadcast their content.

But because a VPN service has the power to change the IP address of your computer, Netflix will have no idea that you’ve left the country. This also means that you can access location specific radio, stream news shows live, or listen to music on Spotify.

#7 Research Without Leaving a Digital Footprint

This is particularly important if you’re a researcher / whistleblower / activist / journalist / political dissident.  Using a VPN cloaks your internet usage when you can’t risk government bodies or other organizations watching your activity.

They’re not a catch-all solution, but will go a long way to ensuring you don’t raise any red flags. Many travelers have been arrested overseas for commenting on political issues, forgetting that free speech is not a right in every country.

But government agencies are monitoring online activity, and they do take action against those they see as a threat to their regime.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    19 Comments

  1. Definite no brainer Meg. When we got our VPNs years ago we avoided loads of headaches with accessing financially sensitive sites overseas. Then we upgraded and went with the virtual aka cyber version on our Chromebooks. No downloads, no software, all virtual, quick as well. Thanks for the important reminder for all of us travel bloggers.

    Ryan

    • Absolutely Ryan – glad to hear that you’re already all over it! Yes, I’ve had so many issues trying to access online banking overseas that it’s not worth it – my VPN has been a godsend!

  2. A VPN is like your own secure, private tunnel to the internet. That means that all of the information you send and receive over the internet is scrambled and encrypted before it heads along the information superhighway, keeping it safe from prying eyes.

    • Absolutely Stephen – a really helpful description 🙂

  3. How much does this cost Megan?

    • You can get free vpn nowadays, but it sure is a must have.

    • Absolutely, there are many great options for free VPN, but paid users usually have more options, better speed, access to support, and better security; most free VPN services provide only PPTP VPNs which is insecure, so personally I recommend choosing a paid plan.

      Depending on the VPN and the plan you choose, you can get set up for around $5 – $20 a month.

  4. We have one for banking online but I didn’t realise it would allow me to Facebook when I am in China! This drove me mad last year as I had to wait till I was in Singapore to post anything.

    • It was a lifesaver when I was in China! I recommend reading reviews before choosing a VPN if you head back, because some are better than others for that region specifically.

  5. Shared. I use a VPN whenever I’m away from my home wifi. To remain secure, I also use a password generator. So important to stay safe when online now.

    Doing my best to share security related info when I find it.

    • Appreciate the share Christopher 🙂 Great tip on the password generator, I’ll look into that too. Glad to hear that security if your #1 priority when connecting on public WiFi. People need to be far more conscious than they generally are.

  6. Interesting read. Very informative. Opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

    • Glad the post was helpful Isabella – yes, VPN’s do open up a lot of possibilities when it comes to internet use abroad 🙂

  7. Thanks a bunch for this. Will be getting one for our upcoming trip.

    • You’re welcome, I’m glad the post was helpful for you 🙂

  8. Nice blog Megan. I am using Ivayc vpn while traveling. The main reason I am using a vpn service is Geo restrictions and Censorship.
    Which VPN are you using?

    • Glad it was helpful for you Mickel 🙂 I haven’t heard of Ivayc VPN, so will check it out. We’re constantly reviewing different VPN services, but some of our favorites are Nova VPN Service, Hotspot Sheild and Express VPN 🙂

  9. This is so helpful, thank you for taking the time to explain everything in such detail.

    • You’re welcome April, I’m glad that the post was helpful for you 🙂 Happy travels!

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