Most travelers use VPN when traveling only for one purpose: to get around Internet filtering. But a VPN is much more useful than that — here’s why.
As a travel blogger, I do most of my work online, so having internet access is important to me regardless of where I go. Since I spend almost 60% of the time on the road, it’s not always easy to find stable, fast and secure internet. I also tend to travel to many remote and isolated countries (because of my interest) such as Iran and North Korea, where internet is highly censored. This is where VPN comes in.
Over the years, VPN has evolved to become an essential tool for me, both at home and when traveling. It’s become a great tool for me to search for cheaper airfares and also carry out transactions online without worrying about security.
This post is about why it’s important to use VPN when traveling and how to find the best VPNs in the market.
What’s a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. In short, it is basically a private connection between your computer and any website or application. VPN is designed to protect all of your Internet traffic, in the form of email, online data, video, voice calls, and anything else you can think of.
I know it all sounds very technical but VPN is extremely simple to use and even a non-techie person can use one easily. Internet security issues are rampant these days, as it’s just so easy to grab anyone’s data these days. When you’re traveling, you often connect to public Wi-Fi networks in the airports, cafés, hotels, and train stations. Anyone on the same network as you can easily get their hands on your usernames, passwords, credit card numbers to browser cookies.
A VPN protects you from all this, with just one click. By setting up a VPN, you can change your IP location, encrypt your data, and access apps that are otherwise unavailable.
Why Use a VPN?
A VPN is essentially a private network that only you can access, so there’s no risk to your online security. Here are three main reasons to use a VPN.
1. Protection of your online data
Because of my work as travel blogger, I’m always doing online banking or making purchases online. By using a VPN, I can use my credit card to book hotels and flights, do online banking, access Paypal, and go into secure accounts like my email without the concern that someone can see my personal information. A VPN encrypts all my important credit card and bank details so that they can’t be hacked. For instance, I’m now in Antigua using a hotel WiFi network so a VPN comes in handy for me to book a car rental online using my credit card.
2. Prevention of online theft
Cyber crime is quite common these days. I’ve had some money stolen from my Paypal account once and I’m doing everything I can to make sure that never happens again. Just as pickpockets hang around places like subways where there are easy marks, cyber criminals hang around places such as airports where travelers are using public WiFi. Protecting your identity and data from cyber criminals is the principal reason a VPN is important.
3. Getting around censorships
This is what most of us use a VPN for: to get around service restrictions and censorship. Many governments block major sites and platforms like Netflix, Facebook, or BBC to restrict access to the public. A VPN can bypass many of these government restrictions. I used a VPN in Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and China to access many social media networks.
4. Booking cheaper flights
Because your VPN allows you to use anonymous IP addresses from other countries, you can actually find cheaper air tickets by tricking certain websites to thinking you are located somewhere else. Certain promo fares are only available to citizens of a particular country. For instance, if you’re looking to book domestic flights within Madagascar, you can use a VPN to trick the website into thinking you are in Madagascar and thus get cheaper fares.
This sounds a bit dodgy but there’s nothing illegal about it. I have used it to get really cheap airfares to Ghana and Slovakia — well worth a try if you haven’t!
How to Use a VPN?
A VPN is a simple app that’s added to your computer, phone or tablet. You really don’t need to be a technology geek to use it. Once you have it installed, all you need to do is flick a switch to turn it on. On your computer, just download and run the installer from the company’s website. On your smartphone, you need to download it from the App or Play Store. Choose the server (or “endpoint”) you’d like to use — good VPN apps offer several different locations and voila!
What to Look for in a VPN?
Here are some of the things you should consider when looking for a VPN:
- Ease of installation — For me, this is the most important point as I want to spend the minimum amount of time on technical stuff. I always get a VPN that has an autoconnect feature, as that means my data is almost constantly secured.
- Maximum coverage — Certain VPNs may not work in the destination you’re traveling to. Try to get one that works in as many places as possible.
- Acceptable speeds — Most VPN services will slow down your internet connection, as your data is going via another server rather than directly to where you want it to go.
- Compatibility with your devices — Some VPNs only work with iOS devices while others are only compatible with Android devices. Make sure you get a service that is compatible with all of your devices.
- Ability to use on multiple devices — Because most of us are on our laptops and phones at the same time, having a VPN that works on all of them on at one time can be convenient.
- Technical support — It is inevitable to encounter some technical difficulties along the way, so you want to be able to reach out to their customer service easily when you need help.
What Are Some of the Best VPNs for Travel?
There are free VPNs but they either don’t give enough level of protection or they slow down your internet speed substantially. The low security options are often proxy servers like Zenmate and Hola, which only protect web-based traffic.
Try to use a trial version of any VPN and run speed tests to see how fast they are, before committing. Some of the better VPN apps aren’t available on a free or trial basis, although they all offer a single-month subscription. They usually come with a few restrictions like bandwidth and speed limits or time limits, but upgrading to a paid plan should give you full access.
I’ve used several VPN services, including Express VPN, Vyper VPN and Nova VPN. I’ve found Nova VPN to be the easiest to use and most reasonably priced option in the market.
Nova VPN provides encryption using advanced mathematics in AES-256, the encryption standard used by security experts worldwide. I have the 1-year ‘Super Heavy’ plan, which costs me only $5.42 per month. The downside is that it has server locations only in 10 countries.
What I like most about the Nova VPN service is that I can connect up to 6 devices simultaneously on a single account. It’s great for digital nomads like myself, who use several electronic devices at one time for work. I can also share my account with Alberto and we both can connect at the same time.
Tips for using a VPN for Travel:
- If your WiFi signal isn’t strong, your VPN connection might disconnect now and then. Your data won’t be secure this way so avoid making any financial transactions. Make sure to use a VPN that autoconnects, to minimize the downtime.
- When your internet connection is slow, your VPN may not even connect. Again, limit what you do online to things that don’t require high security.
- Even though VPNs protect your online data from hackers, they actually keep a record of the sites you connect to as well as. Don’t do anything illegal!
All in all, VPNs are an affordable and convenient way to ensure online security and work your way around censorship when you travel. It has become an essential part of my travels and I never travel without one these days.
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Source: Wild Junket