Online privacy and data security have been getting more attention than ever. If getting your data stolen or your accounts hacked while traveling is something that worries you, you might want to consider getting a VPN if you don't have one already.
This post details why you need a VPN for travel and how exactly a VPN works.
Why you need a VPN for travel and how it works
What is a VPN?
Let’s start with the absolute basics: VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.
Ok, but what does this actually mean?
Good question! The simple answer is that VPNs allow you to browse the web with greater security and privacy. This comes in handy when you want to access or send sensitive data or if you do not want the website you’re visiting to know where you are coming from.
Now, that is a very simple answer to a question that deserves a more detailed answer. So, here goes.
When you use the Internet your data is transmitted from your computer directly to the website you are visiting. As you do this, your data is collected and that’s why you’ll see ads on Facebook for Jamaican beach resorts 2 seconds after you browse for flights to the Caribbean on Skyscanner.
Most of the time this doesn’t make a difference to you at all. However, if you are accessing confidential documents for work or your online banking then you might not want your data to be roaming freely through cyberspace. That is where a VPN comes in handy.
When you use a VPN your data is encrypted and sent to the Internet via the VPN server. To put it in more visual terms imagine that using the Internet normally is like handing your friend a note in class (we all did it, let’s be honest).
When you use a VPN it is like handing your note to someone from a different class, who then rewrites your note using a secret code. That person then delivers the note to your friend, who in turn is equipped with the necessary equipment to decode the note. However, if anyone were to intercept the message on the way, it would just look like nonsense to them.
The VPN is the middleman from another class and unless you make it clear that the note is from you, your friend will have no way of telling where this note originated from. They will simply think it came from some kid from another class. Does that make sense?
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal (yes, I have watched the Great Hack and if you haven’t you need to right now), our data is more precious than ever. Obviously, it is up to you what you want to share with the Internet, but there is definitely a case for upping your privacy.
You should be aware that using a VPN will not make you completely invisible on the Internet, but it certainly reduces your Internet footprint. However, if you’re planning on looking at anything shady or illegal online (which I do not in anyway condone) a VPN probably won’t help you. Nevertheless, it gives you enough privacy to make you feel like you’re in full hacker mode à la Mr. Robot style.
What can you do with a VPN?
There are loads of ways a VPN can make your Internet browsing better. The most important, of course, is that it allows you to watch Netflix and Youtube in different countries. Have you ever been confronted with that dreaded “content unavailable in your country” message? Well, a VPN can trick the website into thinking you are in another country and unlock that elusive content.
On top of that, using a VPN will actually make your Netflix, Youtube and other online streaming sites stream faster. This is because some ISPs around the world will slow down streaming to cut back on usage. In other words, a VPN could get rid of that infuriating buffering that is stopping you from bingeing in peace.
On a different note, if you are worried about being snooped on, a VPN will help hide your activity. Generally, office and home connections are secure enough that this isn’t a major problem. However, when you start using public WiFi connections, the risk of being watched or tracked dramatically increases.
Speaking of which, having your data tracked online can also cause price hikes when you are shopping. Have you ever tried to book a flight and the next time you look at the flight it has crept up in price? That is because your computer has stored your data and knows you want that flight. Therefore, the website will push the price up in the hopes you will buy it anyway and they can make more money out of you. It’s sneaky, but it happens.
If you hide your identity online, your data won’t be stored and the website will not be able to tell that it is the same person that has visited the website 50 times because they keep changing their mind about which flight to book. This makes your booking cheaper, leaving you with more money for holiday sweets (yay).
Moving on, if you are the kind of person who likes to illegally download things, even if it’s just the odd song here or there, a VPN will shield your identity. It is very unlikely you will ever face any consequences for downloading the latest Beyoncé song, but if you’re a regular at downloading music, films, and games then you should use a VPN to cover your tracks.
Again, not supporting any illegal actions here.
Finally, if you are in a country that blocks certain websites (China, I’m looking at you), a VPN will allow you to circumvent this rule and access whatever you want. Not only that, but you can count it as your own personal rebellion against censorship. The Internet should be free to access for everyone, right?
How does this apply to travel
There are so many reasons why a VPN will be one of the most important things you take traveling with you. I’ve already mentioned its value in connecting you to social media and streaming platforms that are unavailable in the country you are in. But, a VPN is good for a lot more than sneakily bingeing forbidden content while you’re on the road.
When we travel, WiFi becomes a lifeline for us. Gone is our old, reliable broadband. Instead, we are thrust into a world of constantly asking for WiFi passwords in every hostel, café, and airport we end up in. It is a pain, but it is often the only way we can stay connected with the outside world. If you work online, like I do, WiFi is an absolute essential.
WiFi is great, there’s no doubt about that. But, public WiFi connections are rarely the most secure. In fact, if you connect to a public WiFi, you are putting a lot more trust that you realize in what is a very insecure connection.
Let’s say you need to transfer money from one bank account to another. You need an Internet connection to do this so you connect to the WiFi and just like that anyone with even the most basic hacking skills has access to your personal details.
Maybe you’ve done this a million times and nothing bad has ever happened to you. That’s likely to be the case. It would hardly be worth anyone’s time to hack into a backpacker’s bank account and steal the couple of thousand dollars they have squirreled away there. There are bigger fish to hack. But, you never know and that’s why a VPN is valuable.
You might have safely transferred money on a public WiFi a million times, but that doesn’t stop you from being hacked on your million and first time.
In brief, think of the VPN in this context like an Internet condom that will keep your data safe. Using a VPN when you connect to public WiFis on the road doesn’t take much effort and will keep you far safer than riding the Internet bareback.
Another benefit of using a VPN while you travel is that it stops people from knowing where you are. I’m not suggesting anyone reading this is about to embark on some secret espionage mission, but sometimes it can be valuable to keep your location to yourself.
Everyone will have their own reason for wanting not to publicize the fact that they are traveling. Whatever yours might be, it is valuable to know that you can achieve almost total privacy by connecting to the web with a VPN.
What types of VPN are there?
Right, we’ve discussed why a VPN is important and hopefully, by this point in the article you are thinking “actually yeah, I might get one of those”. Now let’s look at what types of VPN there are. I’m no tech-whizz and I’m going to assume at least some of you aren’t either. So, let’s make this as simple as possible.
There are two main types of VPN. Remote Access VPNs and Site-to-Site VPNs. You as an individual user are most likely to use a remote access VPN. These connect you to their server before connecting you to the web, allowing you to browse the Internet from their server.
Site-to-Site VPNs are more commonly used by businesses who want to secure connections between multiple fixed locations. This allows employees based in different offices to securely access each other’s resources.
They are simplistic explanations and I’m sure someone with a background in tech could do a much better job, but you get the idea. You are going to want to invest your money in a remote access VPN. This will let you do all the stuff I talked about earlier in the article and, most importantly, will keep your data safe.
If you’re sold on the idea of using a VPN, you might be wondering where to go to acquire such a thing. There are dozens of VPN providers out there, but not all were created equally.
Encrypt.me comes as an app that you can download on to your device and it is fabulously user-friendly.
To sign up, you simply create a VPN account and choose a subscription. Once you’ve got your plan sorted, you can use it on all of your devices.
For an individual user, you can get an unlimited data plan for $9.99 per month or $99.99 for the whole year. These are perfect if you use the Internet a lot or are planning on traveling for an extended period of time. Alternatively, you can buy one-off passes that last either a week, month, or year.
If you’re not fully sold on Encrypt.me, they let you try it for free for 14 days before you commit to buying. However, I have to say that VPNs are not the kind of things that give you much by way of tangible results. You probably won’t notice a difference as you browse the web. The action goes on behind the scenes as it keeps your data far more secure than it ever was before.
In a world where instant gratification is everything, it can be frustrating to pay for something that doesn’t deliver visible results. You just have to trust that the app is working over time to encrypt your data and keep it safe.
If you’ve managed to get all the way to the end of this article then I commend your efforts. However, if you skipped straight to the end in the hopes of finding a summary of the article, I won’t disappoint you. Here are some bullet points to take away with you:
- VPNs keep your data safe when you browse the web and give you enhanced anonymity.
- They let you watch US netflix in Europe and vice versa
- They are an essential piece of travel equipment
- Encrypt.me is a great VPN that is easy to use, affordable, and effective
That’s it folks! Safe travels and safe browsing.
PIN FOR LATER
This post was brought to you in collaboration with Encrypt.me.
Hello, Sofie! I’m Angela! Thanks for such an interesting and useful article. Do you know what’s funny? My husband has NordVPN for a year, and I have never thought of it in a travel context. We are going to Beijing next week, and I guess we will take it with us. It unblocks Netflix, and as far as I know, it is forbidden in China. Anyway, thanks!
You’re very welcome!