The most valuable thing on you when you travel isn’t in your backpack — it’s your data. Protect it with the right VPN.
Most people buy travel insurance before they go on a long trip — especially to “adventurous” destinations like Thailand or Iceland. And that’s awesome. Travel insurance is a great way to protect you and your stuff from the inevitable bumps, expenses, and cancellations that happen when you travel.
What is surprising is how few people think about protecting their data when they travel. Which is, arguably, a lot more valuable than the stuff in your travel backpack.
We travel surrounded by a virtual cloud of our sensitive private data. People use their phones and computers to book accommodation, pay for things with a tap, and login to dozens of accounts linked to credit cards and bank accounts. Yet most travelers don’t give a second thought to securing their vulnerable online accounts, passwords, or other browsing data.
That needs to change.
You need a better way to protect your online data when you travel. Luckily, with the right VPN it’s easier (and more affordable) than you think.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to how VPNs work, why you might need one on your next trip, how to use a VPN, and some of our favorite’s for frequent travelers.
What the Heck is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is just a program that connects your computer to a private server. This private server routes all your internet traffic through this private connection which keeps your data and metadata private.
A VPN, is basically just a secure way to connect to the internet, even on a public WiFi connection.
How Does a VPN Work and Why Do You Need One?
A VPN creates this private connection by doing three things:
Encryption and IP Address Changes
VPNs keep your online searches private by hiding your IP address and encrypting the metadata of your internet usage (hence the word “privacy” in the name). Your IP address is kind of like your online fingerprint that tells servers and networks where you are in the world. Your IP address can even let people track what you search for.
VPNs use encryption to hide your IP address or even change your IP address so that it looks like you’re browsing from another country. This encryption and IP management stops people from seeing which sites you visit or what specific traffic (like passwords or banking info) you send over any network connection — even public WiFi.
Get Around Blocked Websites
Some governments around the world censor the sites people within their borders can use online. This typically includes adult sites and torrent or download sites, but can also include sites that are critical of the government or just happen to be on a ban list, like Facebook.
China is the obvious example for this kind of censorship, but other countries can surprise you with what they block. VPNs can make it look like you’re connecting to the internet from an IP address outside of the country you’re in so you can browse banned or restricted content privately and securely.
Regional Copyright Controls
Along the same lines, not all video content can be streamed around the world. Digital copyright is a strange and horrible topic, but suffice it to say that you can’t watch Netflix or Hulu in every country.
VPNs allow users to stream content from anywhere in the world.
A Secret Reason to Use a VPN While Traveling: Better Prices
A fourth kind of “hidden” use for a VPN while traveling is to mask where you are in the world so you can get better deals on flights, hotels, and busses. Many booking websites — like airlines and regional bus and train websites — display different prices based on your IP address.
If your IP address says you’re browsing from a nearby country, booking algorithms and certain sites might give you a better deal on flights or accommodation. Also, some sites, specifically regional train and bus companies, won’t sell tickets to certain IP addresses. You can browse from a different IP address and buy tickets online with ease with a VPN.
So, those three reasons above (along with this secret fourth usage) are basically what a VPN does and why you should use one. A VPN is a way to browse with a little more encryption and privacy. However, they won’t protect you from “hacking,” as most hacking today either happens because you accidentally clicked that weird email link, or an entire company’s security was compromised on a massive scale that affects millions of users.
Stop worrying about some imaginary “shady guy” in the corner waiting for you to enter your LinkedIn password on the Starbucks public WiFi. It doesn’t really work like that.
Do You Need a VPN for Travel?
Securing your privacy and personal information is always a good idea, but VPNs aren’t magic. They only do what I outlined above. Honestly, if you’re not trying to protect your privacy by blocking who can see which sites you visit, or you don’t need to get around regionally blocked websites and stream online content from anywhere in the world, you probably don’t need a VPN.
And the reason you don’t need a VPN to keep your data safe is because… you’re already pretty safe.
I know it sounds strange in the current climate of massive security breaches and hacks, but almost every website in the world already uses military grade encryption.
Take a look at the url in your browser right now. See that little “lock” icon and the first five letters of that url? If you see a little green or grey lock icon and the url starts with “https” when you visit a website — you’re good. That site is already encrypted. That “s” in “http” stands for security, and the information you send on that site — including passwords, logins, and specific data—is protected.
No one can see the data you’re sending on an encrypted site. All they can see is the metadata you send. Using a VPN people blocks that metadata, but if you’re just browsing the regular old internet, or you don’t mind who sees which sites you visit, a VPN isn’t really that useful.
That’s the biggest thing you need to understand about how VPNs work:
VPNs don’t make your data any more secure. They just make your internet usage more private.
What to Look for in a VPN
Comparison shopping for VPNs can be confusing, especially if you’re not sure how you’ll use it while you travel. Here are some simple (and essential) features to look for when buying a VPN.
Lots of Connection Points
VPNs route your traffic through an additional server, so it will always slow down your traffic at least a little. However, sometimes it can crush data speeds. Look for a VPN with thousands of server options spread all over the world so you can browse with better your speeds while using your VPN.
You don’t want to route all your traffic through Mumbai if you’re in Peru.
You want a VPN that will actually do what you’re paying for in the countries you’re visiting. Check the compatibility of the VPN before you travel to make sure you pick the right one for your trip.
Multiple Device Connections
You don’t just use one device with a VPN. Make sure you get one that will work with your phone, laptop, and tablet to keep all your devices safe and secure on the go.
Make your VPN idiot proof by getting a program that features an auto-connect or always on feature. Turn that on and forget about it.
Best VPNs for Travellers and What They Cost
Now that you know a thing or two about VPNs, it’s time to choose the right one for your next trip. The good news is that VPNs are more affordable than you think. In fact, most VPNs start at around $3 per month.
Here are some of the best VPNs and what they’ll cost you for a few months or even years of added online privacy:
($2.99/month for a 3-year plan)
Nord VPN is one of the biggest names in the online privacy and security game, for good reason. Their VPN is cheap, easy to use, super safe with 2048-bit encryption (that’s a lot), and packed with features like the ability to download the VPN software on up to six devices with a single account. Just download it and you’re good to go.
NordVPN works on Android or iOS devices and laptops using servers in 60 countries. They even promise faster connection speeds, with over 5600 routers to choose from. (Routing your traffic through an additional server can slow things down, especially on a slow connection, just FYI).
NordVPN is $12 a month if you pay monthly, but if you’re going to get a VPN you might as well dive in and just get the three-year plan for just $2.99 a month ($107 billed once every three years). They even let you try it for free for 7 days.
($8.32/month for 1-year plan)
ExpressVPN offers over 3000 VPN servers in 94 countries, which provides a lot of versatility if you’re keen on faster anonymous browsing speeds. They also offer a built in speed test (which is nice), and a breakdown of which countries connect to different VPNs types. If you’re trying to optimize your VPN experience, there’s a lot of info here.
ExpressVPN works with every device across all platforms and comes with 24/7 live support if you hit a snag. If you want to browse anonymously and securely, ExpressVPN is a great option with a ton of features for power users and n00bs alike. I particularly like the Chrome extension that I can toggle on and off with a single click.
The best part, ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t like it.
($6.50/month for a 1-year plan)
If you like to torrent stuff, this is your VPN. If you don’t know what “torrenting” is, stick to Express of Nord VPN.
The thing about a VPN is that it protects your privacy by blocking your traffic from being read from you to the VPN server. However, if your VPN keeps a log, there’s still a lot of data about you online. That’s why IPVanish doesn’t keep activity logs.
IPVanish owns all of their servers (not every VPN does) and they have a zero trace policy. When you use IP Vanish’s VPN you literally browse incognito. They don’t log a single thing.
In addition to this extreme privacy, they host over 1,300 servers with 40,000+ IPs all over the world, and unlimited P2P traffic (that’s the torrenting thing we talked about). IPVanish is great for power users or anyone trying to circumvent copyright or licensing restrictions. They can even help you access blocked sites at universities (yes, colleges block a lot of websites) and online content in countries all over the world.
You can connect up to 10 devices at once. That’s awesome.
How to Use Your VPN While Travelling
Your VPN is only as good as the user. Here’s how to use your VPN while traveling.
Always Make Sure your VPN is On
If your VPN isn’t turned on, you’re not protected. Download the VPN app for all of your devices and check that their running. If your VPN has an always on feature, set that to “on.”
Run a Speed Test
When you’re connected to make sure you’re connected to the fastest available server option. If your speeds plummet, try a different server maybe keep the browsing to a minimum and disable the VPN until you find a faster connection. Or you know… go outside and see the country you’re visiting.
Connect to the Nearest VPN Server
It pays to get a VPN with a lot of servers all over the world, so you can connect to the closest one. Latency can decrease browsing speeds so always connect to the nearest VPN when possible.
Countries Where You Need a VPN
Dozens of countries across the world are known for banning or censoring content they don’t want their citizens to know about. Here’s a list of every country that you’ll need a VPN to see censored content:
This ban list changes all the time. Check on each country before you visit to see if your VPN is supported.
- Saudi Arabia
- North Korea
How to Use a VPN to Watch Netflix Abroad
The thing no one realizes about Netflix is that there isn’t just one Netflix. There are over 200.
Thanks to complicated international copyright laws, you can’t watch certain movies or tv shows in certain parts of the world. 20th century problems, right?
Netflix filters what you can see based on your IP which you used to be able to get around with any old VPN. Not anymore. As of August 2019, Netflix has applied a pretty VPN blocker that makes it harder than ever to binge watch your favorite shows abroad.
However, you can still beat these weird content blocks with both ExpressVPN and NordVPN thanks to their wealth of IP addresses. And if you ever do get the dreaded streaming error kill screen, just switch to another IP address and you’re good to go.
TL;DR: Beginner Guide to VPNs for Travel
The internet can be a confusing place, and traveling only exposes you and your data to more risks. Browse public WiFi connections with confidence and privacy with an affordable, easy to use VPN for the latest encryption and anonymous browsing tools.
The most valuable thing on you when you travel isn’t in your backpack — it’s your data. Protect it with the right VPN.
- Pick a VPN with thousands of servers and multi-country compatibility
- Get a VPN with fast server speeds will slow down browsing and streaming speeds a little
- Use VPNs to browse Netflix anywhere in the world
- Protect your privacy and data with the best 2048-bit encryption