If you are a frequent traveler, a digital nomad, or going on a big journey, then it’s an excellent idea to subscribe to a VPN service. In this post, I’ll explain what a VPN does and how it can benefit you while you’re on the road.
What’s a VPN?
A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is a service that lets you connect to the internet abroad through a private connection. Think of a VPN as digging a little tunnel through the internet that’s fully encrypted and only for you.
You can then ‘pop out’ of that tunnel in different locations around the world, making it seem like you’re connecting from that other location.
There are three huge advantages to using a VPN:
- Your internet connections becomes much more secure
- It lets you unblock sites normally unavailable in your location abroad
- It lets you view sites in your local version you know from home
That last point is a big one. I’ve often been frustrated getting Portuguese, Russian, Thai, or whatever version of sites while traveling, instead of the English versions I’m used to. A VPN will ensure you can get your regular language and settings without having to manually switch languages.
With a VPN, you could log onto the internet in China, for example, but all websites will think you’re in the US or Europe. This means sites that are normally blocked in China (like Netflix) suddenly become available again.
Using a VPN when you travel also means you’re protected from data theft and certain types of hacking, as your personal little tunnel through the internet has a protective wall around it that nefarious types cannot easily breach.
Your VPN connection is fully encrypted, and your true location is unknown.
Quick solution: ExpressVPN
With Express VPN you can secure your connection abroad, enjoy high speeds, and change your location to anywhere.
What a VPN can unblock
The more you travel the more you’ll realize the internet is totally different depending on where you are.
For example, Netflix always shows you a different local library depending on your country. While Netflix Originals are usually licensed globally, the films and catalog titles can be wildly different — and the selection is often quite terrible compared to countries like the US or UK. With a VPN, you will gain access to your home country’s version of Netflix.
Sites like Hulu, HBO Go or BBC iPlayer normally become totally inaccessible outside of their home country.
Chat apps like Facebook Messenger, Skype or Whatsapp are also blocked in many countries. Good luck using them in Morocco, China, Iran, Egypt, and others. Gmail is blocked in numerous countries as well. Sometimes such blocks are quite unexpected… did you know Mexican and Belizean ISPs block many VoIP services? And until recently, Whatsapp was entirely blocked in Brazil.
In some cases, services become totally inaccessible due to localization issues. In Vietnam, I couldn’t add credit to my Skype account because it defaulted to the Vietnamese version, which only accepted Vietnamese credit cards. My UK mobile phone provider doesn’t allow access at all from abroad, so when I needed to add some credit, I couldn’t.
Most annoyingly (and frequently), most sites will default the language and settings to your geolocation. When you’re in Thailand, Google Maps will often turn into Thai, using the Thai script. You keep having to switch things back to the proper language or location.
All of those issues become a thing of the past when you use a VPN.
How a VPN protects you
When you’re travelling you’re usually dealing with lots of different WiFi access points every day. Some of these may be very poorly protected.
Just like you might be targeted by pickpockets abroad, cybercriminals can use public WiFi signals to capture your data, credit card numbers, and more.
Travelers tend to use their internet connection for online banking, as they always have to manage their money remotely. As a traveler you’ll also be very frequently using your credit card on all sorts of booking sites.
A VPN ensures you can do all those things without anything shady going on, protecting you from cybercrime and identity theft.
Setting up your VPN
There are some free VPNs out there but there is always a catch. These free options are usually capped (e.g. max 1GB per month), too slow for things like streaming video, can be unencrypted, or their business model is based on selling your user data. Not good.
If you are frequently online abroad then you’ll only get truly comprehensive service from a paid VPN.
I’ve used several paid VPNs but the one I’ve stuck with is ExpressVPN, because I’ve found to be fast and reliable. The links to ExpressVPN here are affiliate links — I have chosen to partner with them as I think their service is the best of all the VPNs I’ve tried.
Here’s how you can set up ExpressVPN (it’s easy!).
1. Sign up at ExpressVPN
Sign up for an account and enter your payment details.
2. Download the app
ExpressVPN is available for every major PC, mobile, and set-top platform.
In the example below, I’m downloading the Windows app.
3. Copy the activation code
Once the software set-up has completed, just copy the activation code (seen on the downloads page on ExpressVPN) and paste it in the box in the app.
That’s it! You’re done!
Within the app, you can now choose from almost 150 locations from around the world. The recommended ones are listed in the first tab.
So long as you’re tunneling through ExpressVPN, your connection will be protected and your internet location changed.