What if you want to work remotely from somewhere that isn’t your home, but you’re not sure your boss will let you?
Well, the sensible thing is to discuss the possibilities with your company. But if you prefer to just let sleeping dogs lie, then you could choose to work remotely from anywhere while hiding your location.
While I’m not specifically recommending this, I’ll be sharing several ways here to maintain your privacy while working from anywhere, while trusting you to comply with your company regulations.
As a travel blogger, I’m lucky to be able to work for myself. But I’ve shared work trips with friends whose employers with ambiguous remote work policies. Determined not to draw the Eye of Sauron of their corporate head offices, my friends wanted to make sure their IP address would not reveal their true location, so I helped them set up some solutions.
To be clear: yes, it is possible that your boss (or whomever) is watching you. Using your IP address (a series of numbers with dots), someone can easily trace your location while you’re logging in from out of office.
But… there are also ways of making this impossible.
3 solutions to keep your privacy
The three solutions listed here all rely on VPN technology. A VPN lets you access the internet through a secured encrypted connection that can be routed via a server anywhere in the world.
Think of it as making a secret tunnel through the internet from your device to an endpoint somewhere. To anyone looking at your activity online, they won’t see where you’re tunnelling from, they will only see the location where it popped out.
For example, I could be physically in Belgium, but use a VPN connection to make it appear like I’m in the UK.
Public vs private VPNs
The first two solutions below involve using a public VPN. This is by far the easiest to set up, but it’s not always 100% watertight.
While your real location will be hidden, the fact that you’re using a VPN will still be visible. So someone might not be able to ask you, “hey, why are you logging in from Hawaii?”, but they might still ask you, “hey, why are you using a VPN?”.
I believe the chances of getting that question are still pretty slim, but a particularly nosy IT department might be keeping track of public VPN servers.
Only the third solution (using a private VPN) will be completely foolproof in giving you total privacy.
Solution 1: use VPN software
The easiest way to mask your location is to use VPN software.
All this takes is installing an app on your computer (or whatever device you need to use the internet with) and subscribing to a monthly VPN subscription.
The reason that it’s a paid service is that encrypting and rerouting your internet connection takes a lot of resources. While there are a couple of free VPNs out there, they are typically very bad and give you very slow connections.
Personally, I’ve used ExpressVPN, Tunnelbear, and NordVPN. I like NordVPN the most by far as it’s highly affordable while offering high speeds and tons of locations. When using their VPN, I’ve easily had multiple video streams running concurrently (e.g. Zoom and Netflix) without issue.
How to use a public VPN:
- Create an account and subscribe at NordVPN.
- Download the app for your device or browser
- In the app, select a location from which you want to appear
I recommend using the app for your operating system (e.g. Windows or MacOS) and not one of the apps that works with your internet browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.). That way it will take care of your entire internet connection and not just your browser activity.
Using this VPN software will ensure that no one can know your real location by checking your IP address.
Solution 2: get a travel router
There may be situations where you want to use a travel router for your VPN instead.
- If you want to share the same VPN connection across multiple devices (laptop, phone, etc.)
- If you are traveling with other people who also want to use the VPN
- If your work computer doesn’t allow you to install any apps
- If your company already uses a corporate VPN (you can’t have two VPNs at the same time on the same device)
When I went on a remote work trip with some friends, some of whom didn’t want their location known to their employers, I purchased a small travel router that works seamlessly with my NordVPN subscription.
I bought this GL.iNet GL-AR300M Mini Travel Router. It was only 30 Euros (about $35 USD) and yet it did everything it needed to do without a hitch.
You can see how small it is in the picture above, where it’s sitting next to the broadband router of the Airbnb we were staying.
This tiny router can log on to any WiFi signal (or LAN cable connection), encrypt it via VPN, and then make this secured connection available via its own WiFi signal.
Setting it up takes a few more steps, but it’s not too complicated. Here’s how to do it:
- Get the GL.iNet 300M mini router at Amazon (if it’s out of stock, try the GL.iNet Creta)
- Plug it into the charger using the USB cable
- Log onto its WiFi signal (the details are printed on the back)
- Go to the address http://192.168.8.1 in your browser
- Follow these instructions to set up NordVPN
When you’ve completed the setup, you can have any of your devices connected to this travel router. All connections will appear to come from the location you select in NordVPN. If you use this travel router, there is no need for any apps.
Can you use this if your company already has a VPN? Well, it depends. While using this setup my friend, who works at a major multinational corporation, was able to log in just fine to their company VPN and NordVPN at the same time. However, using two VPNs at once isn’t always guaranteed to work, so if this is your situation I do recommend testing this out before you go off to some far-flung destination.
Using a travel router has some additional advantages. For instance, it also acts as a WiFi signal repeater, which can help ensure a solid connection at your remote work location. One vacation apartment I stayed at had good WiFi downstairs but poor WiFi upstairs; by placing the travel router near the stairs, the internet now reached both areas.
The GL.iNet 300M travel router can also connect to 4G or 5G if you plug in a USB SIM card adaptor. That’s nice to have as a fallback option should the WiFi in your remote location let you down.
Solution 3: set up a private VPN
Difficulty: hard (but easy if you get KeepYourHomeIP to do it for you)
If you really want to have maximum privacy while working from anywhere, then this is the ultimate solution.
By using a private VPN, it will actually look like you are logging in from your home. And it won’t be obvious to anyone that you are using a VPN.
Even a very savvy IT department won’t notice anything different from your normal activity.
Setting up a private VPN is honestly quite complicated, which is why I’ve never done it by myself. You’ll need not one but two of those GL.iNet routers (or similar) and you’ll need to know a little about network administration to set up the configurations on your home router.
But there is now a service that does this all for you which I love to recommend. I used them recently and everything just worked perfectly. It allows you to work from anywhere while tunnelling your connections via your home and then back onto the internet. Anyone checking your connection will just see that you’re logging in from home.
First, I received these small GL.iNet routers from KeepYourHomeIP:
I then had a brief support call with them where they remotely set up my home internet router so that it can securely pass through the connection.
You can check out their service packages here, which have the advantage of being just a one-time set-up fee, and not an ongoing subscription. For most users, I believe their cheapest package (Economy Light) will be absolutely fine. Another advantage of this service is that it’s highly likely to work even if your company already has a VPN (though I recommend testing it first).
I wrote a more detailed post with my experiences using KeepYourHomeIP as well as step-by-step instructions on how to use it.
So there you have it, three ways to keep your location hidden while working remotely.
I published the original version of this post during the early days of the pandemic when it went crazily viral. I guess a lot of people were having the same problem that I had. I’ve since updated this post to include the more advanced solution of a private VPN.
Do please keep in mind that I’m just a guy sharing what’s worked for me! I can’t offer any kind of tech support as that’s beyond my level of expertise. I’m just telling you my experiences as a subscriber to NordVPN and having used different travel router setups. If you have any questions you can leave a comment below, though keep in mind I can’t guarantee that I’ll know all the answers, especially if it’s an extremely technical detail. If things are proving a bit too technical for you, I recommend using KeepYourHomeIP as they offer dedicated support.
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