A VPN is a service that lets you connect to the internet abroad through a private connection.
If you are a frequent traveller, a digital nomad, or if you are going on a big journey, then it’s a great idea to subscribe to a VPN service.
What’s a VPN?
A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is a service that essentially digs 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 on the road become way more secure with a VPN
- It lets you unblock sites that are normally unavailable in your location abroad
- It lets you view sites in your local version you know from home, instead of the Portuguese / Russian / Thai / whatever version you get when abroad. (This saves a lot of frustration.)
As an example, you might access the internet in China using your Chinese hotel’s WiFi, but all the websites will actually think you’re logging in from 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.
What a VPN can unblock
The more you travel the more you’ll realize the internet is totally different depending on where you are.
- Netflix always shows you a different local library. The selection in most countries is terrible. With a VPN, you will gain access to your home country’s version of Netflix. (Or you can switch to the amazing US version, which is way better than anywhere else!)
- 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 blocked in many countries. Good luck using them in Morocco, China, Iran, Egypt, and others. Gmail is blocked in numerous countries as well. Sometimes blocks are quite unexpected… did you know Mexican and Belizean ISPs block many VoIP services? Until recently, Whatsapp was entirely blocked in Brazil!
- In some cases, services become totally inaccessible due to localization issues. In Vietnam 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 let you access its site at all from abroad, so when I needed to add 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, and some of these may be very poorly protected.
Just like you might be targeted by pickpockets abroad, cyber criminals can use public WiFi signals to capture your data, credit card numbers, and more.
Travellers tend to use their internet connection for online banking, as they always have to manage their money remotely. As a traveller 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 cyber crime and identity theft.
Setting up your VPN
There are some free VPNs out there but there is always a catch. They are usually capped (e.g. max 1GB per month), too slow for things like streaming video, may be unencrypted, or their business model is based on selling your user data. Not good.
If you are online a lot abroad then you’ll only get a truly comprehensive service from a paid VPN.
I have used several paid VPNs but the one I’ve stuck with is ExpressVPN, because I’ve found to be fast and reliable. 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.sign up at ExpressVPN »
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.
An important tip about Netflix: this site has lately been blocking certain servers to get content licensors off their backs, but they haven’t blocked all VPN servers… far from it! If the first server you choose ends up giving you an error message on Netflix, just select one of the alternative locations within that same country. If you run into any trouble with this, simply contact ExpressVPN support and they’ll quickly help you out. There are many servers on ExpressVPN that stream Netflix without any issues whatsoever, it just might not always be the first one on the list.