I don’t know how I spent a year in Prague without a VPN. Now that I’ve gotten with the program (or whatever the kids say these days), I realize why having a VPN is so important. In fact, I would include it on a list of travel necessities along with ear plugs and a neck pillow.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that allows you to go online using the servers of your own private network rather than public or private internet service providers. This gives you a variety of perks, not the least of which, is that it provides a secure encrypted connection that will protect you and your data online.
I recently signed up for a VPN, which gives you VPN access from your laptop, phone, or tablet (and up to 2 simultaneously). The program is not processor-intensive so it won’t slow you down if you always have 12 apps open like I do. And the simple interface allows you to connect to the server location of your choice. The service is pretty cheap for something way more useful than that cute luggage tag that costs the same thing.
Why you need one
About a year ago, I was considering taking a job in Shanghai. I didn’t, in part, because internet use is broadly restricted in China. I didn’t want to spend a year without having access to unfiltered news, Facebook, or any other media that the government deemed unfit for the public. But that wouldn’t have been a problem if I had a VPN.
Remote access to foreign internet networks
With a VPN, you use an artificial IP address every time you log online. It can be from a variety of countries, including the US. So if you’re in a country like China, you can access all the parts of the internet available to the free world. And if you don’t think that’s a huge deal, consider all the scenarios in which this is helpful for an expat or frequent traveler.
- You can work abroad with a US-based company that doesn’t know you live in another country. Not unlike the business use of a VPN, the network allows you to geo-spoof your location so it’ll look like you’re working wherever you say you are.
- You’ll get access to US-based programming on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. Some of these providers require you to subscribe to different country-specific services if you’re logging on from another region. (Protip: You can also use your VPN to access foreign media from the US.)
- One of the inconveniences of being an expat is clicking on the most important or viral video of the day and getting the dreaded “This video is not available in your region.” I will never have that problem again, because thanks to my VPN, my region is wherever I want it to be.
- When you log onto certain websites, they use your IP to deliver content they think will be relevant, which means that you constantly get news, search engine results, and social media presented in another language whenever you travel. With a VPN, you can bypass regional content and access the things you want to see without having to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out how to change a site back to English.
- I never thought I would have to vouch for ads, but since living in the Czech Republic, all my ads are in Czech. And as annoying as ads can be, I still actually prefer an ad for a crazy travel deal I’m actually interested in as opposed to something that is completely nonsensical to me because it’s in Czech. With a VPN, ad content remains useful.
- A VPN can also save you money. For example, as a resident of the Czech Republic, I have access to flight and hotel prices that may be different because of where my connection originates. With a VPN, I can shop around different for travel deals from all over the world without leaving my living room.
The added security is one of the best reasons for getting a VPN. Because when you travel, you’re often logging into strange Wifi networks in airports, cafes, restaurants and hotels. There’s a reason why your devices always warn you about the privacy of your information on public networks. Public Wifi networks can be exploited by anyone with a little bit of tech knowledge to access your private accounts.
A VPN adds an extra layer of security by encrypting all the things you do online. This means your personal information, money, and identity remain private even when you’re on the shadiest public networks in South America. It also means that your ISP can’t get (and sell) information about what you do online.
It’s an easy investment for cyber-safety abroad. And you know, if you want to binge watch your favorite US show on Netflix while you’re in Russia, it’s not so bad either.