How to Use a VPN when You Are Travelling?

Updated: 12 July 2020
Updated: 12 July 2020

When I’m travelling either to a foreign country or just inside my home country, I never connect to the internet without using a VPN service.

I recommend everyone to to the same every single time you are travelling. This should honestly be a best-practice employed by everyone, regardless of what you are doing on the internet while travelling – even if you only use social media to post pictures.

Read below why I believe it’s extremely important to use a VPN when travelling.

You will most likely access the internet though free WI-FI

When you are travelling – especially to a foreign country – you will usually be accessing the internet from coffee shops, airports and hotel rooms. These internet connections are almost always open to anyone and completely unsecured.

In case of airports literally hundreds and thousands of people are connected to the free WI-FI networks at the same time.

It’s extremely (I can’t stress this enough!) easy for someone else who is connected to those networks to intercept all the data of everyone else. This includes what websites you have visited, the content of the messages you have sent to others, pictures if you have sent to others or uploaded to social media and even the passwords you have typed in when accessing a website like Facebook.

And as I have explained above, such free WI-FI connections are usually always unsecured.

A VPN service essentially creates a secure and encrypted connection, meaning that no one else who is connected to the airport wifi or hotel wifi you are connected to can see anything you are doing on the internet.

In other words, your internet activity will be completely hidden from anyone tying to intercept your data.

You should in fact use a VPN every single time you are connected to any public wifi, even if it’s just your local Starbucks one block away from where you live. This does not apply only when you are travelling.

Every single time you connect to a wifi network that was not set up by yourself or it’s not the wifi network in your home, you should use a VPN. This includes coffee shops, your friends wifi, the free wifi at your school or university, etc. – everything that is not explicitly yours.

But it’s extremely important to use a VPN when in a foreign country and in places such as airports, popular tourist coffee shops or hotels. This is because criminals who would want to intercept your data know that it’s these places that have the most potential victims.

You should use a VPN even if you are only using social media

So, you’re on vacation and you are not logging in into any important accounts like your online bank account, PayPal, etc. you’re just posting statuses and pictures on Facebook and talks with friends at home. So who cares if someone else may potentially see you data?

It matters because they will be able to intercept absolutely everything. This includes messages posted on social media – even private messages, images posted and even sent privately but most importantly your social media passwords too.

Someone may not only be able to steal your private messages and sensitive pictures but also your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. passwords and then hijack your account.

But if you are using a VPN every time you use the internet while on vacation or just travelling to another country, then this will never happen because your connection will be secured and encrypted.

Financial data such as online banking and PayPal can get hacked

You obviously don’t want your social media accounts hacked either but it’s even more serious if you have your online banking or PayPal (or any other such service) hacked.

If you are connected to a free wifi like free airport wifi or hotel wifi, then someone else connected to that network will be able to steal your internet banking details such as login and password.

If it’s a payment processor such as PayPal then it’s especially bad because they can transfer out all your money or make purchases and in most cases you will not be able to ever recover the lost money.

But if you are using a reputable and safe VPN that encrypts your traffic, then hijacking your data will not be possible, even if someone with malicious intent is also connected to that free wifi network.

You may not be able to access the same content while away, as in your home country

You probably know that popular streaming services such as Netflix show different content in different countries. Many content that is available in one country is not available in another.

So, if you are away on vacation or on a business trip, you may not have access to some of the movies and TV shows or live sports events that are normally available in your home country.

This is when a VPN comes in handy.

Apart from the security that it will provide, which was described in the previous chapters, it will also help you establish a connection to your home country and make it look like as if you would be accessing the web from your home country.

This way you can use streaming platforms and have access to the same content that you had access to at home, even if that content is not available in the country you are physically located in at the moment.

Some websites and streaming services may not even be available at all in the country you are visiting. The only way to access those websites and services is through a VPN.

You can avoid internet censorship

An increasing number of countries have various internet censorship measures in place. In some countries, like China or Iran, you will not be able to access websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

This is because the governments of those countries does not want people to freely share information, because they fear that it would lead to demonstrations and anti-government protests calling for the end of repressive policies and the resignation of authoritarian or corrupt politicians.

So, if you so happen to visit such a country (there are more such countries than you think), you will have to use a VPN in order to be able to access certain websites that are usually associated with the free flow of information, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and similar.

Something else that is very important to note is that many countries will not outright ban certain websites, instead they will intensely monitor web activity or even intercept the data you are sending through the internet.

So, while certain websites may not be banned. Government agencies in many countries will monitor what people post on social media and may even intercept all their web traffic data (including your passwords).

There were some cases when travellers and tourists were arrested in some countries such as China and Turkey for posting dissenting opinions on social media while visiting such countries. In Turkey for example, you will need a VPN to unblock porn.

If you use a VPN, then you will be able to hide your internet activity while visiting such countries.

Even if you think that you have nothing to hide, you can never know what thing you say or do that is completely normal and accepted in your home country, is deemed illegal, dissenting or “dangerous” in a different country.

So, better be safe, always use a VPN while in a foreign country.

You need a VPN every time you conduct anything business work related

From the previous chapters you will know that you should use a VPN even if you are just browsing the internet and using social media.

It obviously follows that it’s very important to use a VPN if you are doing anything work related on your computer. In fact, it were businesses that have first used VPN’s exactly because of these reasons.

It’s just too dangerous to send any business related information through an internet connection that is either not your own or of the organisation you are working at.

Others can intercept your data and have access to sensitive business and work related information.

This also applies if you are connecting to a network owned by a business partner for example. Maybe they would want to have access to your data in order to spy on your businesses’ activity or have an edge in negotiations.

Always use a VPN if you are doing anything work or business related and are not connected to your home or office’s connection.

Use a VPN on your mobile devices as well

You should also use a VPN if you use the internet from a mobile device in a foreign country. The same reasons as the ones described above are also valid in case of mobile devices too.

Someone can intercept your data even if you are using the internet on a mobile device. This includes Facebook, Twitter, uploading your vacation pictures to your cloud storage account like iCloud or Dropbox… all this can be intercepted and stolen.

You should use a VPN on your Android or iPhone mobile even if you are connecting to the internet using your cellular data connection.

You can never know what the local phone company does with your data.

Better be safe.

All high-quality VPN clients come these days with mobile apps too. So, using a VPN on mobile while travelling should not be an issue.

What kind of VPN to use while travelling?

You should use a VPN that is reputable and run by a well-known company, is located in a jurisdiction with strong internet privacy laws, and has very fast servers.

This almost always means and paid subscription-based VPN and never a free VPN you find on Google.

If it’s a free VPN you can be sure it does not have the necessary funds and resources to operate high-speed servers in multiple countries.

In case of a free VPN you can also never be sure who truly owns the service and what their intentions are. Why are they offering their services for free? Maybe because they want to hijack your data?

And even if they are completely reputable, like the many free open source VPN’s out there, they are usually very slow because a huge number of people use them and they don’t have the money to upgrade their servers.

So, you should always use a strong and reputable paid VPN service that has the required server infrastructure to always ensure high-speed connections. It should also be headquartered in a country with very strong internet privacy laws and no data sharing agreements with other countries.

And that would be all for this guide. I hope that you understand now why it’s so important to use a VPN when you are travelling. There are many situations where you might either have your sensitive data stolen and also situations where you might not have access to the same websites and same content you had access to in your home country.

Always use a VPN while travelling and everything will be fine. 🙂

Written by: Joe Robinson

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Data privacy and cyber security expert. Joe has been working in the VPN field for over seven years, and has a passion for analysis and debate. He loves learning new technologies and software, and regularly uses everything from Kali Linux to Pro-tools. When not writing about digital security, Joe helps businesses improve their website usability and spends his free time playing guitar and reading about data science, IoT, and philosophy.

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