In this post I explain what is a VPN, why you should never go on a trip without it and which one you should choose.
Travelling has never been as easy and cheap as in our times. With a short search on the internet you can find flights, hotels and tours at discounted prices. There are thousands of sites that collect tips on how to save money while traveling and can tell you exactly what to do and what to see.
There is no doubt that internet has changed our lives, sometimes for the best other times for the worse, and this within a few years. For example, travelling in our times means being able to stay in touch with family and friends even if we are on the other side of the world. Also thanks to internet it is possible to keep working virtually from any corner of the planet. However this freedom is not evenly distributed throughout the world. It’s becoming increasingly common to find websites that in some countries are censored by local governments (think about China, Egypt, the Arab Emirates and many other countries). This can be a big problem if you need these websites to work and you are travelling in one of those countries. Imagine for example what could happen if you were waiting for an important email on your Gmail account but you are in China (here my travel guide) and since Google it’s censored, you can get it.
Besides the rising number of countries who are censoring content online, there are other things you should worry about when using Internet. One of these is the danger of getting your devices hacked. Using a public Wi-Fi connection for example is ALWAYS risky, no matter where you are.
So the question is: what can you do to avoid these problems? Simple: using a VPN.
What is a VPN
On this blog I wrote a post about the best VPN. I think it is a very important topic but often underestimated or even ignored by most people who use the internet while travelling. But what exactly is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across the VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.
A bit confusing? Let me rephrase it.
Imagine that the Internet is like a river. If you try to pour on that river a bit of red paint (the unencrypted internet connection) anyone can see the paint flowing, where it started and where it will end up. Now imagine that instead of pouring the paint into the river, you use a pipe that is located on the river bed. No one on the banks can see what’s going on under the water and doesn’t even know whether or not there is a pipe. Your VPN is that pipe. It hides the connection, encrypt that connection and does much more.
Even if you haven’t understood well how a VPN works, the good news is that that using it is very simple: just download an app, or a software, and click a button to activate it before browsing the internet. The only thing you’ll have to do is to choose is from which country you want to connect. Then all outgoing traffic from your device will be encrypted: navigation, email, streaming of music and videos, voice calls and video calls and it will seem that it comes from the country you selected.
In recent years some free proxy services have appeared, such as Hola, which actually only protects the internet traffic from your browser. These kinds of proxies are for most cases totally useless or even harmful. To give an example, check this article to see why services like Hola are dangerous. If you are using this service or other similar, I strongly recommend that you delete them and use a safe VPN that actually works and protects your traffic.
If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 good reasons why you need to use a VPN both when you’re travelling and when connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
5+1 reasons why you should use a VPN while traveling
Protect your privacy when using a public Wi-Fi
Hackers are constantly looking for new devices to infect and it’s easier for them to do it when these devices are connected to a public hot spot (it doesn’t matter if access is password protected or not). Whether you are at Singapore airport, in a Chiang Mai Starbucks or in a public library of Milan your devices are vulnerable. A VPN it’s the best way to encrypt your connection and avoid problems. An unprotected Wi-Fi connection can compromise your email and other private information. Do not make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing interesting for hackers to steal and therefore it is not worth protecting your device: most of the times, these kind of attacks are not aimed at stealing personal information but rather at using the victim’s PC as a starting point for other attacks. In other words, if the hacker successfully infiltrates your devices, he will try to use them to attack other devices, so it will seem that you are the hacker!
Improve the speed of the connection
A VPN can be used to bypass the congested traffic of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and thus improve the speed of sites such as Youtube. This is very useful when traveling especially if you are connected to a network with many other travelers. You can watch your favorite TV series or movies without the annoying lags that slow down the streaming.
Avoid the censorship
If you have visited countries such as China, Egypt, the Arab Emirates, Vietnam, etc., you know what I am talking about. More and more countries are trying to prevent access to some websites by blocking them. The reasons are different and more or less justifiable. The result is however always the same: some sites are not accessible without a VPN. In China for example Facebook, Google, Gmail, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and many other sites are blocked. With a VPN you can bypass these restrictions. In western countries too you can find some blocked content. For example, some websites like Netflix do not allow you to see some movies and tv series if you are not physically in the country for which they were produced. Most of the times, you can bypass this limitation getting a VPN and connecting to a server in a different country.
Keep in mind though that if you want a VPN just to stream movies and tv series I recommend you try it first before getting one. This because sites such as Netflix and major VPN developers are constantly fighting each other and from time to time some VPNs might not work as expected.
Prevent your Internet data from being stored
Many countries have laws that establish that the internet browsing data of each individual user is stored for a certain period of time. In Australia, for example, the data is stored for 2 years.
Sadly the world in which we live is increasingly resembling the dystopian reality described by Orwell in 1984. If you think that you HAVE THE RIGHT to have some privacy, then you have another good reason to get a VPN. In Italy currently personal data are stored for a period between 6 months and 2 years. If you don’t know if the country you are currently in has similar laws, you can check this list.
Save money when booking flights, hotels and car rental
Airlines and car rentals websites use the geo-location to decide the final price you’ll pay. With a VPN you are in control and you can change the location of your IP address. This means that you can try to get the cheapest ticket by simply changing your VPN connection to a different server. Remember though to delete the cookies and the chronology history of your browser before using it to book something online or, even better, to browse in an incognito window. One thing to keep in mind is that some airlines try to prevent these shortcuts but completely blocking the access to their websites if you use a VPN. This happened to me with Emirates.
Prevent getting locked out of your home banking and Paypal accounts (among other websites)
One of the security systems adopted by many sites to prevent account theft is checking your IP address. For example, if you access the bank’s site while you are in you country and the next access is from a IP address on the other side of the world, it is very likely that you’ll be locked out. This always happens to me with Paypal, one of the sites with the most restrictive filters. If you travel often it can be a problem because many sites require a confirmation code sent by SMS, but if you are on the other side of the world sometimes you can not receive it. To avoid these and other problems you can use a VPN. Before connecting to you home banking select the country where you usually log-in from and you should be good to go.
A VPN does not solve all the problems associated with using the Internet, but it is certainly one of the best way to considerably reduce the risks and help you save some money on your next booking.
Which are the best VPN for travel?
There are literally tens of different VPNs with prices and performances that differ a lot. There isn’t such a thing as a perfect VPN, because different VPNs are specialiced in different areas. So before getting one think about the reason why you want to use it. These are some of the most popular VPNs with their relative pros and cons.
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for accessing censored sites in countries like China. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and I’ve never experienced any problem, except for a couple of occasions when the Chinese government managed to block it for a few days. It’s not the cheapest but it’s among the fastest. It’s my favorite VPN. Click here to download ExpressVPN.
- It’s one of the fastest VPN
- Works very well in China
- Netflix currently blocks almost all ExpressVPN servers
- It’s not the cheapest
NordVPN is another popular option.è un’altra opzione molto popolare. It’s cheaper than ExpressVPN but it’s also slower. There are also very few servers to choose from, compared to other VPNs. Nevertheless, also thanks to a very aggressive marketing campaign, it is gaining a considerable share of the market. Keep this in mind when reading reviews. Click here to download NordVPN.
- It’s cheaper than other VPNs
- Works well for streaming content
- Few servers to choose from
- It’s not the fastest VPN
I should write a full article about this VPN. In a few words, while ExpressVPN was not working I tried Astrill. It’s considerably slower but it does its job. At least until they decided to deactivate my account, twice. This because for some reason Astrill does not allow the use of SEO tools such as Screamingfrog and Lighthouse. If you work in the industry you know what I’m talking about. Imagine being in China and suddenly, without being warned, being cut off from the internet. This is a big problem for me and for this reason I can not use it, even though honestly it works well in China. Click here to download AstrillVPN.
- Works well in China
- Good for streaming Netflix
- It’s easy to activate it even though you are already in China via this website.
- SEO tools are not allowed (like auditing websites with Screamingfrog)
- It’s quite slow especially in China
- It’s one of the most expensive VPNs
Together with NordVPN, Surfshark is a VPN that has become very popular in recent years. When I tried it a couple of years ago it didn’t work in China, but it seems that now the problems have been solved. It’s a quite cheap VPN (if you subscribe for a longer period of time) and among other things allows you to block ads and pop-ups. Click here to download Surfshark.
- Works well with streming websites
- Unlimited number of devices
- Not as fast as ExpressVPN
- Limited number of servers