Plenty of things make you feel safer when travelling. You may research the safety of your destinations, memorise the emergency phone numbers, and equip yourself with anti-theft backpacks or money belts. But few travellers consider the safety of their online presence when travelling abroad.
A free public WiFi connection can save you from getting lost. And a chance to upload an Instagram story (or ten) is a common way of telling your friends what you’ve been up to.
But connecting to public WiFi poses security risks that most travellers don’t consider before they pack their bags.
The ones that do acknowledge these risks use a virtual private network (VPN).
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network is a service that hides your identity and activities from snooping eyes. Your internet service provider (ISP), the websites you visit, the hackers lurking around the public WiFi – you name it.
When you use a VPN, your internet service provider sees that you have connected to a VPN service. But it doesn’t know what you do afterwards – what sites you visit or what information you upload and download.
The VPN also covers your IP address (and along with it – your location) from the sites you visit. The websites will still know who you are if you choose to log in to your accounts, for example, Facebook. But they won’t have a way to identify you if you don’t log in.
And most importantly, the VPN encrypts your connection to the internet. Even if the internet connection is sabotaged by hackers eagerly waiting to steal your bank details, you’re in the clear. They won’t be able to decipher any of the data they take.
Why you need a VPN when traveling
Safety and privacy
Like keeping your belongings safe when traveling, your privacy needs to be safe too. And VPN is the way to do it.
Every time you connect to a public WiFi, you may be facing a privacy issue. Hackers may use the open network to steal your data, including your bank account details. But when you use a VPN, your data is encrypted. Even if someone managed to intercept it, it would look like gibberish.
Only the VPN provider would be able to know what you do online. That’s why you need a VPN that’s trustworthy and has a proven no-log policy.
Accessing restricted content
Most countries have some restrictions when it comes to internet content. Take China, for example. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and even the mighty Google is not available in China unless you use a VPN service.
If you use a local streaming service at home, it may not be available when you cross the border. And some sites that may not be restricted won’t necessarily work in the same way as they do in your country. Netflix, for example, has different TV shows available based on the geolocation.
We all know that feeling when you check some products online, and their ad pops up in every site you visit for the next few weeks. When you don’t use a VPN service, every website you visit knows your IP address. It lets them follow you with advertisements on every site you visit.
Are you feeling stalked much?
It’s even worse when traveling. Not only do you see ads you’d prefer to ignore, but some will also be in the language you don’t understand.
With VPN, your IP address changes every time you connect to a different server. You won’t be seeing recurring ads. Some VPN services, such as NordVPN, also have a function of blocking flashy ads altogether. It improves the speed of your connection and lets you focus on the things that matter.
Getting better deals
Traveling sites are known for tracking their customers to adapt the available offers to a particular person. Whether you book on working day or weekend, whether you’ve visited the site before or it’s your first time — many factors affect the prices you see. Your geolocation adds up to that too.
Imagine this. You’re in the middle of your Europe trip, looking for flights from Switzerland. As the cost of living is pretty high there, the ticket prices will be as well. But if you use a VPN, you can connect to the site through a server in a different country.
It may affect the prices you see on the site. Thus, many smart travellers use a VPN to check the offers from a couple of locations to get the best deals when making holiday plans.