Why Use a VPN while Traveling?

Whether you're interested in your online security, or if you might simply want to access various content or to get some better deals, here's why should you use a VPN while traveling.

What is a VPN

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It is a service that hides your online data and activity, helping you stay secure and private.

When you're trying to access something online, you're sending a request to that specific website; that request means that you want that website to return your information. The basic example: you're typing in the Google search bar a word and hit the search button - you're asking (requesting) Google to show you (return) the information about that word. Furthermore, when you click on whatever link on the Google search result page, you're requesting that website to reveal the information from that link.

This whole process is done in seconds and milliseconds. This whole exchange of data goes from your computer, through your firewall, to the Internet Website you're trying to access. Your IP address is visible to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), for example. They will see the IP, and will be able to track its activity.

A VPN comes as an extra layer. It's "placed" right between your Firewall and the Internet Website. It changes your IP address, so that the ISP will see another one, totally unrelated to you. Therefore, your whole connection is private.

I tried to sum up what is a VPN and how does it work in the simplest way possible. I do invite you to read our full article:

Why should you use a VPN while traveling

Nowadays, traveling is easy. Plenty of offers for flights and accommodation, almost no barrier between countries, and a world (online and offline) full of information. Technology also goes hand in hand with this ease of travel - you have Maps, Location, Cellular Data; you can't get lost, at least not in the civilized countries.

As technology is evolving, a part of it focuses on the network area: trying to bring Internet in every corner of the world. It's no surprise when you arrive at a hotel, even in a smaller country, and you have access to the Internet.

With this in mind, the cyber attacks have also increased, or spread. There are a lot of ways in which you can get a malware, or in which you can get attacked by a hacker. It may not happen as frequently in the country where you live, but it may happen in the country you're visiting. The main protection against these is your own knowledge about online security, and your own responsible behavior.

But there's another solution that not only serves as a security and IP measure, it's also a privacy measure. This solution is called Virtual Private Network - on short, VPN.

It doesn't mean that when you travel you're supposed to only be interested in your online security. You might simply want to access various content, or to get some better deals. So let me show you why should you use a VPN while traveling.

Be able to use a public wifi (at the airport, in the city etc.)

You've just landed at your destination, and you need some Internet in order to call a cab or look for some information.

As I've seen, there are many countries in which the cost for a cellular subscription with a big amount of data is super expensive. Not to mention the roaming part. Therefore, you might not be able to use your cellular data in the new place you've traveled.

But what do you do? You really need to find some online information. Your solution is to connect to the airport's WiFi network, but you quickly realize that there's no password or that you have to sign in on some web page in order to get access. I hate this kind of "password", and you'll see why further in the article.

Airports are one of the biggest hacker's target. They rely on the fact that the WiFi networks are poorly protected (especially the ones for the public), and they attempt to do anything. There are videos on YouTube that show you how to crack a WiFi network, so why shouldn't a hacker try to do this for the airport's network? Of course, for the big airports the online security might be to a higher level, but there are so many smaller airports...

Moving on to the moment when you're in the city, maybe in a bus. You see that there's a WiFi available - it wouldn't be awful to be able to scroll some pages while you wait for your destination, right? The problem is that the WiFi is public - no password, no nothing. you start to think: "is this even the WiFi network? or is somebody trying to full us?". You can ask the other passengers to check if the public transportation really offers WiFi - it's a responsible behavior action.

Besides being responsible, you can also use a VPN for both of these situations. Wherever you'll be, you'll be able to connect even to public WiFi. And this without worrying that you might be a victim of a cyber attack.

Use a WiFi with a weak password (restaurants, cafes etc.)

Similar to the situations above, even WiFis with weak passwords should trigger something in you so that you'll quickly connect to your VPN service.

Whenever I arrive in some place I usually search for the WiFi. It brings me a lot of joy to find out that the WiFi network of that place is password protected. But while I wait for someone to give me the password, I usually try some ideas: the name of the place, the name plus the year, the name plus the street and so on. My level of joy drops instantly when I see that my tries worked. That means that even if the WiFi network is protected, the password is way too weak. If I were able to crack it, a hacker you’d have done it in a millisecond or something.

As it is said: "no bueno". Passwords are meant to be strong; if you can't (as the owner of the place) think of a strong enough password, you might as well leave the network password-free. Using the name of the place as a password is truly something irresponsible and useless.

Moving on from scolding the owner. You, as a tourist, should think the same: if the password is extremely weak, then that means the network might not be quite as safe as you'd expect.

And here comes your saving solution: activate the VPN and you'll be free to access any WiFi, being protected at all times.

Be able to use the hotel’s WiFi

This part of the discussion is one of my favorites. It is again similar to the other situations, but I thought it would be better for you to see them separated and organized in specific parts. For hotel WiFis, there are two situations: password-less, and log-in to get access.

Password-less / weak passwords

Many hotel WiFis are a simple target for hackers. They know that it’s a place full of tourists who need the WiFi connection for everything. Hackers rely on this and on the fact that tourists will think “Hey, I'm at the hotel. The WiFi is secure”. Don’t fall into this trap.

What bugs me is that there are hotels in this world that don’t even bother to password-protect their WiFi network. I’ve stayed in hotels like this and I was perplexed when the receptionist told me “there is no password”. Wait, what? How and why are you doing this?

We live in a world where malware attacks, phishing and data breaches aren’t unknown anymore. They happen quite a lot. Why you, as a hotel, would want to risk the sensitive data of your customer? Why would you risk your entire data? You have thousands of customers - bank accounts, credit card data, names, addresses.

This is why you should use a VPN while traveling, even while you’re at the hotel.

Log-in to get access

And there is another hotel WiFi situation that I’ve seen. The hotel doesn’t have a password, but it takes you to a website (supposedly it’s from the hotel), where you have to insert your email and name in order to use the WiFi network. I find this “solution” even more trickier and with a low level of intelligence and awareness towards online security.

First of all, why are you forcing me to insert my email and name just to use your WiFi? What if I don’t want to do this? Especially when the GDPR regulation is in place since 2018. I don’t find this method OK at all, at least in my opinion.

Secondly, that website can easily be reproduced by a hacker, meaning you’ll be directed and basically forced to a phishing attack. Let’s be honest, who (as a hotel) has its own IT team, that can immediately track a possible attempt of a hacker, or immediately repair some online security issues? I’m sure there are examples, but most of the hotels simply don’t. Hence, if you’ll be redirected to a page that requires your email, there’s at least a 50-50 chance (in my opinion) that the web page is fake. There are some ways to recognize this kind of attack, but you’ve never seen that page before; therefore you wouldn’t know how it’s supposed to look like.

Safely check your bank account

We've covered the WiFi part - the part that's the base from what's in this section.

Let me ask you a simple and forward question: if you were to connect to a weak protected WiFi or a public one, would you check your bank account?

If the answer is yes, then you should totally revise your behavior - sorry to say this. Maybe you should read some of our articles, in order to better understand the online security "stuff".

If the answer was no, then good for you! It's a great decision. You know that your bank account is one of the most precious things you have, especially while traveling. You know that it's the main source of money, or the safety net in case something happens, hence you don't want to be exposed to threats.

What to do if you're at a hotel, at a restaurant or in the city, and you simply have to check your bank account? You activate the VPN, and your whole connection and activity will be private and safe.

Everybody knows that the streaming applications offer content based on the location. And everybody knows that the USA has one of the biggest and variate content, but let's not complain here.

Here's one of our articles that focuses on unblocking content:

So if you're traveling and you want to continue listening the songs you have at home, or watching some series, you'd have to use a VPN.

Still, there is something you should know. For example, Netflix is now able to identify if the traffic comes from a VPN, and can block you. There are specific VPNs that are still "allowed" by Netflix, but you'd have to check them before you go travel. In this way, you'll buy a VPN service that will benefit you the most; otherwise, you might have to search for another VPN provider, while you're away - and I don't think it will be in your traveling plans.

Buying stuff online

Buying products from online eCommerce websites while you're traveling means that you'd have to pay by card. This situation leads to a kind of a "vicious" circle. You'd have to check you bank account to see if you have enough money, and you'd have to input sensitive data in order to make the purchase.

In case the eCommerce website allows you to pay at delivery, then you'd be fine. But if it doesn't then you should really double check the WiFi network you're connected to. Even if it is secured enough, I'd advise you to use an extra layer of protection: a VPN.

In this way, you'll be sure that you will be able to check you bank account, and to input your credit card data in order to make the purchase.

As a general online security rule, you should also check the company that sells the product you want. It will be of no fun if it turn out that the company is a scam: you won't get your product, and your money will be gone. Going to the police is a right thing to do in this case, but take into consideration that each country has its laws, way of dealing with things and bureaucracy.

Better deals

As selling becomes more and more targeted, it will be of no surprise if you arrive in a country and see some offers for you, as a tourist, and other ads for people that actually live there.

People who leave there might actually get some better deals, even more deals. Why shouldn't you at least be able to check them out? For this situation, it's only necessary to connect your VPN to the country you're in.

Do a simple test: check the deals for some products while not connected to the VPN (still, make sure you're on a safe WiFi), and scroll through Facebook and Instagram to see what ads are there. Save the deals that you like. Then, connect to your VPN and repeat the process. If you can see differences - better deals for residents, then it's awesome.

Still, don't be sad if you can't find deals in your first research. Remain connected to the VPN and "let" the Internet know that you can be a resident. Using a VPN at all times will surely not cause any kind of harm for you - it will actually be the safest choice!

Checking your PayPal account

One thing you want to be 100% able to do in a safely manner while traveling is access and transfer your funds. We all plan ahead our trips down to the last detail, but unexpected situations can occur at any time. It is times like these were you don't need to also worry about secure connections, service availability and so on.

As their motto states, Paypal "is for everyone who pays or gets paid". Over the years, it became one of the most reliable solutions to manage funds and do online payments. Just like you would be concerned about safely accessing your online bank account, the same precautions have to be kept in mind while working with Paypal.

Of course, it goes without saying that the PayPal team invests heavily in security specialists, but there is little they can do when it comes to the network you are using to access their services. Having said that, a VPN service is your best solution for safe communication over the network. Furthermore, remember those great security specialists I mentioned earlier? PayPal is doing a lot of tests and validations to ensure that your account is not accessed by a malicious user. These tests also address the location of the user accessing your account. Logging in from a different country might flag your authentication as risky and your account could be temporary frozen. Make sure to set up your VPN connection properly so the authentication process will not rise any red flags.

Finally, as a quick FYI, PayPal is not supported in North Korea. Who would have guessed, right? So make sure you also have your favorite VPN installed the next time you are planning your vacation in the nice and cozy Pyongyang!

Bypass censorship

There is a lot of talk about "Fake news" recently. Heck! The president of united states made these two words more popular than CocaCola. With all these in the news, we tend to forget that access to accurate information which is not biased or tainted by some third party personal agenda might be pretty tough to come by.

Since most of us browse Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for news, these outlets gained a serious voice in the news world. The companies are investing heavily in delivering accurate news, in real time, to the whole world. However, you'd be surprised to find out that a lot of countries ban these large websites, or they display different / targeted content based on your location. The real censorship happens at a much higher level when lives of millions of people can be impacted by a piece of news or secret information that can't go out in front of the public eye. Think Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange level of information disclosure. Regardless of their current status in the society (whistle blowers are not really applauded by the organizations they target), the effort they made would have not been possible without access to virtual private networks and secure communication environments.

You mind want to go to a country where, for example, Facebook and Skype are censored - meaning that you can't use them. If you want to get pass this, you'd have to use a VPN.

Extra things you should know about using a VPN while traveling

You may get to a place where the internet speed isn’t that good. For example, where I live, the speed is amazing - probably one of the highest. I’m used to get this kind of speed wherever I go in the country (even at the country side if there’s a good connection). Because I’m used to have this, I always forget that other countries don’t offer the same kind of speed. And it’s not fun at all.

What I’m trying to say is that if your connection back home is extremely good, you won’t have any problems with testing the new VPN service you got. The small issue arises when you get to another country where the speed is low. You may experience some troubles with your VPN, but you should blame the service; you should blame the poor connection.

In case you simply can’t use the VPN, then try to limit your browsing: stay away from buying things online, checking your bank account or visiting some other websites that require sensitive information.

Besides this, one should know that a free VPN might come with another cost. Here are some examples:

  • you might not have available multiple servers; which means that you might not be able to connect to a server from your home country;
  • there might be a DNS leak, which means that you whole private browsing might no be so private;
  • you can get malware;

And various other things, that you can find right in our article:

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