Imagine you come back to your hotel after a long day of exploring a new city. You take a long bubble bath, wind down for the night and decide to watch TV before bed.
When you try to open your Netflix account, there’s surprise a surprise waiting: You can’t open Netflix! Where’s the TV show you were binge watching back home?
Lots of websites, such as Netflix, offer location-based services, ads, media and content.
Another classic example is Spotify, which you can only use abroad for a limited amount of time when you have the free plan.
Using a VPN gives you access to websites like Netflix and Spotify from different countries. Along with a bunch of other sites!
Now that I work remotely, I travel all over the world as I work. I’m constantly processing payments, booking flights, running my business and dealing with clients online.
That’s when I realized my need for a VPN went beyond accessing movies and music. I needed one to keep my online data safe.
What’s a VPN?
VPN is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network.
It protects your identity by encrypting your personal data and ensuring the wrong people don’t put their hands on it.
It’s basically a service that creates a tunnel between your origin and the website you want to access. This way, your data goes through another service before it reaches the destination and back.
A VPN can protect your credit card data, emails, IP address and even photos.
Some providers allow you to choose which country you want your IP address to come from, so you can even watch ads and local TV by changing it.
How Can a VPN Protect Your Data?
When we travel, we tend to log into multiple Wi-Fi networks all over the world. We go for the open and free networks. We use restaurants’ Wi-Fi and even public Wi-Fi when it works properly.
This brings a number of security risks to our data.
Every time you connect to a Wi-Fi hot spot, hackers can steal your data. On top of that, some websites and services don’t work in certain parts of the world.
This makes it difficult to enjoy your time online. Using a VPN, you can connect to sites like you’re in your own house.
Why Should You Use a VPN for Travel?
As previously mentioned, there are two reasons to use a VPN on the road: Security and convenience.
Some online banking services don’t allow you online access if you’re not on domestic soil. That could cause huge problems if you need access to funds on your trip!
You also might not be able to access paid service providers like Netflix or Spotify, stream music or videos or take advantage of similar services.
On the security side of things, I love to have internet on the go. But not all connections are safe.
When you have a VPN, you can use the internet without the fear that someone is watching.
Which Countries Require a VPN?
When visiting certain countries, having a VPN isn’t only convenient. It’s necessary!
When I moved to Germany, I was surprised that the YouTube videos I wanted to watch wouldn’t load. Instead, I saw an error message because GEMA, a German civil rights organization, had a dispute with YouTube regarding music rights.
The only way of watching those videos was with my VPN on, pretending I was in almost any other country in the world.
You might also come across blocked websites in Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Russia … well, frankly, a lot of countries. When that happens, don’t freak out! Turn on your VPN to disguise your IP address, and the problem’s gone.
In certain countries, the internet censorship is even more serious. For example, China has what’s called “The Great Firewall.” You can’t access WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube or even Google.
What Should You Look for in a VPN?
Alright, now that you understand the need of having a good VPN service to go abroad, it’s time to choose which one suits you best.
Make sure the service is compatible with your device and you can use the VPN on multiple devices at the same time.
While VPNs are handy, they notoriously slow down your internet connection. Granted, better to scroll through Facebook slowly than not at all. Check that the VPN isn’t so slow that you can’t be bothered to go online.
If you aren’t tech savvy, it’s important to make sure the installation process and usage are as easy as pie.
Thankfully, the following five VPNs fit all these criteria.
Protect Yourself! Find the Best VPN for Travel
If you’re only planning to use your VPN every now and then, TunnelBear is an amazing free alternative.
Although you can use TunnelBear on multiple devices, the free version only allows you to use the service on one device and for 500 MB, a strictly limited amount of data per month.
But it’s still a great deal, considering TunnelBear is the only service on this list that offers a free plan.
For only a few dollars per month, however, you can use the service on five simultaneous connections. You can also use additional features such as CyberGhost, proXPN, Hotspot Shield and even something called VigilantBear that blocks all unsecured traffic when you’re not using Wi-Fi.
If you’re going to China, GhostBear is a useful feature. It makes your data less prone to be detected by governments and businesses. The service, however, can slow down your internet speed.
You can connect TunnelBear to up to 20 countries when you have the full plan, but not all of them are available to free users. Still, I used the free plan back when I only needed to use a VPN every once in a while, and it was extremely handy.
TunnelBear also keeps your logs, or a record of which websites you visit, for 30 days.
If you’re already familiar with the concept of VPNs, you may have heard about HideMyAss! It’s one of the most prevalent options on the market these days. It offers thousands of IP addresses and dozens of countries on its network, from the United States to Japan.
HideMyAss! offers a unique feature: You can schedule an IP address change every so often. This means you don’t use the same IP address for too long, and your data is even safer!
The biggest downside of HideMyAss! is that you’re not able to test the service for free. Instead, you can purchase its service and request the 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t like it. It’s better than nothing, but still not the most convenient solution for users.
If you’re looking for a paid easy-to-set-up service, HideMyAss! is the way to go. The website is easy to understand, which is a breath of fresh air for travelers who aren’t super tech savvy.
Private Internet Access
Personally, Private Internet Access is my favorite VPN service. I’ve had the subscription for over four years and it hasn’t disappointed me.
However, this is another VPN that doesn’t offer any sort of free trial. On the plus side, if you buy the yearly subscription, it only adds up to four USD per month. A great price for an even better service!
The company does offer a seven-day money-back guarantee, so you do get to try it first.
Private Internet Access is so concerned about users’ privacy that it lets you pay with nontraditional currency, such as Bitcoin or Starbucks gift cards!
Other than the impressive variety of countries and IP addresses, my favorite feature is the kill switch. This automatically stops any internet traffic if the VPN connection drops—making it safe even when you’re not paying attention.
Private Internet Access allows you to connect with up to five devices at the same time and has great customer service representatives.
Be careful if you’re going to China, though. The company reportedly has some problems maintaining connections in this country.
ExpressVPN is another widely beloved VPN. It ranks as the number one VPN in many aspects, including the best VPN for Netflix users.
And let’s be honest, we all want to wind down with a little Netflix at the end of a long day of sightseeing!
ExpressVPN provides fast service, numerous servers and easy-to-set-up privacy settings. The interface is easy to understand, so you definitely don’t need to be tech savvy to get the most out of this service.
While Private Internet Access is troublesome if you go to China, hundreds of reviewers claim ExpressVPN is the best option for travelers to China. You can use one of their 148 IP addresses across 94 countries. You can access Netflix, Hulu and many other streaming services. And there are zero logs!
In my opinion (and countless reviewers’), it’s worth the price for such a reliable service.
NordVPN has some unique security features. First of all, they use the same encryption as the United States military!
You might choose to use the Double VPN feature. In this case, your connection goes through two separate servers, making your data twice as secure! This can be useful for business travelers who need to access valuable information while traveling.
Like ExpressVPN, reviewers say the service works well in China.
When it comes to connecting on multiple devices, NordVPN definitely wins. You can set it up on up to six devices simultaneously! There are no logs, and the system kills the internet connection if the VPN connection drops.
One of the coolest things NordVPN offers is an ad-blocking feature, meaning you basically have two services in one.
Travel should be a time to relax and have fun, not to deal with security concerns.
Take care of your personal information. Remember to double check your VPN is on before uploading your sensitive data anywhere, including credit card numbers, personal photos or even your email password.
Choose the right VPN for you. Then kick back and relax with a margarita on a Mexican beach!
Debbie Corrano is a digital strategist and writer. She works remotely while traveling the world full-time with her two dogs. Over the past few years, Debbie has lived in more than 10 countries, learned a few languages and worked with dozens of agencies and brands.
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