So you’ve decided to pack up your stuff and travel off around the world. Or at least you’re planning on travelling somewhere, if not the whole world. Great! Travel is something extremely close to my heart and when I get the opportunity I like nothing more than venturing off somewhere new.
The good thing about travel is it’s extremely accessible these days to many people. Once a past-time of the rich many of us are lucky enough to have opportunities to travel and this can range from basic camping in your own country, taking a few weeks in a luxury five star resort to travelling the world on a shoestring budget with a huge backpack cramming in as many life experiences as possible.
No matter if you’re an adventurer or simply someone who likes relaxing on a beach, travelling somewhere new especially if it’s out of your own country leads most of us to consider our safety. Being out of our comfort zone often makes us more wary about our surroundings and our personal belongings. After all, no one wants to have anything stolen when travelling and we often plan for the worst case scenario.
While we often consider our personal safety one aspect of travel we overlook is our internet safety so I’m going to give you some essential tips on how to secure your online life while travelling just as you would your physical one.
Public Wi-Fi is not secure
Remember this heading, it’s important. Any Wi-Fi point you connect to is not secure. You may be a little confused about that statement because it isn’t something that a lot of us consider. When you connect to your home internet only you or people you know are connected to the same connection.
Public Wi-Fi allows other users to be connected to the same connection and due to this it means they can snoop on what you’re doing. Now you may be unlucky and come across a master hacker who can delve into all kinds of your communications but even the interested amateur can download a simple program to take over your digital life.
What you could lose
If you have an email client on your computer this is susceptible to being intercepted and your emails read. If you visit none-secure websites that don’t start with HTTPS then anything you do or enter while on that website can be intercepted. If you connect to social media such as Facebook it is even possible for someone to login as you without even knowing your password if you yourself are logged in.
A small tool called Firesheep allows anyone with just an ounce of computer knowledge to simply download and install the extension for the Firefox browser and instantly be able to start sniffing the Wi-Fi network for anyone signed in to social media accounts. While the attacker can’t change your password they can see all your friends, post status updates and read all of your private messages.
With a bit of social engineering, such a user could cause havoc within your social media circle. It’s so easy to achieve even a PC World magazine reporter tried it out as an experiment for an article and the results were surprising.
How can I protect myself when backpacking or travelling
Whether you’re away for a few weeks, a few months, or even years at a time you have to login to public Wi-Fi networks to connect with the world and stay in touch with friends and family – this goes without saying. The last thing you want to do is find one of your personal online accounts hacked causing you untold grief while away or for when you return.
To stay secure and ensure that no one can snoop on what you’re doing, you need to invest in a cheap tool known as a VPN. A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a way of encrypting all your internet access from your computer, laptop, phone or tablet to a third party server located elsewhere. Only when it hits that server does it become unencrypted and get passed on to the wider internet.
The way this safeguards you is all your data is made unreadable by anyone else on the same Wi-Fi network which makes tools like Firesheep and worse useless. None of your data can now be read which means your emails, social media and whatever else you do is secure and private.
What’s the best VPN for a traveller
If you’re backpacking your way around the world then we all know that travel needs to be done on a budget, unless you’re a lotto winner, but for the rest of us mere mortals saving every penny counts and we often wouldn’t consider protecting our internet connection as an importance but the reality is it doesn’t have to be costly and for less than the price of a single beer (in the western world) each month, you can protect your private online use!
Three critical areas to consider when choosing a VPN for travel are :-
- VPN Server locations available
- Software and apps available
Price is an obvious one, if you’re doing extensive travel or your vacation cost a small fortune you want to ensure you’re getting good value for money. Anything around US$10 per month or less is a good price.
VPN Server locations available
You need a VPN server in the country you’re visiting or at the very least close by the country you’re visiting for speed reasons. If it’s too far away the connection will be too slow and you’ll have a bad browsing experience.
Software and apps available
Most people travel with multiple devices these days from phones to tablets and even laptops. Having software or apps that your device supports is crucial.
Decent VPN services cost on average around US$10 (approx £6.40) but if you’re travelling for longer they do do 6 month or yearly packages which can bring the prices down to a little over 5 dollars so it’s worth considering if you’re a longer term traveller.
I’d personally consider it as critical as travel insurance as it allows you to travel while also retaining that peace of mind that your digital life is secure and protected. Especially if you’re a long-term traveller, the last thing you need is to be trying to sort out recovering an online account while you’re overseas.
Don’t forget recovering a social media account can sometimes lead you to jumping through hoops such as uploading a scan of your passport, receiving a code on your mobile and a bunch of other hurdles, who has time for that when they’re supposed to be enjoying themselves?
I’ve listed my three favourite VPN providers below that are especially good for travellers and ones I’ve personally used in a handful of different locations around the globe.
Mainly they provide a good service but secondly they have a large amount of servers in a vast array of countries meaning wherever you are in the world you’ll be able to get a local and fast connection that ensures your internet privacy.
Best VPN for travelling
How do you use the VPN
The VPN service is provided as a small piece of software that you can install on your laptop but also available in an app form for Android phones and tablets and also for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Not all providers supply apps for phones and tablets, but the three recommended above do.
All you simply need to do is download their software or app, install it and then run it. Now connect to the country closest to you for speed reasons. Once connected everything you do on your laptop or phone/tablet is encrypted meaning your browsing habits are secure. You can leave it connected and forget about it.
It’s worth noting that if you have a phone or tablet that is set up to automatically check emails as soon as it connects to Wi-Fi then for those few seconds before you get connected to the VPN connection your privacy is exposed and so any auto-checking features of any software or app should be disabled while you travel.
Another side feature of a VPN is it allows you to access websites that are either blocked in the country you’re visiting or blocked outside the country you’re from. So if you want to watch some TV streaming services back in the US, UK or elsewhere you can and you can also access sites such as Facebook in countries where it’s restricted like China.
I hope this little introduction has given you some food for thought for your digital safety when travelling and I’d love to hear your experiences around the world making use of a VPN. Take a look around our site for more ideas of what you can do with your VPN service.
Beach Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Trekking Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Globe Plane Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net