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Why Travelers NEED to Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

How to access the internet freely when traveling.

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I’m in China now, a country that blocks almost all major foreign social media networks and heavily censors the internet, but I’m able to post on Facebook, tweet, upload videos to Youtube, and browse the web freely. How? I simply turn on my VPN and access the internet from the USA, completely subverting the great firewall of China.

When traveling during this era were governments are prone to mucking with the internet, attempting to control what their people can and can’t access, it’s essential to have a way to get around these restrictions. I make my living through my websites, so I need to be able to use all the resources that are available — I need unrestricted internet access.

Basically, a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a program that is installed on your computer that allows you to browse the internet through a proxy server, which is typically in a location remote from where you are. Most VPN programs have servers all over the world that you can choose from. So people in China can just push a few buttons and browse the internet from the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, or whatever other country their VPN service has a server in.

Another use of a VPN is to to subvert various licensing restrictions that prohibit people in various countries from accessing the shows, music, and other media that is suppose to blocked. Believe me, one of the biggest annoyances that I experience when traveling is when trying to stream a movie, news broadcast, or some sports event and have “We’re sorry, but this program isn’t available for viewing in your country,” pop up on my screen. These days are no more, as I now use a VPN and can deftly turn it on and select the proper country to view whatever I’m trying to watch like a free man.

During the 2012 London Olympics it was obvious that the BBC had the best online coverage, but you had to be in the UK to access it. So many people throughout the world, myself included, would choose a British proxy server through their VPN and watched the BBC Olympics online as if they they were in London.

I find myself using my VPN for getting around these BS, archaic international licensing bans nearly daily. In point, services such as Netflix, Amazon videos, many Youtube clips, Gogoyoko are not available to users outside of their licensing range — which is often limited to the USA and, if you’re lucky, Canada. As I’m a traveler, I’m rarely in these places, so to use these services I need to use the internet via a proxy server located in the right country delivered by my VPN provider.

Yet another advantage of using a good VPN is that it also encrypts your internet usage and protects you from a host of threats.

“A VPN provides security so that traffic sent through the VPN connection stays isolated from other computers on the intermediate network.” –VPN, Wikipedia

In fact, if you’re going to be using a credit card, typing in passwords, or doing any sensitive internet browsing when traveling keep in mind that other computers connected to the same network can observe your activity. It’s now a standard operating security procedure to always encrypt or streamline your internet connection before typing in any potentially valuable information. VPN services secure your connection automatically.

How to get a VPN provider

There are many freeware VPN options available, but many of these will slow down your internet connection to a virtual crawl. As the internet connections that I use when traveling are of various qualities, I decided that a paid service would be beneficial. I’m currently using HMA (Hide My Ass), and I have to say it’s meet my demands in full.

For $70 a year I can install the HMA VPN service on two computers, and I’m given hundreds of servers across 50+ countries to chose from. Not bad.  It also does not slow down my internet connection very much, and I stream movies, videos, TV shows, and listen to music through it without a hitch.

So if you’re going abroad or just want to be sure you’re accessing the internet securely, a good VPN is a must.

List of other VPN providers

Open VPN
Strong VPN
VPN Master

Filed under: Digital Nomad, Travel Tech

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Jack September 29, 2012, 12:39 am

    I rolled my own VPN using openvpn, so I don’t know if this tips works with HMA or not, but I suspect it does. Windows 7 and Connectify-Me allows you to create a wifi hotspot on your computer. One of the internet sharing options is openvpn connection. Net result? My Android tablets and phones have vpn access through my hotspot.

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    • Wade Shepard October 9, 2012, 9:47 am

      The wifi hotspot is an excellent idea. For sure!

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  • Jack September 29, 2012, 4:24 am

    Let me add this:

    Not only is it imperative to get a VPN as Wade has shown, but it’s important to make sure that it’s a paid service.

    There are a lot of free VPN services out there, but you get what you pay for. Some of them get blocked from time to time and the speed can be atrociously slow. Paying for a service ensures that you get faster speeds and always have a good connection.

    It’s funny that people will pay whatever for internet service, but balk at paying for a VPN to actually get the most out of that internet service.

    $70 for HMA is a very good value and well worth it.

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    • Wade Shepard October 9, 2012, 9:48 am

      Right on, the free programs work, but they work veeeerrrrryyyy slllllooooowwwwlllly. The paid services also tend to have servers in a lot of different countries, so this gives a greater amount of versatility.

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  • AnnaHowart January 25, 2013, 4:26 am

    I do lot of travelling all over the world and i love watching Uk live channels most of the time. In some countries like Europe and Asia i find difficulties to acces blocked websites restricted by their government those i usually want. Thus to overcome such problems i recently installed “Hotspot Shield VPN” software on my iPad and Macbook Pro. It generates a secure network connection over the network or any other desired network. I can now easily access blocked websites with the help of this VPN software.

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  • cerenatee March 13, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Thanks for the info. I’m going to be traveling the US using free wifi for the most part so I’ll make sure to use a vpn.

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