The mere mention of having to use the VPN at my last job was enough to conjure malice and anger. It was slow, frustrating and seemingly pointless (sorry IT!). Everyone, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, hated using it. So when other travelers talked about how they use a VPN for this or that, I was skeptical that it could be worth the pain.
After a few months using one, I’m a convert, but it’s really up to the situation. So here are 4 questions to help you decide if a VPN is for you.
Are you headed somewhere with significant restrictions (that you don’t like)?
If yes, then yes, you need a VPN. When I was in China I was baffled – how do I even get to the internet without Google? Where else is all the information? But it isn’t just China – I was surprised to get errors on Instagram in Tajikistan, to find out it (and other social sites) was blocked. Turkmenistan and Iran as well. When I was in Cuba, you couldn’t get internet at all, but I imagine that will change (though I can only suspect restrictions will be in place).
This is more than just going without Snapchat for a few days (the horror!). Even if you use Facebook authentication for an app. (like Spotify), you are going to have trouble in a place where Facebook is blocked.
Will you want to use sites that might not like you logging in from weird IP addresses (e.g. your bank)?
If you are going to log in to your bank account, PayPal or even some email accounts, chances are the security settings aren’t going to like that you’re using an IP address unfamiliar to your account. I was getting REALLY frustrated with Verizon when I kept going to log in to my account so that I could access my text messages online (for my phone that is in the US), and getting told that for security, they would send me a quick text message with a code to log in. If I could get text messages, I wouldn’t NEED to log in.
The same thing was happening when I tried to log in to my bank account, PayPal and other random sites. Enter a VPN. Problem solved.
Now, when I’m going to log in to a site that I know is persnickety, I turn on my VPN first, setting it to the United States and boom – no login issues.
Do you use anything where it is better if it looks like you’re in another country (cough, cough, Netflix)?
I had no idea that there were different types of Netflix, but apparently American Netflix is the best. Most travelers I met who use VPNs do so just so they can access American Netflix, or videos blocked for other countries on YouTube.
Do you like to use free Wi-Fi AND like to keep your data safe?
I’ll admit, I’m really bad about this one. While I’m incredibly adept at finding free Wi-Fi wherever it exists, I’m not great at considering the consequences. Luckily I’ve spent a lot of my travels in very remote areas where it would be a real shock if there was a complicated hacking network set up. But that isn’t the case in a lot of places and free Wi-Fi is an especially tasty bit of cheese to draw you into a hacker’s trap. Using a VPN while connecting to random networks all over the world can keep your data safe, and keep you from nightmares like having to cancel credit cards while abroad and figure out how to access your money.
I’m convinced; now what do I do?
Now all you have to do is decide which one is right for you. I didn’t really know how to choose, I just wanted something simple and with one account that I could use for my phone and computer. Plus, I thought I only wanted to use it in China, so I wanted to be able to purchase a one month plan
I went with ExpressVPN for its high reviews, easy sign-up and simplicity. I have just one account for my phone and computer and can use both at the same time. And it just works.
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Note: This post is not sponsored by ExpressVPN and is only a reflection of my experiences using the tool. The links do contain an affiliate code, which means if you like my recommendation, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This has no influence on my choice to recommend VPNs and ExpressVPN in particular.