If you often travel abroad for business or on holiday, you probably already know that you can’t access a lot of online content depending on the area:
And many more inconveniences when you’re just trying to kick back and relax after an entire day of sightseeing or being stuck in a stuffy meeting room. This article will help you regain access to all your favorite media, along with some other useful Internet-savvy travel tips. Even the infrequent travelers among you can benefit from these, so don’t shy away!
“This video contains content from [company name], who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.” If you’re getting flashbacks to every time you couldn’t listen to your favorite music on YouTube, or watch something from your favorite YouTuber because of a 2-second audio clip they used, we know how you feel. YouTube is finally doing something about it, but it’s a long battle ahead.
We’ve also mentioned how streaming platforms like Netflix don’t make all their shows available in every region due to licensing issues. In a world where everything is supposed to be “connected”, these geo-restrictions are ridiculous at best.
This is where Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) come into play. VPN software allows you to connect to servers in different countries, which makes online platforms believe you’re accessing the content from that specific area. This is possible because your real IP address is switched with the VPN servers.
Let’s say you’re visiting Greece but want to have some popcorn and a laugh with Parks & Rec, which is only available on Netflix US. Simply connect to a US-based VPN server and you’re good to go. That is if the VPN supports unblocking Netflix in the first place. More on that a bit later.
As you can see, the Internet isn’t the bastion of freedom it used to be; and unfortunately many places around the world have it even worse. The Great Firewall of China is infamously restrictive, with most websites and services being heavily censored or outright banned.
If you plan on visiting one of these censorship-heavy countries and want to chat with friends or family back home, a VPN is a must. Many governments regularly block sites like Twitter, Facebook, or IM services like Skype – so you can see why.
It might be a requirement in the West soon enough, judging by some of these proposed Internet regulations in the UK. Just an example, but a scary thought nonetheless.
But let’s say you don’t plan on visiting these countries, and it just so happens that your favorite shows are available wherever you’re going. You could still end up not being able to watch them because of a hotel or other public Wi-Fi restrictions.
Hotels, airports, and the like have a habit of restricting certain websites (as well as access to online games) through their firewall. Whatever the reason for these blocks, it shouldn’t be you who has to suffer the consequences.
Fortunately, VPNs allow you to bypass these firewalls as well. And yes, it works the same whether you’re at the office, at school, or on-campus Wi-Fi where fun isn’t allowed. Now you’re free to browse, stream, and play to your heart’s content wherever you may be. And you’ll be able to do it safely too.
Besides keeping your IP address a secret, a VPN works by encrypting all the network traffic passing through your device. Encryption essentially means that any third-party who tries snooping in on that traffic will only see a bunch of gibberish.
As such, your ISP, government agencies like the NSA, or just your average hacker won’t be able to see your browsing history, what account credentials and other personal info you use on various websites, and so on.
If you love your free hotel Wi-Fi, you should know that hotels will almost certainly track your Internet usage. Any employee with access to the hotel server can see your browsing history, not to mention the potential for hackers to access that data themselves.
Not that they need to do that specifically, because the free, password-less Wi-Fi networks in hotels are easy targets. The same goes for public hotspots you can find at airports or cafés. Even if their network is password-protected, you can still be the victim of some exploits that affect current Wi-Fi encryption protocols.
That is when you don’t run into an “Evil Twin” hotspot created by a hacker to impersonate the legitimate one. Then it’s only a matter of time before they get a hold of your accounts. As always, the perfect counter to this phenomenon is using a VPN (even comes as a recommendation from the Wi-Fi Alliance).
We’ve mentioned earlier that not all VPNs can unblock the most popular streaming platform. Netflix, Hulu, and others are pretty consistent with blocking VPN access to their services. “Free” providers are usually out of the question if you’re trying to access your favorite shows that way. They simply don’t have the funds to regularly offer fresh new IPs to their users, so they get blocked quickly.
There are also several reasons why free VPNs aren’t trustworthy, ranging from aggressive advertising in their product to outright containing harmful malware or logging and selling your data to advertisers. Profits need to come from somewhere, and they have no qualms with using your data as a commodity.
Not sure where to get a decent provider that can reliably unblock Netflix? The ProPrivacy guide for Netflix VPNs is a solid place to start. They’ve done a detailed comparison on the top contenders, and you can find an in-depth review for each under their entry, among other useful info.