TRAVEL TECH SECRET: How to Use VPN to Get Around Annoying Internet Boundaries


I admit it. I’m feeling clever these days as my husband and I view UK-only BBC Olympics coverage on our laptops in Peru. I also beam with geeky pride each time my yoga instructor here in Cusco asks to use my iPod to stream Pandora’s Krishna Das station during class. And yes, I’ve been known to indulge in a free episode of Modern Family, or a movie, on Hulu during the past year while we’ve been living in Latin America.

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Truth told, however, I’m not really all that clever. Any Gadget Girl worth her iPad is already using my secret solution - a Virtual Private Network (VPN) - to get around annoying Internet boundaries when traveling abroad.

Access geo-restricted media

Some of my favorite communication resources, like Skype, and social networking platforms, such as facebook and twitter, are blocked in countries whose governments wish to censor access to information or by greedy telecommunication giants intent on keeping revenues in their own pockets.

With a VPN service, I’m able to edit my IP address and bypass any censorship imposed by my actual geographical location. By choosing a UK IP address, for example, I can access restricted BBC Olympics coverage from Peru. Or, by selecting a US IP address, I can access Hulu, Netflix or Pandora radio from outside the United States.  

But there are more reasons for digital nomads to use a VPN service than the sheer kick of accessing free entertainment on the road. First and foremost is online security.

Surf safely

If you’re like me, Wi-Fi is an essential lifeline when you’re on the road. Nearly every gizmo or technology I use to stay connected relies on a Wi-Fi connection. But whether paid or free, password protected or not, fixed or wireless, most networks are frightfully insecure. By using a VPN, all data sent or received from my computer (Surfing, IM, VOIP, FTP, etc.) is scrambled and encrypted; keeping my online identity secure and private from any prying eyes that may be lurking on the network.

Keep it simple

As much as I like to tinker, I’m a longtime Apple consumer for a reason: they keep it simple. When it came time to purchase a VPN service, I surfed around a bit, read the online forums and ended up purchasing an annual PersonalVPN™ PRO ($69.99) from WiTopia. Easy to download and install (we’re talking minutes to be up and running), we configured our computers and devices to automatically login via VPN using a US gateway. And unless we have to manually override that, to stream live Olympics coverage, for example, we go about our business as usual. 

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".