How to protect your online privacy when traveling

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

When traveling we tend to rely on free public Wi-Fi more than at other times but using any public Wi-Fi at places like the airport or shopping Malls is not private. Your internet usage data can be hacked by unscrupulous people so if you are concerned about your online privacy subscribe to a VPN (virtual private network) server. VPN servers will protect you by encrypting your outgoing and incoming internet data.

An international traveler at the airport.

When you travel and are accessing any complimentary internet Wi-Fi sent to you through a router provided at a Hotel, Guesthouse, or restaurant your activity is not also private. The person that owns the router or the internet service provider of that particular establishment can also view all your web activities. Therefore, online privacy is something every traveler should think about and protect because you are most vulnerable when you travel.

Protect yourself using a VPN.

Your internet activity such as the websites you visit, your bank account details, passwords, and even your email conversations are normally first sent to an ISP. When you use a VPN server all your data is encrypted (turned into garbled nonsense) and sent to the VPN first. This means your data cannot be infiltrated by a hacker or even be viewed by the ISP provider. Your data still passes through an ISP provider, but it is encrypted so that they are unable understand it. Sending information to and from websites in an encrypted format is the best way to protect your online privacy.

What to look for when choosing VPN servers.

There are many VPN servers to choose from and like with everything else they are not all created equal. You need to know what to look for and here are some basic points.

1. Before you commit to a subscription make sure they have free trials so that any deal-breakers can be tested.

2. VPNs can reduce your internet speed that’s why I have talked about using boosters previously which should also be used. Use the free trial period before committing to a subscription and carry out speed tests before and after.

3. Some countries use VPN blocks for obvious reasons and China is the main culprit. Luckily not all VPN servers can be blocked even by China, however, if the VPN provider claims that it’ll work in China then it’ll work anywhere.

4. Even the best VPN servers can experience dropouts (connection drops out as you send something). When this happens and you are unlucky enough to have a hacker tracking you, your data will become exposed (unencrypted). All good VPN providers should have an automatic “kill switch” that activates immediately to protect your data when this happens. They should also have an auto-connect and auto re-connect feature to make life easier.

5. If you are using more than one device make sure the VPN allows for more than one simultaneous connection.

6. Make sure you get features such as, add blocking, prevention of online tracking, protection of malicious websites, data compression (to increase speed).

Avoid using Free VPN providers.

There is no such thing as a free ride in this world and any free VPN provider usually means it is funded by illegal practices. Some of these VPNs don’t even encrypt your data making them more like a proxy server, some sell your data to advertisers (like Google does) and many will place targeted adds on your session.

Avoid the free browser extension ‘Hola’ because it connects users to the web by using bandwidth and resources belonging to other user's computers (a dodgy practice). Expect long times to get connected, limitations on session lengths, and data usage caps among other things.

Hide your IP address.

Your IP address is a unique address allocated to you by your ISP that enables anyone to know where you are located and for advertisers to target you with add campaigns. You can turn this feature off using “hide my IP address” extensions but that limits you as well. A VPN subscription enables you to travel anywhere in the world and retain the same IP address which reflects the same location as the VPN provider. The VPN will have filters that will stop advertisers and others from trying to find your physical location.

By-pass geo-restricted websites.

One common thing you will experience when traveling is being denied access to certain websites. Every country has restrictions on certain websites usually caused by copyright issues or just government censorship, but there is a way to by-pass this. China, for example, has the strictest censorship in the world, and just getting on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Google is impossible.

Some countries such as Morocco and the United Arab Emirates don’t allow VoIP calling such as Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber to make tourists depend on their applications instead. Fortunately having a good VPN provider can bypass any geo-restricted websites and censorship in these countries.

Get a permanent IP address.

Many online accounts such as Facebook, Gmail, PayPal, Skrill, your bank account, etc. rely on your ISP number when you sign in. When you travel your ISP number changes and this usually activates alarm bells when you try to sign in to any accounts. You risk having your account temporarily closed or frozen if you didn’t set up your security questions or type your password incorrectly.

There’s no fun with having to prove who you are by answering security questions that you can't remember the exact answer to or even worse having to phone them to restore suspended accounts. Thankfully a VPN server saves you from this because it gives you a permanent IP address (of the country where the VPN server is located) that stays with you.

How to further secure your online data.

Sometimes you may arrive at a website via an advert or a link and this is not a problem but what is important is that whenever you make a purchase is that the website is using an (https) in their URL. The https appears before their website name and means that their website is using encryption and that your data is safe.

If you are using Bluetooth remember to turn it off when you are finished. Leaving Bluetooth means that anyone sitting in the hotel lobby or a coffee shop could gain access to your device. Sometimes the Bluetooth on a mobile device can be activated accidentally just by being in your pocket or bag, so always check the Bluetooth setting regularly.

If you are going to use a public computer such as in a hotel lobby or an internet café remember to log out of your session. This means you need to sigh out of whatever account and browser you were using when you are finished.

Public computers at an internet Cafe.

Never let other people use your mobile phone or laptop because it is possible to find your account passwords if you know where to look. Always put a strong password on your device so that its harder to unlock if you lose it. Unfortunately, there are ways of breaking into devices with passwords but why not make the task harder for a thief.

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