Hi readers, as this post has become slightly dated, please see my latest article on VPNs (Feb 2016): Need a Secure VPN Connection While Abroad?
If like me, you depend on the internet, while traveling abroad—then you need to be using a virtual private network (VPN). Contrary to the belief of many, a quality VPN can actually speed up your network connection, and be very affordable. Most importantly, it also provides the security and privacy that you can’t take for granted, while you’re abroad (or even in your home country). In this blog post, I’ll start with the VPN basics, jump into the benefits, and conclude with a few resources for finding a VPN that can suit you best.
A VPN allows you to cloak your internet activity, by creating a private route, from your computer (cell phone, tablet, etc…), to the internet at large. Normally, if you do not use a VPN, it is trivial for your internet gatekeeper to snoop in on your usage—this includes your internet service provider (e.g. Comcast, Verizon, SFR), the IT team at your office, or the cafe which provides you free wifi. Another benefit of having your own private route to the internet through a VPN, is that no one else can see where you are arriving from. You could physically be in South Africa, but as far as anyone knows, you’re accessing the internet from California. Lastly, in order to use a VPN, you’ll need a provider. There are free ones; some that have a monthly or yearly fee; and you can even create your own. There are some other great benefits of a VPN, but for this blog post, that’s all you really need to know.
A Quality VPN Should Not Slow You Down
As tech savvy as I am, I found myself caught in the myth that using a VPN will drag down my network speeds. While there is some truth to this, it is negligible in most cases, and recently, I found my internet connection is now 3x faster with a VPN! So what’s the deal? Well, tunneling your own private path to the internet, has some overhead: it takes extra time and resources, as a VPN actually encrypts all of your data; and depending on the quality of the VPN provider, the gateway to your private path, could be physically very distant, and can just downright suck—making it slow and difficult to travel. These bottlenecks can be greatly reduced and mitigated. Primarily, you’ll want to find a VPN provider, that offers a gateway that is physically close to you, and fast. You can verify this, through a free trial, or a speed test—if the VPN provider doesn’t provide any of these options, do not fork over your money.
So how did I more than triple the speed of my internet connection, with a VPN? Currently I am living on an island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, far away from any continent. While I do have a 20 megabit connection, the speeds vary wildly, which isn’t expected of a DSL line. Turns out, my internet service provider (ISP) is sneaky, and likes to slowdown any peer networking activity during peak hours of the day (e.g. Skype and Spotify), to horribly slow speeds. After making this realization, I jumped on a VPN. Now that my ISP can no longer analyze my internet usage, my network speed is considerably faster, and consistent. I’m actually seeing the 20megabit download speeds I paid for.
Privacy and Cloaking
As I mentioned earlier about the basics, a VPN provider gives you your own private tunnel to the internet. A benefit of this while you’re traveling or residing domestically, is that you will not be subjected to the filters that governments may use to regulate your internet usage. This, for example, means your google search results will not be altered, while in China. The 2nd benefit, is that you can cloak your location. A good VPN provider, will give you many options, for your internet gateway location. Choose a French gateway, if you do not want to be shown much higher ticket prices, when using www.sncf.com to plan rail travel while in Canada. Pick a US gateway, if you want to make use of geographically restricted services such as Pandora and Netflix, while in another country.
The simple truth is that a good VPN provider, is going to cost you a little money. This doesn’t mean spending a fortune. Unless you have some very specific needs, such as having a fast gateway option, from Central Africa—generally, the costs should be below $7 US a month. I personally pay $3.33 a month, via a one year account with privateinternetaccess.com. Consider a pay-as-you-go plan, if you don’t use much more than a couple gigabytes of bandwidth per month—for this option, I’ve had some satisfaction with privatetunnel.com.
Wrapping It All Up
With the benefits of reliable speed, security, privacy, and the cloaking of your physical location, all at low cost—a VPN should be a no-brainer. If you need help figuring out the right virtual private network for you, I recommended the following in-depth review and VPN provider comparison, that I’ve relied on in the recent past: