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How and why you should use a VPN internet connection while traveling

August 17 2022
5 min read
VPN on laptop screen
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Travel is full of uncertainty, from canceled flights and changed itineraries to connectivity challenges as you cross borders and struggle to stay in touch with loved ones. To help reduce one area of risk, all travelers should consider installing and using a virtual private network application on their phones and computers.

Your personal and private data is at risk when you connect to networks, especially public ones like free airport Wi-Fi. Not to mention, you may be unable to access important applications and websites in certain foreign countries.

To help keep your communications secure and maintain access to certain internet features, it's useful to use a VPN. Here's everything to know about setting up and using a VPN to keep your information secure.

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Why you should use a VPN while traveling

(Photo by 1shot Production/Getty Images)

VPN applications encrypt your data — such as passwords and financial information — when it's sent over a network. The VPN essentially hides your information while it's sent along a private virtual pipeline from your phone or computer to the computers at the VPN's data center.

Within the VPN's computer system, your identity and information are kept confidential and are not tracked. After arriving at the VPN's computer system, your message or internet query is resent to its end application (whether it be a bank website, Facebook or Netflix) as if the message was originating from your location of choice.

By using a VPN when traveling, you'll enjoy two key benefits:

  • You'll be able to hide your data from hackers who may be lurking on public Wi-Fi systems at airports, hotels and cafes.
  • You'll be able to access websites as if you are logging in at home, ensuring you can access apps like FaceTime, Twitter and Netflix without any hiccups.

Related: 5 ways to secure your data on a public Wi-Fi network

How to set up a VPN

(Screenshot from NordVPN)

Setting up a VPN on your computer or phone is a fairly simple process. However, you'll want to make sure you set it up before you travel abroad, since some countries, such as China, have restrictions on accessing VPN websites.

First, select from one of the dozens of VPN providers currently on the market. The technical specifications for each may be confusing, but generally, it is best to select one that is both widely implemented and tailored for regular consumer use.

Some of the more popular and well-vetted VPN apps rated by CNET (which, like TPG, is a Red Ventures-owned company) include:

  • ExpressVPN: CNET's top-rated option based on its combination of speed and security.
  • IPVanish: An option that gets good grades for ease of use by beginners.
  • NordVPN: I've personally been using this service for years. It tends to be speedy and effective in accessing websites while abroad as well as encrypting data transfers while at home, based on my experience.
  • Surfshark: One of the least expensive (yet reliable) services currently available.

After choosing a VPN provider, your next step is to sign up for a subscription. Typically, a VPN subscription costs about $5 to $10 a month. Depending on the service you choose, you may find discounts available for annual or two-year plans.

Once you purchase your VPN subscription, you'll then download the app from the app store on your phone or computer. Most programs are available for multiple operating systems, including iPhone and Android.

Then, all that's left to do after installing the app is to click the icon and sign in with your user ID and password. You can enable the app to start automatically every time your computer boots up or your phone connects to a network. It's a good practice to allow for auto-connection, as it's easy to forget to run your VPN.

How to use a VPN

Most VPNs offer a variety of settings ranging from simple features (such as choosing a location) to more complex setups involving traffic routing and specialty servers. For most users, it should be enough to change your connection location if access speed is slow or if websites are blocked.

The screenshot above from a NordVPN login page shows the various locations where a user can connect simply by clicking on one of the blue buttons on the map. Most VPN providers have a similarly large selection of places where you can connect. You can usually view them in either map or list format.

Once you select your connection location, the VPN should work seamlessly with most apps and websites, and you can access them from anywhere in the world. If you find websites performing slowly or not loading at all, try reconnecting to an alternate server or location.

Related: How technology is transforming business travel

Bottom line

For security and connectivity when traveling, it's a good practice to install and use a VPN application on your phone and computer. Not only are VPN services affordable, they also provide a simple and efficient way to encrypt your data and access the websites of your choice while traveling abroad.

Choose a VPN provider that is well established and reviewed, such as ExpressVPN, IPVanish, NordVPN or Surfshark. Then, simply install the app on your device and enable it to connect whenever you do.

Taking these simple steps will help you greatly reduce the risk of jeopardizing your personal information while using public internet networks.

Featured photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
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