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

Aug. 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.

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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 image 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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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees