By Jess Signet, guest contributor
Today there are so many ways technology can enhance traveling. In fact, I’ve stopped lugging my laptop on my trips, even when I plan to be working. I can get everything done on my tablet instead! For navigating cities, finding things to do and figuring out all the logistics of travel, nothing beats my smartphone! That said, there are some dangers that come along with using your devices all over the world. For example, did you know hackers target travelers, who often fail to notice their accounts have been hacked until it’s too late? With a little tech knowledge and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can protect your information throughout your trip so you can focus on the fun part without worrying!
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a tool that was originally created to allow people to access their work servers from home when working remotely. However, the concept has been modified to allow for a much broader range of uses. Here’s how it works:
- You try to access a website. Your computer sends out packets of information known as cookies that give the website information about your passwords, browsing history and other personal information. This makes your browsing experience a lot smoother: you don’t have to re-enter your password on every single page you access, and the site remembers things such as items in your shopping cart or your billing information.
- Normally, this information would go directly to the site, but that makes it susceptible to being intercepted en route. When you hook up a VPN, your cookies are directed through a closed tunnel to a third-party server located in the country of your choice (more about why this is important later).
- The third-party server selects only relevant information to send on to the website’s server and keeps it protected inside that encrypted tunnel.
Of course, this whole process happens in the blink of an eye, so using a VPN (as long as it’s a good one!) won’t slow down your browsing experience.
How does it make me safer?
Ordinarily it’s very easy for someone to get a hold of your personal information when it’s being shared between your computer and the site you’re accessing. One of the most common places for this to occur is on public WiFi networks, where anyone else sharing your internet connection could easily snoop on you. Sometimes what you think is a free public WiFi network is nothing more than a scam network, known as a malicious hotspot, set up by a hacker to steal your personal information when you connect to it!
When you use a VPN, your information is encrypted as it passes from your computer to the proxy server and the website’s server. You can imagine that your information turns into an impossible cryptogram that only the server you’re accessing has the key to unscramble. This means it’s a lot harder to intercept.
Are there any other uses?
VPN use isn’t strictly limited to protecting your information. Because your web traffic passes through a third-party server, your real location becomes hidden, even to the sites you’re accessing. Many governments worldwide have tight internet censorship laws; China’s infamous Great Firewall is merely one example of this. There are plenty of sites that restrict content based on location as well. For example, if you try to access your Netflix account to stream movies while you’re stuck on that long layover overseas, you’ll face an error message stating you can’t stream from that location!
Use your VPN to change your virtual location to your home country though, and you’ll be able to access the entirety of the internet just as you would if you were back on your couch. That’s right, you’ll be able to watch Netflix in Thailand, access Facebook in China or do whatever else it is you want to do while you’re traveling—all while keeping your personal information safe from hackers!
Being able to use technology to streamline your travels is a great benefit of life in the modern age, but if you’re not careful, you’ll find that technology is very much a double-edged sword. With a VPN installed on all of your devices, you won’t need to worry quite so much about keeping yourself safe and can instead just have fun on your trip!
To the travelers out there—what other tech tips do you have to share? Tell us your advice below!