Why using a VPN when travelling is always recommended

Planning a trip? Don't leave home without having installed a VPN first – here's why

VPN for travelling
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Having the best VPN, or virtual private network, on your laptop and mobile devices is a great way to keep your online identity secure – making it perfect when connecting to potentially unsafe networks. So if you're going abroad, where you'll be using hotel and airport Wi-Fi, a VPN is recommended for you. Not only will it keep you secure and anonymous it'll also help you watch your favourite Netflix and BBC iPlayer shows without being geo blocked.

When you have a VPN on your phone, computer, tablet, console, whatever – you are more secure. That's the simple version. A bit more detail? Sure. You're given a new IP address, which is like your online identity. This IP can be located on a server run by the VPN provider, somewhere else in the world. This means you're not only hidden behind that other identity but also can appear to be somewhere you're not.

And it's the multi-purpose use of changing location of your IP that makes VPN services such a handy bit of kit when you're travelling abroad. And here's a few of the main reasons why...

Stay safe abroad with a VPN

When connecting to an open Wi-Fi connection, like at a hotel or at an airport, you're at risk. Your IP address is assigned to you by the local provider but that network could be compromised, allowing potential threats to access your data and identity. 

By running your data through a VPN, you're hidden. Also all your data is encrypted so, even if someone somehow got hold of it, they wouldn't be able to decode or make use of it anyway.

Watch shows abroad using a VPN

So you've flown to your dream destination and are lounging about for a few days then you get a bit bored of that book and realise your favourite show is on soon. You open the BBC iPlayer app and find it won't let you watch. It says you're outside the UK and aren't allowed – but you've paid for your licence. Yes, it does seem a bit silly to block non tax payers in such a simple geo restricting way, but that's how it is right now.

Thankfully a VPN will get you around this. By signing into your VPN you're able to select, in most cases, where you are appearing. In this case you can select UK and then the iPlayer will be fooled into thinking you're on home turf, allowing you to watch your favourite shows once more.

And of course this doesn't just apply to iPlayer. VPN services also let you watch usually internationally blocked services like Hulu or Sling TV and gains you access to your domestic catalogue of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Get online in countries that block you

Some countries you visit may limit your access to certain online content with many blocking VPNs to stop you getting around that – the best VPN for China, is a good example. Thankfully lots of VPNs are still able to get you the freedom you need while away so you can access what you need, be it emails, websites, streaming platforms, WhatsApp and beyond.

As a side note, this also applies to certain buildings and organisations. You've probably heard about the places that block Facebook or YouTube (usually academic institutions).

But will a VPN slow me down when travelling?

When you run your data through another server, using a VPN, that does make the data journey longer. If it's a server on the other side of the world you will likely notice a difference. That said, there are some VPNs that have so many high-speed servers you may not notice much of a difference. In some cases there are even VPNs that will somehow get you a faster connection!

What is the best VPN for use abroad

Which is the best VPN for the job? T3's favourite is ExpressVPN which is super easy to use, speedy, gives you encryption security and, crucially, lets you watch Netflix, BBC iPlayer and the like, no matter where you are in the world. Allowing you five simultaneous connections at once, you can get it working on a whole array of mobile and computing devices, as well as your TV streaming sticks and games consoles.

You might think a free option is more for you, but even our highest-rated free VPNs have limits on data allowances so keep that in mind if you plan to surf, download or watch a lot while abroad.

Read more:

Luke Edwards

Luke is a former freelance writer for T3 with over two decades of experience covering tech, science and health. Among many others Luke wrote about health tech, software and apps, VPNs, TV, audio, smart home, antivirus, broadband, smartphones, cars and plenty more. In his free time, Luke used to climb mountains, swim outside and contort his body into silly positions while breathing as calmly as possible.