The Ultimate Guide to Using a VPN as a Digital Nomad - The Uncommon Pursuit

The Ultimate Guide to Using a VPN as a Digital Nomad

Digital Nomad, Resources

July 4, 2019

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I’m going to be honest with you. This isn’t going to be the sexiest post you’ll find on this site. But it’s an important one for anyone who travels, lives abroad, or pretty much anyone who uses the internet. And since you’re reading this page right now, I’m going to assume that includes you.

As travelers, we pride ourselves on preparing for every trip and situation. We make and agonize over checklists to eliminate, or at least minimize, the possibility of inconvenience. 

“A new camera? Check.

Travel insurance? Check.

One of those awesome travel pillows that kind of look like a neck brace? Check.

Something to protect you and all of your precious personal data while traveling abroad? Wait, what?”

Don’t sound so surprised. If you’re not using a VPN when traveling internationally, you’re forgetting a major tool in your digital nomad toolkit.

So let’s dive in. In this post, we’re going to answer:

      • What is a VPN?
      • Why do I need a VPN?
      • What does a VPN do?
      • Why you need to be using a secure, high-quality VPN like NordVPN or Express VPN.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Put simply, a VPN is a private tunnel between your computer and the websites that you connect to. Using a VPN can encrypt your data, change your location and IP address, and allow you to use apps that might otherwise be restricted in your host country.

Dave Dean from Too Many Adapters offers a really helpful analogy for what a VPN does.

“To understand how they work, think of the Internet as a river. Drop a load of dye into the river — that’s your (unencrypted) data. Anyone standing along the riverbank can see that dye: what color and consistency it is, and where it ends up.

Now, put a small pipe in the river, running from wherever you are to somewhere along its length, and tip your dye into that instead. Until it emerges from the end of the pipe, nobody on the bank can see the dye or knows anything about it. Your VPN is that pipe.”

Woman seated and working on laptop at coffee shop in Romania

Why Do I need a VPN?

As travelers and digital nomads, we are constantly connected to public and semi-public wifi networks in places like hotels, train stations, cafes, and airports. But these sweet, sweet free networks don’t come without risks. 

On these networks, anyone can gain easy access to your unencrypted personal data. That means things like your usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers are all at risk of being out there for anyone to see.

Benefits of using a VPN

Safety and Security

If you’re using a public wifi network without a VPN, your personal data is vulnerable and out there for anyone to see. A VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic, providing you with a layer of anonymity so that you can browse securely.

WATCH NETFLIX AND OTHER RESTRICTED CONTENT

A lot of streaming content is geographically restricted. This means that even if you pay for HBO in the States, you might not be able to access it outside of the country.

Streaming services like Netflix also have geographically specific content as well. So if you’re in Thailand and hoping to watch The Office, you might be out of luck. Or worse, you could end up stuck watching the UK version. Gasp!

Banking

Certain banks won’t allow you to use their services while abroad. For example, my bank won’t let me deposit a check by picture unless they can “confirm” that I’m in the States. No problem. When things like this happen, I just switch my VPN to say that I’m in the US and I’m good to go.

Even worse, in an effort to prevent fraud, some banks may completely freeze your count if they see any international activity. If you forget to tell your bank that you’re traveling or neglect to specify each and every country (which can be difficult as a digital nomad with a flexible schedule), you could find yourself in the nightmare scenario of being abroad without access to your own money.

Using a VPN allows you to essentially trick your bank into thinking that you’re in your home country.

Access Blocked and Restricted Websites

Countries around the world, especially in Asia, all have their own rules according to what websites users are able to access. Depending on what country you’re in, you may not be able to access your favorite news or social media website. 

A VPN is helpful because sometimes the restrictions can seem downright arbitrary. I’ve lived in places that block access to major news sites like bbc.com. In China, unless you use a VPN, you’ll be without apps that you use every day like Facebook and any of the Google apps like Maps, search, translate, etc.

What to Look for in A VPN

All VPN’s aren’t created equal. So here’s a rundown of what to look for in a VPN provider. 

Avoid Free VPN’s at All Costs

Whenever I bring up the need for a VPN people always ask me what the best free option is. To be fair, I totally get this line of thinking. As travelers, we always want to get the best deal possible. But security over my personal information is not something I’m willing to be cheap with.

While there are several free options out there, they should be avoided for a few reasons. 

    • Most of the cheaper or free VPN services out there are low quality. They’ve even been proven to leak your IP addressConsidering the point of a VPN is to allow anonymity, leaking your IP address makes these VPN’s useless at best and downright dangerous at worst.
    • VPNs do not provide anonymity between you and the VPN company. You want to be sure that the company you choose is going to treat your data responsibly. A free or less reputable VPN company carries a higher risk of shady activities, such as logging your data without you knowing.

Allows you to connect multiple devices (+ has apps for phones and tablets)

We do almost as much work on our phones as our computers. So it’s an absolute must that we are protected on all of our devices. Be it a phone, tablet, or laptop. 

Being that there are two of us, we require a VPN that allows us to connect at least 4 devices at once. However, a single person would be fine with 2 or 3.

Girl With Phone Using NordVPN

Has endpoints available in several countries

Because restrictions vary from region to region, you’re going to want a VPN that has a lot of server options to choose from.

For instance, if I want to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I have to connect to Netflix UK. Other times, I need to connect to a US or Canada server for North American specific content. Occasionally, you’ll even need to try different cities in the same country. So even if the New York server isn’t working, Denver could be working just fine.

NordVPN and Express VPN each offer access to 3,000+ servers in 60+ countries.

Strict No Logging Policy

Let’s face it, though a VPN is designed to keep you safe, you’re still placing a lot of trust with the VPN provider itself. Be sure to sign up with a reputable company in the industry that explicitly states their strict policy against logging and sharing your data. You want to know that if they were ever pressured by any institution or government for your data, that they wouldn’t just simply hand it over.

Your Internet Connection May Be too Slow

In places where your wifi connection is weak, your VPN may slow your connection down so much that it’s virtually unusable. Or it just may not connect at all.

In these instances, just be smart and don’t enter any personal or sensitive information until you can be sure that you’re on a secure network.

digital nomad man on laptop on island

Our Top Recommended VPNs for Travelers and Digital Nomads

If you’re looking for a secure, easy to use VPN, we recommend either Nord VPN or Express VPN. They’re the two most recognized and respected names in the industry for a reason. Having gone through trial and error with a few VPNs in our time as digital nomads, we can safely say that these two stand in a class of their own.

In addition to industry-best security and anonymity, both providers offer:

    • Easy to use apps for MacOS, iOS, Android, and Windows, as well as extensions for Chrome and Firefox
    • The ability to use major streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video
    • Discounts for long term plans, with some costing as little as $2.99/month

So Which VPN Do We Use?

Currently, we use NordVPN simply because it allows us to connect up to 6 devices at once time. Though if I’m being honest, we usually only have 4 devices — 2 phones and 2 laptops — connected at any given time.

The Wrap UP

As digital nomads, a VPN has become an absolute must-have for us. We do virtually everything online and the peace of mind that comes with knowing our information is safe in an airport in Hong Kong or a cafe in Vietnam is worth it.

When the monthly cost of a quality VPN is about as much as a cup of coffee, you simply can’t afford to not be using one.

Check Out Our Favorite VPN Services

Everything you need to know about a VPN as a digital nomad
Everything you need to know about a VPN as a digital nomad

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The Ultimate Guide to Using a VPN as a Digital Nomad

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We are a couple that travels the world full time while running our own online businesses. We want to be your one stop shop for a location independent lifestyle full of travel inspiration and useful tools and knowledge to grow your own online business.

Zach & Amanda

Danang, Vietnam

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