Hello, my name is Marcus and I barely remember my home. The last 8+ years have seen me live in Vancouver, an African nation, NYC, and now London. During this trip across Earth I’ve been wise enough to watch out for security concerns, and to use a few tools to help me stay connected to home.
No matter where you go in the world you will inevitably come against digital differences compared to where you are from. I am going to look at two such WiFi connection problems that I’ve come across, with my background in online security, privacy, and anti-censorship coming in handy!
Geo blocks are real, and really annoying
When I first left home all I wanted to do was be sure I could still watch my Vancouver Whitecaps FC. MLS, the league they played in, had an online viewing option for fans who couldn’t watch on TV. Perfect! All set to watch my team from anywhere!
Wrong. The MLS viewer was region blocked at the time so that only people in the USA, Canada, and Mexico could watch it …the people who already had access via TV! During my other years travelling I’d come across other region blocks:
- You can’t watch BBC’s iPlayer outside the UK.
- Comedy Central would region block The Daily Show.
- YouTube videos from all over would be blocked.
And that has just been my experiences, some countries have blocks like:
- China blocks nearly everything to do with Google. That means no gmail, and no YouTube from within China.
- Brazil has blocked Whatsapp and Skype.
- North Korea blocks …pretty much everything that isn’t state owned.
- The UK can block up to 20% of all websites.
Yep, even jolly old England can indiscriminately block harmless websites with their censorship laws.
So what can you do to get access to these tools and websites when travelling? You can use a VPN for geo-blocks. There are two ways this tool will help:
- You can virtually change your location from where you are to where you want a website to think you are. In Australia but you want to watch Peaky Blinders on the BBC? Connect to a server in the UK using your VPN and you’re all set.
- It will encrypt your web activity against those who want to censor your access. The right VPN can break through China’s blocks, hide your Skype activity the next time Brazil wants to shut down Skype, and the UK can get stuffed with their censorship.
These are two of the most important things you can do when travelling if you want to stay connected to your home country.
Finding free WiFi connections is a problem
You’re out on the town, looking for a coffee shop, or just landed at the airport looking to tell your friends and family that you are ok …and you face one of the worst WiFi connection problems of them all: How to find free WiFi to connect to! Every traveller does it. Fortunately, there’s an app for that. Several:
- WiFi Finder for Android and iOS is an app with a database of free WiFi connection locations in restaurants, coffee shops, and more. There are over 650,000 free WiFi locations in their database.
- Free WiFi – WiMan is an Android app that has a growing database of free WiFi connections around the world. It even offers a rating of these WiFi hotspots.
- Map WiFi & WiFi Finder is another option for the iOS user out there. The unique thing about this app is its offline functionality …if you’re looking for a WiFi connection you are probably offline as it is! You can also sort the connection what type of place it is: Bar, restaurant, hotel, etc…
Those three tools will help you find free WiFi anywhere. Super. Great. But wait, because you need to be made aware of man in the middle attacks and Fake WAP hacks. Both of these are hacks done on public WiFi, and are becoming much too common. Especially at airports.
How you’re going to protect yourself is thanks to a VPN feature we were just discussing above: Encryption. Connect to the WiFi, connect to your VPN, and the encryption that these tools provide will protect you. This is not offered by proxy servers, you need a VPN for this traveller’s security problem.
WiFi connection problems while travelling
Travelling the world has been my greatest blessing in life. Throughout it all I’ve been sure to keep my data secure, find good WiFi right where I need it, and make sure my connections are free from censorship. If there’s one thing you don’t want to experience while vagabonding around, it’s identity theft.
Finding free WiFi is great, and connecting to geo blocked content helps you feel like you haven’t gone far, but protecting yourself with the right encryption is essential. Don’t leave home without it…
Feature image Mascha Tace / Shutterstock