When it comes to travel, a secure data connection is essential. While you can generally depend on the service of your mobile operator to be safe from prying eyes, the same cannot be said for a hotel, or even a family member connection. The chances of these places being compromised by hackers or malware are generally quite low, but there is no reason to take chances if you are handling sensitive personal data.
But you still want to stay connected on the go, especially if you’ve brought a tablet or laptop with you. You have a couple of options for security reasons: use a VPN service or connect to your phone’s mobile connection wirelessly. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
VPN: the safe option
A virtual private network, generally shortened to VPN, is like a tunnel running through another tunnel. VPNs offer an encrypted connection to a remote server, which handles all the data to and from your computer or phone. This allows you to keep any other traffic or users away from your data, even if you are using an unknown (or insecure) connection. VPNs can be used on laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets, running almost any operating system.
Buying access to a VPN requires a small fee, usually less than $ 15 for a single month or significantly less for longer-term subscriptions. While there are free options, they tend to lack advanced security and sometimes sell your data collectively to third parties. Well-established payment options are the way to go if you are concerned about security.
To use a VPN, first connect to the local network (such as hotel Wi-Fi or a direct connection via Ethernet), then start and activate the VPN program. This creates a secure connection within the local network and the wider Internet. Once the VPN is running, you can use the internet like you do at home to browse any site, including those that have access to your personal information.
Because all data goes through both the local network and a remote server, VPN connections tend to be slower than normal broadband. Depending on the service you are using, you may not be able to access high-definition video streaming or fast-paced online games as you are used to, although the most popular services tend to have faster speeds.
Using a VPN used to be quite complicated, but it has become a much easier and more common practice these days. That being said, just because you’re using a VPN doesn’t mean you’re automatically protected. You need to use one that is reliable and safe. Many of them don’t necessarily have better security than a random connection, especially the free options.
We take privacy, security, speed, and more into consideration when conducting VPN reviews. To find the ideal VPN for your situation, check out PCWorld’s Picks for the Best VPN Services.
Mobile tethering: the easy option
Your other option is to avoid a local connection entirely and just use the data provided by your phone. Both iPhone and Android devices (as well as tablets with built-in LTE or 5G radios) now come with easy built-in tools that turn them into Wi-Fi access points, allowing laptops, tablets, and even other phones to connect. connect to mobile. Internet through them.
The advantage is that you control the connection, so as long as you trust your mobile provider, no additional security is required. While mobile tethering used to be quite slow, advanced LTE and newer 5G phones mean that it is often as fast or faster than local Wi-Fi connections. As long as your phone can get a decent signal, you should be able to use the internet without a problem, including streaming video.
The downside is that mobile tethering can be expensive and fast. Laptops and tablets transmit data much faster than smartphones, and depending on how your phone’s data plan is set up, you could quickly start to rack up charges. While most cell phone plans offer at least a small amount of connected data, if you go over the limit, the charges tend to be quite expensive. Budget plans and prepaid plans tend to charge more for anchoring or not include it at all; sometimes the phone doesn’t even allow you to make a tethered connection.
If you’re planning a trip and you know you’ll have good cell coverage, it’s a good idea to take a look at your plan’s tethering options to make sure your bill has no surprises. You might even consider adding additional anchor data for a month or two specifically to avoid overuse charges. (Again, buying access to a VPN for a month should cost less than $ 10 if you have free Wi-Fi that you can access at your hotel and elsewhere, so it may be the cheapest solution.)
If you are constantly traveling and want to rely on a mobile data connection, you may want to search for dedicated Wi-Fi access points. These are essentially the same as the connection on your phone … but without the phone. The advantage is that they generally have a better Wi-Fi signal and a much longer battery life.
For simple instructions on how to use your mobile phone’s data connection, check out these guides for iPhone and Android.
Michael is a former graphic designer who has been building and tuning desktops for longer than he would like to admit. His interests include folk music, soccer, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.