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A guide to internet access while traveling and vacationing abroad

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Reliable internet access is becoming more and more important for both work and leisure. However, maintaining reliable access can be much more difficult when you are traveling abroad. These difficulties can be avoided and mitigated by understanding your options and preparing appropriately. Proper preparation and research will be especially important if you rely on your internet connection for work as you travel. 

It is a dream for many to become a digital nomad — working from a beach or cafe as it strikes your fancy. However, to do this successfully, you must have consistent, secure access to a reliable source of internet.

How to prepare for your trip

One of the best things you can do to maintain internet access during your travels is to plan ahead of time. The following steps will be helpful to ensure a reliable internet connection during your trip:

  • Back up all of your data. This will ensure that even if you lose access to some data or experience a cyber attack, your data will not be completely lost. You can go about this in various ways, but two ideal options are backing up to an external hard drive or a secure cloud server. In either case, you should ensure that the data is encrypted. 
  • Encrypt your devices’ storage. By encrypting stored data (or using a service that will encrypt your stored data) you can ensure that even if your data is accessed, it will not be usable by any bad actors. 
  • Update your software. By updating your software you can ensure that you will benefit from any available patch updates.
  • Install “find my phone” applications. “Find my phone” apps are a great way to locate a missing phone. The more quickly you can find a missing phone, the less likely it is that information on the device will be exposed. 
  • Update your passwords. By updating your passwords before you leave and after you return from your trip, you can significantly reduce the chance that bad actors will gain or maintain access to your devices or accounts. 
  • Ensure that you are familiar with your internet provider’s privacy policy. This can help you understand what to expect in terms of security provided by your internet provider. 

However, these tips should be the bare minimum of the preparation you go through to make sure you safely access the internet while traveling. You should also consider additional factors as you’re on the road — both for the sake of easy access and for your devices’ security.

Wi-Fi in public spaces

While using public Wi-Fi can be a convenient option, it also presents unique security concerns. As such, it is important to take proper precautions that will minimize security threats related to public Wi-Fi, including:

  • Disable settings to auto-connect to available Wi-Fi networks. For the sake of security, you should ensure that you are always aware of when you are connected to a public Wi-Fi network during your travels. Many devices offer settings that will automatically connect with available networks, so it is best to make sure that these are off. 
  • Do not access sensitive information while using a public Wi-Fi network. If you do need to use a public Wi-Fi network, it is best to avoid accessing sensitive information such as personal identifying information or banking information. This will help prevent you from falling prey to cyber threats such as man-in-the-middle attacks which could happen when you’re browsing or messaging others. 
  • Utilize encrypted websites and data. When using public Wi-Fi, you should also only visit secure websites and deal with encrypted data. However, it is best to avoid sharing sensitive data altogether until you have access to a more secure internet connection. Meanwhile, you can identify secure, encrypted websites by the “https” indicator found in the URL.
  • Do not remain logged into accounts. Bad actors may be able to take advantage of accounts that are left idle. If you always log out, you decrease the chance that they can access any valuable information, even if they do gain access to your browser or activity logs. 
  • Utilize a VPN. A virtual private network encrypts all of your internet activity, therefore making information about your activity useless to bad actors who may be trying to intercept your information. 

However, it is usually not a good idea to entirely rely on public Wi-Fi, even if you are utilizing these networks responsibly. In addition to security concerns, these networks often suffer from slow or spotty access.

Phone tethering

Phone tethering is the process of sharing a mobile device’s internet access with another device. While the process of tethering is similar to using a hotspot (and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably) the difference is that hotspots utilize Wi-Fi, whereas tethering involves the use of other connection options such as cables or Bluetooth. 

Phone tethering is more secure than using a public Wi-Fi network, but can eat through your data quickly. Additionally, your internet may be slow, and therefore it is best to only use tethering for small, quick online tasks when other options are unavailable.

Private access points

Private access points are private networks that allow connection from authorized mobile users. These are commonly used by hybrid workplaces to securely accommodate remote users. Essentially, access points are used to extend your local network and make it accessible from wireless devices. More users can connect to the network from a much broader range compared to a more standard local network. This is an invaluable resource for businesses that need to share sensitive information with remote employees who may be traveling.

Internet cafes

An internet cafe is a business that offers computers and various other devices to the public, as well as access to the internet. The cost of using a device is usually time-based. While internet cafes are largely declining in popularity, they are still widely available in many places, particularly in East Asian countries. These establishments are extremely useful for travelers who need a temporary dedicated working space. 

Internet in a vacation home

Typically, you will have to pay for the internet at your regular home and your vacation home separately. This can become fairly expensive, especially if you keep the internet going at your vacation home year-round to maintain smart devices such as those related to thermostats and security. 

However, in these situations, you may be able to contact your internet provider to negotiate a better deal. On the other hand, if you are renting a vacation home you should make sure to ask the property owner about important information related to available internet access, such as internet speed and passwords.

Local, prepaid, and international SIM cards

When traveling abroad, it can be helpful to obtain a SIM card for a specific locale or an international SIM card. This will increase your ability to access local networks and will allow you to avoid roaming charges. If you follow this strategy, it is best to get a prepaid card as they are simpler to obtain and utilize as a short-term plan. 

You can obtain a prepaid SIM card by contacting a local telecom company. While you can also often buy these SIM cards at airports, they often do not offer very good rates compared to buying directly from a telecom company. There are plenty of cheaper and more convenient ways you can access the internet internationally, such as using prepaid gadgets or prepaid portable hotspot devices.

Safety, security, and privacy tips for traveling abroad

The following tips can keep your data secure as you access the internet while you travel:

  • Download updates: Ensure that your software and hardware are up to date. Your operating system and applications will routinely be updated by the parent organization or developer to keep up with cybercriminals and the threat landscape, as well as to patch older versions. Staying current with your updates is a key way to keep your device secure.
  • Limit Bluetooth: Keep Bluetooth turned off as much as possible. Leaving Bluetooth on can run down your battery, and your device may also be visible to other Bluetooth-connected devices in the area, potentially leaving you vulnerable to data thieves and bad actors.
  • Wi-Fi vs data: Utilize public Wi-Fi sparingly. The number of unknown users and devices, and the variable security protections on public networks can make them substantially vulnerable compared to private networks. While convenient, public networks are an elevated risk you should try to avoid.
  • VPNs: Use a VPN at home and while traveling to add an extra layer of anonymization to your browsing and data transfers online. 
  • Login protection: Set up multi-factor authentication. This makes it more difficult for your accounts to be hacked or accessed without your knowledge, and gives you a chance to get a warning if someone is trying to log into an account without permission.
  • Toggle Wi-Fi: Turn off your automatic connection to Wi-Fi. Similarly to leaving Bluetooth on, leaving your Wi-Fi on can lead to your device automatically connecting to an unsecured network without your knowledge, making you vulnerable to compromise by bad actors or susceptible to downloading malware.
  • Limit sharing: Turn off any file-sharing options that are active. Leaving on file-sharing services can open your entire device and personal data up to anyone in proximity or on your network.
  • Manage your access: Avoid accessing sensitive information. The less you open up personal accounts or even look at personal information, the fewer chances you give others to access, snoop, or compromise those accounts.
  • Log out: Do not remain logged into accounts for longer than necessary. Remaining logged in increases your exposure and gives bad actors another opportunity to steal personal data.
  • Be discrete: Avoid sending sensitive information through email. Even on a secure connection, you cannot always guarantee the security and privacy protection of the receiving party. Whenever possible, try to use alternative means to share sensitive data that don’t leave a record for outside parties to access.
  • Lock devices: Ensure that your devices are locked. Leaving your phone open or accessible makes it vulnerable to thieves and undoes many of the security benefits provided by other tips on this list. Securing your device is your first line of defense on the go.
  • Know where you browse: Be aware of unique privacy and safety concerns related to wireless access. Only visit sites or use apps you know you can trust, and always know the network you use to connect to the web.
  • Know the signs of hacking: Familiarize yourself with warning signs that your accounts have been hacked. The sooner you recognize something has happened or been compromised, the faster you can respond and control the damage.

Recommended gadgets for extended trips

When you travel, you should also consider investing in some extra technological devices to make your internet access easier and more secure, especially if you’re a digital nomad. The following gadgets can help you reliably access the internet while you are traveling abroad:

  • Headphones: Headphones can be very useful when listening to information that may be sensitive. They’re also considerate to use when using public transportation to avoid bothering other passengers. 
  • International adapters: An international adapter can help you ensure that you can keep your devices charged, no matter your location or the electrical outlet you encounter.
  • Portable chargers: Portable chargers, also called power packs, can also help you ensure that you can keep your devices charged if you’re not near an electrical outlet. 
  • Mobile hotspots: A mobile hotspot allows you to have access to the internet almost anywhere and can be very valuable if other options for internet access are not available. 
  • Portable Wi-Fi extenders: A portable Wi-Fi extender can help you better access a source of Wi-Fi that may be on the edge of your range. 
  • External hard drive: An external hard drive can be a safer alternative for storing sensitive data compared to software platforms.

What devices will be most useful and necessary for you will depend on your individual needs. If you are planning on working abroad, it may also be helpful to consult your company about security protocols and available resources.

Further reading

The following resources can further assist travelers who are concerned about using the internet while traveling abroad:

  • National Cybersecurity Alliance: This article provides a list of foundational tips for how to stay safe online. 
  • Webroot: This article discusses Bluetooth attacks and how to secure your mobile device against them.
  • Transitions Abroad: This article discusses how to safely use internet cafes and hotspots while traveling abroad. 
  • Norton: This article lists tips for how to keep your personal information safe while you travel abroad. 

World Population Review: This resource has cataloged internet speeds by country as of 2022.