How To Configure A VPN To Get Cheaper Airfare

October 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Air, Money, Security, Tech

orlando airport checkpoint

Virtual private network (VPN) software can do a lot for your digital life when traveling – like protecting your online accounts to helping you avoid regional censorship. But one of the lesser known benefits of using a VPN is finding cheaper airfare when searching for tickets online.

As Paul asked me recently on Facebook – how exactly do you use a VPN to find lower prices on airline tickets? Here’s the best way to turn your web browser into a digital travel agent with insider deals.

First, Choose A Good VPN

Most VPNs worth their 0s and 1s let you select a location where you’ll appear to physically be. So, for example, you might be traveling in Iceland but setting your VPN location in New York will make it appear to websites like Netflix, that you’re in the United States.

spinning globe

Start by downloading one of the 3 best VPNs for travelers or for those of you who don’t carry a laptop, check out TunnelBear.

Location Strategy

Using your everyday browser, starting looking for tickets and routes as you normally would (with VPN off). If you’re not sure where to look, one of the best flight search engines should turn up a good set of routes plus average rates.

eiffel tower

Next, it’s time to turn on your VPN – setting its location to the home country of the airline you’re most interested in. So, if Paris is the destination and there’s a decent Air France flight, change your VPN location to somewhere in France.

Before doing anything else, you’ll want to open up a ‘private browsing’ mode window. Here’s how to do that in Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer. What this does is ensures you’re IP address is stored in cache so the website you’re looking at can’t remember your real location.

Remember The Basics

For every new flight search, use a new private mode browser window. Don’t forget to use some low-airfare best practices, such as checking not only online travel agents like Kayak but also airline websites directly. Hopefully by now you’ve found a few discounts, even if small; however, in case your VPN searches aren’t turning up anything there’s one more option: use the U.S.

No matter where you’re flying, consumers in the United States are often offered lower rates on airfare, no matter the origin and destination cities. It’s worth a shot to set your VPN to any American city when all else isn’t working. For even more savings, look for multi-city flights, see if you’ve got enough frequent flyer miles for a free flight, and spread your searches out over a few days.

[Eiffel Tower photo from Wikipedia]

The 3 Best VPNs For Frequent Travelers

September 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Security, Tech

best vpns travel

There are a lot of good reasons to use a VPN when traveling, from getting around local Internet censorship to finding cheaper airfare but with so many options, it can hard to determine the differences between services. The best VPNs work around the world even in Internet-repressive countries (*cough* China), give you security, and protect your privacy. Plus, if you travel frequently, good VPN software will keep your mobile devices seamlessly connected too.

Quickly: What’s A VPN

In short, a virtual private network (VPN) is like a scene in an action movie where we (and the bad guy) see the hero run into a mall. The bad guy or gal knows the person is in the mall but doesn’t know where they’ll exit from. In this analogy the mall is the VPN, the exits are websites, and the bad guy could be any person or government agency watching what you do online.

you didn't see anything

Without the VPN (or mall in this example) someone could just follow you to your favorite store, tracking what you do. This is the security a VPN provides. But you have to trust the mall’s internal security, that they’re not using their cameras to track you when you’re inside. This is the privacy aspect of VPNs and varies between providers.

The VPN is a little program you run on your desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Viewed from the outside the fact that you’re connecting to a VPN isn’t a secret – but once there, your Internet browsing is obscured. Another benefit of the VPN is they can be configured to make it appear as if you’re browsing from another country so you can do things like watch your favorite TV shows from anywhere.

Are They Worth Paying For?

Yes. Most free VPNs either have slow connections, poor (if any) support, limited bandwidth, and might not take your privacy or security as seriously as they should.

The Best VPNs For Travelers – 1. Private Internet Access (P.I.A.)

Private Internet Access overall has in good measure the things you want from a VPN – strong encryption, they don’t keep logs of your activities, and they let you choose where it looks like you’re located (e.g. you want to access U.S. Netflix from India). They also don’t restrict ports for things like torrenting. P.I.A. is great but can be a bit slow sometimes; also their iOS and Android apps aren’t as reliable or configurable as they could be. Still, for $39.95/year is an excellent VPN choice.

2. TunnelBear


The strong suit of TunnelBear is its mobile apps, which seamlessly connect to the VPN even when you move between wireless networks or to cellular data. Here’s my full review of TunnelBear if you want to read more about this VPN provider with excellent customer support. Unlimited TunnelBear is $49.99/year.

3. IP Vanish

ip vanish

For those who like to configure things, IP Vanish’s mobile apps (Android and iOS) give you more options than other VPN providers and the service is consistently the fastest in my testing. (You’ll pay a bit extra for it, as IP Vanish is $77.99 annually.) Like P.I.A. above, IP Vanish also was rated by Torrent Freak as one of the VPNs that take your privacy most seriously.

Worth Mentioning

Several of you highly recommended Astrill (especially for travel to China) as well as WiTopia. Their listed privacy policies aren’t quite as robust as the other VPNs listed above but if your main objective is to prevent international governments from spying on you when you travel, both will serve your needs.

Is there a VPN you would recommend to other travelers I missed above? Let us know in the comments below!

Is Traveling To Tunisia Safe?

July 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Advice, Security

tunisia tunis Mohammad Bouazizi square

Tunisia has been in the news recently because of two high-profile attacks specifically targeting foreign tourists, in what is an obvious effort to cripple the country’s vital tourism industry. Thousands of European visitors have canceled their trips in the last month alone but do the Bardo Museum and Sousse resort attacks mean Tunisia is a dangerous place to visit?

tunis media black and whiteSilent Sites

When I visited Tunisia, two weeks after the Bardo Musuem attack, I expected to find a heavily militarized nation on edge, like those I encountered in eastern Ukraine and around Yemen. Instead, in the capital of Tunis and elsewhere, the atmosphere was one where security could be felt but remained in the daily periphery.

Most of the main tourist sites like the Bardo Museum, which defiantly opened 10 days after the attack there – are back in service. The handful of tourists you see number fewer than the soldiers stations around entrances to other popular stops like the Carthage National Museum.

National Insecurities

What remains around Tunisia are countless soft targets, ones that can’t be absolutely protected. In many ways this is true of most (relatively) open societies. Another similarity is that in Tunisia, there is a cohesive national identity made up of a large, educated middle class whose stance against extremism is evident. Hours after the Bardo Museum siege for example, thousands of Tunisian were outside the surrounding gates to protest against terror.

tunis streets

Tunisia is facing what many developed nations have already come to cope with, freedom, to an extent, makes terror attacks more easy to pull off. The repressive regime of pre-Arab Spring Tunisia restricted many liberties – resulting in a relatively safer society at the expense of the general public.

Why Visit At All?

The only true national success story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia, is where the impressive Romans of Carthage overlook the Mediterranean and the home of Luke Skywalker has been converted into a desert hotel. Tunisia has a well developed public transportation system making it easy to get around by train, plane, or bus. You can wander around the oasis of Tozeur, about a 30 minute drive from the sets of Star Wars.

Tunisia is inexpensive due to the lack of tourist demand. Large rooms in medina hotels like the Dar Ya in Tunis or Residence Tozeur Almadina won’t cost you more than $10-15 dollars a night. While Quito might have a higher crime rate, targeted attacks are always an indicator you should consider canceling your travel plans. Although further isolated attacks are near certain, those of you with a more adventurous side shouldn’t discount traveling to Tunisia. It’s true that numbers are rarely comforting, but in Tunisia’s case like many other places, they are overwhelmingly in your safety’s favor.

The Best Portable Hard Drives For Travel

April 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Security, Tech

portable hard drive travel

They aren’t the sexiest topic but if you take a lot of vacation photos, travel for business, or have experienced a laptop crash on the road, a good portable hard drive is a serious matter. Not having any kind of backup is one of the biggest tech mistakes you can make as a traveler and while online backups have advantages, adding a portable hard drive as part of your travel security plan can ensure you don’t lose any precious data on flaky Internet connections.

These hard drives are the best choices that are both reliable and light, with a few distinguishing features between them.

Western Digital (WD) My Passport Ultra 2 Terabyte (TB) Portable Hard Drive

wd my passport hard drive

In most cases you don’t need to shop further than the WD My Passport series of portable hard drives. They’re 226 grams (8 ounces) light, 2 centimeters (.08 inches) thin, and very affordable at less than $100. The Slim version is 20% more expensive but half the weight if that’s a particularly important consideration for you. The My Passport also comes in 4 different color varieties, which might come in handy if you’re traveling with a partner.

wd my passport hard driveWestern Digital My Passport Ultra 2 TB Portable Hard Drive, Black

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Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2 TB Portable External Hard Drive

seagate backup plus slim

The main attractive feature of the Seagate Backup Plus Slim over the WD My Passport is that its 50% lighter but roughly the same price. That’s a pretty good selling point for a backup hard drive that’s nearly as durable plus syncs well with mobile devices; so you can backup your phone or tablet photos directly.

seagate backup plus slimSeagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable External Hard Drive

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Samsung T1 Portable 500GB USB 3.0 External Solid State Drive (SSD)

samsung t1 portable hard drive

A solid state drive means that there are no moving parts inside the Samsung T1, giving it an exceptional level of reliability. An SSD also means the T1 Portable is about 3 times the price of the hard drives mentioned above – for 1/4th the storage space. Still, it’s physically smaller with data transfer speeds five times as fast. If you’ve got the budget and are a heavy photo or video shooter – the Samsung T1 is worth considering.

samsung t1 portable hard driveSamsung T1 Portable 500GB USB 3.0 External SSD

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What Is A Terabyte And How Much Storage Do I Need?

A terabyte is equivalent to 1,00 gigabytes (GB). Given that the average laptop hard drive has a storage capacity of either 250 or 500 GBs, a 2 TB portable drive should meet your needs. Two terabytes also happens to be the largest amount of portable storage your can currently find before prices really jump. (A 4 TB portable hard drive costs 25% more per terabyte for example.) Of course that will change as storage inevitably becomes cheaper. However if you want to backup your backup using two drives, it’s generally a good idea to get two smaller drives, rather than a single big one.

Whichever portable hard drive you decide to go with, remember to protect it using Truecrypt, and automate your backups with Crashplan so you’re covered off and online.