Traveling abroad and trying to stay connected to the Internet can be stressful. And in the #firstworldproblems sense, it can feel quite simply unfair: Just at the moment when you have the most interesting and beautiful things to brag about (er, share) on social media, doing so can become crazy complicated.
And of course such trivialities are far from the only reasons we want to stay connected: Whether you're working to close a big deal, stay looped in with loved ones, or just want to share those snaps — here's what the experts know about staying connected... and safely.
1. Proceed with caution.
First off, even if you are able to grab a random open network, consider whether it's worth it for the task you need to complete. “Unsecured Wi-Fi [networks] are akin to leaving your home unlocked with doors and windows wide open. Strangers can easily see what’s going on — even take what they want without your knowledge," says Gary Davis, Intel Security’s chief consumer security evangelist. "Your phone and laptop have a lot of information stored, which can reveal a lot about you: contact lists, personal and official e-mails, photos, bank statements. No way would you like these to fall in wrong hands."
2. Look for secure Wi-Fi options.
That's why the number one option should always be to check for availability of secured Wi-Fi options, even if it costs a few bucks extra. "You will need to use a password to access secured Wi-Fi. But if you do have to use an open Wi-Fi, check each account and immediately log out of it. Don’t keep too many tabs open at the same time. Do not click on the 'remember password' option either. Next, check that you have actually logged on to an authentic free Wi-Fi. Check the network name!" says Davis.
3. Travel prepared.
So rather than mess with unknown networks, come prepared. "Ever since Verizon did away with my unlimited data plan after I upgraded my phone, I was at a loss for an affordable option. I'd burn through the expensive packages of international data in a mere day while traveling abroad and trying to keep up on my email and workload. It was getting too pricey to keep up," says Kristin Luna, a Nashville-based journalist and travel blogger. "Now I rent a traveling device like GlocalMe every time I go overseas — $12.99 a day is worth it for me to have unlimited Wi-Fi when I travel and never be left in a lurch. Plus, I like knowing what it is going to cost me upfront, rather than getting back from a trip and receiving a $500 cell phone bill in the mail the next month!"
4. Make your plan work for you.
The experts say that T-Mobile will get you more bang for your buck than other international phone plans. “Without a doubt, T-Mobile is the best carrier for Americans that travel internationally. They might not have the best coverage in the U.S. but it’s amazing out of the country. It works just like it does at home in Canada and Mexico. Overseas users get free international data and text messaging in over 140 countries — plus all calls in those countries for just 20 cents a minute,” says travel expert Johnny DiScala — better known in the travel media community as Johnny Jet.
But no matter your provider, contact that company before you fly anywhere. “Before I travel, I contact my wireless provider, let them know where I'm going, and work with them on various [Verizon] Global Pass plans for data and calls. Usually, It's no more than $10 per day. I'm on the road 150 days a year, so using Global Pass saves me hundreds of dollars each year in international phone charges,” says Adventure Girl C.E.O. Stefanie Michaels.
5. Look out for unique circumstances in various regions.
"I travel to China often on business and need to bypass the 'Great Firewall' to access Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites that are blocked by the Chinese government. [Virtual private networks] can be difficult to setup and expensive but are reliable. Good ones include Astrill, PandaPow, and StrongVPN. I also have used proxy servers to help gain access to content blocked by China's servers,” says Matt Arney, C.E.O. of TranslateNow.
And travel journalist and Lonely Planet author Kevin Raub shares: “The only place this is an issue for me these days is India, which can have very complicated Wi-Fi laws so a lot of places that would traditionally have Wi-Fi in other countries — smaller hotels, cafes — sometimes do not because they don’t want to deal with the stifling bureaucracy involved... In other countries, my first stop is always a mobile provider for a local SIM,” says Raub.
6. Be wary of the Man in the Middle Attack.
This attack refers to stealing of data midair. "Therefore, use only those websites that start with https in the address bar," says Davis. Avoid automatically connecting to hotspots: Keep your computer or device from automatically connecting to available Wi-Fi hotspots to reduce the chances of connecting to a malicious hotspot set up to steal information. "Make sure your device is set up so that it doesn’t automatically reconnect to that Wi-Fi when within range. For example, your home Wi-Fi may be called Netgear and will reconnect to Netgear anywhere — and that might be a hacker's connection," says Davis.
6. Avoid information-sensitive sites.
When using public Wi-Fi, try to avoid logging in to banking and shopping sites where you share your personal and financial information, says Davis. Only do these transactions from a trusted connection, such as your protected home network.
7. Pay attention to your data usage.
In theory, turning off data roaming and restricting yourself to Wi-Fi use is your best bet. "But realistically, we're all data and app addicts and using the right apps — Citymapper, messaging services like WhatsApp, and yes, even Snapchat — can only make your travel experience better," says Jen Rubio, co-founder of AWAY. "We recommend getting your phone unlocked before you go so you can buy a local SIM card, which gives you much more data without the expensive roaming charges.
But make sure to monitor that usage, or it can get out of hand quickly. "If you're like us and need to keep the same phone number for work or personal reasons, here's how to keep your data usage in check: Manually restrict your data usage to what you really need (on iPhones, go to cellular under settings, and turn data on and off by app). Most of your data usage ends up being behind the scenes data loading and refreshing for things you don't need," says Rubio. "Also, we tend to check social media out of boredom and habit, and if you manually shut off data for Instagram you won't find yourself blowing a gig of data on listless scrolling through food and sunset pics."
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