Psychological studies show that vacation has tremendous health benefits. Broadly speaking, Americans are a vacation deprived people. Having entered the summer months, now is an excellent time to makeup your vacation deficit. Being firmly into vacation season, I think it’s a good opportunity to review a couple of travel tips for using your Apple products at your vacation destination.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Wherever you travel, your destination lodging is likely to offer free or low-cost Internet wifi; just like Starbucks. The problem with using these Internet connections is that if you are not using secure connections, whether on your Mac or iDevice, then all of your data traffic to and from the device is visible to anyone with the knowledge and free tools necessary to view your traffic. If you’re streaming Netflix in your hotel room, it’s unlikely anyone would care. However, if you are banking, shopping, or even viewing email through a non-SSL connection, then your traffic is “snoopable” and potentially enticing. The Mac and iOS come with tools that allow you to secure or “privatize” all of your Internet traffic. On the Mac, the tool is available under System Preferences > Network; click the plus sign to create a virtual private network (VPN). On iOS, the same tool is available under System Preferences > General > VPN.
In addition to the software tool, you need a VPN provider to connect with, who should also provide you instructions and credentials for creating a VPN on your device. In the past, I have used PublicVPN and proXPN, which Steve Gibson reviewed and approved of on his Security Now podcast with Leo Laporte.
If you prefer a more turn-key solution, which I’m inclined towards now, take a look at Tunnel Bear, which was recently endorsed by fellow Mac-using attorney David Sparks, or Cloak. Both of these services make configuration super-easy in a way that other, cheaper, VPN services do not. Cloak is more expensive than Tunnel Bear on an annual basis, but does allow weekly or monthly passes, so you could have security only during your vacation travel.
No matter which service you choose, it encrypts your data on the resort’s, or Starbucks’, open wifi and makes sure no one can spy on it. Plus, as an added bonus, if, say, you’re vacationing in Ireland, you can watch a US-based Netflix stream because the VPN makes Netflix think your computer is located in America.
If your vacation takes you outside America, data on your iDevice, and any tethered Mac, becomes very expensive very quickly. The reason for this is that you’re using another carrier’s network, for which you pay a substantial premium. My carrier, AT&T, for example, charges $120 for 800MB of data, whereas domestically, AT&T charges me $40 for 4GB of data. Verizon’s international pricing is worse. T-Mobile customers get free international data, but at 2G speeds (not LTE and not even 3G), the data speed of the original iPhone from eight years ago.
However, the big win for either Verizon or T-Mobile iPhone users is that their SIM card slot is unlocked. AT&T, unfortunately, may not unlock your SIM card until your contract is up on that iPhone. An unlocked SIM card slot means that, once you arrive at your vacation destination, you can buy a SIM card and data plan from a local carrier at dirt-cheap prices, even relative to domestic American prices. If, for example, you were traveling to Ireland, a local carrier, Three, will sell you unlimited data for €20, or $23 at the present exchange rate. Your US-based phone number would be unavailable while using the foreign SIM card, but the price for data is unbeatable by any American carrier.
In addition to data security and iDevices, there’s a whole checklist of travel-related tech things to think about: adapters, headphones, backup batteries, etc. Dan Moren published an article in May of Essential Travel Tech that is worth a review.