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Really Useful Tips, Tricks, Hacks & Things You Can Do With A VPN

By Annie André

If you thought a VPN was only good for protecting your personal information against hackers, think again. From accessing geo-restricted websites while travelling abroad to getting better prices on plane tickets, here are some surprisingly useful VPN tips, tricks and hacks internet surfers like you can take advantage of, beyond cybersecurity. Plus I’ll recommend some VPN‘s I’ve personally used throughout the years.  

featured image for useful VPN tips, tricks and hacks

VPN‘s were never intended for the average online user

Initially created in the mid-1990s for employees to access their company files and intranet servers remotely, VPNs‘ or Virtual Private Networks’ were never intended for the general public or the average internet user. 

I didn’t know much about VPN‘s in 2004

I first started using a VPN for work in 2004 to access my company’s intranet servers and company files remotely as if I were physically at the office. My connection was secure and private.

I didn’t know much about VPN‘s at the time other than the fact that I needed to log onto to my company provided VPN software, on the days I worked from home. I didn’t even understand what “secure, safe, or private internet connection” meant at the time. Safe and secure from what, who?

I was ok with that because I didn’t know how my TV worked either, but I managed just fine. 

Flash forward many years- VPNs’ are not just for employees and cybersecurity anymore…

The web has changed a lot over the years. It has experienced exponential growth. Internet users have become savvier and hackers sneakier, which created an increasing demand for more sophisticated cybersecurity methods for the internet. 

That’s where VPNs came in. 

Some smart people figured out that the technology behind VPNs could be used in other situations, not just for employees to access their company servers. 

I never imagined I would ever use a VPN for personal use. Nevertheless, that’s what happened when my husband and I moved to France with our children in 2010 and discovered by accident the many uses of a VPN.

In 2010 we started using VPN‘s for personal use

It all started when we couldn’t watch Netflix from France. Back then Netflix was not available outside of the US for licencing reasons. Basically, we were region blocked. Through some research, we discovered that by installing and using a VPN, we could watch Netflix while abroad. We could watch many other sites also that were region blocked. This is just one of the many ways you can use a VPN

If you’re interested in learning other ways you can use a VPN, then read on. 

My top VPN Picks for watching Streaming Video

Now, before we get started, for those of you here strictly to watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO BBC or some other streaming site while abroad, let me save you some time. There are two VPN‘s I recommend. IP Vanish and CyberGhost.

Cyberghost has dedicated servers specifically for certain streaming sites. Just make sure you choose them from the dropdown menu once you sign up. When using IP Vanish, choose the country server you would like to use from the picklist. 

My Top Pick For Streaming
CyberGhost VPN CyberGhost VPN

45 Day Money Back Guarantee

I may earn a small commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Not familiar with VPNs? Let me briefly explain.

A VPN is a useful digital tool, typically software or an app that you install on your computer or mobile device, which creates a private connection between devices across the internet- a kind of internet within the Internet. 

When turned on, the VPN encrypts your data,  anonymizes your online activity and keeps things like your web searches, passwords, credit card and personal information private and safe from malware and hackers by routing your internet connection through a server of your choosing anywhere in the world.

Also, once connected to a VPN server, you’re given a new IP address, which has the added benefit of making it appear as if your internet device is connected at another location rather than your true physical location. [/thrive_text_block]

A VPN can unblock regional websites by hiding your actual geographic location.

screenshot of geo restricted site from within the EU

When a site you visit on the internet blocks you based on your location, it’s called geo-blocking re region blocking, and you’ll usually know you’ve been blocked because you’ll see a splash page stating as much.

There are different reasons why sites might block you based on your location, but the two most common are licensing laws or complying with federal economic sanctions such as the GDPR privacy rules in the EU

The sites you visit which are region blocked will let you know by showing you a special page stating that their content is only available in a specific region. If you are outside that region, you won’t be able to access their content. 

Below are three examples of region blocked streaming website services: BBC I player, not available outside of the UK, HBO NOW and Lifetime channel, not available outside of the USA. 

screenshot of BBC I player blocked outside of the UK

screenshot of HBO now geoblocked outside of the US

SCREENSHOT lifetime tv streaming site geo blocked

Since VPNs allow you to change your IP address, all you need to do is logon to a VPN and choose a server in the same country as the streaming site. That site will see your new IP address location rather than your actual physical location. And Voila! 

You can watch Free streaming TV Networks from other Countries

Many TV channels around the world offer streaming TV for free on their websites in order to remain relevant.

The only catch is that most of the time, viewers need to be physically located in the country of origin. 

Want to watch original programming from ABC and Lifetime from the US or BBC from the UK. No problem with a VPN

You can unblock geo-restricted e-commerce sites

Nothing is more frustrating than getting blocked from your favourite e-commerce site while travelling. For instance, if you’re travelling through Europe, and this happens to you, it’s probably because of GDPR privacy rules in the EU. 

Take ModCloth, an American online retailer of indie and vintage-inspired women’s clothing which isn’t accessible to anyone in the EU. The screenshot below is the message I get when I try to access their site from France. I can’t even browse their products. I just see this annoying message. 

screenshot of modcloth website when you are blocked from viewing based on your geographic location

To get access to geo-blocked websites, just fire up your VPN and choose a server located outside the EU, like Canada, the US or even Australia. Then open up a new window and start shopping. 

Below is a screenshot of the ModCloth website after I started up my VPN. I have Full access to browse all their products. 

screenshot of website blocked in the EU

It’s not just shopping sites and video streaming sites that can block you from viewing their content based on your location. I followed a link to a youth soccer organization in Salt Lake City and was greeted with the following page.

screenshot of website geo blocking me from accessing.

I was geo-blocked from viewing the site because I was trying to access the website from within the EU. 

You can unblock geo-restricted news websites

If you live in the US and travel to Europe, it’s natural to want to check out the news back home. Unfortunately, some news sites are also blocked in the EU, specifically US news sites, thanks again to GDPR privacy laws. 

screenshot of Daily News site blocked in the EU

A VPN can save you money shopping at websites online that use dynamic pricing to get you to pay more.

When it comes to shopping online, most people assume they’re getting the same price for the same product or service as everyone else. That’s not always the case.

photo of someone shopping with a credit card online

Thanks to the intelligent design behind the Internet, wireless networks and Internet Protocols, online sellers know your exact physical location and your browsing history. Some online sellers use this information to change the price dynamically in real-time to get you to pay more for identical products. This practice is known as “dynamic pricing.” 

  • Browsing history: Every time you visit a website, an internet cookie is dropped in your browser. These web tracking cookies identify users, save your website login information and make it possible for sites to serve you up customized web pages. They can also track your online history, which means online sellers know if you’ve visited their website more than once.
    • Some sellers use this information to charge you more since you clearly wanted an item enough to come back multiple times. 
    • Sometimes the best deals are given to visitors who appear to be new to that site. A VPN can make it appear as if you are a new visitor to their site by hiding your search history. 
  • Geo-targeted pricing based on your location (your IP address): Sometimes, online retailers charge people from wealthier countries or more affluent postal codes more because sellers know they can afford to spend more. 

How to hack dynamic pricing:

The secret to hacking “dynamic pricing” is to hide any trace of your personal details, browsing history and in some cases, your location before a website’s bots can access this information. 

Unfortunately, most online e-commerce stores and services that use dynamic pricing are not very open about their practices, so you won’t know for sure if it’s happening to you unless you use a VPN. Once you turn on your VPN, sites can’t detect any information about you. At this point, if you notice lower prices, then they were probably using dynamic pricing. 

How does it work?

Because a VPN allows you to change your device’s IP address by connecting you to a different server located anywhere in the world, the e-commerce sites you visit see the location of the server in the area of your choosing and not your actual location.

A VPN also disconnects your identity from the tracking cookies that websites create, making it impossible for them to track your online shopping activity and browsing history.

Here’s a look at some types of websites that use dynamic pricing.

You may be able to get lower prices for plane tickets and hotels with a VPN

If you’ve ever researched the best deal on flights or hotels, I’m sure you’ve noticed that prices go up and down without rhyme or reason based on many factors such as the time of day, season, or even the day of the week. That’s primarily because airlines and hotels are notorious for using the practice of dynamic pricing, which I mention above. 

photo of airline seats in an Air Transat plane from Marseille to Montreal

Another way airlines and hotels can manipulate their prices is based on your physical location and browsing history.

If you make repeated searches for the same destinations or itineraries, some airlines or hotels use this to their advantage and charge you more since they know you’re interested in certain itineraries. And sometimes you’re charged more because of your location. 

Not all hotels and airlines do this, so it’s up to you, the searcher, to do some testing.

Try installing a VPN and connect to a server in a lower-income country to see if prices fluctuate. Clear your cookies and cache and use a private incognito window to block them from seeing repeated searches for the same itinerary. 

You Can Access different country versions of websites.

Some websites like the “Food Network” and “Netflix” redirect you to different versions of their website, depending on your physical location. 

For example, in Europe, if you type the foodnetwork.com, you’ll automatically get redirected to foodnetwork.co.uk/

There’s nothing sinister about this; however, it can be annoying in certain situations. For example, if you’ve bookmarked various recipes on the “.com” version of The Food Network, then travel to Europe, you can’t access those bookmarks because you’re automatically redirected to the UK version which is not connected to the .COM version. The recipes are also very different on the two food network sites.Screenshot of .com and UK version of the Food Network website

 

Several of my British friends have told me that they wished they could access the .com version because the UK version contains a fraction of the recipes included on the .com version. 

Ironically if you’re outside of Europe, you can view both the .com and the UK version of the FoodNetwork’s website. 

You can watch the US version of Netflix while you’re travelling

(US Netflix has the largest library)

Netflix is available in over 190 countries worldwide, and each country has its version of Netflix, which you’ll get redirected to automatically based on your location. 

I live in France, so I automatically get redirected to the French version. When I visit my family in Montreal, I get redirected to the Canadian version. And in Switzerland, where my husband works, I get redirected to the Swiss version.

Screenshot of Netflix France

Most of the time, getting redirected to the local country’s version of Netflix is fine and even desirable; however, sometimes it’s not.

For instance, if you reside in the US and travel to France, suddenly some movies and TV shows are no longer available due to your new geographic location. Another situation that might occur is that not all seasons are available for a particular series in other countries. 

The same is true the other way around.

Here in France, I can watch Poldark and Outlander on the French version of Netflix. I love these two shows. I can also watch the Vikings on the French version of Netflix which is not available on the US version of Netflix. 

At the time of this writing, the US version of Netflix only contains three seasons of outlander while the French version has five seasons. The BBC show Poldark is available on Netflix France, but not on Netflix USA. 

screenshot of USA Netflix vs France Netflix outlander series

You can watch movies and TV shows only available on Netflix from other countries

Similarly, if you wanted to watch the French version of Netflix because you’re interested in original French TV shows and movies not available to you in your country, fire up your VPN, choose a server in France and logon to Netflix. Make sure you use a separate incognito window before logging on to Netflix.

Once logged on to Netflix with your VPN turned on, you should automatically get connected to Netflix France and have access to all its content. 

One thing to keep in mind is Netflix is cracking down hard on VPN‘s. While most VPN‘s claim they can access Netflix and Hulu, many cannot. So if your main goal is to access Netflix content from another country, try out several different VPN‘s to see if it works. I would start with CyberGhost VPN and choose a server located in that country. 

You can circumvent censorship and blacklisted sites when travelling to countries like China

Most of us never wonder about Internet censorship because we’re not affected by it. We take for granted that the Internet allows us to keep up with world news, discuss or exchange ideas with others as well as express our true opinions.

Unfortunately, some countries censor, block or filter the internet in hopes of silencing people’s voices and limiting their access to information.

Internet censoring and surveillance over what users can or cannot do online is typical of countries with strong authoritarian regimes. 

Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), a Paris-based organization calls these countries “Enemies of the Internet” and they claim there are roughly 18 such countries. One of those being China. 

Screenshot of website that tests if a certain site is blocked in China

Use a VPN in China to access censored websites like Facebook and Wikipedia

The government of China and the ruling Communist Party, which has one of the most advanced Internet filtering programs in the world, blocks any website or app that has the potential to undermine communist party rule. This consists mainly of western news media, social network sites with user-generated content and pornography.

To circumvent the issue of censored websites, many travellers visiting China and ex-pats living in China use a VPN to unblock websites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Whatsapp, Pinterest, Netflix, Youtube, Google and hundreds more. 

The issue is, would you want to, considering the government of these countries? Only you can make that decision, but according to this person’s personal experience, no foreigner has ever been arrested for using a VPN

You can prevent advertisers and marketing companies from tracking your online activity

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time online, you’ve probably seen ads that seem to follow you around the internet. It’s called retargeting and it is kind of creepy. 

Retargeting is a type of online advertising that usually relies on a cookie (a tiny code dropped into your browser when you visit a website). These third-party trackers give websites, eCommerce shops and search engines the ability to track your unique browsing habits and show you relevant ads when you visit other sites. 

Retargeting looks something like this:

You start looking for a product- In my case, I was looking for a sander and a jigsaw. I searched on Amazon and a few other sites comparing prices and models. Afterwards, I visited Facebook and a couple of DIY blogs. 

Every site I visited after searching for power tools seemed to show me banner ads of the same Ryobi sander I was shopping for during the week. Creepy right? It must have worked because I ended up buying a sander online. Damn those retargeted ads!

screenshot of re targeted ad on a random website

How to stop marketers from showing you retargeted ads

If you’re concerned about advertisers tracking you and want to stop them from showing you retargeted ads, you have a few options.

The easiest way is to use a VPN:

If you want to stop retargeting but don’t want to fidget with your browser settings, A VPN might be your solution. Websites using retargeting can’t place cookies on your system when you use a VPN coupled with a private incognito window, making it virtually impossible for marketers to track your browsing history and send you retargeted ads. 

Other ways to stop retargeted ads but more time consuming:

  1. You can manually manage your cookies in your web browser by deleting your cache and your web browsing history. Unfortunately, you’ll have to clear your cache after every website you visit. And if you tend to forget logins and passwords, you’ll end up deleting those too.
  2. Another option is to turn off cookies in your web browser altogether. You’ll still see ads; they just won’t be based on other websites you’ve visited.
  3. In most browsers, you can choose a private window. In Chrome, it’s called an “incognito window”. This will prevent sites from dropping new cookies, but the old ones on your computer can still track you. So you’ll still need to clear your cache and delete your cookies before using Chrome. 

screenshot of settings in Chrome to manage cookies and cache

 

You can avoid VAT Taxes in Europe and other countries that charge Value Added Tax.

In Europe and many other parts of the world, you typically have to pay VAT (Value-Added Tax) on goods or services you purchase. In some countries such as France, they can be as high as 20%, which adds up. The one silver lining is you can request a VAT refund at the airport on your return home which is great but kind of a hassle. It’s very similar to sales tax and unavoidable for products your purchase. 

Image of countries that charge VAT around the world

You can avoid VAT on digital purchases: 

When it comes to digital products you purchase online, there is a way to circumvent VAT charges with a VPN by making it appear as if you’re physically in another country (that does not charge VAT). 

For example, I found an online course that teaches photo editing using Adobe Lightroom for USD 79.  When I placed the course in my online shopping cart, I was automatically charged an extra $15.80 or 20% VAT tax because their website was able to sniff out my IP address and knew I was physically located in France. 

I closed out the window, turned on my VPN and chose a US-based IP address (because I know the US does not charge VAT). Then I went back to the website and put the same course in my shopping cart and voila, the VAT tax was no longer there. (see screenshot below).

photo of online purchase using vpn to avoid VAT taxes while making purchase in Europe

You can do this for many other online services and digital purchases while in a country that charges VAT.

A VPN protects your personal data on your mobile phone when you access public Wi-fi hotspots.

photo of woman at airport using her phone, possibly on public wifiprotect you

More and more people are using their mobile phones to access the internet, especially while travelling.

If you like to take advantage of free public wifi in places like airports, hotels and coffee shops, keep in mind that whenever you browse on your mobile phone, would-be hackers logged onto the same public Wi-fi hotspot can steal your private information, logins and passwords.

Using a VPN app on your mobile devices or tablets while travelling ensures data encryption and privacy, which helps keep your mobile activities anonymous, no matter where you’re connected.

Screenshot of a VPN app on a mobile phone with IP address blurred out

Slightly sketchy hacks: I wouldn’t usually recommend

Folks, it should come as no surprise that VPNs can be used for nefarious or questionable purposes. Here are a few.  

Spoof your IP address and read more free articles

Have you ever visited one of those news websites that let you view a certain number of articles per month or day before you have to pay? The way that they know you’ve viewed multiple articles is through your IP address. 

get more free limited services screenshot

Since a VPN changes your IP address, you can make it appear as if you’re visiting the site for the first time, and you’ll be treated like a brand new visitor. 

Spoof your location for PokemonGo and “catch ’em all”!

CATCHEM ALL POKEMON GO IN ZURICK SWITZERLAND

I’m not a PokemonGo player, but I know it’s extremely popular, even with grown men and women.

Unfortunately, the game is region blocked in some countries or banned from schools and campuses while others may have access to the game, but find themselves in areas where Pokémon are rare.

If you would like to hunt and catch Pokémon anywhere around the world from the comfort of your home, you’ll need to spoof your location.

To spoof your location, you’ll need these three things:  

1) GPS spoofing app, 2)  mock locations masking module, 3) and a VPN.  These three tools used in conjunction allow you to change your location on the pokemon map anywhere you in the world. Try dropping yourself in a big city like Paris and see what you find.

A VPN protects you when you download torrents.

Although many people associate BitTorrents and torrenting with illegal activities like downloading pirated films and music, there are legitimate and legal reasons for using a torrent for file sharing.

Many mainstream companies such as Facebook and Twitter use BitTorrent internally to share and move files around. Nasa and the UK government have also used this file-sharing technology to share large chunks of data because torrents are a quick and efficient way to distribute large files quickly, which can save money on bandwidth. 

file sharing and bit torrent image

If you’ve used Torrents, you probably know that media companies are cracking down on torrent traffic on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, so make sure the torrents you download are not copyright protected.  If you do accidentally download something that happens to be copyrighted, a VPN will keep you somewhat safe because it hides any peer-to-peer activity.

A VPN also hides any peer to peer activity from your ISP. Some ISP’s throttle or slow your connection when they suspect questionable downloads via a BitTorrent. 

Bypass Restrictions When Gambling Online

Grand-Casino-de-Noumea-–-New-Caledonia

Online gambling is extremely popular, especially in the UK, Australia and the US.

If you travel abroad and like to gamble online, it’s likely that at some point you’ll end up somewhere where you won’t be able to access online gambling sites because it’s banned.

This can be due to local cultures that don’t approve of gambling, religious beliefs, or local laws. 

Even if you’re not geo-blocked from online poker sites, it’s still a good idea to use a VPN mask your IP and encrypt your data to protect your personal information from cyber hackers, and trackers.

Hide your browsing history from your employer

Mutinerie-coworking-paris

 Assuming your employer gives you administrative rights to install a VPN software on your computer, once installed it can keep your web searches and internet activity private. Just make sure you use an incognito window and clear your cookies and cache since a VPN only hides your browsing history on the company server. 

How to use a VPN

Most VPN‘s work the same way. Once you sign up with a VPN service, you’ll need to download some software onto your computer. Choose the server in the country of your choice and connect. 

For example, if you want to make it appear as if you are physically in the US, choose a server from the US. See my video below. 

And for an added layer of privacy, open up a new private window or incognito window in Chrome.

Yes, there are free VPN‘s, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Free VPNs make money from you indirectly, using methods that are sometimes dishonest, hidden and even dangerous.

  1. Free VPNs might not cost you any money, but the company needs to make money somehow, so some bombard you with ads. Very annoying!
  2. Many free VPNs contain advertising malware, which defeats the purpose of using a VPN, in my opinion.
  3. The majority of free VPN‘s track your online activity so advertisers can show you targeted ads. Ironic since one of the purposes of a VPN is to prevent this from happening. 
  4. Free VPNs often limit the amount of data you can use. Not good if you are a heavy user or want to stream movies. 
  5. Sometimes free VPN‘s just don’t work or slow your internet speed to the point that you’ll notice and hate it. 

If you’re going to use a VPN just once in a while, then maybe a free VPN will do as long as the issues above don’t bother you.

However, if you plan on using it regularly, then go with a premium or paid VPN, which is relatively easy to set up and inexpensive with most costing anywhere from USD 2.00 to USD 8.00 per month.

Recommended VPN‘s I’ve Used: Results vary, nothing is full proof

I say nothing is full proof because results can vary based on your location, your connection, what you want to use the VPN for and a multitude of other variables.

For example, if you want to use a VPN to watch Netflix from another country, sometimes one VPN works but another one does not. Sometimes a VPN works then suddenly it doesn’t. You have to try different ones to see which ones work for your situation. Which is why I’ve tried so many VPNs. 

Here are the VPN‘s I’ve tried over the years. 

Many VPNs like IP Vanish, Private Internet Access and Nord VPN have risk free 30-day money-back guarantees. CyberGhost has a 45-day moneyback Guarantee (best for Netflix).

Overplay has a 5-day money-back guarantee. 

You can try Cactus VPN free for 3 days. 

Good luck! Please consider sharing this post on Pinterest. Thank you.. 

Really useful things you can do online with a VPN that you didn't know you could do

Boring Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you use them to buy something, I may earn a small commission (which helps me buy more croissants) at no additional cost to you. Merci for your support.

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