VPNs are an essential part of protecting your online privacy, and nowadays it’s common to hear of people using them.
Ten years ago, if you’d asked the average person about VPNs, they’d probably have had no idea what you were talking about. With the rising popularity of watching US Netflix in other countries, many less computer-savvy people have found themselves learning about VPNs to view this geo-blocked content.
While that’s a great use of a VPN, there are still tons of other use cases that people aren’t even aware of. The ability to change your geolocation so easily can be a total game changer when it comes to your online activities, and some of these things can improve your internet connection or even save you money.
Before we get started, if you’re new to VPNs, check out “VPNs: What They Are, and Why You Need One”. And if you’re wondering which VPN to choose, check out “The Best VPNs for Developers”.
Let’s take a look at some of the different things you can do with a VPN that you probably didn’t know about.
1. Avoid Traffic Shaping
Have you ever felt your internet slow down for no apparent reason? There can be a few reasons for this, but one reason is that ISPs use traffic shaping to throttle down your connection speed.
Traffic shaping is a technique used by ISPs to sort the different types of traffic on their network in order to prioritize certain types of traffic. This means that, as they sort the type of traffic coming from you, they decide if they want to slow you down.
Application-based shaping is the most common form of traffic shaping, and we typically experience this every day without even knowing it. With application-based shaping, ISPs will determine which types of applications deserve priority over others.
While many people are aware of potential throttling if they exceed data caps, a lot of people don’t know that some of their traffic is slowed down just simply based on the type of traffic it is.
A known favorite for ISPs to target with throttling is gaming, and most gamers aren’t even aware that their ISPs are throttling down their connection speeds! With so many people gaming on the Internet, it’s an easy target for ISPs because it can have a significant boost on the overall performance of the network if they save some bandwidth here.
Many apps use encryption to get around traffic shaping to improve their performance, and this is where the power of a VPN begins to shine! VPNs offer an encrypted connection that reroutes your traffic. The encrypted data circumvents the traffic shaping and makes your data harder to decipher.
This, in turn, prevents connection throttling from your ISP, because they can’t figure out what type of traffic is being used by your network.
If you care about having the best connection speeds possible when playing games online, make sure you use a high-quality VPN to use your internet connection unthrottled.
2. Access Streaming Apps on Inflight Internet
Have you ever been on a plane and tried to use a streaming app on the inflight internet? You may have noticed that video streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube are blocked. This is because video streaming apps require a fair amount of bandwidth to be able to play the videos you want to watch.
Airlines end up in a dilemma because they want their customers to have access to Wi-Fi while flying, but if everyone wanted to watch Netflix or YouTube, there simply wouldn’t be enough bandwidth to go around. This is why, most of the time, there are measures put in place to block apps like Netflix and YouTube. This is inconvenient, since most people using the internet connection on a plane probably want to watch some videos to kill time.
Once again, VPNs are your best friend in this situation! By utilizing a VPN when connected to an inflight internet service, you’re routing your traffic around their network, and you’ll be able to watch whatever you want on the connection.
Ensuring you have a VPN on your device before flying can allow you to kick back and stream your favorite content while everybody else is stuck watching the inflight movie!
(Editor’s note: some streaming services allow you to download movies and other content to your device for watching offline later, which is another option to consider!)
3. View Live Events with Different Commentary
Commentary can really make or break the viewing experience, especially when it comes to sports.
Whether you’re looking for commentary in another language or feel that commentary from another country is better, a VPN will allow you to view sporting events with commentary of your choosing.
Typically, when you’re watching a stream of an event that’s being viewed internationally, the geolocation that you connect with will determine the commentary you receive. It makes sense that someone from Germany who’s watching a football match will want German commentary, but if you’re an English speaker who’s in Germany, you might want English commentary.
By running a VPN before streaming the event, you can select a server from the UK. This changes your geolocation in the eyes of the website or app, and you’ll be served up commentary from the UK. This trick is especially useful for sports fans who do a lot of traveling abroad.
4. No More Targeted Ads
Have you ever looked up something one time and then after that all you see are ads about it? This is because companies use your browsing information to target you with specific ads based on what they think you’re interested in.
Though sometimes it can be nice to see an ad for something that you might be interested in, most of the time you’re getting targeted with annoying ads about things you couldn’t care less about. These days, people quickly look up all kinds of things online, and just because they did search for something doesn’t mean they want to see ads about it all week!
Using a VPN has the added benefit of keeping your browsing private, and this makes it very hard for advertisers to target you in a specific way.
This means that you’ll start to see much more generalized ads and your browsing habits will stop affecting the ads you see.
5. Get Better Prices Online
Did you know that, when you purchase things like plane tickets online, there are better prices that you’re not seeing? Airline companies often use geolocation data to serve up different prices for the same flights, and they’re not the only ones doing it!
Most websites that offer products and services will have different prices displayed depending on the region you’re connecting from. There are situations where you can find much cheaper prices simply by changing your location.
Using a VPN will allow you to connect from a server in a different country of your choosing. You’ll quickly find that, when you’re connected from another country’s servers, the same ticket you were looking at magically has a better price! This is very common in travel-related sites that find plane tickets, book hotels, or rent cars.
Make sure to turn your VPN on and try a few different countries before going through checkout on these sites to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
6. Set up a VPN on Your Router
It can be hard to always remember to turn your VPN on before you start using your device. It’s great to have a VPN and encrypt your connection, but if you forget to turn it on then you’ve just left yourself exposed!
It’s in our nature as humans to forget about things, but what if there was a way to ensure you never had to worry about turning your VPN on? Setting up a VPN on your router is hands down the best way to always be protected online.
Most quality VPN providers have ways to integrate their services into routers directly. But it’s important to note that almost all routers provided by ISPs to their customers won’t work with a VPN. This is mainly because they don’t want you to be able to encrypt your traffic and as we discussed earlier. Traffic shaping is a favorite of ISPs.
This means that, to use this router trick, you’ll need to invest in your own router and make sure it’s compatible with whatever VPN you want to use.
The beauty of setting your router up with a VPN is that the router is the gatekeeper of all your internet traffic. No matter what device is connected to your home network, the last place it sends information out of is that router.
This is why encrypting your router is the best way to ensure that every single bit of data leaving your network is protected. It’s particularly useful for protecting specific devices that don’t have app support to set up a VPN. With smart devices of all sorts filling people’s homes, there are tons of unprotected devices that people aren’t even aware are using their internet connection.
Setting up your router with a VPN is the perfect solution to protect these devices without having to find a workaround for each device individually.
7. Get the Most out of Limited Services
There are plenty of services out there that allow you to try them with a usage limit. Whether they give you a set amount of uses for the day, or a timed limit, there’s a way to get unlimited usage out of these services.
Any idea what tool we can use to get unlimited uses? If you guessed a VPN, then you’re correct!
Free services often use IP addresses to track the number of uses you have had for the day. If you’re connected with a VPN, you can change your server location so that the website or app thinks you’re someone else.
This essentially means you can have as many uses as you want, because every time you hit the limit you can simply switch your server.
8. Avoid Paying Extra Taxes When Shopping Online
In certain countries, there are extra taxes that get added onto purchases, and in Europe particularly, there’s a tax called VAT (value added tax) added on to purchases of goods and services. This tax can be as high as 20% at times!
While it’s not as easy to avoid paying this in-store, when you’re shopping online there’s one way that we can easily avoid paying this tax. Using a VPN while you shop online will allow you to get around this extra tax by connecting from a server in another country.
I closed the page and switched my VPN to the United States to see if it would change the price. To my surprise, the VAT tax was completely removed, and I was only charged $79.
There’s no doubt that, in this day and age, a VPN is an essential part of people’s online security, but the use cases for VPNs reach far beyond protecting privacy.
VPNs give users some power back and allow people more control over their activities online. While all of the points above are great things to be aware of, there are still plenty of other things you can do with a VPN that you probably don’t know about. Understanding what a VPN is doing and how websites and apps operate can open a whole realm of new possibilities for you online.
There will be no shortage of companies and governments trying to exert control and censorship over your internet activities. Harnessing the power of a VPN is one of the best ways to fight back and put some control in your hands.
If you want to learn more about VPNs and how to choose one, check out these related posts:
“VPNs: What They Are, and Why You Need One”
“The Best VPNs for Developers”