How to beat the overseas internet blockade

We live in a post-jetset world where flying to the US or Europe is as common for business travellers as it is for backpackers.

Yet many times the websites, social media channels and online news services you rely on to stay in touch when travelling remain locked away behind bothersome virtual borders.

Some hotels and airport lounges rely on filters to block websites with what's considered to be questionable content, even if that content is in fact entirely legit.

Against the stream

Websites with streaming video content are often restricted to viewers in the website's home country and blocked to people overseas.

That includes subscription sites like Netflix and HBO, national broadcasters such as the BBC and 'catch-up' TV services where you can watch shows that have recently aired.

Of course, some countries block out entire social media networks, best typified by The Great Firewall of China which prevents access to Facebook and Twitter.

All this puts a crimp in your connected world, especially when you've come to rely on selected websites, streaming video and social media.

Geo-blockage

There's an added wrinkle for Aussies headed overseas.

Local streaming services such as Stan and Presto, ABC News 24, live AFL and NRL coverage, and catch-up services like the ABC's iView are all 'geo-blocked' to prevent people outside of Australia from accessing these services.

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(To its credit, the ABC temporarily removes the geo-block for selected News 24 coverage it deems of national importance, such as rolling coverage of the recent Liberal party leadership spill.)

VPN to the rescue

The most common way to beat these virtual road blocks is using specialised software called a VPN. Shorthand for Virtual Private Network, a VPN app can reroute your Internet connection via a score of special 'gateways' strategically located in countries around the world.

Let's say you're in London and want to catch your favourite AFL team playing at AFL.com.au.

If your chosen VPN provider has a gateway or 'point of presence' in Australia, your Internet connection to the Stan website will appear to be originating within Australia, just as if you were sitting at home.

Of course, VPN apps work the other way too, and this is how many tech-savvy travellers have been using them for years.

Wide open internet

On a business trip to China? You don't need to be cut off from your Facebook friends or any other website the Chinese government has blacklisted. Fire up your VPN app, click on a gateway outside China and the internet is once again wide open to you.

Trying to catch the latest F1 coverage live on the BBC's iView channel? Click on the VPN's UK gateway and the Beeb will think you're in Bristol rather than Bathurst.

My personal VPN software of choice is Witopia, which costs $US70 per year and includes gateways in Sydney and Melbourne as well as the rest of the world, all available form a point-and-click menu.

This is how I can dial into Aussie-only content when I'm overseas, as well as access social media from China.

Video a go-go

The main caveat with VPN software is that the process or rewriting all the data between you and the Web at large will significantly slow down your Internet connection.

That's no drama if you've got a very fast link to begin with, but a connection which is already on the slow side will see streaming video degraded to choppy stutter-vision.

If all you're trying to do is watch streaming video content, unblock-us.com is the bee's knees. This doesn't redirect your Internet data, it just serves to mask the original location which the geo-block software is looking at – so there's no speed penalty on your connection.

For $US50 per year, Unblock-us has some 150 streaming channels on the menu, including many Internet sports such as US football, basketball and baseball, plus UK and European soccer.

Either of these apps is worth adding to your laptop, and of course they're just as useful back at home as when you're travelling overseas.

Got any other tips for staying connected overseas? Let us know in the comments section.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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