VPN Travel Tips: Holiday Connection Troubleshooting

Callum Tennent
By Callum TennentUpdated

It’s smart to use a VPN on holiday, particularly if you’re on public Wifi. But you may still run into connection problems and slow speeds, especially if you’re a novice. You may have to log on to networks differently, and choose servers wisely to achieve optimum speeds. Don’t turn your VPN off in frustration, read through our tips instead and get yourself safely logged on using your VPN on holiday.

VPN Travel Tips

If you need to access the internet on vacation (and let’s face it – who doesn’t), you’ll want it to get a fast, secure connection with minimum hassle.

But even when you plan ahead, you never know what the connection will be like.

Even if the area has good 4G coverage, you might find that the free Wi-Fi is spotty and slow. Security could be a real issue, and if the apps you use are blocked, you’ll be stuck.

A VPN is ideal to get around poor security and blocking; just two of the reasons nobody should travel without one. But you might hit a few bumps in the road if it’s your first time.

Here are some quick tips and fixes for six common problems that inexperienced users tend to come across with a VPN.

Can't Log on To Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi networks sometimes require you to log in using a form in your browser.

You’ll probably be given a username and password on a slip of paper, which you type into a login page like this:

Look familiar? You’ll often need to log into public WiFi

If your VPN is on, and it’s trying to connect, it might prevent you from accessing this login form. (This doesn’t always happen, but it is a risk.)

If you have issues getting to the login page, momentarily disable the VPN to log in. Enter the username and password on your Wi-Fi token, then immediately reactivate the VPN once you’re logged in successfully.

Tip: Turn the VPN back on quickly. If you don’t see a padlock next to the network name, anybody can see what you’re doing online – even if it’s just for a few minutes. Hackers can easily cause mischief, steal your identity, or simply go phishing for personal data, and the browser-based login won’t protect you. It just isn’t worth the risk of logging on without a VPN when you’re away from home.

VPN Blocking Connection

If you have no internet connection at all, it might be down to your VPN’s kill switch setting.

The kill switch is designed to block access to the internet when your VPN server goes down, so you don’t accidentally browse unprotected.

If your connection is intermittent, the kill switch might get confused.

So if you think that the Wi-Fi network isn’t working at all, disable the VPN completely. In other words, switch it OFF completely – don’t leave it in a failed state.

Expressvpn Screenshot

Make sure you turn it off (but not on again)

Then, test the network without it.

If you determine that the VPN is causing a connection issue, a simple reboot of your device should sort it out.

Slow Public WiFi Speeds

Many WiFi networks in busy resorts are unreliable at peak times. And VPNs can slow down your internet connection slightly.

This may look like a portal to internet hell but a VPN can be your salvation

On a slow network, it’s important to claw back every speed advantage you can get – particularly when you’re paying by the minute for internet access. And ExpressVPN, our top-rated VPN, has a Smart Location feature that really helps.

Smart Location automatically recommends the fastest VPN server for your connection. This can make a huge difference to the speed and stability of your internet connection:

The Smart Location feature – or similar – is your friend

The moral of the story is simple. If you use ExpressVPN, and you don’t need to use a particular server location, always allow Smart Location to recommend the fastest one to maximize the connection speed that you get.

Tip: The Smart Location isn’t always the one you’d expect to be fastest. For example, when testing ExpressVPN in northern Spain, it recommended its Swiss server, not the Spanish one.

Can't Access 4G Account Details

It’s good practise to keep your VPN active on 3G and 4G, just as you do on WiFi. This helps you to get around content blocks, surveillance, and app restrictions.

But there is one downside: using a VPN may stop you accessing certain account details.

That’s because mobile networks detect information about your connection to load personalised content about your account, including the amount of roaming data you have available. The VPN can hinder this process.

For example, you may see a message about being connected to WiFi, even if you aren’t:

This can cause grinding of the teeth if our tip is not followed

Briefly disable your VPN to get your account page to load as normal, ensuring all other apps are closed.

Even better, give your operator a phone call.

Android Tethering Woes

If you want to tether your laptop to your Android phone to use its data connection, the laptop won’t connect when the VPN is active.

This is a limitation within newer versions of Android. You can tether, or use a VPN, but not both at the same time.

And while there are apps that claim to get around this restriction, reviews are mixed, and it can involve a lot of trial and error.

If you must tether, use a spare phone that contains no personal data create the hotspot. Connect to the 3G or 4G network. Then connect the laptop to the mobile hotspot, and use the VPN on the laptop only.

Tip: On an iPhone, you can tether with an active VPN on the phone, but note that your laptop’s data won’t be encrypted. You will need to run a VPN on your laptop as well.

Network Share Shambles

When you connect to a public WiFi network, your network shares are left wide open for anybody to explore. That’s an obvious security risk.

But there are some situations where you need to access network shares. For example, if you’re in a co-working space, you might want to use the communal printer without turning your VPN off.

ExpressVPN has a Network Lock feature that can help:

Don’t be afraid to dive into the options screen of your VPN

Once we check the final checkbox, we can see all of the shares connected to the network:

Success! Although we hope you aren’t working on holiday…

If you don’t need to be able to access network shares, we recommend that you disable this feature.

Enjoy Your Vacation

However you choose to connect to the internet on holiday, a VPN will make you safer, and allow you to access all of the sites you use back home. Using the tips in this guide, you should be able to bypass any niggling problems and connect your devices wherever you happen to be.