internet-censorship-vpnAs travel bloggers it is important to stay connected while traveling.

It is our livelihood after all and if we were to disappear for weeks on end, people would stop visiting our site.

That is why when we left for China, we had a few concerns about being able to interact with our readers.

A good portion of Blogging is social networking and when sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked in a country that has strict censorship, we could be in trouble.

Luckily we followed a fellow Bloggers trials and tribulations during her time in China.  Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut was very helpful discussing the censorship problems she was dealing with.  She smoothed the road for us making our trip hassle free.

What was the number one thing we learned from Barbara?

You can get around Internet Censorship.

We contacted WiTopia about using their service a Virtual Private Network (VPN)  in China and we couldn’t be happier with our results.

By signing up with WiTopia, we were able to log on to the Internet using an IP address outside of the country.  We found that the Toronto Network was the fastest.  We tried Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, but Toronto seemed worked the smoothest for us.

At first we felt that we should choose addresses close to China. That is why we started out with Hong Kong or South Korea. It seemed like a logical choice to make our IP address close to where we actually were physically.  We soon learned that it doesn’t matter where you log on to, just log on to a place outside of China.

This allowed us to go on to websites that China blocks and chat freely with our readers regularly.

Internet is slow in China and the VPN does make things even slower, but by traveling with our iPhone, we were able to stay connected easily.  We bought a SIM card with a data plan in Yangshuo and were able to use the VPN on our cell phone.  The 3G network was far faster than any Internet connection that we had in our hotels and we spent many a bus ride Tweeting and updating our facebook status freely.

It is a fact that these sites are blocked.

Whenever we tried to log onto Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon or even Wikipedia we were denied access.  Even Internet Movie Data Base is blocked in China.

Luckily, all we had to do was activate the VPN and we could browse freely. We even uploaded videos to our YouTube Account.

Find out about other ways to get around Internet Censorship at Foxnomad’s  “How to Get Around Local Internet Censorship When Traveling Abroad.

We thought that our social media stats and readers would drop dramatically in China, but they held strong.

It was a challenge connecting to the Internet regularly, dealing with extremely slow connections and wifi and having to constantly use the VPN, but as a Travel Blogger, we managed to do our work and stay connected during our entire month in the country.

Would we recommend Witopia’s VPN to anyone travelling to China? Definitely.

Even regular travelers like to stay connected on facebook.  Many people told us that they would love to be able to update and check their facebook accounts.  We are an online modern world and everyone is addicted to staying connected and sharing their experiences with their friends and families instantly.

We loved being able to keep our presence alive by sending out twitpics and quick photos from our iphone.  Without our VPN, this would never have happened.

Starting at $39.00 per year, you can buy a VPN account from WiTopia. Go to their website and follow the instructions. It is extremely easy to use.  Just open your Internet browser, turn on the VPN, chose an address and start browsing.

So, if you happen to go to China or any other country that has strong censorship rules, make sure to buy a VPN, you never know what site will be blocked yet. It may be your own!

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22 Comments

  1. Deb O'Kane

    It’s a bit before Twitter et al, but I remember travelling in Tibet during Hurricane Katrina, and being unable to access CNN and the BBC news sites to find out what was happening. But the Chinese hadn’t blocked all news sites, and I got all the information I needed using my local New Zealand site, http://www.stuff.co.nz. I emailed a friend in Austin Texas, who was amazed to be able to communicate with me, yet she couldn’t email Houston.

    I was also able to vote in NZ’s general election while in Tibet, rather laboriously downloading documents, and then faxing them back home – but it worked, and the local businesses were so helpful, taking me from computer store, to somewhere I could print files, and then a third store that had a fax machine.

    And during the same trip I was amazed at the numbers of young Chinese/Tibetan people flocking to the many internet cafes to play online games, watch football and video call friends. The Chinese govt can restrict and limit access to its citizens, but they are online in vast numbers in spite of this.

  2. Audrey

    When we visited China at the end of 2007, we stayed for a month with a friend working in Beijing and got to meet a lot of his expat friends. The topic of conversation at almost every dinner or drinks went to, “What VPN are you using now?” or “What’s your favorite proxy?” Glad to hear you found something that worked so well. When we were there, we’d post things to our website, YouTube, Flickr, etc., and then have to ping someone in the “free world” to make sure it actually showed up. Not so efficient :)
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..The Yin and Yang of Koh Pha Ngan Or- Yes Virginia- There Really Are People Who Suck =-.

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  4. Kirsty

    We came up with the same problems when we travelled round China, we didn’t really think about it beforehand so were a little under prepared but we found we could tweet through su.pr which was good!

    It’s amazing how much is censored in China, even a lot of the regular blogs were! I am sure ours is now as we have written about the place!

  5. Anil

    A VPN that’s reliable in China is going to be a good bet just about anywhere :) Not too expensive at all either, especially where connections are very restricted.

  6. Kim

    While i was traveling to South Asia last year, i came across this situation many time. Many south Asian countries have several sites blocked. Like in Korea, China etc..

    1. davendeb

      Good to know Kim, We have only been to China recently where the INternet is blockec, but I can imagine it is in several places. Myanmar had a lot of censorship when we were ther ein 2004 and I can believe Korea is pretty locked up as well. We will definitely keep using our VPN.

  7. Hattie

    I experienced the same problem while traveling in the East. I found a service called iVPN.net (www.iVPN.net), I subscribed and I have access to all the blocked sites. I can also listen to UK radio like lastfm! I found out how easy it is for hackers to steal your personal/ financial info at Internet cafes and Wifi hotspots. A VPN completely encrypts all your data so you no hacker can decrypt it. Its actually like a tunnel that is created between you and the Net (i think) so no one can intercept it anyway!

  8. Sabina

    Amazing that all of those harmless sites are blocked in China. I thought not having Skype in the UAE was roughing it. Lots of other sites I came across are blocked there too, but not any that travel bloggers rely on.

  9. Katie

    I travel a LOT that is why I looked into a VPN as well… I finished a free trial with VPN4all.com a few weeks ago and had no problems with their service. They offer payment by month or by year but I chose to do by month. They have great customer service which was important to me since I am new to this. Anyone that does business online or even just banking, personal e-mails, file sharing or P2P should definitely look into a VPN. So many people I know have suffered from identity theft and I think a lot of cases are form online banking, etc while using wireless connections.

    1. davendeb

      Katie, that is great information. I didn’t know that it was good for identity theft as well, but once you said it, it made total sense. From now on when we do our online banking, I am going to switch on my VPN. Cheers!

  10. Bluegreen Kirk

    Thanks for the heads up and which locatin worked the best. I cant believe that amount of sites that get blocked these days. I couldn’t log into my facebook or Youtube.

  11. Aybi

    Wow! This is so cool! Actually, I got a friend in China (he’s working there now) and he’s complaining because facebook and twitter is blocked in that country that’s why I am so glad to read you post. He already tried to access facebook using hotspot shield but that still didn’t work and he’s so upset now. really! thanks thanks thanks!

  12. Miggo

    A VPN service like VPN4all that gets you your own IP address should allow you to travel without restrictions. You wont be recognized the same way.

  13. Chats Roulette

    Try accessing website via proxy sites. There are numerous proxy sites out there which allow you to hide your IP address. This may solve your problem.

  14. TSJ

    A word of advice for those blogging abroad…if you are blogging about something controversial I recommend finding a VPN that keeps no logs. You’ll want to contact the VPN provider directly. It’s not enough that they wipe the data on a daily or weekly basis. Make sure no logs are kept in the first place. This is for your own safety.

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