The web is an international phenomena – and just the fact that it exists is one of the many reasons there are so many people becoming nomadic – you can access everything, everywhere, right?
Not so fast
The idea of an open web accessible form anywhere is a great and noble idea. In practice – it doesn’t always pan out. Some websites are blocked from specific locales.- you may have seen a youTube video that says “sorry, this video is not available in your location.” China has “the great firewall” blocking access to many western sites.
That sucks. But it is EVEN worse when it is your bank, or your school, or other site that you need for work that is suddenly blocked. In this post, I’ll show you the workarounds that I used when I was traveling.
VPNs are pretty widely known and understood. In case you have not heard of a VPN – it makes a virtual connection to another country (of your choice), so that your IP address (a string of digits for your internet connection) appears to be from that country.
If I (currently in the US) VPN into the UK – I appear to be coming from a UK computer, so I can watch the BBC. I can access my UK banks.
At one point during my travels, I was in Serbia, and the website for British Airways didn’t work. I tried everything, a new browser, incognito mode, a cellular hotspot… Finally, I tried a VPN. The issue is that BA.com is blocked in Serbia. 🤷♂️
If you’re interested in seeing a VPN in action, you can watch this video:
Sometimes, a VPN does not work – the website blocks VPN traffic too. But you REALLY, REALLY need to access the website. Read on for the Nuclear solution.
The Nuclear Solution: Remote Computer
So you tried a VPN to login to your bank, and you *still* could not get in. Sometimes websites *block* the VPN addresses too. That sort of makes sense: if you are a hacker, and you are blocked, you’ll just VPN to the country and try again.
But, all is not lost. What we can do is create a computer running in your country of choice, login to that computer, and then access the website. Since the traffic is coming from a server inside the country, the traffic is allowed, and you can do what you need to do.
This won’t work for streaming video (Netflix, YouTube) as the refresh rate of the remote desktop is only a few frames per second – and the video will just suck.
Using the Cloud
We are going to set up our server at Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS hosts some of the biggest websites in the world in datacenters (think a big big building with millions of computers inside). They have a great “free tier” for people to get started. This means we can do this remote login approach for 1 year for free… and then it is ~$12-15 a month afterward… (Or you can just create a new account and start over)
There are a few steps to the process. If you have never use AWS, it can be daunting. there are literally thousands of possible configurations and setups. Rather than enumerate them all here, I have created a video for you to follow along. Here is the rough outline:
- Create an account at AWS (not shown)
- Spin up an EC2 server running windows in the country of choice
- Connect to the computer remotely.
- Fire up a website and connect from your country.
Honesty time: When I gave my notice to a very large US telecom, they asked that I serve my notice period in the USA. They reminded me that they check all access logs for IP addresses outside the USA.
I was in Romania. I used this trick, and I did not trip any of the warning alerts in the company logins.
I hope these tricks are helpful for anyone traveling abroad for a long period of time and having trouble accessing their websites from home.