Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Media Access Regardless of Local Censorship

While not quite perfect, the USA, Canada, Mexico, the EU, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay, Taiwan, and New Zealand are generally liberal in allowing media access. Avoiding questions regarding Freedom of Speech for now, I think most people would agree that most people in these countries are able to access most of the world media they may wish to see, whenever they may want it.

The same can’t be said of every country on the planet. Sometimes media limitations have to do with overt censorship, sometimes it occurs due to licensing agreements (or lack thereof). No matter the reason, when you travel abroad you’re going to quickly find you may not have access to every website or every streaming content service you’re accustomed to tapping into back home.

But no worries. With a little ingenuity you can access whatever media you want, whenever you want, and wherever you want it. This, no matter the fears of petty dictators, draconian censorship laws, and media blockades in the country you happen to be visiting. After all, we all have the basic human right to catch up on Shameless, Skins, and Doctor Who.


Censorship and Blocked Content, the Expected and the Unexpected

By this point we’re all at least vaguely aware that certain countries censor the Internet within their borders. Red China is the most notorious example of country-wide online censorship, but a number of countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa also practice “substantial” or “pervasive” censorship, while most of the other countries in these regions perform at least a little “selective” censorship of the Internet. In general, police states (such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Burma, and Red China) are touchy about allowing personal freedom. So, as a general rule it’s a good idea to scope out the censorship situation anywhere you’re looking to visit before you travel there so you can prepare to take appropriate action.

Internet censorship tends to revolve around political-oriented or news-oriented sites (blogs and news sources), social media services (Facebook, Twitter), and communications programs (Skype). And if a country performs any sort of Internet censorship it’s going to first block your access to media content (like streaming movies, TV shows, and music).

However, you’ll encounter restricted access to media in plenty of countries providing less restrictive access to the Internet, and that’s due to those legal blockades known as licensing agreements.

Most streaming media content, even content you’ve paid for, is only licensed to stream in certain countries. Often this means the streaming content you love so much is only technically accessible within your own country. I learned this the hard way when I hit a wall trying to watch some streaming movies off Amazon Prime when I visited Germany for the first time. Even though I was both an Amazon Prime member, and even though I had also explicitly paid for the content, it wasn’t licensed in Europe and, as it goes, I wasn’t able to watch it. The same is true with tons of other streaming media services, including free services like Hulu.

Whether the country you visit actively censors the Internet or whether it simply operates under different licensing agreements than you expect, you need to assume you won’t be able to access media abroad as easily as you’re accustomed to at home.

Thankfully it isn’t too difficult to bypass these legal and regulatory blockades, although before you take the necessary steps to reconnect your access to streaming media, you need to ask yourself a simple question…


Do I Really NEED Streaming Media Content?

There are two good reasons why you might not want to bypass censorship laws and limited licensing agreements.

  1. The potential severe repercussions for breaking censorship laws in other countries might not be worth it.
  2. Unplugging from media streams frees up your time and attention while you travel, helping you disconnect from the norms and habits you’re accustomed to unconsciously repeating and assisting your attempts to unload some of the cultural and environmental baggage you’re trying to step away from through your travels.

If you’re traveling for an extended or indefinite period of time then figuring out how to access media services is a good idea. But if you’re only going to be gone for a couple weeks, or even a couple months, you might be better off simply unplugging. There are always other, better, ways to stave off boredom while on the road.


The Simplest Ways to Access Domestic Media Abroad

To access media as simply as possible when you’re traveling all you need to do is download that media to your computer in the first place. No censorship laws or media licensing agreements can prevent you from accessing media files already on your computer.

Not all media can be downloaded though, and this strategy won’t help you out if you’re looking to access new media while you’re traveling. Instead, if you want to easily access TV and movies when you’re traveling you’re going to need to break copyright law and watch illegally uploaded versions of that media.

There are two good ways to unlawfully access recently released media:

  1. You can use P2P file sharing services (like BitTorrent) to download these media files. Keep in mind it’s illegal to use P2P services in certain countries.
  2. You can go to one of the many websites that host (or redirect you to) illegally posted TV episodes and movies. There are many of them out there, and it’s easy to find them by performing a search for the media you’re looking for (using its name and the word “streaming” or the words “free streaming”).

Both of these are effective options for viewing the media you want while traveling, but both of them also jump a little farther across the line of legality than many travellers care to tread. At the very least, these options all involve breaking the law without covering your tracks. If you want to access streaming media online in a more legally inconspicuous way, and with an almost zero chance of getting caught, then you need to use a VPN service.

Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a piece of software that re-routes your Internet connection through networks located in other countries. In other words, when you use a VPN service you can make it look like you’re browsing the web from whatever country you want. VPN’s essentially give you the ability to make a website think you’re accessing it from the U.S. when you’re really sitting in Melbourne, Australia.

Why is this so useful? If you use a VPN service to access when you’re currently in, for example, Australia then will think you’re in the United States, and as such you’ll be able to access all the media you’d be able to access if you were sitting in a living room in the United States, Canada, or the EU. VPN services bypass both website censorship and media licensing blockades, and they tend to be cheap to sign up for and simple to use, even if you aren’t particularly computer literate.