Unblock Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, cafes and more with a VPN

Free Wi-Fi is everywhere we go these days, like hotels, cafes, shopping malls, train stations, airports and so on. However, internet access is restricted or filtered. Unblock Wi-Fi hotspots.

There are filters on public Wi-Fi systems that work in a similar way to the parental controls you might use with a child’s phone, computer or tablet. The filters prevent access to anything on the internet that might be considered questionable, unsafe, adult oriented, and so on. You are only allowed to access certain approved sites and content.

This is fair enough to a degree and if you run a public hotspot, you don’t want to allow people free access to everything on the internet because, well, a lot of things are undesirable to say the least. From adult content to malware, the internet has it all and everything between.

The problem for people that use public Wi-Fi is that some filters on them go too far and they block too much. They can even go so far as to block access to websites that you need for work, research, education, business and so on. In one extreme case, a Wi-Fi hotspot at a place I was staying blocked access to almost everything except Google search, a couple of news sites and Wikipedia. I could not do anything, not even access this website to view it or update it.

Thankfully, most public Wi-Fi hotspots are not as restricted as that one was, but they can still prevent you from accessing the websites you need. I wanted to grab some free stock images from Pixabay for an article once and found the site was blocked.

What can you do if the public Wi-Fi hotspot blocks sites you want to access? Use a VPN, it unblocks them and allows you to access the sites you need.

In this short guide I will use the free version of Atlas VPN for Windows PC (affiliate link) and Android phone, but there are apps for Apple Mac and iPhone too. There are many other VPNs and you can see all the VPNs I recommend here.

1 Blocked websites at Wi-Fi hotspots

Public Wi-Fi blocks access to some websites
Public Wi-Fi restricts access to websites

Have you ever run into this problem at a public Wi-Fi hotspot? You are connected to the wireless network, you are online, you can access some websites, but others cannot be reached because they are blocked. Here I tried to go to the Atlas VPN website and failed. VPN providers are often blocked because the hotspot knows they can be used to get around their filters and restrictions.

It isn’t just VPN providers that are blocked and many ordinary websites are blocked too, some of which you may need for work, hobbies or other things. The sites blocked vary from hotspot to hotspot and some are more restricted than others.

2 Install a VPN

Atlas VPN website
A VPN unblocks public Wi-Fi

It is too late if you are already at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Before you leave home or work, download and install a VPN on your computer (phone and tablet apps are available too). Here is Atlas VPN’s home page and what is useful about this VPN is that there is a free mode. It has limitations of course, and a paid subscription offers more features, but the freebie is OK if you really don’t have any budget for a VPN. However, check out Atlas VPN prices (affiliate link), it is cheaper than you might expect.

3 Run a VPN on PC, Mac or phone

Atlas VPN software running on a Windows computer
Atlas VPN running on Windows

Here is Atlas VPN running on a Windows PC. It looks slightly different on a Mac and a phone, but is similar and it has the same features. There is a list of VPN servers and at the top of the list are three free ones: Netherlands, United Starts Los Angeles and United States New York. All the other servers, hundreds of them around the world, are for subscribers to the service.

A specific server can be selected in the list or the big button in the middle can be clicked to let the app choose the best server to connect to.

4 The web unblocked with a VPN

Atlas VPN enabled and protecting the internet
Atlas VPN securely connected to the internet

Once connected, which takes just a few seconds, you are online and the Wi-Fi hotspot limitations are gone. I obviously haven’t tried it with every public Wi-Fi hotspot in the world, but I have not found one it does not work with. Open a browser and start exploring the web without the filters and limitations that the hotspot provider imposes.

VPNs do more than unblock public Wi-Fi of course and one of the reasons why it unblocks access to everything is that the hotspot provider, or anyone trying to spy on your internet activities, cannot see what you are accessing. Everything is encrypted. A VPN increases privacy and security when accessing the internet in public (and at home too).

Use a VPN on your phone

VPNs are available for multiple devices and if you access the internet using a public Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone, you might want to install a VPN. There are dozens of VPNs, but I tried Atlas VPN for Android phones because it offers free access. There are limitations, but if you just need to unblock a hotel, cafe, airport or other hotspot, it is useful.

Atlas VPN running on an Android phone
Atlas VPN on Android

There is a simple switch in the middle of the screen to enable or disable the VPN. Just switch it on and the VPN is active, adding security, privacy and unblocking sites blocked by the public hotspot.

Atlas VPN settings in the Phone app
Atlas VPN settings

The phone app does split tunnelling and this means that you can select which apps on the phone use the VPN and which bypass it. Normally, it is best to enable the VPN for all apps, but if you need to for some reason, an app can set to bypass it.

There are options to choose WireGuard or IPSec/IKEv2 protocols and WireGuard is a popular choice these days. You can also choose to make the VPN always on and to block connections without the VPN.

This ensures that your personal data does not leak through an insecure Wi-Fi connection, but it does mean there is no internet if the VPN cannot connect with a server.

Final thoughts

I used a free account for this guide to unblocking public Wi-Fi and you can see I connected to one of the handful of free servers. Subscribing to Atlas VPN gives you a lot more. For example, there are more than 750 servers around the world. Some VPN providers have more, but 750 is still a lot. You can choose a server in another country and it looks like you are located there.

Atlas VPN can be used on unlimited devices, so no matter how many devices you and your family have, like computers, phones and tablets, you can all be connected at once and enjoy the benefits. Media streaming like TV and music is supported and so is P2P sharing between people.

There is a network kill switch (see my article, What is an internet kill switch and what does it do?), AES 256-bit encryption for internet traffic, private DNS and no logs policy – the sites you visit are not logged. Go to Atlas VPN to read more about what it can do and see discounts and offers.

Leave a Reply