bitcoin digital currency

Reader Steve C recently asked me on foXnoMad:

“How could Bitcoin be used during international travel? Is there any benefit? What type and how much risk might there be?”

Those are interesting questions about the digital currency a lot of people are talking about right now. There is a lot of confusion around Bitcoin and what it is exactly, so let’s start by clearing that up first, then looking at how travelers may (or not) be able to use it.

What Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital currency whose value is derived from the fact that a growing number of people use it online. Like paper money, Bitcoin doesn’t have any intrinsic worth but is valuable because a lot of people use it. Bitcoin are created by computers after solving highly complex math problems – a process taking a lot of processing power – so your any-old-laptop isn’t going to cut it. Plus there are a lot of computing groups around the world pooling their resources which makes “mining” any appreciable amount of Bitcoin unpractical for most people. The simplest way to obtain Bitcoin for the masses is through purchases using standard money (e.g. dollars) on sites like Mt. Gox or Bitstamp.

romanian leiHow Much Is A Bitcoin Worth?

Bitcoin markets are very volatile and can swing several hundred dollars in hours. You can see just how active the Bitcoin market is by watching its rate versus other currencies in real time. It’s important to remember if you’re looking to trade Bitcoin for profit against another currency to know what you’re getting in to. Setting aside trading on the Bitcoin markets for the moment, if you simply want to use the digital currency for what it is and shop online, there are some options.

Get Set Up First

In order to use Bitcoin, you need a digital wallet. There are two ways to go about this, either create a wallet on your own computer or use a cloud service. Bitcoin wallets need protection jut like physical money wallets which is why for most people I recommend using a cloud service, akin to storing funds in a bank rather than under your mattress. Although a cloud service Bitcoin wallet like Blockchain is no guarantee of security it places the burden of protection on a company with theoretically better resources that you.

Where Can I Spend Bitcoin?

Now that you’ve got a wallet which hopefully has some Bitcoin in it, there are a growing number of places where you can spend it. Bitcoin Magazine has a regularly updated list that also includes a travel section. You’ll notice there are hardly any major retailers but I suspect that will change as Bitcoin’s value stabilizes and governments figure out how to regulate it. Countries are well on their way to taxing Bitcoin, making other forms of involvement likely not to be too far behind.

tbilisi georgia market

Can I Use Bitcoin As A Traveler Right Now?

Technically yes, just not in a lot of places. Given that Bitcoin doesn’t have a physical incarnation (well, mostly) limits your transactions to a select set of online stores and services. Bitcoin’s value is also unstable, so investing any money in Bitcoin is risky as the worth could drop quickly. Think about the currencies around the world airports almost always convert to and from – dollars, Euros, British pound – because banks can reasonably be confident of their worth.

Bitcoin doesn’t have any security right now in terms of valuation and its appeal for many is that its difficult to trace. Unless you’re interested in moving large amounts of cash under a government’s taxing eyes or living in limited cyberspace during your next vacation, Bitcoin probably isn’t going to do you much good. Yet. As people, markets, and regulators begin to take Bitcoin seriously, there’s a good chance it might be a new widely accepted currency sometime in the near future.

I hope I’ve been able to clear up some of your traveling questions about Bitcoin and how it might be useful on your next trip. The topic of Bitcoin is a bit complex (to put it lightly) and I haven’t covered nearly everything – but I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have in the comments below.


Traveling exposes you to new sounds and sights but some days the only thing you want to do is stay in your hotel and watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead. That’s not always easy though since regional regulations and Internet censorship can all prevent you from watching your favorite TV shows. There are however multiple ways to get access to your favorite programs, no matter where in the world you may happen to be traveling.

Get On The Right Digital Soil

Many TV shows are streamed on legitimate sites like Hulu and Netflix, however due to a complex patchwork of international distribution laws, access to them is generally restricted to inside the United States. (They’re usually available in western European countries as well, albeit with new shows often delayed by months.) Using software like Hotspot Shield, you can make it seem to such sites that your computer is in America (or other country you specify) plus enjoy these benefits of traveling with a VPN.

  • Download Shows Directly From iTunes – Most non-premium networks typically upload new episodes within 24 hours for $0.99-2.99 each.
  • Stream From Sites You Already Have Subscriptions To – Watch movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu Plus by getting access to US-based websites using the aforementioned Hotspot Shield.
  • Set Your Proxy By Country And Website – The free Firefox plugin FoxyProxy lets you do just that so only specific websites of your choice connect over a regional proxy. Here’s how to use it.
  • Watch Music Videos And Official Show Clips By Automatically Unblocking Video SitesProxMate (Firefox/Chrome) seamlessly unblocks video that’s behind any regional block on YouTube, MTV, Discovery Channel, Pandora, and others.

The Walking (and Talking!) Dead fans can also use Hotspot Shield to keep up with current episodes within 30 days after they air live on U.S. television directly through AMC’s website.

The Exceptionally Brief Guide To Using BitTorrent

BitTorrent is basically a file downloading technology that distributes a file among all of those sharing it. You download chunks of a given file out of sequence – meaning you get any part of the total file that’s available, rather than having to get each minute of a movie in order, for example. (Uploading files also works this way too – as soon as a file chuck is downloaded, you’re redistributing it to the host of people who’re downloading the same file you are.) There’s more to it than I’ve got room for here but essentially you’ll need to download a BitTorrent client.

airport surveillance

uTorrent (Windows/Mac) and Transmission (Mac) are two good, free options. Then head over to a torrent search engine. Although there are several, you likely won’t have to go beyond The Pirate Bay or isoHunt. Search for your TV show, avoid the ad link bait, and open with the BitTorrent client you downloaded. Then, you wait. Torrent download times vary, but if you’re curious, here’s a calculator that can give you an idea how long your show will take, given your bandwidth plus a few other factors.

Obviously you don’t want to break international laws to keep up with Game Of Thrones and remember that various countries have stiff penalties for downloading and distributing media illegally. Take heed of who’s listening to your online communications and protect your privacy against invasive governments before crossing international borders.

A version of this article originally appeared on


4 Reasons You Should Never, Ever Travel Without A VPN

September 23, 2013 5 comments
airport vpn

A virtual private network (VPN) is a category of technology that’s as equally useful as it can be confusing for travelers. Whether it’s the name that’s intimidating or the fact that most people don’t feel the need for them until they’re actually traveling, a VPN is something you should never go anywhere without. A solid […]

Read the full article →

Managing Your Money On The Move – Tips For Keeping Solvent While Traveling

May 15, 2013 0 comments
hostel dorm

The key to not worrying about money is making sure you don’t run out of it. That holds true whether you’re traveling or not; but when you are on the go and converting currencies with a variable income there is a tendency to balance your budget on the fly. That’s where most travelers get into […]

Read the full article →

Find Out How Many Hours Are Between You And Them Using TravelMath

March 5, 2013 0 comments

Calculating timezones can be confusing when you’ve got to do it often and aren’t especially keen on keeping up with which city is on daylight savings or isn’t. And while an hour may not seem like a significant amount of time, missing a phone call or meeting can be more than inconvenient, if not downright […]

Read the full article →

Enhance Your Mac’s Security On Hostel Networks With Stealth Mode

March 1, 2013 0 comments
hostel dorm

When traveling you’re connecting to all sorts of wireless networks whose security you haven’t got a clue about. Typically speaking, most Macs are configured well by default to handle most networks of varying hazard, but you can enhance your protection with a simple settings fix. What Is Mac Stealth Mode? This is a very basic […]

Read the full article →

Is There Any Real Advantage To Carrying A Mac On Your Travels?

January 31, 2013 3 comments

Dear Tech Guide For Travel, I’m debating on getting a Mac instead of a Windows machine for my next big trip and was wondering, is there a major advantage (or disadvantage) to doing so? This is one of the most common tech questions I get in my inbox and the Mac versus Windows debate is […]

Read the full article →

Will Removing My Laptop Battery When It’s Plugged In Extend Its Lifespan?

July 19, 2012 8 comments
pug outlet

Battery life is an especially precious commodity when traveling and the normal luxuries we take with electricity become magnified when there’s no outlet around. Since one way to keep your laptop strong is to recalibrate it from time to time by draining it completely, you may be thinking removing it all together when not needed […]

Read the full article →

Interview With Geoffrey Halgand About Hotel Preview Site TVtrip

July 5, 2012 0 comments

One of the biggest problems searching for accommodation online is getting a feel for what a room actually looks like beyond thumbnail photos and reviews that float between extremes of love and hate. So when I came across TVtrip, the site that’s got video footage from over 52,000 hotels in the world, I was intrigued. […]

Read the full article →

Updated, Expanded, And Improved: The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0

June 7, 2012 4 comments
tech guide thumb

We all travel with gadgets, store our trip memories as digital data, and stay connected with loved ones over the Internet. Our technology doesn’t take away from our travel experiences but rather enhances them in endless ways. For those who resist it, tech can become a burden heavier than the most over-packed luggage. For those […]

Read the full article →