There are a lot of good reasons to use a VPN when traveling, from getting around local Internet censorship to finding cheaper airfare but with so many options, it can hard to determine the differences between services. The best VPNs work around the world even in Internet-repressive countries (*cough* China), give you security, and protect your privacy. Plus, if you travel frequently, good VPN software will keep your mobile devices seamlessly connected too.
Quickly: What’s A VPN
In short, a virtual private network (VPN) is like a scene in an action movie where we (and the bad guy) see the hero run into a mall. The bad guy or gal knows the person is in the mall but doesn’t know where they’ll exit from. In this analogy the mall is the VPN, the exits are websites, and the bad guy could be any person or government agency watching what you do online.
Without the VPN (or mall in this example) someone could just follow you to your favorite store, tracking what you do. This is the security a VPN provides. But you have to trust the mall’s internal security, that they’re not using their cameras to track you when you’re inside. This is the privacy aspect of VPNs and varies between providers.
The VPN is a little program you run on your desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Viewed from the outside the fact that you’re connecting to a VPN isn’t a secret – but once there, your Internet browsing is obscured. Another benefit of the VPN is they can be configured to make it appear as if you’re browsing from another country so you can do things like watch your favorite TV shows from anywhere.
Are They Worth Paying For?
Yes. Most free VPNs either have slow connections, poor (if any) support, limited bandwidth, and might not take your privacy or security as seriously as they should.
The Best VPNs For Travelers – 1. Private Internet Access (P.I.A.)
Private Internet Access overall has in good measure the things you want from a VPN – strong encryption, they don’t keep logs of your activities, and they let you choose where it looks like you’re located (e.g. you want to access U.S. Netflix from India). They also don’t restrict ports for things like torrenting. P.I.A. is great but can be a bit slow sometimes; also their iOS and Android apps aren’t as reliable or configurable as they could be. Still, for $39.95/year is an excellent VPN choice.
The strong suit of TunnelBear is its mobile apps, which seamlessly connect to the VPN even when you move between wireless networks or to cellular data. Here’s my full review of TunnelBear if you want to read more about this VPN provider with excellent customer support. Unlimited TunnelBear is $49.99/year.
3. IP Vanish
For those who like to configure things, IP Vanish’s mobile apps (Android and iOS) give you more options than other VPN providers and the service is consistently the fastest in my testing. (You’ll pay a bit extra for it, as IP Vanish is $77.99 annually.) Like P.I.A. above, IP Vanish also was rated by Torrent Freak as one of the VPNs that take your privacy most seriously.
Several of you highly recommended Astrill (especially for travel to China) as well as WiTopia. Their listed privacy policies aren’t quite as robust as the other VPNs listed above but if your main objective is to prevent international governments from spying on you when you travel, both will serve your needs.
Is there a VPN you would recommend to other travelers I missed above? Let us know in the comments below!