We often warn against the risks of traveling by padding ourselves with insurance and first-aid kits, but there is a chink in the armor we often overlook: The Internet.
As finding direction, business communications, and online entertainment make us seek internet connection all times, every day, travelers have little choice but to purchase data cards or hop on any free Wi-Fi they come across.
Unfortunately, there are people who prey on digital nomads through public networks.
When you’re connected to an open network (which most public and free Wi-Fi are), hackers can slide into the connection point and access your computer’s data. Since all internet activity leaves traces, they can steal your history logs, browse your e-mails, take any saved passwords and other sensitive information.
This is where VPN steps in as misdirection.
Most of us have heard of VPN as a way to bypass banned content and region affected sites, but it is as more of a security feature than an entertainment guarantee.
VPN, also known as Virtual Private Network, essentially acts as a mirror where your internet connection is rerouted to a different server. These servers, called endpoints, are often stationed in other countries, therefore replacing your real-time location with the country whose servers you are then connected to. As a result, not only do hackers have a hard time pinpointing where you are, your information is also hidden behind a different access point. It also allows you to circumvent region-only content.
To understand more about VPN and key points to look out for when choosing the right one for you, read up on our previous article VPN for Travelers – A Complete Guide.
I- a Comparison of the Best VPN for Travel
Let’s do a quick run-down of the various pros and cons of the best VPNs for travelers.
Created by the CERN and aiming to provide military-grade security, ProtonVPN stresses the importance of privacy. We highly recommend using it for the following reasons:
- It adheres to exceptional security and privacy standards, where high-level encryption guarantees that your data is never tampered with.
- Observing the strict privacy laws of Switzerland, ProtonVPN does not store, monitor or share your online activity, making it one of the very few VPN companies with a strict no-logging policy.
- Known for their quality customer service, ProtonVPN replies to your questions within 24 hours max.
- Reviews promise that the interface is user-friendly.
- You can afford this comprehensive package at very reasonable pricing, especially its one-year plan.
- No data cap on the bandwidth means you don’t have to worry about observing data limits, even for the free version.
Due to ProtonVPN’s relative newcomer status however, there are some cons to consider as well:
- They don’t have the highest number of servers available as they are currently present in 37 countries; their priority is encryption and not unlimited server choice.
- There are streaming issues when running the BBC on an iOS platform.
- Their USA endpoints are slower than many of their other endpoints.
Another highly recommended VPN, the NordVPN emerged in 2012 as a joint project between four childhood friends. Headquartered in Panama where there are no data retention laws and its government lax in internet surveillance, this company also purports high security. Their main advantages are as follows:
- NordVPN adheres to strict security protocols that are carried out by a highly engineered server system. Normally a VPN connects your network to one server, but Nord bounces your connection through two servers to doubly secure your connection.
- Known for its Kill Switch feature, NordVPN stops all your internet activity the moment your connection drops; this essentially blocks any window of opportunity for hackers to attack if your connection is tampered with.
- Unfettered access to Netflix, Hulu, and BBC streaming sites no matter the country you’re in.
- No data-logging or selling to third parties.
- Extremely reasonable rates, all features included.
On the other hand, users have reported that:
- App loading and server connection for Windows can be slow, and server speeds slow drastically in Asian countries such as Malaysia.
- The OpenVPN protocol is not user-friendly.
- Some not-so-good customer support that sometimes leads to a lot of frustration.
One of the oldest VPN providers in the market, PureVPN was originally founded in 2006 by GZ Systems. A strong contender with decent encryption and security detail, it is perhaps most appreciated for its global network of over 2000+ servers. Its compatibility with streaming devices such as Chromecast and Firesticks is only the tip of its various pros, which include:
- The ability to work alongside all the major security protocols.
- It offers fascinating features like Kill switch, Multiport, VPN Hotspot and Split tunneling, which guarantees security and convenience.
- Has a built-in anti-virus and anti-malware software to layer on protection.
- Accepts cryptocurrency as payment and has a refund policy.
While PureVPN is great for travelers who constantly country-hop and check their emails religiously, it is perhaps not the best option for streamers because:
- The download speed for most endpoints is very slow and only a few servers allow streaming.
- It has a logging policy that may sound concerning to you.
- Customer support needs improvement.
US-based company IPVanish is another established player that was founded in 2012. A stable service provider with a large server base, users praise it for the following reasons.
- Incredible streaming and downloading speed makes it popular with avid internet users.
- All the servers are self-owned, thus making most of their services legitimate.
- It can allow 10+ devices to be connected at the same time at a decently low cost.
- It also offers additional privacy features and tools such as anti-virus software, boosting its creds as a secure VPN provider.
However, IPVanish also faces legitimate concerns due to its location so consider what you’re using this VPN for, where you are using it and whether or not it caters to your situation.
- Since based in the USA, it comes under the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes surveillance group; there are concerns regarding data monitoring and logging.
- It has expensive plans but a very short refund period of only 7 days.
- Streaming Netflix, Hulu, or any other media online in countries like China and Indonesia is close to impossible.
- The applications are also not as user-friendly as you may expect.
As the quirky name might suggest, HideMyAss is a UK based company created in 2005 by a student who wanted to play online games while in school. Frustrated with the school’s blocking policy, he made this VPN to find a way around any major blocking systems. The company gained almost a million clients within its first five years and for good reason.
- It has the highest server base; they have servers in 280+ locations, present in almost all the countries in the world. The high number of endpoints led to more layered encryption.
- It offers great speeds and excellent performance on all platforms, making it one of the best VPNs for streaming Netflix and other content sites.
- You can expect attractive plans at low prices.
- The customer support is fantastic.
There are some points for you to consider, however:
- The British government has the right to your data in regard to the internet laws of the country.
- The company does not log data but in the event that it is required to, it will. If you have an issue with privacy, this is not the best fit for you.
- Torrenting is compromised on this VPN.
ExpressVPN is a British-Virgin Islands-based company that was founded in 2009. It is arguably the fastest operating VPN with heavy security protocols, delivering a good balance of speed and privacy.
- ExpressVPN offers some of the world’s fastest downloading and streaming speeds, beating out big names like ProtonVPN and NordVPN.
- It has a very strict no-logs policy, unlike HideMyAss.
- It houses over 3000 servers in over 94 countries, giving you a large range to choose from.
- It has very strong encryption and top-notch privacy policies.
On the other hand, users have a few complaints regarding price and usability:
- While this VPN is relatively cost-value balanced, the pricing tips towards the expensive side in comparison to other companies with similar performance.
- Simultaneous connections are limited to 3 devices at a time, meaning you have to be selective with your devices.
- Customer service is relatively slow, taking up to a week to get resolved any issue solved.
- The setting up tends to crash or takes a long time.
While CyberGhost was in the works since 2004, it only advanced into the market post-2015. This VPN is recognized for its privacy and encryption but is not the most reliable when it comes to speed and streaming.
- On the plus side, CyberGhost has a strict no-logs policy and has one of the best encryption software in the market.
- It has other essential security features such as a Kill Switch and applauded for its ability to hide IP addresses well.
- You can connect up to 7 devices simultaneously.
- It hosts a few thousand servers in over 60 countries, a truly global range.
On the minus side, it is probably not the streamer’s top choice. It is not the fastest VPN in the market, and its streaming and downloading speed tend drops drastically depending on which server you’re using.
This Swedish based company is another decent VPN provider that offers good security but has its lows when it comes to authentication and speed. Its strength lies in:
- Enhanced security and encryption.
- It allows easy torrenting and downloads no matter where you are situated.
- It offers a very fast and trusted customer support, which is a general concern that most of the other VPNs face.
While a rather stable option, it does frustrate users who use VPN to manage region-locked sites and to stream content.
- PrivateVPN often fails to bypass geographical restrictions.
- Not only does the speed drop between 7% to 12% when downloading and streaming online media, it also crashes frequently.
VyprVPN is an up-and coming-name in the VPN industry. Created under parent company Golden Frog, it is based in San Francisco. While still growing, it shows potential in both privacy policies and user compatibility.
- Has a strict No-Logs policy that ensures maximum privacy.
- In the footsteps of its Silicon Valley contemporaries, it is very user-friendly and compatible with almost all system platforms.
- All of its servers are self-managed and present in over 20 countries.
Because of its newcomer status, however, some people question its reliability. Its plans, while offering a comprehensive selection of features and services, tend toward the expensive side as well. If you are open to newer companies and potentially cutting edge technology, VyprVPN might be for you.
II- Should You Use a VPN While Traveling Abroad?
Yes, of course! A VPN not only keeps you protected but is a great traveling tool.
When traveling to other countries, we tend to log on to any free public Wi-Fi available. Unfortunately, this is also when our data is at its most vulnerable. Open networks or those that don’t require any login process are open for exploitation – your internet activity and personal information including the emails you’ve sent, banking and transaction information, credit card details, the various passwords and IDs you have saved on your device can be accessed.
Certain countries block popular social media and streaming sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Netflix as well. Through using a VPN, you can tether your device to a server without such geographical bans and browse without any hindrance.
VPN doesn’t just secure your information, it also circumvents any bans on internet usage your location might have.
III- Avoid Using Free VPNs
No doubt it is tempting to use a free VPN – after all, we often jump on the chance to use public Wi-Fi because it is free. You might even come across companies offering free VPN services in your early research days, all of which are highly rated and reviewed on certain app stores and websites.
But threats aren’t always visible; there is no guarantee of how these softwares will affect your device and your information. Where are their endpoints based? Who is monitoring the connection points? Do they log the data? What security measures do they have and what are their privacy policies? Always check who is providing the service and question the legitimacy of their operations.
There are two main concerns with using free VPNs:
- Virus or Malware infections: As many free subscriptions and services do, you will most likely receive advertisements and unwanted emails. Chances of viruses and malware embedded in such attachments are relatively high; you could easily end up with an infected device. There are also many skilled hackers that pose as free VPN software. Once you install and activate it, they have open access to your data.
- Data Selling: These free VPNs most likely gather and sell your data and activity to bigger companies without your knowledge. Not only does this violate privacy laws, it is also your right as a customer to know what data is being collected and what is being done with it. As one of the key purposes of using a VPN is to protect your data, this seems rather counter-intuitive.
IV- the Best VPN We Recommend for Travelers
After comparing a range of both established and new VPN service providers, we conclude that the best VPN for travel is ProtonVPN. Not only is it created by an internationally recognized mind hive (CERN), this company’s strict privacy policies and top-tier encryption assuage the fear of data appropriation. Additionally, it is very user-friendly and compatible with all system platforms and devices.
We recommend investing in ProtonVPN’s yearly plan, which discounts their reasonable $8 per month deal to $6 per month. Features include:
- Access to all its 479+ servers across 37 countries
- Connectivity to up to 5 devices
- P2P connection
- A Plus server and Secure Core
- Stable connection to streaming sites
- User-friendly tools
Do keep in mind that VPNs provide security and not anonymity. VPN is not a smokescreen that allows you to do something illegal online; your activity is guaranteed to be tracked elsewhere.
Regular internet users, however, can be well assured, ProtonVPN can and will act as your digital knight for as long as you use it.