Below you can find our guide to VPNs. It includes information on what a VPN is, why you should always use a VPN, which VPNs are best for travelers and non-travelers alike, and any other information you might need.
If you travel, you’ve probably heard of VPNs. Especially if you’re planning a holiday to China, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, or Cuba, the concept of a VPN has probably popped up at one point or another.
But few of you use a VPN on a regular basis, and that could put you in serious danger. I’m here to tell you why you should always use a VPN to protect your online identity, even if you’re not traveling.
- What is a VPN?
- Why you should always use a VPN
- Which VPN should I use?
- Which VPNs do we use?
- What about free VPNs?
What is a VPN?
A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a program you run on your computer, tablet, or mobile to provide security and privacy while browsing the web.
Most people use VPNs to trick their internet provider into thinking they’re in a different country. For example, while flicking through Facebook in Tehran, your internet service provider might think you’re visiting the web from a city in Kyrgyzstan.
People assume that’s all VPNs are for: evading censorship. But VPNs are useful for more than just using Facebook in China or watching porn in Iran (we know what the internet is really for). In fact, you should always use a VPN while online. If you want to know more about what exactly a VPN is and how it works, check out this beginners guide to what a VPN is.
Why you should always use a VPN, even if you’re not traveling
Reason 1 to always use a VPN: to block prying eyes
Why? Well, for starters, VPNs protect your privacy. Websites are always trying to collect information about you. Sometimes it’s just for business, sometimes it’s for more sinister reasons. A VPN blocks them from doing so by encrypting your data and making you anonymous.
You might think this is only useful for people like Edward Snowden, but think again. Any kind of wireless network can be a target for malicious software, be it your local coffee shop’s wifi or the airport internet hotspot. You never know who’s creeping around on your network, but a VPN can prevent people from creeping around on YOUR internet.
This holds especially true on public wifi networks. You never know who might have tampered with the router or installed some malicious software, and since we often use publicly available wifi connections, it’s definitely a good idea to use a VPN to protect your privacy.
Reason 2 to always use a VPN: to save money
We all know how it feels. You check out the prices for a plane ticket and you see a great deal valued in US dollars. You go to the site, fill in all the information, go to the purchasing menu, and find out the price is suddenly in euros, or even worse, pounds. Now suddenly your ticket is roughly 10% more expensive. However, if you use a VPN, you can fool the ticketing website into thinking you’re in the US, allowing you to pay in US dollars instead.
The same can apply to many other products. The price of video games bought online can differ greatly between countries. With a bit of research, and with the help of a VPN, you can save money on many purchases around the world.
Reason 3 to always use a VPN: to stay safe online (the most important reason of all)
You’ve probably had to deal with spam, malicious websites or annoying viruses at one point or another. A good VPN protects you from all of the above.
We learned the importance of this the hard way. While in Goris, Armenia, we logged on to our hotel’s wifi. Innocent enough, right?
However, someone had tampered with the router, and once I opened up a browser window, I was routed to a malicious website which downloaded malware on my laptop.
Every time I visited a website, popups appeared and my browsing attempts were redirected to other strange websites. And that’s just what I could see—there might’ve been more going on under the hood that I didn’t realize, like my banking details being stolen, or our passwords being logged.
I ended up having to factory reset the computer and lost all my files and programs. Our tablet, on the other hand, wasn’t affected because our VPN blocked the malicious website from opening. +1 for VPNs!
You might think this won’t happen to you, but this can happen anywhere—again, your local library or coffee shop is just as likely of a target for malware and other forms of hacking, if not more so. My current VPN, CyberGhost, notifies me when a malicious site or router attempts to install a virus on my computer, and you’d be surprised how often this happens.
For extra security, I run Malwarebytes on my computer. Get Malwarebytes here!
TL;DR VPNs da best
To summarize, a VPN:
- Lets you circumnavigate internet censorship in countries like China, Turkey, and Iran
- Protects you from prying eyes by encrypting your data and making you anonymous
- Protects your personal data, countering the possibility of identity theft
- Helps you save money in various ways
- Blocks ads, malicious websites, and viruses
Because of this, we highly recommend you always use a VPN, not just when traveling.
Which VPN service should I use?
There are a lot of different VPNs out there, making it hard to choose the right one. We tried several VPNs throughout our travels, and continue to use at least two of them. The following are our favorites:
My favorite overall VPN: CyberGhost
I have been using CyberGhost for years now. It offers military-grade protection, blocks malicious sites, ads and online tracking, and doesn’t keep any logs. It also has special servers for streaming and torrenting. CyberGhost does have connectivity problems in Iran and China, though, and not many Latin American server options.
- Good for: Spies and whistleblowers. People who like their privacy, and those who like to browse the internet while knowing they are as secure as possible.
- Bad for: People who solely use VPNs when traveling to countries with restricted internet. (Way to pay attention to my advice.)
Considering CyberGhost’s functions, it offers competitive pricing, especially when you buy a long-term plan.
Pricing: $12.99 for one month/$5.99 per month for one year/$3.69 per month for two years
Interested? Get Cyberghost now
The best VPN for travelers: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is the best known on this list… but it’s also the most expensive. It is the easiest, fastest, and most reliable of the options, and it’s what we used while traveling in Xinjiang, China and in Iran on our second trip there. ExpressVPN is among the highest ranked VPNs out there, as you can see in this ExpressVPN review.
- Good for: People who use VPNs primarily for travel, prefer speed over anything else, or are traveling to China.
- Bad for: People on a budget. ExpressVPN is certainly reliable, but it’s not cheap!
If you travel a lot in places with high levels of internet censorship, ExpressVPN is the way to go.
Pricing: $12.95 for one month/$9.99 per month for six months/$8.32 per month for one year
Sold? Get ExpressVPN now
The best budget VPN: PureVPN
PureVPN is well designed, has many servers to choose from, and has multiple easy-to-use settings. It can also be used on 5 devices at once.
The downside? It offers less privacy than CyberGhost and doesn’t block ads. We also had some connectivity problems with PureVPN in China. However, PureVPN is a great budget option for light internet users.
- Good for: People on a budget, have many devices, or want an easy-to-use option.
- Bad for: People who despise ads.
Pricing: $10.95 for one month/$8.00 per month for three months/$3.33 per month for one year
Sounds good? Get PureVPN now
What VPNs do we use?
We currently use CyberGhost for our main VPN needs. It’s easy to use, works in most places we travel, gives us the security we need when using the VPN for blogging, and is reasonably priced if you take a long term plan. If you want to use a good overall VPN at a good price, buy CyberGhost now.
When we travel to places that actively block the internet, we use ExpressVPN. It absolutely gets the job done. If you want to use one of the best VPNs currently on the market, get ExpressVPN here.
Until recently we also used PureVPN. We like how cheap it is, and the interface is pleasing too. But since we require high speeds for blogging work, and because we don’t need three different VPNs, we decided to let go of PureVPN. However, if you’re a light internet user looking for protection, you should get PureVPN here.
What about free VPNs?
Please, please be careful with free VPN services. People often build malicious software into these services that scrape your data while you use it–the price you pay for using their “free” app. We really don’t recommend using free services, due to the security risks.
Some reputable VPNs have free versions (CyberGhost included), but they don’t offer the same protection and user experience that the paid versions do. Given that yearly contracts aren’t very expensive given value of VPN protection, we only recommend paid options.
And there it is, our guide to VPNs and why you should always use one, traveling or not. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about using a VPN.
Yay transparency! There are affiliate links in this post. If you buy a VPN subscription through those links we’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Never fear, we honestly use or have used all of these VPNs, and would never recommend something we wouldn’t use ourselves.