5 Best VPNs Dedicated for Travelers. Protection from Cybercrime, Price Targeting, and Geo-Blocking.
Everyone travels with a smartphone and a computer these days. And we are all connected. While easy access to the Internet does make travel easier, we are more likely to expose our devices to public WiFis - and this opens us up to new risks. The VPN category of software was specifically designed for keeping our devices safe online. In this guide we show you the best VPN apps for travel - selected for the features that make them an essential tool during the holidays in a different part of your country, or abroad.
When traveling, we all book flights and hotels as we go, we use Skype and other messaging apps, we watch Netflix from our home country accounts, we browse our favorite websites, and sometimes we must do the online banking. All those everyday online activities suddenly become problematic and potentially dangerous when we connect to the Internet in another country.
There are 7 strong reasons why having a VPN installed on your devices is a must when traveling. Virtual Private Networks have been around for a while now and gradually started to appear on top of the “must pack” list not only for digital nomads.
Let’s see how the right choice of VPN apps can help you on the go, giving you peace of mind and letting you enjoy new places on a well-deserved vacation.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a simple app that added to your phone or computer increases security. VPN encrypts all outgoing data from your devices, creating a private network from a public internet connection. In practical terms, this means that all your data and online activity (credit card numbers, logins, passwords, browsing history, etc) are kept private and safe.
How a VPN works and what it does for you
Top 5 VPN services designed for travel
There are tens if not hundreds of VPN apps out there. They differ from each other in their fields of application, functionality, price, etc. I’ve decided to spare you long lists and descriptions and concentrate on the five VPN services that work best during the travels. Scroll down for more information about any of the apps in the list:
NordVPN. The most reliable when it comes to unblocking video streaming services.
ExpressVPN. The fastest VPN, great for professionals and digital nomads.jump to details
CyberGhost. Easy to use, a good choice for a beginner.
Surfshark. An ideal choice for families or groups of friends traveling together.
Technically speaking, we are more exposed to cybersecurity threats on our journeys than to health threats. Since we take care of travel insurance before leaving the home country, getting online protection should be a no-brainer, right?
I can think about 6 main reasons why to keep our VPN always on when traveling:
To protect yourself from cybercrime. Cybercrime across Asia has increased markedly during the pandemic. Some countries in the region offer safe harbors from where hackers can strike, stealing your credit card details, passwords, or getting into your email account. Whether at the airport, hotel, or a café, a good VPN will minimize your risk of being attacked while using public WiFi. Cybercriminals have even been known to set up “free” WiFi hotspots just to trick people into connecting so they can easily hack or infect your device.
To access geo-restricted websites and pass government Internet censorship in the country you travel to. The Great Firewall of China is the best example of this: the Chinese government has blocked thousands of websites such as Google search engine, popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), blogging platforms, and messaging apps. Some other Asian countries that don’t believe in providing free and open internet to their citizens include Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and UAE. You will need VPN (it routes your internet through servers in different countries to bypass the restrictions) to maintain access to your favorite online spots when traveling internationally.
To avoid location-based price targeting and save up on plane tickets, hotel bookings, and rentals. Price targeting or discrimination is a popular pricing strategy where the same product or service is offered at different prices in different markets. This also applies to flights - some airline and OTA websites will charge you more (or less) depending on where you’re browsing from (think USA vs third-world Asian country). A VPN solves this problem: you can be sure you will get the real price, as the website has no access to your real location. You can even test a few options to see if you can get a better price for a flight.
To bring the streaming services with you. Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go, and Hulu are among the video services blocking its content for foreign users (and if you travel abroad they will treat you as a foreigner). VPN solves the problem and gives you a bonus: you can now watch local video content in different regions of the world!
To ensure your online anonymity when traveling. When you connect to a VPN server, all your online activities will be hidden. This means you leave no footprints on the internet, you can’t be tracked, and your browsing habits can’t be monitored. And this also goes for secure emailing and messaging with apps such as Skype or Snapchat.
To protect your cryptocurrency. If you own Bitcoin or other blockchain-based coins you are becoming your own bank, hence, you are responsible for the security of your investment. VPN is a must if you want to be sure that all of your crypto-activities are entirely secure and private. Malware, phishing attacks, and crypto-jacking are especially popular in the world of crypto.
To prevent your bank account to get frozen. Banks and other financial services such as PayPal pay close attention to your online activities. Your overseas IP may trigger their security system and your account would be flagged. They may ask for some extra verification steps or (in the worst-case scenario) they may block your account immediately. You would need to call the bank to resolve the problem, and if you are traveling on a different continent, this call may be quite expensive.
Not all VPNs can unblock Netflix, and in such cases you will see an error message: "You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again."
Traveling to countries with strong censorship laws? Countries that limit online freedom such as Belarus, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Oman, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Uganda, are well aware of the wide use of VPNs by their citizens and take action against using those services. This includes banning VPNs, blocking websites of VPN providers, and making the use of VPN illegal. As downloading the VPN software may not be possible inside those countries, do it in advance, before reaching the destination. We recommend NordVPN as it is well known for its free press support. While the chances of getting caught using a VPN are low, you should be aware of the risks and always check the local regulations.
Free VPN vs paid VPN
Most VPNs are offered in both paid and free versions but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Free plans usually have some of those disadvantages:
Free users are limited to much busier servers (they will significantly slow down your internet)
Those servers are often assigned randomly (you can’t choose the country)
No simultaneous connections
No unblocking of Netflix and other streaming services
Much lower level of security
May display in-app ads
If you are still not put off by the long list of minuses, Hotspot Shield is the best VPN you can use for free without tearing your hair out.
Free VPNs generally exist as a first step before upgrading to the paid version. I recommend using free trials as an opportunity to check if the app works correctly with your phone or laptop and to get the overall feel about the service. Then just get the full version of the app you liked the most.
You should expect to pay anywhere from $5-$15 per month for a reputable VPN service. Thankfully, VPN providers usually offer significant savings (50-70% off!) if you sign up for an annual plan. One month of online security for the price of Starbucks’ latte? A no-brainer, if you ask me. After all, VPNs are something you should use all year round, even when you go back home from your travels.
Buy 1 license, share it with friends and family. Most VPNs allow you to install their software on more than 1 device (usually up to 3-7). It can be your phone, tablet, laptop, router, etc. as well as devices that belong to your family or friends. When you travel in a group the monthly cost of a VPN plan whittles to as low as half of a dollar. Surfshark is a clear winner here, allowing unlimited(!) simultaneous connections under one license.
Choosing a VPN: free VPN vs. paid VPN
How to use VPN?
VPN apps are really simple to use. All you need to do is to register (using the app or provider’s website), download the app and install it, then just look for a button to switch the protection on (“Connect”, “Go”, etc). If you are overseas and want to watch your favorite streaming service, you may need to select the right server from a list before firing up the VPN – just look for a server located in your home country.
Due to territorial licensing, Netflix has a different library for each country. In some countries, its library may be very limited and may not include your favorite TV show. Also, if you are a fan of international cinema, you can discover real local gems just by switching your VPN to a particular region. Just open your VPN and connect to a server in your selected country to spoof your current location. All VPNs presented in this article offer reliable access to various Netflix libraries.
Bonus Netflix tip. Use Netflix secret codes to find movies belonging to very specific movie genres, such as “Film Noir”, “Mockumentaries”, “B-Horror”, “Movies for ages 5 to 7”, “Dramas based on real life”, “Japanese Movies” and hundreds more.
Tutorial: How to setup and use Surfshark VPN on Windows
Routinely topping the best VPN lists, NordVPN has the largest network of over 5600 servers spanning across 60+ countries. Some of them are even optimized specifically for video streaming or for restricting countries. NordVPN can overcome censorship in the toughest regions including China, Indonesia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates. It has also the fastest speeds for unblocked streaming services and proudly covers its widest range from Netflix to Disney+ and Showtime.
For extra protection, the CyberSec feature blocks online advertisements and stops you from entering websites with dangerous malware. And if you have any issues, you can just contact customer support that is available 24/7/365.
It’s our choice when it comes to balance between price and capabilities. It ranks also as No 1 for being super reliable in unblocking streaming services.
simultaneous connections: 6
unblocks: Netflix, HBO GO, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Showtime, ESPN
ExpressVPN is the premium VPN, and this comes with a premium price tag. It’s easy to use but it the same time loaded with advanced features and offering incredible speeds. ExpressVPN is considered by most experts as one of the fastest service out there. Whether you work from home or prefer the digital nomad lifestyle, ExpressVPN lets you keep the speedy internet you need to do your job done.
The VPN has one feature that makes this service unique – you can run a speed test across the entire ExpressVPN network. This way it’s easy to find the server with the best performance at the moment and connect to it immediately. It’s just another reason why ExpressVPN is our top pick for international travelers who rely on fast internet.
simultaneous connections: 5
unblocks: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO GO, Hulu, Showtime
If you’re looking for a simple, intuitive VPN for travel CyberGhost will be perfect for you. It’s super easy to set up and has one-click configuration features.
CyberGhost offers a growing network of servers with more than 6000 in 88 countries. It has very useful additional features such as an ad blocker, anti-malware defense, anti-tracker, and an “immunizer” against ransomware attacks.
Although CyberGhost can’t bypass China’s Great Firewall, it is still a reliable service that will provide a secure web browsing, video streaming, and online shopping in many other countries. If you need a VPN that is simple to use when traveling, CyberGhost is the one.
simultaneous connections: 7
unblocks: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer
Surfshark is the most generous VPN on our list when it comes to simultaneous connections – you can secure as many devices as you want. Those could be your phone, tablet, and laptop, as well as a device that belongs to your friends or family – or the group you are traveling with.
Surfshark has an interesting feature called “NoBorders” which is the mode for bypassing censorship even it the toughest regions. The VPN also works as an adblocker – it will block ads and any malicious links on websites before they can harm you.
What’s more Surfshark provides access to internationally popular services such as Netflix, HBO GO, and BBC iPlayer.
VPN provides formidable value for money, and you can test it risk-free using its 30-days money-back guarantee.
simultaneous connections: unlimited
unblocks: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO GO, BBC iPlayer
First, good news: the free plan has most of the features from the premium version. Bad news: some of those features are severely limited, for example, you are getting only 500MB download cap, daily (so around 15GB per month). Also, Hotspot Shield Free limits you to one US-based location, and you’ll have to put up with ads if you’re using Android-based phones. Although you can’t use it for streaming service or YouTube, the free plan has “military-grade encryption” so you are safe to do your banking and shopping online.
There is also no customer support for the free version, so you are on your own.
The bottom line: go and download Hotspot Shield Free, if you have never used a VPN in your life. You will get a good feel of how VPN works and what to expect. Upgrade to the premium version once you are ready.
A VPN is by far the best form of data protection you can get for when you travel. You simply shouldn’t travel without one.
All the VPN services in this guide offer a high level of protection while on the move. If you can afford a bit higher price – go for the fastest, and the most reliable and versatile ones: NordVPN and ExpressVPN. If you are travel with friends or family Surfshark will be the most effective – just one license will serve your whole group. If you are new to VPNs, a super easy to use CyberGhost is a good starter. Finally, if you are not ready to spend your money, Hotspot Shield has a free basic plan for you, unlimited in time (but with restrictions). Just remember that all VPNs including the premium ones have 30-45 days money-back guarantee – use it to your own advantage.
Maksim is an industry expert and digital editor at Tiket2. He is also a frequent flyer, travel writer, photographer, and the truest evangelist of the company.