Living a life of travel is rewarding, but it can also be dangerous. Different kinds of threats, both physical and digital, are always looming around. That’s why we keep a checklist of travel essentials for safe and secure traveling. Sitting at the top of that list is a VPN to protect ourselves from hackers, scammers, and frauds who might attack us anytime during our journey.
Having traveled quite a bit in the past few years, we decided to test VPNs here and abroad to see which ones are most helpful to travelers. And the verdict is out; here are the best VPNs for travel.
What We Look For in VPNs for Travel
Laptops, smartphones, tablets
Whether traveling domestically or abroad, staying safe, not only physically but also digitally, is a top priority. Fortunately, with the right VPN, you can rest easy knowing that your personal information and all your online activities are protected. The rest of this review will help you determine the best VPNs for your travels as well as tell you what metrics and methodology we used in picking them out. So if you’re ready, let’s get started.
Expansive fleet of servers (5,000+ in 60 countries)
P2P servers all around the globe
Choice of OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and Wireguard protocols
Obfuscated VPN servers
What We Don’t Like
Limits simultaneous connections to six devices
No free trial
Lacks phone support
No Shortage of Servers
When you’re traveling, you want a VPN with servers wherever you go, and that’s exactly what NordVPN provides. It has over 5,200 servers in 60 countries, all across North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. Not only that, but NordVPN has servers for specific purposes. There are servers for P2P file sharing, which are most ideal for torrenting, double VPN servers, which provide secure, multi-hop connections, and obfuscated servers, which we’ll get to in a minute.
VPN That Hides Itself
VPNs are legal in most countries, but there are some countries that outright ban the use or have stricter rules with regards to using VPNs. Now, if you’re traveling to a country where VPNs are illegal, we advise you to stay on the safe side of the law; don’t use a VPN. But if you’re going somewhere VPNs are legal but monitored, NordVPN has a nifty feature called obfuscation. Basically, if you connect to one of NordVPN’s obfuscated servers, it hides the fact that you’re using a VPN, keeping you safer from monitoring. With a regular VPN server, NordVPN will hide your traffic, but ISPs can still see that you’re using a VPN.
Smooth Mobile Experience
Whether you’re traveling abroad or locally, you’re sure to use your mobile device for surfing, making the app experience of your VPN an important factor. You wouldn’t want a VPN app that’s slow to connect, or one that has a cluttered interface. When we tested NordVPN, we gave its mobile apps a high approval rating because they’re simple to use, efficient, and reliable. The apps connected us to NordVPN instantly, which came in handy whenever we had to connect to a public Wi-Fi.
Limited to five simultaneous connections per account
No free trial
24/7 chat support but lacks phone support
Impressive Download and Upload Speeds
When it comes to VPNs, the connection speed is always one of the top deciding factors. When we tested ExpressVPN on our laptops, it recorded internet speed drops of no more than 40 percent. That’s quite impressive for a VPN. On our Macbook, ExpressVPN’s download speed averaged 23 Mbps, only 15 Mbps slower than our download speed without a VPN. The upload speed was even more impressive. ExpressVPN was only three Mbps slower than without a VPN. When we’re traveling, having access to fast internet is essential to us, especially when we’re trying to use navigation apps, book hotels, or buy tickets. We really liked our odds of getting good speeds with ExpressVPN, which is why it’s one of our top picks.
Other than the internet speed it provided, we also liked having ExpressVPN’s strong encryption. It used 256-bit AES encryption with IKEv2 and IPSEC protocols. We’re not going to bore you with the technical details, but all are formidable encryption standards. We always prefer VPNs that do well in encrypting data, but more so when we’re traveling and need to connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots in airports, bars and cafes, or hotel lobbies. Thanks to ExpressVPN’s encryption, we rested easy knowing that our private data was safe from the prying eyes of hackers who might be hanging around those areas.
Servers in 160+ Locations
ExpressVPN also had a massive fleet of over 3,000 servers, but let’s face it: we’re only ever going to connect to a handful of those. What mattered more was their location. When we wanted to use the Internet as if we’re stateside, we connected to any of the 23 servers (and counting) in the U.S. We live in Brooklyn, so the closest servers to home were the two in New York and the three in New Jersey. Now, whenever we want to just encrypt our internet traffic, we select the server closest to our current location to increase our chances of getting good speeds. There’s an ExpressVPN server in almost all regions of the world, including North and South America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and North Africa. However, the largest collection of their servers is in Europe, which bode well for us when we went backpacking there last year.
Not all of us have the luxury of vacationing for months. Fortunately, with PureVPN, there’s a subscription option for those who need a VPN for only seven days or less. What’s even more interesting was its low price. At only $0.99, this was the perfect VPN subscription for when we visited a resort up north for a weekend. Just a heads-up though: once the trial ended, we were enrolled automatically to an annual subscription using the payment information that we provided. This was fine with us because we wanted to test the VPN for at least six months, but if you don’t want to use PureVPN for longer than the seven-day trial, you can cancel the subscription before it ends. Another option is to use PureVPN’s 31-day money-back guarantee if you’ve already been upgraded to an annual plan.
FYI: Once the seven-day PureVPN subscription ends, your account will automatically renew with a one-year subscription. You can email PureVPN’s customer support to cancel.
VPNs generally don’t get along well with Netflix and other streaming services, for that matter. That’s because Netflix uses measures to counter content “unblockers” such as VPNs.1 However, PureVPN was one of the VPNs we tested that could bypass geographical restrictions that streaming services created. And it wasn’t just Netflix. We also accessed Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney Plus content from outside the U.S. And by the way, it also worked the other way around. When we got back home from an international trip, for example, we were able to binge watch shows in the Netflix Australia library.
User-Friendly Mobile Apps
Although we usually bring our laptops with us, we’re more often on our mobile phones while traveling. Fortunately, PureVPN’s mobile apps for both iOS and Android were easy to use. There was a Quick Connect option that automatically connected to the closest server with just a tap. Switching between servers was also easy. And if we wanted to use more advanced features, like split tunneling on Android, they were readily accessible through the quick menu. Thanks to the apps’ user-friendliness, we spent less time navigating the VPN’s interface and more time enjoying our journey.
Options for anonymous, dynamic, and static IP address
Outside the jurisdiction of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes
Restrictive refund policy
Netflix access limited to U.S., U.K., Canada, and France servers
200 servers only
No split tunneling
Trust.Zone was one of the cheapest VPNs we tested for this review. The one month subscription we bought cost us only $8.88, but the annual and two-year plans were even more affordable. The price of the one-year subscription was $39.95 or roughly $3.33 per month, while the two-year subscription was $55.99 or about $2.33 per month. For someone who travels for at least three months in the span of a year, the one or two years subscriptions offer better value than the monthly plan. They are cheaper, not to mention have the advantage of a premium VPN all year round. You can learn more about Trust.Zone’s pricing.
Outside Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes Jurisdiction
Trust.Zone wasn’t the only cheap VPN we tested, but another reason it’s on this list is because of the company’s location. Trust.Zone is based in the Seychelles Islands, a remote island nation just north of Madagascar. The Seychelles Islands, or formally the Republic of Seychelles, is outside the jurisdiction of the international alliances called the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes. That means the Seychelles government cannot legally force Trust.Zone to hand over their customer’s data. Now of course, companies within the jurisdiction of those international alliances don’t have to share all customer data with their respective governments. They are only asked to share information in dire circumstances, such as when there’s an imminent threat of a terrorist attack. But still, we prefer VPNs that can store our information in confidence without any legal obligation to share it without our consent. Trust.Zone was one of those VPNs.
Static and Dynamic IP Addresses
When it came to features, another thing we liked about Trust.Zone was that it allowed us to choose between a static or dynamic IP address. Both configurations offered anonymity, as the IP addresses assigned to us were also given to thousands of other users. That means it was next to impossible to track our browsing activity back to us. However, with a static IP address, we received the same IP address everytime we logged on. The problem with that is that some websites consider it suspicious when the same IP address is used by several site visitors, thinking that it might be a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. As a result, some static and shared IP addresses are blacklisted. We ended up being unable to access our online banking accounts under that static IP address, which was unfortunate because we were halfway across the globe when it happened. That’s when we switched to a dynamic IP address configuration which gave us a fresh IP address everytime we logged on. With the new IP address, we finally got on our bank’s website to reload our prepaid VISA cards, which are what we carry instead of our credit cards when we’re traveling.
Within Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes jurisdiction
Expensive monthly plans
Browser extension logged more data than we desired
No kill switch for iOS
HMA was among the more expensive VPNs we tested. But for our short getaways, the seven-day free trial was an excellent offer. It included all the features of the paid subscriptions, so basically, we used HMA for free. Now, after the trial ended, we were upgraded to the one-year subscription automatically. Again, if you don’t want that to happen, you can cancel before the trial period ends or take advantage of HMA’s 30-day money-back guarantee. But since we wanted to test HMA longer, we let our account switch over to the one year plan.
Location of Servers
HMA also had one of the most server locations among the VPNs we tested. Although they only had about 1,100 servers in total, the location of those servers were evenly dispersed throughout Europe, the United States, the Americas, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. No matter where we went, whether we were backpacking through Europe or taking a coast-to-coast road trip through the U.S., there was always a server close to us that could provide decent internet speeds. By the way, HMA had servers located in all 50 U.S. states. There were at least two servers in each state, actually, with some states having as many as 24 servers. Impressive!
Dynamic IP Address that Cycles Every 10 Minutes
HMA gave us dynamic IP addresses, which protected us from being tracked based on our browsing activity. But that’s not all. Our IP address changed every 10 minutes, further increasing our privacy. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this setup. One time, our IP address changed while we were chatting with our router’s online chat support. Apparently, many live chat tools distinguish their clients based on their IP address, so when ours changed, we were abruptly disconnected. For times like those, HMA’s desktop client offers the option to cycle the IP address less frequently, such as once every 24 hours.
$20 per month for monthly plan or $10 per month for annual plan
No refund policy
Static IP address
Not all servers can access Netflix
Free VPN for Android
At $20 per month, Astrill VPN was the most expensive VPN we’ve tested. However, we loved the fact that it was free for Android users, with the slight caveats that only one Android device can be connected and there’s no protocol selection. However, neither of the two limitations bothered us. We only brought one Android device each to our trip, anyway, and since the VPN worked fine, we didn’t have to tinker with advanced options like the VPN protocol. So for Android users who want a free VPN, Astrill VPN is a solid choice. Read more about Astrill VPN pricing.
User-Friendly Desktop Clients
We actually did test out the paid version of Astrill VPN to get a feel of how it works on our laptops, and we liked what we saw. It was straightforward and easy to use, with all the basic features we needed laid out neatly on the home screen. The Windows version felt kind of dated. It had a simple user interface with large bold fonts that reminded us of the Windows interface back in the 90s. But still, if simplicity is what you’re going for, then Astrill VPN’s desktop apps are excellent. After all, no one would want to spend five minutes setting up their VPN just to connect to an airport’s Wi-Fi.
For security-minded travelers who want extra privacy (that’s us!) Astrill VPN’s multihop feature is a winner. Instead of routing our Internet traffic through one encrypted VPN tunnel, Astrill VPN took extra measures and routed it through multiple tunnels. Aside from multiple encryptions, this setup used multiple servers each with a different IP address. As a result, it would be incredibly difficult to track our online activity back to our original IP address. Now, because of all the extra procedures, using multi-hop slowed down our Internet, but we could always just turn it off if we wanted better speeds.
When it comes to the best VPNs for travel, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Those who travel for business have different digital security needs than those who travel for leisure. The length of your vacation may also affect which VPN is most suitable for you. And of course, we have different budgets, we use different devices, and we travel to different locations. So when we tested VPNs for this review, we took into account a broad range of factors such as the cost vis-a-vis the length of subscription, the number and location of servers, the average internet speeds, the ease of use, and access to necessary VPN features.
Many companies pick up the tab for the VPNs of their traveling employees, but those who travel leisurely often pay out of their pockets. For that reason, we selected VPNs that were most affordable, if not free. We also factored in the length of the subscription. It wouldn’t make sense to pay for one whole year of access and only use the VPN for a two-week vacation. On the other hand, those who travel several times a year might benefit more from a yearly subscription as they are usually cheaper than monthly plans. In the chart above, we included each VPN’s pricing for their monthly plans, yearly plans, and the shortest subscription available. We also mentioned free trial options for those who are planning a quick weekend getaway. Read more about the best VPNs with free trials.
Ideally, a VPN has servers in or near the destination country as well as in the U.S., our country of origin. Having a server close to home meant that we could access internet content as if we never left home. For instance, we could pick up our Netflix binging right where we left off or access websites that use IP blocking in our destination country.
At the same time, having a VPN in or near our current location meant that we could access faster Internet speeds whenever necessary. Distance is the key. The closer we are to a server, the shorter the data travels and the faster websites load. Now, because VPNs have different server locations, we looked for VPNs with a wide array of servers located in the most number of locations and countries. Most of the VPNs we picked had over 1,000 servers each.
It goes without saying that when we test VPNs, speed is one of the most important factors for us. We usually test each VPN’s speed on our Macbook and Windows laptops at home, in Brooklyn. We set a baseline reading by performing a speed test without the VPN and then compute the difference when the VPN is connected. We measure the latency, upload speed, and download speed with the help of Ookla’s Speedtest tool. But since we use our mobiles more when traveling, we also tested the speed of each VPN on our iPhone 11 Pro Max and Samsung Note10.
Security and Privacy
According to recent studies, 62 percent of Americans think that not a day goes by that their data isn’t collected by companies and the government.2 But based on our tests, using a VPN can help reduce our exposure to such privacy risks. The ideal VPN uses strict encryption protocols, is based outside the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances, doesn’t leak our IP address, and collects minimal or no user data. Let’s elaborate.
Encryption: A strong encryption protocol is required for VPNs.128-bit encryption is the minimum, but we prefer VPNs with 256-bit AES encryption because it’s the standard approved by the U.S. government to encrypt classified data.3
Jurisdiction: Companies within the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliance member countries can be forced to turnover sensitive customer data to the government. While it’s for the cause of preventing possible threats to the government, or so they say, we prefer that our data remain private.
Leak Tests: We tested each VPN for DNS and WebRTC leaks, which could both compromise our IP addresses and the domain names of the websites we’ve visited. We tested each VPN using online tools and made sure all of them passed the no-leak tests before taking our picks.
Many VPNs share similar features, but we always check whether or not each VPN has the features we want, such as the following:
Kill Switch: This feature automatically halts all Internet activity once the VPN is disconnected, whether intentionally or not. Having this feature ensures that none of our browsing data is leaked to our ISP.
Multi-hop: With any VPN, all traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel to a server, which then relays the data to its intended destination. Some VPNs encrypt the data twice or more through multiple servers for better security. This process is called “multi-hop.”
Split Tunneling: Usually, when we connect a device to a VPN, all internet activities of that device go through the encrypted tunnel. With split tunneling, a second, unencrypted route is created, allowing some websites, applications, or software to connect to the internet without passing through the VPN tunnel.
Netflix Access: Netflix and other streaming services frown upon the idea of VPNs being used to bypass regional content restrictions, but that doesn’t stop VPNs from making Netflix accessible to their connected users.
Torrenting: Similarly, torrenting can only be done using servers that support P2P file sharing. Some VPNs allow torrenting on most or all of their servers, while others have dedicated servers for those in need of torrenting.
The ease of use of a VPN is also important to us. We wouldn’t want to use a VPN app that is difficult to navigate and takes forever to connect, especially when we’re on the move. The ideal VPN has to have a clean interface, accessible features, and the ability to quickly establish a connection. It’s also vital that the VPN’s app is reliable, doesn’t crash, and isn’t full of bugs.
In this section, we'll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about VPNs used for traveling.
A VPN can protect us from hackers, scammers, and thieves who might access our mobile devices and computers when we connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots. Connecting to public or free Wi-Fi is unavoidable when traveling, so it’s necessary to have a VPN.
Depending on what you’re looking for, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, PureVPN, Trust.Zone, HideMyAss, and Astrill VPN are the best VPNs for travel. When choosing a VPN for travel, you should consider the cost, features, server locations, and connection speeds, among other things.
Generally, public Wi-Fi hotspots are considered risky because anyone connected to the same network as yours can potentially access your device. However, with the use of a VPN and other digital security measures, you can use airport Wi-Fi and other public Wi-Fi networks without worry.