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The best travel VPNs, tested and reviewed

ZDNET tested the best travel VPNs that offer privacy and security for your laptop or phone while you're on the road or working abroad.

You shouldn't leave security and privacy at home when traveling abroad for work or pleasure. A travel virtual private network (VPN) can keep your data safe and give you peace of mind when you're on the go. The service you use at home may be great for streaming movies, but VPNs are also a vital tool to protect your data abroad. 

Connecting to Wi-Fi in an airport, hotel, or café may be convenient, but it definitely isn't secure. That's where a VPN comes to the rescue. The best VPNs create secure tunnels that protect your internet traffic, providing an extra layer of protection so your financial information or login credentials are at lower risk of exposure or theft. 

Also: The best VPNs for streaming

ZDNET tested the best travel VPNs to help you find the top option to keep your connections safe and secure. Thanks to its fast and reliable connections, NordVPN is our top choice for the best travel VPN overall. Read on for the rest of our tested picks to find the best travel VPN for you. 

The best travel VPNs of 2023

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Large server network
  • Reliable and fast
  • Stable connection
Cons
  • Limited to six simultaneous connections
  • Expensive
More Details

NordVPN features: Servers: 5,000+, 60 countries | Simultaneous connections: Six | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox, Edge | Logging: No activity logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

In our review of NordVPN, it had a fast and reliable connection and was generally consistent across a wide range of test situations. If you're traveling, you can likely depend on NordVPN no matter where you're connecting from.

NordVPN also supports (peer-to-peer) P2P sharing and is one of our favorite VPNs for torrenting. It offers a second layer of encryption through its Double VPN feature and has a dedicated IP if you're trying to run a VPN that doubles as a server. Regarding compatibility, NordVPN supports all major platforms and has additional browser plugins for Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Review: NordVPN offers consistent speed and performance

Overall, NordVPN is one of the best choices, especially for travel. It has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which should give you enough time to test the product and see if it's the right fit for you. You can select between Complete, Plus, and Standard, the difference being access to a password manager, data breach scanner, or encrypted cloud storage service. 

Prices start from $3.79 per month on a Standard two-year plan to $14.99 per month on a Complete one-month subscription. One-year plans start at $4.49. At the time of writing, NordVPN is running a promotion for new subscribers, giving away three months of additional access for free when you choose a one or two-year plan.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Supports multiple devices and operating systems
  • 160 server locations
  • Simple user interface
Cons
  • Can be expensive
  • Connections are not unlimited
More Details

ExpressVPN features: Servers: 105 countries | Simultaneous connections: Up to eight | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and more | Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

ExpressVPN has a sizable server network comprising at least 160 server locations in 105 countries, a network that has recently been expanded. No matter where you're traveling, there's a good chance you'll be able to connect to a local server.

ExpressVPN is a widely used VPN provider that supports many platforms and devices. It's also one of the best VPNs for iPhones and a top VPN for Android, making it useful for traveling, especially when using multiple devices on different operating systems. You can use the native app or set up ExpressVPN manually on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Chromebooks, and more. ExpressVPN has a private Domain Name System's (DNS) capability, which runs on every VPN server regardless of location. So, for example, when you're trying to access Gmail, ExpressVPN will handle DNS requests privately. 

Also: The best VPN services

ExpressVPN's privacy policy clearly outlines what information it collects. It doesn't log data that could be used to identify you, such as your IP address, browsing history, or DNS queries. However, it does track the dates you connect, how much data is transferred, and the server location. The company has also recently introduced an ad blocker and the option to block explicit content by default. One downside, however, is that the number of simultaneous devices you're permitted depends on the plan you have, with a maximum of eight.

At the time of writing, subscription costs begin at $6.67 per month on a limited-time deal with a 12-month plan. Three months of free access are included. You can also opt for $9.99 per month for six months or $12.95 for one month of access. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Highly configurable app
  • Fast connection times
Cons
  • Bland user interface
More Details

IPVanish VPN features: Servers: 2,000+, 75+ locations | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Fire TV, Android TV, Chrome, Apple TV | Logging: No activity logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

IPVanish is a highly customizable VPN with a user-friendly interface and a raft of configuration options for the app. The app gives you many server selection options and shows each location's ping speed and server load. 

These features can be valuable when you're on the road because they allow you to choose the optimal server based on your current location, which can vary depending on your location. It's also a good option for streaming services.

If the freedom to configure your VPN to your liking and the ability to choose from an extensive list of countries and servers are your priorities, this is the VPN for you. The user interface is basic and not exactly attractive, but it's easy to use and lays out speed statistics, country options, and more in a simple format. 

IPVanish offers a discounted plan for $2.49 per month if you commit for two years, with three months of free access thrown in. This increases to $2.99 per month for a yearly plan and $12.99 for one month. 

Review: IPVanish: A VPN with a wealth of options

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Over 3,200 servers
  • No logs
  • Free months on offer
Cons
  • User interface could use improvement
  • Initial connections can be slow
More Details

Surfshark VPN features: Servers: 3,200+, 100 countries | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome | Logging: No activity logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

Surfshark offers reliable and fast connections at average speeds. It also appears to be a very secure option, as we found no DNS leaks during recent tests. The company doesn't log your activity while you use the service and offers private DNS capabilities and what Surfshark calls NoBorders mode. This feature enables you to access sites regardless of restrictive border connections. Be careful, though. Countries restricting access tend to frown on bypassing those restrictions.

Review: Surfshark VPN: Unlimited connections make it a solid value pick

Surfshark VPN comes with many features, including split tunneling, a kill switch to keep your connection secure if it drops, MultiHop (a double VPN), static and rotating IP addresses, and an ad blocker. There are also inexpensive add-on tools, including a tracker-free search engine, data breach scanner, and antivirus software. One downside, though, is that initial connections to servers can be slow. Additionally, Surfshark operates a live warrant canary and is independently audited.

Surfshark's VPN costs begin at $1.99 per month for a two-year subscription plan (three months free) and $3.99 per month for a one-year subscription. Alternatively, you can sign up for one month for $13.99. You are billed for the complete package at the time of sign-up. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Expansive server network
  • Ad, malware blocking
Cons
  • Located in the US
More Details

Private Internet Access features: Servers: 91 countries | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome OS, routers, NAS | Logging: No activity logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

If you want a set-and-forget VPN while you're on the road, Private Internet Access is a great choice. The VPN has a broad and expansive server network, but one of its main strengths is its simplicity and ease of use. Download, click the connection button, and the VPN will do the rest. 

We also like how the open source, Wireguard-based VPN is laid out, with location options and customizable settings that are easy to reach without technical jargon to confuse new VPN users, and everything is packaged up in a stylish user interface. You can also take advantage of features including split tunneling, a kill switch, and ad blocking. 

Private Internet Access has a promotion on offer: if you opt for a two-year plan at $2.19 per month, you will receive two months of free access. If you want to try it out, you can buy a month's worth of access for $11.99, or six months for $7.50 per month.

What is the best VPN for travel?

The best VPN for travel is NordVPN, providing fast speeds, top-notch security features, and quick connections. 

At ZDNET, we have tested many VPN services over the years. I've personally been using ExpressVPN exclusively on my travel laptop for years. Recently, I also began using NordVPN, and found that it's provided more rapid connections and slightly better speeds. I've also found it reliable for streaming services, no matter where I am in the world.

Even when not traveling, NordVPN can secure your internet connection from just about any device.

Best travel VPN

Price

Kill switch

Simultaneous connections

Servers

Platforms

Logging

Money-back guarantee

NordVPN

Starts at $3.79/month

Yes

Six

5,000+ servers, 60 countries

Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox, Edge

No activity logs

30 days

ExpressVPN

Starts at $6.67/month

Yes

Eight

160 server locations, 94 countries

Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and more

No browsing logs, some connection logs

30 days

IPVanish VPN

Starts at $2.49/month

Yes

Unlimited

2,000+ servers, over 75 locations

Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Fire TV, Android TV, Chrome

No activity logs

30 days

Surfshark VPN

Starts at $1.99/month

Yes

Unlimited

3,200+ servers, 100 countries

Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome

No activity logs

30 days

Private Internet Access

Starts at $2.19/month

Yes

Unlimited

91 countries

Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome

No activity logs

30 days

 *Lowest price at the time of writing. Please note that prices may vary based on retailer and available promotions, sales, or discounts.

Which travel VPN is right for you?

The best travel VPN for you will balance security and speed. Some VPNs prioritize encryption and other security measures over performance, and while this won't affect your web browsing or streaming speeds too much, it's still a factor to consider. 

However, our top VPN, NordVPN, isn't the cheapest, and other functions, such as unlimited device connections, may influence your decision.

Choose this travel VPN...

If you need or want...

NordVPN

ZDNET's overall choice for the best travel VPN. NordVPN provides reliable and consistent performance across multiple devices and platforms, with good access to streaming services.

ExpressVPN

A massive server network. ExpressVPN has an extensive list of servers, so you'll likely have access to local servers during travel. This VPN is one of the most user-friendly VPNs we've tested.

IPVanish

A reliable and highly configurable VPN. IPVanish offers a user-friendly interface with a raft of configuration options, allowing you to choose the optimal server based on your location while on the road.

Surfshark

Unlimited simultaneous connections to help secure all of your devices with just one subscription. It doesn't hurt that Surfshark is extremely affordable, too.

Private Internet Access

An open-source VPN suitable for beginners that puts user-friendliness first. It's quick, cheap, and has no limit on simultaneous connections.

How did we choose these VPNs for travel?

Many providers recommended in this list have been subject to in-depth testing and reviews by members of our ZDNET team. We've been talking about other VPNs for years, spoken with their management and their users, and developed a generally favorable impression.

Therefore, our team analyzed the best VPNs for travel in 2023 below using the following criteria that were most important in helping you make an informed decision:

  • Performance: Our top VPNs must have a minimum level of performance, especially while you're in different countries. After all, there's no point in using a VPN while streaming if your connection continually drops or lags, making it intolerable.
  • Testing: ZDNET tests VPN services from multiple locations, but we can't test from all locations. After all, every home, community, local ISP, and nation has a different infrastructure. 
  • Simultaneous connections: Many VPNs limit how many devices you can connect to a service at the same time. If you have a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and possibly even a smart TV you want to connect to a VPN, you'd need a service that allows at least five simultaneous connections.
  • Security: There's no point using a VPN unless their security protocols and encryption levels are up to scratch. We also ensured that the development team behind each recommended VPN cares about improving security over time and patching reported bugs.
  • Kill switch: A kill switch prevents you from having an unprotected connection and is an essential feature for a VPN, as it protects by preventing a return to a default Wi-Fi connection should your internet connection unexpectedly drop.
  • Geoblocks and streaming: We know VPNs can be key to accessing local content and services while you're away from home. We ensured that our top recommendations perform well when it comes to these factors and are unlikely to slow down your connection while you are streaming. 
  • Countries & servers: How many different countries does the VPN have servers? This can include physical and virtual servers and whether or not there are enough -- at least 50 or so -- to provide variety.
  • Trial length & price: Each VPN we recommend has a solid money-back guarantee. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a virtual private network that allows users to browse the internet privately and securely connect to public Wi-Fi networks with a layer of protection that masks data. VPNs allow users to change their virtual location by redirecting the connection through worldwide servers. A VPN will also encrypt your traffic, keeping your online activities hidden from prying eyes.

However, if your online activities are monitored at the ISP level -- say, by a government -- they may recognize a VPN's "signature." While they can't see the details of what you're doing, they will know that a VPN is in use. 

VPNs are useful in unblocking geo-restricted content and can be a vital tool for accessing information in countries with repressive governments. They are essential services for anyone who wants to maintain high safety and privacy online. 

What is a travel VPN, and why do I need it?

A travel VPN is a virtual private network that provides a secure internet connection while you travel. It encrypts your online traffic and hides your IP address, protecting sensitive data from cybercriminals and government surveillance. It also allows you to bypass internet censorship and geo-restrictions.

A VPN is useful when relying on public internet hotspots, such as those available at hotels. While you should avoid using public internet hotspots as much as possible for security reasons, a VPN will help protect your privacy if you have no other option.

You may also want a travel-suitable VPN for accessing content geo-linked to your home rather than your new location.

What do I do if I experience traffic slowdowns with a VPN?

If you experience traffic slowdowns, check your VPN and your Wi-Fi connection between your device and your router or access point. Sometimes, connectivity issues begin at the source, and in other cases, switching your selected VPN server may be enough to resolve speed problems or connectivity drops.

Will a travel VPN slow down my internet speed?

Using a VPN might slow down your internet speed to some extent because the data has to be encrypted and decrypted before being transmitted. However, a good travel VPN will have minimal impact on your speed, and the added security is worth the small loss in speed.

If you're using a public hotspot or hotel connection while you're away, it's more likely that your speed will be low at source and not as rapid as you are used to at home.

Are travel VPNs legal?

In most countries, using a VPN is legal, but there are some exceptions. Some countries, such as China, Russia, and Iran, have banned the use of VPNs, while others have restrictions on VPN usage. Therefore, it's important to research the local laws of the country you're traveling to before using a VPN.

How can I find out what the VPN rules are for the countries I'm visiting?

There are several sources. Reaching out to your VPN vendor is always a good idea. They often have a good feel for the countries their services operate in and will often post guidance on their websites. If you're a US citizen, you may wish to consider contacting the US State Department. 

It lists travel advisories for US citizens, and they have foreign service officials who can provide general guidance. Check the travel advisories web page. Your nation's foreign ministry may have a similar service if you're outside the United States.

To understand which countries either ban or discourage VPN usage, NordVPN has a legal guide that lists countries with severe restrictions, bans, and possible penalties for breaking VPN laws. 

Is a VPN all I need to be protected while traveling?

No. VPNs can generally protect your data while it's in motion. But if your computer or phone is seized (whether or not it's encrypted), it's possible law enforcement can access your data. Some governments might hold your devices for whatever reason they deem useful. 

Online services you access in-country might have less protection than those in your host country. Of course, there are also normal travel security issues, like being careful what you spend, how you handle cash, who you trust, and so on, that could carry risks during travel.

What is a DNS leak and why does it matter?

A DNS leak is the exposure of your information when you are using a VPN, with data -- such as DNS queries -- leaking outside of secure, encrypted tunnels. If your activity is exposed, this compromises the whole point of using a virtual private network in the first place. 

The majority of reputable VPNs will ensure that DNS leaks don't happen, but if you can use online services, such as DNS leak test, to check your connection.

If my hotel has a wired connection, do I still need to use a VPN?

Yes. Don't assume any network endpoint is safe when traveling. Always make sure your connections are encrypted when communicating from any network connection.

Can a VPN help me save on airfare?

Many VPN services claim you can save hundreds of dollars on flights by using a VPN to change your location. And there are plenty of blog posts with anecdotal evidence supporting the theory that a VPN can help cut the price of your plane ticket. But the reality is less clear, and the most likely scenario is that no one knows for sure how much (if at all) a VPN can help you score cheap flights.  

Airfare prices are set by algorithms based on complicated factors, such as demand. You could notice a price difference using a VPN to spoof your location, but the change in cost may or may not be related to your location. From a practical standpoint, it's difficult to account for every possible variable. Also, given the amount of data available to consumers, maybe the real advantage of using a VPN is remaining anonymous.

Another way to look at it is if a VPN actually reduces the cost of airfare, it's most likely not going to have as big of an impact as other factors. There are different tactics for booking cheap flights that should be higher on your priority list. Booking early, keeping an eye out for price drops (check if there are change fees before booking), or traveling during days or times of day when there is less demand are great ways to secure the best possible flight prices.

How do I set up a travel VPN?

To set up a travel VPN, subscribe to a VPN service and download the VPN software for your device. Then, open the software and sign in using your credentials. Choose a server location and connect to the VPN. Once connected, your internet traffic will be encrypted, and your IP address will be hidden.

Remember, you can use a VPN on different devices, including your laptop and smartphone.

Are there alternative VPNs worth considering?

If the services we've highlighted in our best travel VPNs list aren't a good fit for you, other reputable options are worth trying. We've listed the best alternatives below, and you can also check out ZDNET's guide on the top VPNs for more options.

ProtonVPN Web

Best free but limited VPN alternative

Proton VPN

Proton VPN offers a free version with access to servers in three countries, as well as reasonable paid plans.

View at ProtonVPN
Vypr VPN Web

Best privacy VPN alternative

VyprVPN

Vypr is another great travel VPN with a simple pricing plan and stable speeds. Prices begin at $5 per month.

View at VyprVPN
Atlas VPN Web

Best budget-friendly VPN alternative

Atlas VPN

Atlas VPN offers a free limited version and a premium option with access to servers in over 30 countries. Prices begin at $1.70 per month with six months free.

View at AtlasVPN
Pure VPN Web

Best VPN alternative with free password manager

PureVPN

PureVPN is a solid choice while you're abroad and if you want a password manager. Plans begin at $2.03 per month.

View at PureVPN
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