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What is a VPN good for?

Article for: Travelers
Difficulty: Moderate
Importance: Important if you travel

If a VPN is effective and not simply a con as most of them seem to be, then it will give you a private and secure connection between yourself and one of the VPN's servers. They will encrypt everything to that server, and then your web activity will go out through their server.

Frequently, companies use VPNs to give their employees access to their corporate servers. This is good and necessary. What I'm talking about in this article is the inexpensive commercial VPNs, that people buy for personal use, not corporate VPNs.


  1. I strongly recommend using a VPN for mobile devices that connect to the Internet from routers at restaurants or motels. You don't know who controls this other router and should not trust their security.
  2. People use VPNs to appear to be in another country. Let's say that you are in Mexico and want to connect to your Comcast or Netflix account, but they only allow connection within the United States. The VPN could allow you to use one of their USA servers and appear to be in the United States. Be aware, however, that Netflix or Comcast could blacklist that VPN server, and eliminate this possibility.
  3. Hide what you do from your ISP so they can't sell your browsing habits. All your ISP will see is your connection with the VPN. They will not see where you are going.
  4. Hide your location from websites, but not your identity. The website can still use cookies or other tools to track you.

What it is not good for:

  1. Security from bad websites or malware. Your VPN will pass along all the malware or viruses that you connect with. It'll just do it privately. If you browse recklessly, then the VPN will not protect you.
  2. Hiding from Google, Facebook or other websites which plant cookies or use other methods to track you through the Internet. It might look like you are somewhere else, but the computer remains the same.

Problems and recommendations

Most of the VPNs, particularly the less expensive ones, actually record your data and sell it and could be much worse than your ISP. Remember, whatever you do is going to them first so they are essentially a "man in the middle" to all your online activity. Also, most do a poor job on security, so perhaps your ISP would be more secure.

However, there are a few that do a good job. They either don't keep logs or destroy them regularly. They pay third party security firms to come into their offices and try to find security flaws and then make the results public and fix the issues found. I strongly recommend using one of these, if you have a laptop and travel or use it at restaurants or motels.

  • Tunnelbear is my go-to VPN. It has annual audits and is easy to use. Also, Tunnelbear is easily the cutest VPN.
  • ExpressVPN is also highly recommended by experts. They've been audited and appear excellent on both security and privacy issues.

Further reading

Date: May 2021

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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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