Man using laptop with VPN

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Navigating the internet can feel like you’re walking through a crowded city with all your personal details on display. And just like in a big city, there are pickpockets lurking, only they’re not after your wallet — they’re after your data. In the realm of the internet, Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are personal bodyguards protecting us from these digital thieves. And going without the has become a little like walking into a sketchy neighborhood while waving a wad of cash.

But what does a VPN actually do? of A VPN is kind of like your own private lane in your corner of the internet, keeping you out of the line of sight of snoopers, hackers, and bad actors. It helps you to hide your internet activities, protect your data, and unlock those pesky geographic restrictions on your favorite streaming sites. Sounds like a great deal, right?

But here’s the question: Is using a VPN really worth it? If you’ve never used one, it can be hard to know whether you should drop some cash on one. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to determine whether a VPN is worth it for you and your family, and you don’t have to be a tech expert to understand them. The most important is understanding what type of security it offers. The VPN you choose should include strong encryption, a kill switch that disconnects you from the internet if the VPN connection drops, and DNS leak protection to prevent your data from unintentionally leaking out — at the very least. 

You should also know how your VPN’s speed and performance fare against competition. You don’t want a VPN that slows your internet connection. A good VPN should offer fast, reliable connections with minimal impact on your speed. Also, what kind of coverage does the VPN offer? Consider global coverage. If the VPN has a broad network of servers across various countries, it’s a good sign. That helps ensure you can connect to a server wherever you are, so you’re not only covered, but also ready to bypass geo-restrictions on content. 

Finally, you should consider whether the VPN’s privacy policy is pro-consumer and whether it has a no-logs policy, meaning it doesn’t track, store, or share your online activities. It should also be based in a jurisdiction that respects privacy and doesn’t obligate the provider to share data with its government. 

And last but not least, does the VPN offer quality customer support in the event you run into issues?

Below, we’ll explore more in depth how you can determine whether VPNs are worth it to use in your day-to-day browsing sessions. (Spoiler alert: They usually are!)


Top VPNs in this article:

Best overall: ExpressVPN, $13 monthly 

Best budget: Surfshark, $2 monthly 

Best speeds: NordVPN, $4 monthly 


Which security features are you getting with a VPN?

The first and foremost factor that determines a VPN’s worth is the strength of its security. Here’s why: When you’re using a VPN, you’re essentially putting your data, whether it’s the emails you send, the websites you visit, or the files you download, in the VPN’s hands.

The core of a VPN’s security feature is its encryption protocol. In simple terms, encryption transforms your data into an unreadable format when it travels across the internet, and it’s deciphered when it reaches the intended recipient. The best VPNs use what’s called AES-256 encryption. That’s the gold standard, and it’s the same level of encryption used by governments and banks.

Another key feature is the kill switch. Imagine you’re browsing the internet under the protection of your VPN, but suddenly, the VPN connection drops. Without a kill switch, your data could be exposed until the VPN reconnects. But with a kill switch, your internet connection is immediately cut off in such an event, ensuring your data remains private and secure. A good VPN will offer this feature without you having to pay extra. 

Lastly, look for DNS leak protection. DNS, or Domain Name System, translates website names into their respective IP addresses. Without DNS leak protection, these requests could be visible to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) even when you’re connected to a VPN. With DNS leak protection, your requests go through the VPN server, keeping your online activity hidden. So your ISP won’t come knocking — not that you’re doing anything to hide, natch.

In a nutshell, a VPN’s worth can be significantly determined by the power of its security features. So, always ensure to check these features when considering a VPN. One great VPN option that offers a cornucopia of these security features at a great price is Surfshark. It also includes some additional, experimental functionality that the company is helping to innovate, and everything you need to make sure your tracks are properly covered, no matter what. 

Surfshark

Surfshark

Surfshark


Pros:

  • Extremely affordable
  • Fast browsing speeds
  • Added layer of encryption for extra security
  • Innovative Nexus feature offers server browsing
  • Great option for multiple simultaneous connections

Cons:

  • Connections can drop occasionally
  • Kill switch can sometimes glitch out (but not often)

Surfshark, $2 monthly 


How many servers and server locations does the VPN have?

VPNs are usually much more useful when they have a higher number of server locations. Distance matters. The further your data has to travel, the longer it’s going to take. Having a VPN with servers in a lot of different locations gives you the freedom to choose a route that’s the quickest.

If a VPN doesn’t have a server in the country you’re trying to access content from, your data might have to take a detour. That can slow things down pretty quickly, and it’ll leave you frustrated when all you want to do is go online and do all your normal activities.

Also consider how a ton of server options can help you bypass geographic restrictions. Some online content might be available only in certain countries. A VPN with many server locations lets you virtually transport yourself to that country, unlocking that content.

It’s pretty cut and dried: The more server locations a VPN has, the more flexible and potentially faster, it can be. Keep it in mind when shopping around.


How fast is your VPN?

Another key factor in the value of a VPN its speed. After all, when we’re cruising around the digital world, none of us want to be slowed down by a sluggish connection.

When you connect to the internet through a VPN, your data has to take a longer route than usual as it travels from your device to the VPN server. Then, it heads off to the website or service you’re accessing. Taking the “long way” like this, coupled with the time it takes to encrypt and decrypt your data, can sometimes slow you down.

But that’s not always the case with every VPN. Lots of top-tier options have cracked the code and have managed to offer swift and smooth connections despite all these extra steps. They achieve this through a combination of factors like server quality and server location, some of which you can change yourself, depending on which service you use.

To check the speed of a VPN, you can use an online speed test tool. But remember, numerous factors can affect your internet speed, including your base internet speed, the distance to the VPN server, and network congestion. So, a single test may not give you the full picture. You’ll want to do extensive testing when choosing your “forever” VPN to determine if the speeds you’re getting are good enough for your daily usage.

To put it simply, a VPN worth your time and money shouldn’t turn your speedy internet connection into a tortoise race. Checking out user reviews and third-party speed test results can provide valuable insight into a VPN’s speed performance, so there are plenty of ways to test without having to buy in first. 

NordVPN

NordVPN

NordVPN


Pros:

  • Wide range of security features
  • Speedy browsing
  • Double VPN adds extra encryption layer
  • Custom features for tech-savvy users
  • Affordable subscription pricing

Cons:

  • Higher subscription tiers can be expensive
  • User interface could use some improvements

NordVPN, $4 monthly 


Is your VPN easy to use?

This may seem obvious, but a great VPN should be easy to use. If you don’t know how to turn on or activate your VPN, it’s not going to protect you. And then you’ll be paying for nothing. The best VPNs make it easy for us everyday folks to use them. And though you can always ask questions, it’s much easier when you can dive in and understand things without needing to.

First off, installing the VPN and getting it up and running should be super simple. You shouldn’t need to understand every single setting to get past the VPN’s setup. The user interface should be intuitive, with all its key features easily accessible. You want to be able to connect to a server, adjust settings, and check your connection status without resorting to the Help section on the website.

Also, a good VPN will work across different devices and platforms. Whether you’re on Windows, Mac, or a mobile device, the VPN should be easily accessible and platform-agnostic where possible. If it only works on one platform, it may not be right for you — and it could not offer the threshold of protection you’re looking for.

So, if a VPN is easy to use and compatible with your device, it should be more than worth it. Plus, it’ll end up saving you a lot of time, and plenty of headaches when you can skip the help documents. 


How good is the VPN customer service?

It’s always the hope that when you set up new software, it’ll just work as intended. But that isn’t always the case. If your VPN isn’t behaving, you want to be able to reach out to a responsive, helpful and knowledgeable support team who can get you back on track. Make sure you can get that from the company you choose.

Determine whether the company offers a helpful section on its website, a 24/7 live chat feature, email support, or even a hotline you can call. The key is that help is readily available when you need it.

Also, you’ll want to make sure the company’s privacy policies are up to snuff if it’s going to be a monthly fee or one-time purchase worth making. That’s when you go straight to the service’s privacy policy. This is essentially their promise to you about what they will and won’t do with your data.

A top-notch VPN will have a no-logs policy. That means they don’t keep any records of your online activities. They can’t share your data with anyone because they simply don’t have it. And whether you’re doing perfectly mundane things or not doesn’t matter. If there ever comes a time when you’d need protection from others snooping, you’ll be glad the company abides by these rules.

But not all no-logs policies are created equal. Some VPNs might say they don’t log your activity, but when you read the fine print, they might still collect some information, like connection times or amount of data used. So, it’s crucial to read the privacy policy thoroughly and understand what data, if any, your VPN provider is collecting.

Be smart about learning about your new VPN’s customer service and privacy policies and you’ll be a lot better off. 

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN


Pros:

  • Over 3,000 servers in 94 countries 
  • Extensive security features
  • User-friendliness and excellent customer service
  • Great support for eight simultaneous connections
  • Can unlock geo-blocked content

Cons:

  • No dedicated IP address or port forwarding
  • Pricier VPN option for smaller budgets

ExpressVPN, $13 monthly 


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