As a digital nomad, you know the virtue of traveling light — not just when it comes to luggage, but also to apps on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. You know that “less is more” and the simpler, the better.

However, despite this wisdom and philosophy, there is a particular tool that you don’t just want to install on your mobile devices, but you definitely need to: a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Essentially, a VPN encrypts all of your traffic and routes it through a private third-party server. As such, hackers who are trying to snoop on what you’re doing online — whether you’re surfing from your favorite coffee shop, your home, riding on different themed party buses, waiting for a flight at the airport, or anywhere else — will only see incomprehensible encrypted information instead of raw data. And that’s just the start.

In addition to the (massive) security benefits, a VPN also delivers these key advantages:

  • You can access region-blocked websites. This is because when you use a VPN, your IP address is masked by a third-party VPN server that can be located anywhere in the world. For example, many videos on YouTube are only available to viewers in the U.S. If you’re in beautiful Mexico City, you can instruct your VPN to use a U.S.-based server, and once the connection is made (it only takes a second or so) you’ll be able to watch everything — because as far as YouTube is concerned, you’ll be in the U.S.
  • If your ISP enforces bandwidth throttling, then a VPN can help you avoid this frustration. For example, your ISP may “punish” you for watching a lot of Netflix. But with a VPN, your ISP won’t know what you’re doing online and won’t be able to slow things down.
  • As you may know, all kinds of websites and apps constantly collect your data as you journey across the web. A VPN blocks this communication.
  • If you’re not a fan of ads — and you probably aren’t! — then most VPNs these days have integrated ad blockers. If necessary, you can manually whitelist certain sites that won’t let you proceed with an ad blocker.

Free VPN or Paid VPN?

Now that you know a VPN is an essential piece of your digital nomad toolkit, the next step is to decide whether to get a free VPN or pay for a subscription. Think of it this way: using a free VPN is much better than not using a VPN at all, and using a paid VPN is much better than using a free VPN. In other words: if you can afford a VPN subscription, then get one.

The good news is that a VPN subscription doesn’t cost that much these days, and range from about $5-$15/month, depending on the vendor and the length of the subscription (the longer the subscription, the cheaper the monthly rate). For guidance on this, check out PCMag.com’s review of popular VPNs including NordVPN and several others.

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