The Top Three VPN Services

Virtual Private Networks

As a business traveller, I rely on my computer and internet access to continue to stay connected with clients, sponsors, friends and family while I’m on the road. Security is a big concern for me and I want to make sure that my connections are always encrypted and secure. Like everyone else, I have a lot of valuable and personal information on my computer and phone and I want to keep it safe and private.

This is where using a VPN is absolutely vital for people like me. That being said, everyone is at risk of getting hacked and should look into keeping their online computers and devices secure and private.

Thanks to Reviews.com for allowing me to share their in-depth review of the best Virtual Private Network services on the market today. They looked at over 100 VPN services and here is what they found.

The 30-Second Review

There’s no such thing as total internet security (or anonymity), but using the best VPN service is the first step you can take to protect your identity online. So we looked at over 100 VPN providers and tested the best to determine which offered the most robust and reliable security measures, the fastest connection speeds, and the most competitive prices.

110 Services  → 3 Top Picks

Best Overall: NordVPN 

Fast and simple, this service offers an extremely high level of security and every premium feature, including multiple encryption methods and up to six simultaneous connections. Even better: It’s pretty to look at and only $69/year.
Best for Streaming: ExpressVPN

A heftier $100/year, but it performed best in our speed tests.
Best if You’re on a Budget: Private Internet Access
It may not be easy on the eyes, but it’s only $40/year.

 

If you wouldn’t ask a complete stranger to hold your wallet for you, then you shouldn’t be using public WiFi without a VPN service. And “public” doesn’t just mean your average coffee shop. Even if your WiFi connection is password-protected and comes from a trustworthy source, like a hotel or a university, a VPN service can seriously boost your online security.

The Top Three VPN Services

NordVPN

 

Top-notch security for $69 per year.

They currently have a deal going on that saves you 72% on a two-year subscription.

Get NordVPN

The best VPN services combine top-notch security features that protect against unwanted data collection, a simple interface that makes it easy to connect to the server of your choice, and a no-bull privacy policy that doesn’t couch its promises in vague language. They also have a fast enough connection speed to make it seem like you’re not actually using VPN at all. All of our top picks have these aspects in common, but NordVPN came out on top. It performed well all-around during our hands-on testing, which assessed both the connection speeds and user interface of every top contender. It also has rock-solid, reliable security — and simple, elegant apps for both desktop and mobile — all for $69 per year.

ExpressVPN

For $100 a year, the fastest VPN available.

Get ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN had the fastest connectivity of any VPN service we tested — a must for users whose primary concern is streaming videos — and also provides top-notch security, but at nearly $100 annually, costs a little more than NordVPN.

Private Internet Access

 

Get PIA VPN

If you’re looking for a low-cost VPN option that will still get the job done, Private Internet Access has no frills, but gives you the most bang for your buck (or your bitcoin, as the case may be) for just under $40 per year.

“VPN” stands for “Virtual Private Network,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: an online network that keeps prying eyes away while you surf the web. A VPN essentially takes the data you send online — which includes personal information such as your IP address — and disguises it so that nobody spying from another computer can identify who’s sending it, or where it’s coming from. You’ll still be able to use the internet at normal or close-to-normal speeds, but hackers and government officials will have a much harder time tracking your every movement online.

Be warned: VPNs are not a one-stop security shop. “If someone really wants to get at what you have, there are tons of ways for them to do it,” explains Jennifer Golbeck, a computer scientist and world-renowned internet security expert at the University of Maryland, College Park. A VPN service improves your online privacy, but it’s not bulletproof protection against hackers, and it certainly won’t make you totally anonymous (as so many services claim). Golbeck describes a VPN as “absolutely the first priority if you’re on public WiFi,” though she notes that it’s most effective when used in conjunction with other common-sense security measures, such as an online backup service and a solid password manager.

How We Found the Best VPN Services

In reading through the countless blogs and online forums dedicated to internet security, we realized something pretty quickly: A lot of people are worried about their information being stolen. And they should be. As Ponemon Institute researchers concluded in 2014, hackers managed to steal the personal information of 110 million Americans in that calendar year alone. And we’re not just talking about names and addresses here — “personal information” can mean anything from email passwords to Facebook security questions.

With hackers and government organizations getting more sophisticated every year, we needed to find a VPN service that offers multiple levels of security and protections against leaks. First, we asked some of the field’s foremost experts what they look for in a VPN service. Then we analyzed the features and performance stats of more than 100 contenders.

In determining our top picks, we focused on the whole package: services that could combine top-level security and high speeds with a user-friendly interface for both desktop and mobile.

We also took a closer look at each service’s privacy policy to ensure that they really don’t keep logs of your activity and won’t just hand over data to governments without you knowing. Many of the top services we tested are based in countries with no mandatory data-retention laws. This isn’t something that will affect most people, but it’s always a good sign that a service takes its “no logs” promise seriously.

Services not compatible with both Android and iOS mobile devices (or that require a separate subscription for desktop and mobile) were cut.

Are you reading this on a smartphone? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone, and nearly one in five spends more time surfing the internet on that phone than on a desktop or laptop computer. That figure is only going to increase as smartphones become more ubiquitous— and so will mobile data breaches. “Intercepting data is just as easy to do via a phone,” Golbeck explains, “but people use VPNs a lot less frequently on their mobile devices than they do on their laptop computers.”

Given the rise of smartphone internet use, it stands to reason that the best VPN services are the ones that seamlessly cover both desktop and mobile. This means that a single subscription should cover multiple devices, but it also means that the VPN should work across multiple devices (including Android and iOS) without any issues. Though nearly all VPN services can be “hacked” to work on Android and iOS devices, a surprising number of them offer no onsite support and no guarantees in terms of compatibility. In the case of Cryptostorm, for example, users have to seek out crowd-sourced guides on the member forum and hope for the best.

 

NordVPN

VyprVPN and NordVPN both feature dedicated mobile apps with user-friendly interfaces.

Contrast this with a service like ExpressVPN, which not only works across Android and iOS devices, but also features an incredibly easy-to-use mobile app that connects on demand and doesn’t waste a ton of battery life. Golden Frog’s VyprVPN also has great apps for iOS, Android, and a host of other platforms, all of which take the guesswork out of being protected. VPNs that are a pain to use on mobile (or charge extra money to do so) simply aren’t worth your time.

VPN services that didn’t use shared IP systems got cut

Of course, it doesn’t matter how many devices your VPN works on if it’s not keeping your information secure. One way VPNs do this is by using shared, anonymous IP addresses that mix in your internet traffic with other client traffic. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique series of numbers assigned to a computer or gateway to identify it on a network. Every computer has one, and one of the primary goals of a VPN is to hide yours so no one can use it to track you online.

Contenders cut: 33
AlwaysVPN, BartVPN, Bee VPN, Boleh VPN, BTGuard, Buffered VPN, CitizenVPN, Cryptostorm, EarthVPN, Elephant VPN, Faceless.Me, Ghost Path, IPinator, Liquid VPN, NeXTGenVPN, OkayFreedom, Proxify, ProXPN, SecretsLine, Secure Tunnel, SecureVPN.to, Spice VPN, Surf Bouncer VPN, SwissVPN, Unblock US VPN, Unspyable, VikingVPN, VPN.AC, VPN4ALL, VPNBook, VPNMaster, VPNv6, Zen VPN

VPN services that didn’t use shared IP systems got cut

Of course, it doesn’t matter how many devices your VPN works on if it’s not keeping your information secure. One way VPNs do this is by using shared, anonymous IP addresses that mix in your internet traffic with other client traffic. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique series of numbers assigned to a computer or gateway to identify it on a network. Every computer has one, and one of the primary goals of a VPN is to hide yours so no one can use it to track you online.

VPN services tend to offer two different kinds of IP systems: shared and dedicated. In a dedicated IP system, VPN users are assigned a single IP that is unique to them and not shared by any other users. In a shared system, users are assigned multiple IPs that are being used by a large pool of clients at the same time.

Shared IP Systems

Pros Cons
Greater anonymity May be blocked by some sites
Difficult to hack Performance isn’t quite as strong
Generally less expensive

Internet security expert and darknet researcher Bev Robb claims that shared IPs are definitely the way to go if privacy is your main concern. “I would disqualify a VPN service that does not use shared IP systems,” she says, but she takes it a step further than that: “If they don’t clearly state that they use shared, anonymous IP systems, I would be wary.” In Robb’s mind, the goal of any VPN service should be to “blend in with the crowd,” and it’s up to each individual service to ensure that users know how large that crowd is. That’s why we cut services that don’t make it clear that they use shared IP systems, or allow users to switch back and forth between shared and dedicated systems.

Contenders cut: 36
AceVPN, ActiVPN, AzireVPN, Blockless, Global VPN, GoTrusted, GTS VPN, HideIP VPN, Hotspot Shield, Ivacy, Kepard, Liberty VPN, LogMeIn Hamachi, My Private Network VPN, NolimitVPN, PandaPow, Privatoria, SaferVPN, Seed4.Me, ShadeYou, Smart DNS Proxy, SpotFlux, Steganos, Sun VPN, SuperVPN, Switch VPN, Total VPN, Trust.Zone, TunnelBear, VPN Baron, VPN Land, VPN Makers, VPN Tunnel, VPN.ht, VPNinja, WASEL Pro VPN

Not having a VPN kill switch was also a deal breaker.

One of the worst things a VPN can do is allow your true IP address — the one of whichever computer you’re working on — to be exposed online. The whole point of a VPN is to help you stay as anonymous as possible, and it’s obviously not doing that if it isn’t protecting your personal IP address. If you’ve ever wondered how identity theft can happen, this is one of the prime examples. If a hacker manages to track down your true IP address, they may be able to steal your browser information, router information, and details regarding your internet provider — a pretty good “starter kit” for gaining access to your computer’s hard drive. They might even be able to use your IP address to cloak their own illegal activity, meaning you might come home one day to a scowling FBI agent at your door.

When a VPN connection is working properly, this is almost never an issue. But sometimes VPNs get disconnected or fail to work, and that’s when it’s important to have a feature known as a kill switch.

NORD VPN

Screenshot of Kill Switch feature for NordVPN VPN

NordVPN gets points for clearly labeling its Kill Switch and making sure users know when it’s engaged.

Think of the kill switch as a referee observing your internet connection from the sidelines. If there’s any kind of change in your IP address or if the VPN unexpectedly drops, it will blow a whistle and stop the session entirely. Just as a basketball player can’t keep shooting after a foul has been called, your computer won’t be able to connect to the internet until a secure VPN connection has been reestablished.

If you don’t have a kill switch when your VPN drops, you’ll stay connected to the internet and your true IP address will be exposed for all the world to see. Even worse, you might not even know it. “It’s important to know if your connection gets terminated, but it’s just as important to know what the service does in case that happens,” says Robb. “Does the company kill the connection, or do you just hang there with no VPN? You definitely don’t want to be hanging there with no VPN.”

We should note that some services call their kill switch by a different name (Hide My Ass!, a company that knows a thing or two about great names, calls its “Secure IP-Bind Technology”). But to make it into our next round, a VPN service had to have some form of clearly identified kill switch.

Contenders cut: 19
AirVPN, Anonine, Anonymizer, Astrill, BlackVPN, CactusVPN, F-Secure Freedome VPN, FrootVPN, IronSocket, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, OverPlay, PerfectVPN, SecurityKISS, StrongVPN, SurfEasy, TheSafety.US, TigerVPN, UnoTelly UnoVPN, VPN Reactor

We also cut services that rely on a third-party DNS

If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that security is really important when it comes to picking the right VPN service. And one of the biggest security risks we encountered in our research involves DNS.

What is DNS?

DNS (Domain Name System) basically works like a telephone directory for the internet, assigning a unique IP address to each domain name. When you type in the name of a website like Reviews.com and hit “Enter,” your request goes to a DNS server, which then sends you back the IP address that corresponds with that website.

The problem is, not every VPN service runs its own DNS servers. If a VPN service gets its IP addresses from a third-party DNS server that it doesn’t control, that third party could be logging your requests without you (or your VPN service, for that matter) knowing about it.

“A third party could definitely log DNS requests,” warns Robb. “My preference is to go with a VPN provider that owns their own data servers and hosts their own DNS servers.” This protects your web history and ensures that all of your requests remain encrypted, as opposed to sending requests in unencrypted form to a third-party DNS. It’s not enough that a VPN service advertises “no logs” if it uses a third-party DNS such as Google DNS, which happens to be one of the most common third-party DNS solutions out there.

While private DNS servers aren’t totally invulnerable to DNS leakage, they do take away the third-party risk. Services like VyprVPN and ExpressVPN do a great job of explaining the benefits of private, encrypted DNS on their websites, while services like Hide My Ass! automatically resort to third-party DNS servers like OpenDNS without much explanation (VPN Shazam’s disclaimer literally amounts to: “It’s complicated! Just trust us!”). We think “no logs” should really mean “no logs,” so we cut from contention any services that don’t use their own, secure servers.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN’s explanation of why it doesn’t use third-party DNS.

Contenders cut: 9
Hide Me, Hide My Ass, LimeVPN, Noodle VPN, PrivateVPN, PureVPN, TorGuard, VPN Area, VPN Shazam

Finally, we cut any services that didn’t pass our speed test.

Speed is an incredibly important factor in choosing a VPN service, as most VPNs tend to slow down browsing and streaming to some extent. At this stage, we were left with 13 remaining contenders, all of which boast the security of an armored tank. But the problem with most tanks is that they’re slow, and we wanted to find one that drives like a Lamborghini.

For testing purposes, we selected the top 35 websites from the Alexa Top 100. We then used a Terminal-based command known as “curl” to request each of these 35 websites in sequence and get a readout of the average time it took to connect to each site. We repeated this test three times while connected to each VPN. (Note: this test excluded VPN S, which we couldn’t connect to no matter how many times we tried. Needless to say: it was eliminated.)

Because speed is often determined by how far away a particular server is from a computer’s location, we used different servers for each test. IP Vanish, for example, has servers located in Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles, so we tested each once and then took the average of the three. For greater uniformity among our results, we only tested servers in similar locations of the US when possible. We also tested the connection without a VPN multiple times to measure the extent to which each VPN was slowing it down.

 

IVPN and ExpressVPN turned in the most impressive speed results, each showing a less than 10 percent decrease in speed with the VPN connected. In two of its three tests, ExpressVPN even turned in a faster browsing speed than a regular connection, though IVPN showed slightly more consistent results across the board. NordVPN and Private Internet Access also turned in acceptable speed scores, with each slowing down browsing by about 10 percent. The worst speed scores belonged to Proxy.sh, OctaneVPN, and Invisible Browsing VPN, which slowed down speed by more than 60 percent. The latter two didn’t help their cause with unwieldy (or just plain ugly) desktop interfaces.

Though it doesn’t translate to “speed” in the literal sense, we were impressed by ExpressVPN and other services that allow unlimited server switches, as this lets users test out as many services as they want to find the absolute fastest connection during each browsing session.

Contenders cut: 6
Cyberghost, Invisible Browsing VPN, Mullvad, OctaneVPN, Proxy.sh, Slick VPN

Best Overall

 

NordVPN—Reliable, elegant, and secure—all for a reasonable price.

We poked and prodded to find cracks in NordVPN, but we couldn’t find anything that failed to impress us about this simple, elegant, and highly secure VPN service. At $69 for a full year of service, it ranks among the less expensive options (Golden Frog’s VyprVPN, by contrast, can cost as much as $120 per year) but still offers more premium features than just about any other service out there. Users can choose from three encryption methods (PTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN) to further customize their security on desktop and mobile, and a single subscription covers six simultaneous connections. That’s three more than other top contenders like IVPN and Proxy.sh, giving you a perfect excuse to go out and buy those three extra cellphones.

All of that’s great, but what really made us fall in love with NordVPN was actually using it. Connecting to a VPN every time you log onto the internet can seem like a real pain — and with some services it is. VPN S, for example, was never able to establish a stable connection in multiple tries, while OctaneVPN offered up a clunky, confusing desktop interface that reminded us of the ‘90s for all the worst reasons.

But NordVPN’s simple, dedicated mobile app for Android and iOS allows you to establish a secure connection with just a tap of your finger. A lot of VPNs feel like they’re made for coders or even criminals — just check out the cheesy image on SlickVPN’s homepage — but NordVPN offers an inviting, unintimidating interface for all levels of user.

While NordVPN probably won’t give you the fastest speeds possible, we found it to be more than adequate and slightly above average. Our tests indicated a roughly 14 percent decrease in browsing speed, and since we’re talking milliseconds here, that’s a discrepancy most people won’t notice. To sweeten the deal, NordVPN even offers dedicated streaming servers to ensure a faster connection when it really matters. (Note: Reviews.com does not condone illegal streaming or torrenting, but we acknowledge that it’s a feature a lot of people look for in a VPN.)

Finally, NordVPN offers an additional level of security simply because it’s based in Panama and operates under Panamanian jurisdiction. Unlike other countries, Panama has no mandatory data-retention laws, so users can be absolutely sure that the company’s “no logs” promise doesn’t contradict local laws. This isn’t something that most people need to worry about, but it does reinforce the notion that NordVPN protects your information as well as — if not better than — any other service out there.

Oh, and did we mention that it’s pretty to look at? Rather than simply displaying a list of servers and countries, NordVPN presents the user with a beautiful interactive world map that works great on both desktop and mobile. Of course, if you do decide to switch over to the list format, it clearly displays the exact distance of each server so you always know where your best connection will be.

Best for Streaming

ExpressVPN—Consistently the fastest VPN connection we could find.

ExpressVPN

As with NordVPN, we are huge fans of ExpressVPN’s clean, simple desktop and mobile interface, which doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary information, but makes it clear that you’re protected. A large graphic of a padlock clicks into place as soon as you successfully connect to a server, and bold green and red color-coding leave no doubt as to your current state of security.

With an impressive 136 server locations spread out across 87 countries, you’ll be able to find a connection almost anywhere in the world. ExpressVPN allows unlimited server switches, so you’ll be able to test out as many as you’d like to find the fastest connection. And once you do, boy, is that connection fast. ExpressVPN finished at the very top of our speed test, slowing down browsing by less than 10 percent without compromising anything in the way of security (the network is SSL secured with 256-bit encryption).

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN’s desktop app is clean and simple, but even more impressive are its speeds.

Combine high speeds with two of the cleanest desktop and mobile apps we tested, and ExpressVPN is a perfect service for people who prefer not to be reminded by slow connection speeds that they’re using a VPN service. It’s pretty stable at those speeds, too; none of the connections we established were dropped at any point of the test. The only real downside we could find was the price: At nearly $100 per year, ExpressVPN is considerably more expensive than NordVPN, without offering much more. It may be worth it if you use a VPN primarily for streaming and other activities that necessitate super-fast speeds, but otherwise it’s hard to justify paying that much more.

Best If You’re On a Budget

Private Internet Access—Fast, simple, secure—and only $40 a year.

Here’s what you’ll get with Private Internet Access: fast performance, responsive live support, a ton of servers to choose from, and one of the most budget-friendly VPN prices out there. An annual subscription will only set you back $40, or roughly half of NordVPN’s asking price. Basically, this is a VPN that does what it says it’s going to do, and does it on the cheap.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, Private Internet Access does have its deficiencies, some of which might matter to you, and some of which might not. For starters, the app and website aren’t easy on the eyes, and the website especially may confuse users who need more instruction to set up a VPN connection. The site provides a few instructional videos, but if you’re new to using VPN services, they still might leave you a little confused.

PIA VPN

A look at the Windows desktop app for Private Internet Access.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Private Internet Access offers compelling features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and PIA MACE, which automatically blocks ads and malware when engaged. There’s even IPv6 leak protection, which ensures that you stay protected when connecting to an IPv6-enabled website (more on that later).

As you can also see from the screenshot above, this is one ugly and unintuitive app. Users who aren’t already familiar with what to look for might find themselves lost and unsure if they’re connected, so we only recommend Private Internet Access to more experienced users who want a VPN that will run in the background, but not skimp on the truly important stuff, like speed and security.

Did You Know?

It’s easier than you think to get hacked through social media.

Robert Schifreen, the founder of SecuritySmart and an expert on internet security, warns that a VPN won’t help you if you aren’t smart about how you use the internet. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are one area where he sees a real vulnerability.

“If you want to get hacked as a result of using social media, it’s very easy. Just make sure you post loads of personal information. Make it public. And use the same password on your social media accounts as you use everywhere else.”

  • Robert Schifreen

Founder, SecuritySmart

Conversely, you’ll stay much more secure if you don’t post too much info about yourself online. Golbeck agrees, adding that a potential hacker shouldn’t be able to find the answers to your security questions by looking at your profile. “A lot of that data — What elementary school did you go to? What was your pet’s name? — is really easy to get from social media profiles,” she says.

You shouldn’t sweat paying with a credit card — as long as you trust the site.

Because VPN services are so concerned with anonymity, nearly all of them offer the option to pay via PayPal or bitcoin instead of a credit card. This is a nice option to have, but Golbeck says that you shouldn’t be too concerned about paying with a credit card as long as you aren’t doing so on an unsecured WiFi connection. “A credit card is often a good way to pay for things, because in many countries you’re covered if the VPN operation turns out to be a scam,” she notes. None of our top picks are scams, so no worries if you stick to those.

IPv6 leaks may be a cause for concern.

To understand what IPv6 is, it helps to know what IPv4 is. Until quite recently, all IP addresses were defined by the Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4. But when IPv4 addresses started running out around 2011, a new protocol — IPv6 — was created to expand the total available number of web addresses. Because IPv6 is still relatively new, most VPNs don’t do a great job of directing IPv6 traffic through their secure tunnels. This means that, when your browser makes an IPv6 DNS request, it may not be protected by your VPN.

This is referred to as an “IPv6 leak,” and it may compromise your security if and when it occurs. Some VPNs offer the option to disable IPv6 requests in the OS, but if you really want to be sure that you aren’t experiencing IPv6 leakage, test your IPv6 connectivity using test-ipv6.com. The good news is that most VPNs, including all of our top picks, are in the process of adding IPv6 support, and this problem should be temporary. It’s hard to say when IPv6 will be fully deployed, but it now accounts for about 13 percent of internet users. Google continuously updates a chart that shows the percentage of users accessing the site over IPv6, and that’s as good an indicator as any.

You’ll probably never be totally secure, so act accordingly.

No level of encryption or security feature is enough to keep you totally free from being spied on, so don’t treat the internet like it’s your own personal playground. The best a VPN can do is make it much harder for hackers to see your activity, and that’s usually more than enough for most people. But if you happen to be a journalist with sensitive information or a person that the National Security Agency (NSA) is targeting, don’t bet on a VPN protecting you. “If you’re a target, they’ll be able to get at you,” cautions Golbeck, who warns that some hackers or agencies might even resort to physically stealing your computer. If you do suspect that you’re being individually targeted, think twice before trusting your fate to a VPN and ignoring other security measures, including everything from malware protection to physical locks.

The Bottom Line

While there’s no such thing as “total anonymity” online, a VPN is an essential internet security tool that can shield you from prying eyes while surfing the web on a public WiFi connection or even an unsecured home WiFi connection. Most VPNs compromise security in favor of speed or vice versa, but the best of them find a way to deliver both at a price that won’t break the bank.

Take Action

Always check to see if you’re using a secure http connection. Even without a VPN, there’s one super-easy way to see if your connection is secure. When logging onto email or using a social media site like Facebook, look at the URL and make sure there’s a green lock followed by “https” at the front. It should look like this:

This means you’re connected through a secure http connection, which ensures that a website is only sending you encrypted information. “If you’re on a site and it’s not secure, just put that ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the address bar, and on a lot of sites it will switch you over to a secure encrypted connection,” says Golbeck. “It’s a really simple little step that anybody can do, but you don’t know to look for it unless somebody has told you.”

Invest in a great antivirus, password manager, and other security tools. As we’ve tried to reiterate throughout this article, a VPN is not enough on its own. The best internet security plan also protects against malware and includes tools ranging from a password manager to an online backup service. If you’re using Chrome, Golbeck also recommends using the Do Not Track extension so that third-party advertisers can’t track your activity across the web.

Look out for warrant canaries and changes in your VPN’s privacy policy. On the internet, what’s true today might not be true tomorrow. This is why some sites regularly publish a “warrant canary,” or a declaration that no warrants have been served to them that may compromise your security. Here’s what IVPN’s looks like. Not every site publishes a warrant canary, and it’s a good idea to re-read your VPN’s privacy policy about once a month to see if it has changed in any meaningful way. Chances are it hasn’t, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Thanks again to Reviews.com for allowing me to share this in-depth article with my readers. The original review can be seen here.

The post The Top Three VPN Services appeared first on Ken Kaminesky Travel Photography Blog.

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Ten Awesome Reasons to Visit and Photograph Jordan!

Visit Petra, An Ancient Metropolis

The Monastery in Petra with stars

The Monastery with a star filled sky in Petra

This is the first thing that people think of when they hear the words visit Jordan, and rightfully so. Petra is one of the world’s most incredible archaeological sites and dates back two thousand years. Carved into the rose, red, and white sandstone this incredible city was–quite astonishingly– lost to the western world for centuries.

Petra was the capital of the Nabataean empire from the third century BCE to the second century AD. One of the most incredible facts about Petra is that only 15% of the city has so far been uncovered. New finds are happening all the time and with 85% of the area still to be excavated, I wonder what other hidden treasures lie beneath the surface of the red sand.

If you’re looking for world-class photography opportunities, Petra offers some of my all time favourite spots like the Monastery (the Deir) pictured above and the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) pictured below. My photo tour in Jordan is the only one in the world that offers after hour access to these incredible spots within the Unesco World Heritage site. This permits our guests to get photos just like these!

candlelight Petra by night ceremony

The candlelight Petra by night ceremony

Petra

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,

by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;

But from the rock as if by magic grown,

eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!

Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,

where erst Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,

that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;

But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,

that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,

a rose-red city half as old as time.

This poem by John William Burgon won Burgon Oxford University’s prestigious Newdigate Prize for Poetry in 1845.

 

Step Back In Time To The Roman Empire

The Greco-Roman Ruins of Jerash

The Greco-Roman Ruins of Jerash

Jordan truly has one of the richest histories of any country on the planet and Jerash is one of those places that has more stories to tell than most countries in the world. Evidence of settlements dating back to the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC) has been found in the region of Jerash.

Here you will find some of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins on Earth and the excavation of the site that began in the 1920s continues to this day. Some of the ruins that you’ll find here include:

• Numerous Corinthian columns

• Hadrian’s Arch

• The circus/hippodrome

• The two large temples (dedicated to Zeus and Artemis)

• The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade,

• The long collonnaded street or cardo

• Two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre)

• Two communal baths, and a scattering of small temples

• A large Nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct

• An almost complete circuit of city walls

• A water powered sawmill for cutting stone

After the Greeks and Romans had their turns ruling the area, Jerash then it as the turn of the Christians and Muslims. From the fifth to seventh centuries Jerash saw over a dozen churches built and many of them had spectacular mosaic floors which are still being uncovered by archeologists.

In 749 AD an earthquake hit the region and destroyed large areas of Jerash, leaving the ruins covered under soil and sand for centuries. Over a millennia later German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen discovered the ruins while on a research expedition. Today, Jerash has become the second most visited historic archeological site in Jordan.

Camp With Bedouins

Sunrise walk with our Bedouin guide and faithful companions

One of my all time favourite things to do in Jordan is camp—or in this case glamp—with the local Bedouin people in the vast Wadi Rum desert.

This unique experience allows you to do participate in some exciting events like hot air ballooning, camel riding, and desert jeep rides that you’ll never forget. The cool thing for photography enthusiasts is that all of these things allow you to get incredible photos that you friends will be jealous of.

Imagine seeing the desert from high above as you glide effortlessly and silently in a beautiful balloon or riding on a camel like they did for millennia on the spice road caravan route. Top it all off with desert sunset photoshoots and epic Bedouin fare for dinner and you’ll see why this is an experience not to be missed!

Camping with the Bedouin in luxury tents is one of the experiences that my guests on my Jordan photo tour rave about afterwards. I like to think of the experience as an unexpected treasure.

“The desert could not be claimed or owned–it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names… Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape.”

~ Michael Ondaatje

Float In A Giant Salt Lake

Cloud like salt formations on the banks of the Dead Sea

Cloud like salt formations on the banks of the Dead Sea

Visiting the Dead Sea is one of the most memorable travel experiences in my life, for several reasons. Where to begin?

To start, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder. What makes it so special? I’m glad you asked!

The water in the Dead Sea is incredibly salty. In fact, the salinity level of the water is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean and the sixth saltiest body of water on Earth. (Fun fact: The most saline body of water on the planet is actually Don Juan Pond in Antarctica with a salinity level of over 40%.)

The Dead Sea is over 400m (1,312 ft.) below sea level. This makes it the lowest point on the face of the planet.

Dead Sea salts and minerals like the famous Dead Sea mud have been used for millennia to treat skin ailments. The salts also make for ethereal photographs, especially when using neutral density filters.

But the coolest thing about the Dead Sea is the fact that you can float effortlessly on the water. I’ve done it several times and each time is like the first… absolutely awesome!

Here are a few tips for floating in the Dead Sea…

• Wear water shoes or at least sandals. The bottom of the sea is rough and jagged in many places and you could cut your feet if you’re not careful

• When you get to the shore at the resort you’re staying at, look for the huge pots of mineral mud and slather it all over yourself. Trust me, this will make your skin soft as silk once it washes off in the salty water.

• Don’t shave for at least 24-48 hours before entering the Dead Sea. Any nicks, cuts, or abrasions will sting like crazy. You’ll get a much better understanding of the idiom “Pouring salt on their wounds”.

• Relax and slowly immerse yourself into the water, especially if this is your first time. You do not want to get water in your mouth… yuk! Even more so, do not dunk your head in as you do not want to get water in your eyes… trust me, ouch!!

• Wear old bathing suits. Why risk ruining that fancy new one you just bought?

• Shower quickly after exiting the water.

 

Eat Exotic Jordanian Foods

The spice market in Amman

While in Jordan, you’ll hopefully eat traditional local foods that you’ll wish you could get back home. Sure there’s the traditional Mediterranean and Arabic type food that you’ll find on menus everywhere like hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, shish kebab, and shawarma, but allow me to share some of the lesser known treats that you’re in store for.

Moutabel is a yummy roasted eggplant dish similar to baba ganoush but with a twist. One of the main ingredients in moutabel is yoghurt.

Another delectable Jordanian dipping dish is labneh, also a yoghurt based dish. This is a breakfast treat that is served with bread and dipping veggies.

Kousa Mahshi is a unique Jordanian dish made of zucchini stuffed with ground meat, onions, and spices.

Mujadara is a tasty mix of rice, lentils, and cumin based spices. Once cooked the dish can be garnished with caramelized onions and pine nuts. Simple but oh so delicious.

As a main course, my favourite Jordanian delicacy is mansaf. It’s basically the national dish of Jordan and for good reason. Mansaf is unique not just in the preparation but also in how one eats it. The dish consists of rice, lamb, and jameed. Jameed is a Jordanian gravy consisting of hard dry laban (yoghurt) made from goat’s milk.The kicker is that you eat mansaf with your hands. On our Jordan photo adventure, we get the chance to eat with a local family who prepares their national dish for us with pride. They also make sure that they show us the proper technique of eating the rice dish with our hands. Don’t worry, if you don’t get it right the first time, there’s a lot more mansaf where that came from!

Walk on Mars, Hollywood style

The Mars like red rocks and sand of Wadi Rum

The Mars-like red rocks and sand of Wadi Rum

The relatively inhospitable and vast Wadi Rum desert in the middle of Jordan is home to very few people other than the few thousand Bedouin nomads who have claimed the desert as a home for centuries.

Being so vast and otherworldly… and red, have made Wadi Rum the perfect setting for many Hollywood movies, many of which take place on Mars or other planets.

Here are some of those movies:

  • Red Planet starring Val Kilmer
  • Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott
  • The Last Days on Mars starring Liev Schreiber
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen directed by Michael Bay
  • The Martian starring Matt Damon
  • Star Wars: Rogue One directed by Gareth Edwards

Tour Amman, The Ancient Capital

Heavenly sunbeams over Amman

Amman is a mix of old and new… very old and very new. The city was actually originally called Philadelphia. As far as Middle Eastern cities go, Amman is open, liberal, welcoming and safe. It’s also the largest city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with a population of more than four million.

The Jordanian people are incredibly welcoming and also very charitable when it comes to taking in hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and since the Syrian war broke out in 2011 many Syrians have made Amman their home.

The city lies on land that has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic times dating back to around 7,500 BCE. During the times of Greek occupation during the era of Alexander the Great, many new cities in the middle east were founded including what we now call Amman. At that time though the city was named Philadelphia in honor of  Ptolemy II Philadelphus the Macedonian ruler of Egypt, who occupied and rebuilt the city, and named it after himself. Nice fact… Philadelphia in Greek means the city of brotherly love.

Today the city is a vibrant mix of older historic buildings, ruins, and landmarks alongside more modern architecture that keeps popping up as the city quickly expands and evolves into its current incarnation.

This is a city of rich culture, wonderful food, and deep history.

“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

~ Jalaluddin Rumi

 Explore Dana Biosphere Reserve

Fiery sunset in the tranquil Dana Biosphere Reserve

While Jordan is well known for such incredible places s Petra, Jerash, the Dead Sea, and Wadi Rum, don’t overlook the Dana Biosphere Reserve!

When we visit this jewel of a place, we do it in style with a green touch. On a small plot of land kissing the border of the Dana Biosphere Reserve lies one of the top rated Eco-Lodges (by Nat Geo Traveler) in the world and I absolutely love it.  Everything that is used at the Feynan Eco-Lodge is locally sourced, from the delectable vegetarian fare to the candle wax used to keep the lodge lit in the evenings. There is no electricity other than a small generator for emergencies and a few solar panels for the very basic necessities.

This is a wonderful place to contemplate, relax, meditate in a serene environment. The hotel staff are warm and hospitable members of the local Bedouin community that still live the nomadic lifestyle as they follow their goats as they graze in different areas of Dana. We get a chance to visit them in their tented homes and take part in a traditional tea ceremony, go for a sunset nature walk and photo-shoot, and eat some of the best vegetarian food you could imagine.This is one place that you’ll want to go for seconds!

With such tranquillity at night and being so far from civilization, you’ll be hypnotized by the starry skies as well as the shimmering candle light as you walk around the lodge or turn into your elegant room for the most relaxing night of sleep you could imagine.

If it sounds as if I like the Feynan experience, you’d be dead wrong… I don’t like it, I love it!

A Peaceful Haven In The Middle East

Actor staging a reenactment of a scene from the Arab revolt of 1916-1918

Actor staging a reenactment of a scene from the Arab revolt of 1916-1918

While many westerners tend to think of the Middle East as a war ravaged part of the world that is beset by violence and conflict, Jordan will prove to be the exception to that rule.

I’ve never heard the word “welcome” more than when I’m in Jordan. It starts at the airport and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll hear it several times a day from different people as your days unfolds. This is a welcoming country with hospitable, proud, and passionate people. Even if the people you meet do not speak English, they at least know the word “welcome” and will make sure that you feel welcomed in their country or even their home.

I’ve never once felt any cause for fear or panic in Jordan. I can honestly say that you’re far safer in Jordan than in many places in the United States or other western countries. There is no war going on in Jordan. In fact, the Jordanian people have welcomed millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees into their country in hopes of making their lives better and giving their children a chance to grow up in a place without fear, hatred, or violence. We could all learn something from the Jordanians who live by the golden rule…

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The People

Just one of the friendly faces from my time in Jordan

In my many visits to the beautiful country of Jordan, I’ve always been blown away by the natural beauty and history of the land. That being said, the thing that impressed me the most though was the kindness of the people.

Do not be fooled by the seemingly gruff exterior of some of the men you’ll meet as once they get to know you, you will be welcomed with open arms, a brilliant smile, and a warm embrace. Our local guides are the absolute best and help us make sure that the photos we take are associated with wonderful and meaningful stories that we live on our Jordanian odyssey. The passion for their country is palpable and contagious and when you listen to the meaning or narrative of the places they are describing, your photos of that place will become far more precious to you.

Not only are the people I work with in Jordan a pleasure to deal with but the people we meet as our journey progresses are often good fodder for portraits and candid photos. Just be aware that women should not be photographed without permission, especially in Bedouin communities where tradition runs deep.

More often than not, where we eat or stop for tea, the owners of the establishments will come and speak with our group to make sure that we are satisfied, well fed, and well informed about the fare we are eating. Whether it is Bedouin Zarb for dinner or the national dish Mansaf prepared by a local family, our meals have meaning and are prepared with love.

On my first trip to Jordan, I remember being in Amman and looking for a good perspective to get a wide angle photo of the city from a high vantage point. I wandered around like a lost puppy, searching for that ideal vantage point. In my confusion, I ended up in someone’s back yard all the while thinking that I was on public property. An old woman came rushing out of her home into the yard and looked at me up and down with a judgemental gaze and for a moment I thought that I was in trouble. After explaining to her what I was doing, half in English, half in pantomime pointing to my camera and tripod, she smiled and rushed back indoors. Not sure what to make of this and not knowing if I should stay or go, I decided to wait. To my delight, once she re-emerged, she did so with a plate of cookies and a big pot of tea and two delicate porcelain teacups.

That is how I’ll always remember the people of Jordan and I welcome you to find out for yourself just what a special part of the world Jordan truly is.

“Unexpected and pleasant surprises occur every day…random kindnesses from a stranger; would-be tragic accidents narrowly avoided; sicknesses healed…. We will notice if we look. We will see good sprinkled liberally over every day if we are open.”

~ Steve Goodier

 

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