"Now I am kind of just trying to figure out what the paid ones have over the free ones. I mean I certainly don't mind paying if it will keep me safe, but if a free one does the same thing as a paid one then that seems like the obvious choice."
Very infrequently, but a couple of times I've seen ads for a VPN that offers "lifetime" service for not a lot of money. I bit on one of those, and have had mixed feelings about the result. Mostly I keep the thing off, as it's one that's ad-driven but the ads can be turned off by paying the fee. But these guys keep seeming to forget that I'm paid and I have to tediously figure out how to login again, and the ads are particularly intrusive and annoying --- so I won't recommend what I use.
I think it matters a lot whether you're a very light user (like me), or anticipate using it a lot. Using it only for traveling, or for local use too, such as using a device in a local library or coffee shop or whatever?
Of course there are different sites out there that will rate the best VPN app/service combos, and they might or might not rate them on the factors that matter most to you. For example, it's not super important to me to be able to spoof Netflix into thinking that I'm in a different country so that I can access videos that are normally not available in the country they figure out I'm in from my IP address. But this is a feature that matters to some people.
Sorry I don't have a simple answer for you here. If you come up with an app/service that you like, please share your experience --- as I think this is a potential issue for everyone that travels.