My work takes me to a number of places with WiFi connection. I want to be able to encrypt the traffic between my laptop and the internet. Can I do this with a VPN server? What is the best way to get this done? Is there a secure and reliable service that will help me do this? This is fairly important and might be shared by upto 2 people at a time. Is it better to get a server setup on a cloud hosting solution? Amazon?
You could set up an end-to-end encryption solution between your laptop and another computer in a trusted network using a VPN. If you're trying to protect your connection from people who may be intercepting data at, say, a coffee house or hotel, this is your best bet.
I personally set up SSH tunnels to encrypt email connections to a system I trust, as web browsing generally has SSL certs protecting the web banking and things of that nature, and other web browsing is boring stuff that anyone watching probably wouldn't care about. If you're not system savvy, though, SSH forwarding is probably not the option for you.
Otherwise, we use a Cisco VPN solution with a Cisco client on the laptop.
If you share your wifi connection or wired connection to route someone else since you said that are 2 people at a time, they would need to protect the connection with some sort of VPN as well unless they are directly wired to your laptop and you are then forwarding traffic through your VPN.
There are free solutions available like FreeSWAN. Try googling for articles on ipsec and free VPN solutions as this will depend on what you have available to you for what options you can choose. Linux? OS X? Windows? Are you going to terminate your connection at the employer? At your home? You have to set up port forwarding and encryption on the server/router you're configuring at the end point as well.
Also remember that after your data hops out of the endpoint, it's no longer encrypted. You may be safe just from your laptop to your end server. Sniffing traffic on the end point computer or something within that network can see everything you're trying to hide. You're also imposing a processing overhead to deal with encryption as well as routing, if you're routing ALL your web browsing as through a proxy on the other side of your connection.
If you're really worried...you don't state the nature of your work or where you're going...you can look up TOR, The Onion Router, I believe it's called. Very slow, but it's made to obfuscate and protect people who are worried about things like being killed for having an opinion, such as dissidents in China. It routes traffic through multiple hops all over the world before the traffic emerges to get a web page and suck it back to your system.
https://xerobank.com/ offer a fully encrypted web connection for a monthly fee.
They also have a free trial period to check it out.
There are some services which will give you a VPN to connect to for accessing from hotspots. It should get your traffic out of the wireless hotspot securely. But after that you would have to trust the provider. In the long term it's probably best to setup your own VPN if you have the knowledge and equipment to do so.