Linux Journal has a nice article on Eleven SSH Tricks. These, of course, work on OS X as well. If you're an OS X user, you may not be all that interested in the first one, X11 forwarding, but skip that one and read the rest.
I've used SSH for years for securing remote sessions and copying operations. I've never used it for port forwarding, but I may play with that a little. BYU doesn't offer VPNs for faculty and I've never bothered to set one up myself. Port forwarding would take care of some of the little things I worry about when I'm traveling.