Forget about VPN, first the basics.
For console access,
Follow the steps on this videos,
Remember if you are going to use the USB method you have to install a driver in the laptop/pc.
Report back if you are successfull, then we are going to take it a step further
For remote connectivity to your lab at home you have two options: (1) SSH to a PC that is connected (and configured) to your router(s) via USB-to-serial cable, or (2) buy an access router 2509/2511.
The simplest way to copy config files between routers is to use a TFTP server as intermediary, and use copy run tftp://188.8.131.52/cfg.txt or similar. You can also configure one of the routers as TFTP server.
I would advise you to go for CCENT before CCNA only if that will give you an immediate benefit (like a promotion at work). Otherwise, go straight for CCNA if that's your aim.
I wouldnt think that CCENT is as widely acknowledged as a CCNA at all. That said, it is still a certificate, and validation that you have the knowledge and skill required to pass the syllabus. So it can only be a good thing.
1 composite CCNA exam, or the ICND1 & ICND2 track? It depends on your own situatiuon, learning speed, previous knowledge and exam skill, because the composite exam will have a larger breadth of knowledge required, and that in itself is going to add pressure.
At the end of the day a CCNA is a CCNA, no matter what route you took to get there, I dont think one router is more benifical, or looks better, than the other route to an employer.
I took the two exam approach, I found that suited me in terms of my own study technique, family/work commitments, and I'd rather split the topics into two sections than go for one big exam. It paid off, I passed both ICND1 & 2 first time I took them.
Hope this helps,