How to pick the perfect laptop for your travels

best travel laptop for your next vacation

Do you want to travel the world forever? Well my friends, the best way to stay on the road is to build an online income and for that – you need a travel friendly laptop. When I first hit the road, I travelled without a phone, a camera or a travel laptop but these days I carry all three. My laptop has literally changed my life – not only can I earn money online but I can also stream Game of Thrones, and I think we can all agree that that’s pretty damn important.

When choosing the best travel laptop, it’s important to consider which specs will optimise your digital experience. First consider what is the best type of laptop for your travel style, and how you plan to use your laptop for travel.

I live on the road full-time, and it’s important for me to have the best travel laptop for the job. For me, this means a custom built Mac with extra storage so I can save thousands of documents, videos, playlists and more onto my desktop without messing around with a portable hard drive. There are a lot of laptops out there and it can be a bit of a minefield so I’ve put together this ultimate guide on the most versatile laptops, the most cost-efficient laptops, the best laptop for blogging and digital nomads and, of course, the best budget laptop on the market.

Quick answer: The best portable travel laptops

best on the go laptop on desk

There are two types of people in this world. Mac and PC users. Which one are you?

What Type of Traveller Are You?

“The best travel laptop” is a pretty broad statement since there are many different types of travellers. If you aren’t planning on using your travel laptop for online work, you don’t necessarily need to splash out on a top of the range laptop. Bloggers and digital nomads, for example, are going to have completely different priorities to a casual backpacker, who isn’t working remotely.

What will you use your laptop for? Will you be working on the road (writing, editing, etc.), or mainly surfing the web? Do you expect to save large files on a hard drive (photos, videos, etc.), or just stream online?

Do you need the processing power to run multiple editing programs, or is your prime concern staying connected to social media?

Are you travelling with minimal room in your backpack?

The best travel laptop for backpackers is going to be completely different to the best laptop for travel and work, or the best laptop for a travelling photographer, for example. Never fear amigos, I’m going to cover them all…

What Specs to Consider Before Buying the Best Travel Laptop:

Once you’ve identified what type of traveller you are, you can choose what is the best travel laptop for your unique travel style!

1) Price

Price is probably the most important factor when choosing the best laptop for travelling. Unless you are working online, you really don’t need to spend $1000+ to get the best travel laptop. There are several cheap travel laptops and mid-range options that are great laptops for travel. Remember that high value items, such as a top of the range laptop, are often hard to claim for on insurance.

2) Portability

Portability is especially essential for the on-the-go, minimal traveller, and an important factor to consider when choosing the best laptop for travel.

You want something light so that your backpack doesn’t end up weighing too much (As we say in the hiking world, ounces add pounds and pounds add pain!). If you haven’t yet picked up a backpack for your trip, check out this post for plenty of backpack inspiration. 

Your travel laptop’s size is also important (usually correlating with weight) to easily pull your computer in/out of your bag at the TSA security line, etc. The smallest travel laptops and tablets have less storage space and processing power, but they are also cheap and highly portable.

3) Battery Life

It’s always nice to have a reliable battery life, especially if you are taking your laptop up into the mountains. The best laptops for travel have at least 8 hours of battery life, and some can last for an entire day. If you are spending a lot of time off the grid and still need access to your laptop then consider picking up a portable battery capable of charging a laptop.

Quick travel tip: make sure your wi-fi and blue tooth are turned off (when you’re not using them) to save battery!

4) Storage Space

Most of the top travel laptops (with ample battery life and affordability) lack a large amount of storage space, and if you’re going to store a lot of photos and videos from your travels, it’s important to have ample hard drive space!

I’ve found it’s well worth investing in a cloud drive and/or an external hard drive, especially since photos and videos take up a lot of room. This way you don’t have to sacrifice laptop portability for storage space on the actual laptop. My first travel laptop, a MacBook Air, didn’t have too much storage space so I kept a lot of my photos and videos on Dropbox and stored my movies on a nearly bulletproof portable hard drive.

Typical external drives with 1 terabyte cost around $80 USD, and cloud storage (through Google, Dropbox Microsoft, etc.) average around $10 a month. It’s also important to back up your files in case your travel laptop gets stolen (like my friend Ana’s did in Costa Rica)!

5) Processing Power

If you are running editing programs and high-resolution videos, you should also prioritise the processing power.

The CPU is like the “brain” of your computer. At the moment, Intel Core i7 is the highest performer, but also the most expensive. Intel Core i5 should work for most of the best travel computers, and anything older is fine if you’re just surfing the web.

A separate graphics chip allows gamers, 3D designers, and high-res video editors to run their programs without taking up a ton of RAM and slowing the overall performance of the computer. An integrated graphics chips (one that shares system memory) is just fine if you don’t have these needs.

If you want a separate graphics chip, keep in mind Apple only puts separate graphics chips in their MacBook Pro 15in computers. The 15 inch MacBooks are more expensive, and in my opinion, anything over 13 inches is too large to be considered one of the best laptops to travel with.

6) Do you prefer Mac, PC, or Chrome OS?

Most laptops run one of these three operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS, or Mac OS X (for MacBooks only).

Windows notebooks offer the largest range of options for the best travel laptop. The newest window computers offer cool features like touch screens, 2-1 convertible tablets, fingerprint readers, and dual graphics chips.

Mac’s newest operating system, MacOS Sierra, comes with all Apple computers. Once you get the hang of Apple’s programs and trackpad/keyboard short cuts, Mac is the best user-friendly laptop (in my opinion) for the average person who knows nothing about computer engineering or coding. Macs are expensive, but also reliable, which is important when you are travelling around the world and don’t have time/money to take a computer in for repairs.

Chrome-OS is Google OS’ – simple and secure operating system, usually available on small portable laptops. The drawback? It’s mainly limited to surfing the web, checking email, and navigating social networks, not doing stuff offline. Still, ChromeBooks are the best cheap and light laptops for the minimal traveller.

best laptop for travel in a digital nomad setup

Is a MacBook the best travel laptop for you?

Conclusion? Most travellers are going to need to prioritize versatility, weight, battery life, and price when picking the best travel laptop. Digital nomads and travellers working remotely are going to need powerful laptops for travel to handle multi-tasking and intensive programs.

Reviews for Best Budget Friendly Travel Laptops (under $300)

If you’re looking for a cheap travel laptop, the obvious choice is a Chromebook or low-end Windows systems. I’ve listed the best travel notebooks for the budget conscious or minimal traveller below.

Product:Price:Size:Weight:Battery Life:RAM Space:Storage Space:
LeNovo IdeaPad$23411.6 Inch1.15 kg9 Hours2 GB32 GB
Samsung ChromeBook 3$19411.6 Inch1.1 Kg7 Hours2 GB16 GB eMMC
Acer Chromebook
$20811.6 Inch1.1 kg9 hours2 GB16 GB

 

Top Pick – Best Budget Travel Laptop – Lenovo Idea Pad 110S

The Lenovo is one of the best ultra lightweight laptops in this price range. This Windows OS laptop has 9 hours of battery life, a nice design, and is one of the most affordable light laptops for travel. The performance is good enough for web surfing, editing documents, and viewing movies. The keyboard and touchpad’s quality, however, is less than subpar.

Overall, this is a cheap laptop and the best travel laptop for the minimal traveller, who wants to stream online and run basic programs. This is probably not adequate for anybody who needs to work online.

best travel laptop Lenovo Idea Pad

Lenovo IdeaPad is one of the best small and cheap laptops for travel

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Other Great Budget Laptops for Travel:

1. Samsung Chromebook

The Samsung Chromebook 3 offers a decent design, long battery life, touchscreen, and a hybrid hinge that turns it into a tablet, and is the lightest Chromebook on this list. Unlike other ChromeBooks, this one is using the sister system, Chromebook Plus, that allows you to download android apps and use them offline, making it a great Chromebook for travel.

best tiny laptops Samsung Chromebook

The Samsung Chromebook is a great backpacking laptop

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2. Acer Chromebook

The Acer Chromebook is one of the better budget lightweight laptops on the market. The laptop has ultra portability, a comfortably sized keyboard, and a touchscreen. The downside is it does feel very “cheap” with a plastic like frame. At 1.1 Kg and 11.6 inches, this is one of the best budget laptops for surfing the internet, and a great option if you’re looking for a small, portable laptop that doesn’t eat your bank account.

budget lightweight laptops Acer Chromebook

Great choice and best budget Chromebook

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Reviews for Best Mid-Range Travel Laptops (~$1200 or under)

For under $1000, you should be able to find the best travel laptop for many of the specs that matter most to the average traveler: weight, portability, and reliability. If you are willing to spend a couple hundred more, the top pick may be the best travel laptop for you.

Product:Price:Size:Weight:Battery Life:RAM Space:Storage Space:
Dell XPS 13"$1,22013.3 inch1.23 kg14 hours8GB256GB
MacBook Air$84713.3 inch1.35 kg10 hours8GB128 GB
Asus Zenbook$69913.3 inch1.4 kg8 hours8GB256GB

Note: I’ve listed the starting price tags for minimal storage and power since the price is an important factor for travellers. If you want more, you have to pay more!

Top Pick – Best Midrange Travel Laptop – Dell XPS 13″

The Dell XPS is the best laptop for travel because of its superb battery life, 7th-generation Core performance and excellent Wi-Fi range. I love that it has more ports than on competing laptops, as well as an SD port. It also has a touch-screen higher-resolution option (for a bit more weight and quite a bit more money).

As for its design, the Dell XPS has a comfortable soft-touch, carbon-fibre deck, infinity display, and rose-colour option.

Often the trade off for a thin, best ultralight laptop is shorter battery life and too few ports. The XPS 13, however, gives you nearly 14 hours of battery power, and all the connection options you need while also remaining pretty light and compact for travel.

If you are a PC user, the Dell XPS 13″ is the best travel computer within the $1000 range. Though if you want more memory than 256MB, or an i7 processor, you will have to pay more money.

easy to use laptops Dell XPS

One of the best travel notebooks

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Other Great Mid-range Laptops for Travel:

1. MacBook Air

If you’re an Apple user, this is Apple’s best travel laptop for its price and this was the first laptop I took travelling which was adequate for working online.

The pros (as with any MacBook) are its integration with apple products, ease-of-use, trackpad and keyboard, design, and reliable performance. I’ve used MacBooks for 7 years now (my first one from 2010 is still kickin’), and I’ve never needed repairs (except to replace an old battery). I can’t say the same for any of the PCs I’ve owned, which is why I think Macs are the best user friendly laptops if you don’t have a computer background.

If you want a MacBook for browsing, streaming, social, and office, the MacBook Air is fast enough, especially with 2017’s updated processor speed and default memory (4gb to 8gb). But if you want a Retina resolution screen, “Kaby Lake” processors, and more power for editing programs, you’ll have to fork out the money for a MacBook Pro.

I recommend you go for as much storage as you can afford if you plan on storing music, images or video because you can’t add storage to Apple computers after purchase. If your laptop is used for browsing and light document work (Excel, Word, etc.) the 128GB should be fine.

best traveling laptop MacBook Air

Apple’s most affordable laptop for travel

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2. Asus ZenBook

For the newest ZenBook 3, you get what you pay for. This is a light weight, incredibly thin laptop with a sharp screen for watching movies and solid audio for listening to music, but you trade in battery life for the weight, and there is only one port for data and charging.

Still, for $699 the Asus is a solid option on our list for the best laptops to travel with.

best computer for travel Asus ZenBook

Asus Zenbook 3 is a great laptop for travel!

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Reviews for Best 2-1 Travel Laptops

Product:Price:Size:Weight:Battery life:RAM Space:Storage Space:
Microsoft Surface Pro 4$65912.3 Inch1.29 kg (w/o keyboard)13 hours4 GB128 GB
Levono Yoga 910$1,24914 Inch1.4 kg10 hours8 GB256 GB
Dell XPS (2-1)$84413.3 Inch1.29 kg9 hours4 GB256 GB

Note: I have listed the starting price for the storage space available. Often you can add more storage space for a higher price.

2-1 Travel Laptops are travel tablets that can be converted into full laptops. Unlike conventional tablets, they’re made to be used offline and can run computer programs. Moreover, unlike with normal tablets, 2-1’s allow you to upload data (music, videos, photos, documents).

Just keep in mind, they rarely have enough storage space for a lot of videos and photos. A 2-1 tablet/laptop isn’t the best laptop for GoPro users or videographers either since they cannot run intensive video editing programs without sacrificing performance and speed.

Top Pick – Best 2-1 Travel Laptop – Microsoft Surface Pro 4

This is one of the top travel laptops out there because of its versatility and price range compared to the competition. However, the biggest drawback is that the Surface Pro Keyboard must be bought separately (and costs an extra $120)!

The Surface Pro can easily function as an ebook reader, travelling tablet, sketchpad, and video player all-in-one, making it the best tablet for travel, hands down. Plus, I can say from experience that it has awesome resolution and a sharp screen, making it great for watching movies on a plane/bus/train.

Its most stand out features are its touch screen and surface pen stylus. The pen has been tested by comic artists and graphic designers for its accuracy and real-feel! (The pen even learns your handwriting!)

The device doesn’t have as much storage space or processing power as its sister product, the Surface Book, so an external drive is crucial! Though you can upgrade to 256MB or 512MB, it will make the surface pro significantly more expensive.

The Surface Pro 4 is the best tablet for travel, and with the keyboard one of the most versatile laptops for travel. If you love the Surface Pro, but want a full-time laptop, check out the Microsoft Surface Book below.

small light laptops for travel Surface Pro

Surface Pro 4 and the innovative Stylus Pen

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Other Great 2-1 Laptops for Travel:

1. Lenovo Yoga 910

An alternative to the Surface Pro and one of the best tablets for travel is another hybrid with cool features like a fingerprint sensor. At 1.4kg (3.09lbs), the Yoga 910 is a heavier than most 2-1s, but also has more storage space to start, an all-metal finish, the latest Kaby Lake processors (i7), and 14in HD display.

It’s reasonably well-priced for a hybrid of this quality, but there is a cheaper, more basic version called the Lenovo Yoga 710 if you’re trying to save some cash. The 910, however, is the best no-compromise option for work and pleasure making it one of the best laptops for travel.

best laptop for travel blogging Lenovo Yoga

Lenovo Yoga 910 is a user friendly laptop!

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2. Dell XPS 13 (2-1)

The original Dell XPS (listed below) began as an ultrabook. They took the flagship model and applied it to this brand new 2-1 hybrid! The Dell XPS 2-1 has more ports than competing laptops and impressive audio. However, its battery life isn’t as long as the competitors.

The Dell XPS is pretty pricey for a 2-1 laptop as well. Unless you’re set on a 2-1 tablet/laptop, you’re better off getting the original Dell XPS, which is rated as one of the top travel laptops.

powerful small laptop Dell XPS

Dell’s Convertible Laptop

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Reviews for Best High End Travel Laptops:

If you can afford a notebook above $1200, or have to bite the bullet because of work, these laptops are going to be fantastic options because they have powerful processors, larger storage space, and better quality build. These are the best laptops for travelling photographers, videographers, laptop bloggers, etc., but not necessary for the average traveller.

Product:Price:Size:Weight:Battery Life:RAM Space:Storage Space:
MacBook Pro$1,799 (w/touch bar)
$1,299 (w/o touch bar)
13.3 inch1.37 kg10 Hours8 GB128GB to start (w/o touchbar)
256GB to start (w/touchbar)
12 Inch MacBook$1,26912 Inch0.92 kg12 Hours8 GB512 GB
Microsoft Surface Book$1,49913.5 Inch1.52 kg10 Hours8 GB 128 GB

Note: I’ve listed the starting price tags for minimal storage and Intel processors since the price is an important spec for travellers. If you want something more powerful, you have to pay more!

Top Pick for Best High End Travel Laptop – MacBook Pro w/ Touch Bar – (& MacBook Pro w/o Touch Bar)

I will start out by saying, the MacBook Pro is the most expensive travel computer I am reviewing, especially with the touch bar. Its starting price plus lack of ports can be a deal breaker for many, but I still think it is the most versatile, user friendly laptop out there and mine has allowed me to start and run several businesses from all over the world. I love my MacBook Pro and investing in it was the smartest move I made.

Apple released the new MacBook Pro with an innovative touch bar in 2016 and updated its processors this year (2017). MacBook Pro finally has the Kaby Lake processors (Intel’s seventh generation chips), so they have caught up to Dell XPS 13 Touch, the Asus ZenBook3, and Microsoft Surface Book.

A few external features include sleek design, retina (2560 x 1600-pixel) display, touch ID, and the best rated audio sound. But the MacBook Pro sacrifices battery life, with 8-9 hours average, in exchange for power and speed.

Overall, the MacBook Pro is one of the fastest computers on the market. It’s the best travelling laptop for digital nomads, but you have to pay for it. The model without the touch bar is less expensive, but it also has a slower CPU and less storage.

This is a great choice for bloggers, photographers, etc. It outperforms the other laptops on this list, but if you’re not set on the Mac OS system, the Dell XPS and Microsoft Surface Book have competing specs for a much more affordable cost.

 

 

best computers for blogging and videos Macbook Pro

MacBook Pro with the innovative (and expensive!) touch bar

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Other Great High-End Travel Laptops:

1. 12 Inch MacBook

If you’re in the market for the best lightweight laptop that still has a ton of storage space, the 12-inch MacBook is the best choice. Weighing less than a 1 kg, this is the best lightweight laptop for travel.

The drawback? Apple should have added an additional USB-C port so you didn’t have to choose between charging your laptop and plugging in an external source (without needing an extra accessory), though that’s the trade-off for portability and memory.

If you want to travel really light, this is the best smallest laptop MacBook option for you. For something more versatile, go with the 13-inch Pro. And if you want something cheaper, go with the Air.

At the time of writing, the silver coloured MacBook was on sale at amazon.co.uk for £999, so check out the link above!

best small laptop computer MacBook

MacBook – the thinnest, most lightweight laptop Apple offers

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2. Microsoft Surface Book

This is the best Windows 10 option for creatives and travellers needing versatility, speed, and power. The Surface Book has the pen stylus, touch screen, and ability to use the display as a tablet! While technically a powerful laptop, this is also one of the best tablets for travel.

It has a battery on the detachable screen and actual computer. When both are charged you can get up to 12 hours battery life.

The 6th generation processor is not as speedy as the 7th generation in the MacBook Pro, but it’s a bit more affordable. The Surface Book also has a leg up on graphics performance in comparison to the MacBook Pro.

People who need discrete graphics, want a powerful computer that is also a 2-1, and Microsoft program integration will find this laptop to be a great option. Unfortunately, to take full advantage of the separate graphics chip and power, you have to invest more than the starting price.

If you don’t need to run video editing programs and don’t mind having a flimsier keyboard, you should look into the Surface Pro for its portability and price. Either way, the Microsoft Surface line makes some of the best travel laptops.

what are good laptops Surface Book

Microsoft’s Surface Book is one of the best travel computers with a detachable screen!

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Final Thoughts on the Best Laptops for Travel:

If you just want the best cheap travel laptop to surf the web and stream online, one of the budget laptops and Chromebooks would be perfect for you.

You will need to upgrade from the ChromeBooks and budget options to one of the travelling table 2-1’s or more expensive options if you want to store data but you can get around this by buying a portable hard drive.

Best Overall Travel Laptop

Tie Between MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 for best travel laptop

best travel laptop - MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS

Which is the best travel laptop for you?

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro is the best laptop for travel for Mac users, who want the fastest, most reliable computer on the market. The MacBook Pro uses Kaby Lake processors (Intel’s seventh generation chips), has a sleek design, retina (2560 x 1600-pixel) display, touch ID, and the best rated audio sound.

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Dell XPS 

The Dell XPS is the best Windows 10-based laptop. It comes with 13.3 HD display, nearly 14 hours of battery power, and all the connection options you while remaining plenty light and compact for travel.

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Best Value for Money Travel Laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

This is the ideal laptop/tablet for travel! You essentially get the portability and ease of use of a tablet with a detachable keyboard. It’s lightweight and portable, but you can still run programs like LightRoom and upload your travel photos and videos. The Stylus Pen is a truly innovative and amazing addition as well.

While this isn’t the cheapest computer on this list, it’s definitely one of the best value options since you are getting a great tablet and computer all-in-one. When it comes to weight, size, features, battery, I think this is the best travel laptop for your money but if you are going pro and embracing the digital nomad lifestyle, I would recommend getting a Macbook instead.

(The Microsoft Surface Book allows users the same features as the Surface Pro with the ability to run Lightroom, Adobe Premier, and other intensive programs, but the trade-off is weight, size, and a high price tag).

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what is the best type of laptop - keyboard

Overall, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the listed choices. I personally tend to lean towards MacBooks because of their reliability and my own personal experiences. However, some of the newest Microsoft, Lenovo, and Dell laptops have unique, useful features like touch screen, and 2-1 convertibility that give them a leg up as the best travelling laptops.

Yay for transparency! The links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy anything, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually tested and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going. 

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Best Travel Laptops 2017 - portability, price, innovation, and design for every type of traveller

2 Comments

  • Bobbi says:

    I’m truly impressed with your business finesse while traveling in some really interesting places. Nicely done!

    I used to be a MacBook fan, but this last one as well as my latest iPhone has made me look elsewhere. The Dell XPS and the Lenovo Yoga products definitely seems to get great reviews and rock solid performance. I think I’ll be checking them out next. And, of course, your travel on $10 a day…didn’t think that was possible anymore! Thanks for some great reads
    Bobbi recently posted…How to Choose the Best Laptops for Law School Students – 2017My Profile

  • Isaac says:

    Hi Will, Great detailed post. For me, a travel laptop has to be extra portable and have long-lasting battery. Chromebooks tend to meet those requirements and I always keep one for when I am on the road.

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