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How to Choose the Best Travel Laptop for You

Before deciding on which laptop is best for travel, you'll have to answer this question: Do you actually need your laptop?

Or would you be able to do without one?

The answer is, it depends.

There are plenty of good reasons for international travel with a laptop- lets see how valid these are for you.

  • It gives you privacy. You can Skype or talk to your friends without strange eyes glued to your screen. You may not have anything to hide, but we do like our own space.
  • You can write. Whether you create a blog or keep an electronic journal, you may want the peace and quiet of your room, tent, dorm or balcony, rather than the cacophony of the Internet café.
  • You can keep your familiar things near you - your music, your photos, and anything else you might want to share with your newfound friends on the road, like views of your home town.
  • You might like the techie stuff - like using GPS to track your journey or using Google maps for sightseeing or to track your route. You may be a games buff and want to stay in touch with your competition (I know I go into withdrawal when I'm parted from my online Scrabble!)
  • Research and reference tools can be useful - like that translation site (unless you're carrying one of those wonderful pocket translators) or list of safety measures for emergency situations.
  • Last but not least, having your laptop with you will save you money. There is free WIFI around, and you won't have to pay those sometimes hefty Internet café fees.

The best travel laptop for writers - and others who need one

Do you need your laptop to make a living?

If you're a writer, photographer, blogger or journalist, then yes, a laptop for travel is a must. The same goes if you're location independent or have an online job. 

That said, although I find a laptop useful, I don't always take it with me. Often I move my documents onto a portable flash drive and just take that along, using computers along the way. If I do take one, I want to make sure it's the best travel laptop around.

Travel laptop equipmentWhatever else I take along, I still need a laptop when I travel

What does the best travel laptop look like?

Not all laptops are created equal, so you'll have to ask a few questions before you decide.

  • Are you backpacking? You'll need something light and preferably small that doesn't take too much space - a notebook, or even one of those tiny netbooks (smaller but with many of the same features).
  • Will you need to manipulate images? You'll need a large enough screen, not to mention sufficient memory. 
  • Will you be traveling rough? Something sturdy should do the trick (you might want to try out of those new solid state drives...)
  • Make sure your computer bag is waterproof and dustproof - if you go to all the trouble of taking your laptop with you, protect it as best you can.

If you're stuck for choice, have a look at one of the many laptop review sites, like CNet or PC World Magazine...

When even the best travel laptop stays at home

Convinced you should take your laptop with you? Perhaps. But please, read on - there are also plenty of reasons to leave it at home.

  • Despite all the free WIFI, you might not find an accessible signal nearby. Even if you do find a signal, it will probably be unsecured so your data will be at risk. You'll then have to save your material until you can upload it safely.
  • In some places there are Internet cafés on every street corner - even the most remote villages will usually have some sort of Internet connection with a computer attached to it.
  • You'll spend time and energy worrying about your laptop and keeping it safe... (this is often a deal-breaker for me). If your laptop is stolen and you haven't backed up your work, you might be in for a difficult time.
  • Laptops are often prone to accidents: yours might fall off a bus (mine has); you might spill a sweet drink all over the keyboard, from where it can spread to its internal drive and circuitry (done that too), or you might forget to put it into an airtight casing when crossing a desert and discover it's covered in sand - inside and out (ditto).
  • Unless you already have one, the best travel laptop will cost you money - why not spend it on something else?
  • A laptop takes up valuable space in your backpack. It also makes your backpack heavier, especially once you include laptop travel accessories like chargers, disk drives and other peripherals - not to mention a laptop travel case or waterproof bag.
  • Surge protection is a must. There are small portable ones now. Power can fluctuate wildly and I've grilled my share of equipment plugging into dodgy outlets - so, more equipment.
  • Last but not least, having instant access to your laptop may mean you spend your time glued to your screen. Shouldn't you be out and about, meeting people and making friends? 

A final word of warning: if you are taking your laptop with you, look through your hard drive before you go and delete any sensitive material. Many countries have censorship laws and are becoming more savvy at ferreting out the information contained in your electronic files. Don't take a chance!