Whether you’re after the best laptop for travel because you work on the go, or just to keep up with your favorite TV shows, laptops for travel are a different breed from the computers you use at home.
The best travel laptop will have a few essential characteristics:
- it will need plenty of memory to store all your information
- it will have to have the right kind of power
- unlike your everyday laptop, the best laptops for travel needs to be lightweight
- it also needs to be light to be easy to carry around.
I travel with a laptop a lot of the time and have done so for many years.
I mainly use my laptop to work, but also to keep in touch with friends and check the ever-present social media networks. So while I’m certainly no technical expert when it comes to the best laptops for travelling, I’ve spent enough time using one over the years to understand what makes a perfect device.
If you’re on the hunt for the best traveling laptop, this article pulls together my firsthand experience from years of writing on the road.
Best laptop for travel and work? Best laptop for travel blogging? Or best budget travel laptop for Netflix or binge-watching? This guide will help you choose.
WHY YOU MIGHT NEED A TRAVEL LAPTOP – OR NOT.
Before we even get into what makes the best laptop for travelers, let’s make sure you actually need one in the first place.
These days, smartphones and tablets can do much of what a good travel laptop can do – so perhaps a laptop isn’t even necessary.
Do you need your laptop to make a living? If you’re a writer, photographer, blogger or journalist, then yes, you need the best laptop for traveling, period. The same goes if you’re location independent or have an online job.
That said, although I find a laptop for travelling important, I don’t always take it with me. At times I move my documents onto a portable flash drive and just take that along, using other computers along the way. If I do take one, I want to make sure it’s one of the best laptops for traveling I can buy.
There are a number of excellent reasons why you might need one:
- You’re working. If you have any kind of online job, you’re going to want to invest in one of the best laptops for travel and work.
- You want screen space. If you like to see your friends and family full-frame on Skype or like to watch “big screen” movies, a laptop gives you a better experience than a phone or an iPad – but in this situation a cheap laptop for travel may be all you need.
- You need to write. Whether you’re a blogger or a literary writer or simply journaling your trip, a laptop lets you take your writing everywhere – the peace and quiet of your room or balcony, or an outdoor café. You can do this with a tablet but if you’re going to do any decent amount of writing, you’ll have to bring along a separate keyboard.
- You want the software. Good laptops for travel have ‘real’ software as opposed to the apps you’ll find on tablets or smartphones. That means you can do more, and you can do it in more different ways.
- You want speed and memory. The best laptop for travellers is faster and has more memory than your other devices. Clouds do help with the space requirement but having a laptop with decent storage is still often our default mode.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING THE BEST LAPTOP FOR TRAVEL
Once you’ve decided you need a computer for travel, you’ll need to determine your requirements. There are plenty of top travel laptops on the market, but we all have different needs, so consider the following factors before making your purchase.
Size and weight
The best computer for traveling will be useless if it’s not the right weight or size.
Carrying around a giant, heavy laptop is tiring, and if you want to use it while you’re on the plane, you’ll need something that meets the carry-on weight requirements and that fits on the folding tray table.
That said, you don’t want something so tiny it’s basically useless and could easily be replaced by a phone.
The good news is that the best laptops to travel with come in a range of sizes, and these days there are some excellent small travel laptop options that have plenty of power.
In terms of screen sizes, laptops tend to range from around 11-17 inches. For the best travel computer, I’d recommend something around the 13-inch mark – you’ll get a decent-sized screen, yet your laptop will still easily fit into your carry-on or backpack. This size will also be lightweight.
When you use your laptop at home, it usually sits in the same spot, or at most you might move it from room to room. But when you’re traveling, you’re always on the go, pulling your laptop in and out of your bag and then putting that bag in and out of trains, planes and automobiles. This is why the best laptop for travelling has to be sturdy.
If possible, grab yourself a good solid case that offers additional protection, preferably something that is waterproof and dustproof.
Operating Systems: Mac, Windows or Chrome OS?
Most laptops come with one of three main operating systems – Windows, Apple OS X or Chrome (Android) OS. I’m no techie so I won’t get into the technical advantages, but as a consumer, I can say that these days, Windows still seems to be most common; however, Apple is not far behind and it’s hard to deny the popularity of a Macbook. Laptops operating on Chrome are tend to be a bit cheaper and not capable of a huge range of tasks.
I have a Macbook which I just love, even though I’m equally accustomed to Windows. Learning one or the other isn’t complicated but if you’re used to one system, you may want to stick with it.
Apple devices are incredibly user-friendly and you can seamlessly share your documents between devices. Unfortunately, they tend to be expensive. It’s a choice: in my personal opinion, my Macbook Air is the best lightweight laptop for travel.
The advantage of Windows, on the other hand, is that compatible laptops are made by many different brands and that helps keep prices down, which is ideal if you’re after a cheap travel laptop.
You’ll also need to consider the storage space on your laptop.
In terms of storage, laptops either have hard drives or the smaller Solid State Drives (SSD). Storage tends to range from as low as 128GB, right up to more than 2 TB in capacity.
Some laptops even come with both the standard hard drive and an SSD – this is because SSDs tend to be expensive. However, the great thing about having both is you get the best of both worlds, more storage and a cheaper laptop. Keep in mind though that you will be working with two different drives, and that’s not necessarily easy or practical
The other option of course is to rely on using cloud storage. This is all well and good, but it does mean you’ll need a powerful internet connection, which isn’t available everywhere.
Another option is to have a hard drive which you plug into your computer and which has all your working documents and files.
Whatever you decide, don’t be stingy when it comes to storage. Even if you plan to use the cloud, you should make sure you have enough local storage capacity, either in your laptop or in an external hard drive.
The best travel laptop to travel with is, in the end, is the one that will give you all the usability you need without breaking your back – or your bank.
If you’re looking for the best laptop for business travel or the best laptop for travel bloggers, battery life will be an essential factor in your purchase. This is particularly important during those times you don’t have access to power, like on a long-haul flight.
Macbook’s tend to have great battery life at around 14 hours; at the other end of the scale, you’ll find plenty of cheap options that only last a few hours.
While laptop battery life is constantly increasing, the batteries themselves lose their ability to store power over time.
Processing Power: CPU and RAM
This is a good time to introduce a few technical terms that are important when it comes to buying the best computer for travel.
The Computing Processing Unit (CPU), or chip, is basically the brain of the computer, the part of the computer that executes the various programs and allocates tasks to different parts of the computer. This is arguably the most critical part of your laptop.
At the time of writing, the Macbook Air operates on an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, for example – but that’s not important. What IS important is that in your search for the best computers for travel, you buy the one most suited to your needs. If you’re doing a lot of work that takes speed and efficiency, like working with photos or video, you’ll want the latest and best computer chip.
There is another type of memory: RAM, or Random Access Memory. It’s the immediate memory your computer accesses and which temporarily stores the information your computer needs to obey your immediate commands. Without enough RAM, your computer won’t work quickly and you’ll be left waiting and frustrated.
Like for CPU, the best travel computers have plenty of RAM, from 8-16GB onward. Anything too low and you’ll be crashing your computer each time you try to give it a command.
In an ideal world, we all want the best lightweight travel laptop with the longest battery life, heaps of storage and a great CPU and RAM. We often have to compromise, though, especially if we’re on the hunt for a budget travel laptop.
If you’re running your business from your laptop though, you’ll appreciate spending extra to get the best money can buy.
THE BEST LAPTOPS FOR TRAVEL
Below I’ve listed a few options you might consider for the best computer to travel with.
WHEN EVEN THE BEST TRAVEL LAPTOP STAYS AT HOME
Now that you know what to look for in the best small laptop for travel, there are still plenty of reasons to travel without one should you so choose.
- 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 (unless you use a VPN). You’ll then have to save your material until you can upload it safely.
- There used to be Internet cafés on every street corner, even in the most remote villages, but with the advent of cheap and easy wifi, there are far fewer now. Still, you’ll usually be able to find some sort of Internet connection with a computer attached to it, at least in your hotel, so if you only need it for emergencies, you might consider leaving it at home, especially if you have your smartphone or tablet with you.
- You may 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, so make sure it’s either light and small enough to carry around with you, or leave it in a safe place.
- Laptops are often prone to accidents: yours might fall off a bus (like mine); 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 (yes, me too). So beware the external dangers if you take yours with you!
- Unless you already have one, the best laptop travel option will cost you money – which you could spend on something else.
- If you’re backpacking, consider the weight and space the device is taking up in your backpack, especially once you include laptop travel accessories like chargers, disk drives and other peripherals – not to mention a laptop travel case or waterproof bag.
- If you’re heading somewhere with an uneven electrical supply, 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 and meeting people?
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!
— Originally published on 11 January 2011