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.
Whatever else I take along, I still need the perfect travel laptop when I travel
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
listed a few options you might consider for the best computer to travel
100% recycled aluminium, the Macbook Air has a sturdy build, is lightweight and
reliable. I personally have a Macbook
Air and love it. I know it's not cheap but it's a fabulous small, light laptop for travelling and is perfect for anyone wanting a sturdy, and reliable
device. Mine has fallen off a bus and has been generally mistreated for years – but it still performs.
Victoria runs Guide Your Travels, where she blogs part-time about her travels. She also happens to be a student, so you can expect her Macbook Air to get a good workout.
Here's what she loves about it:
- it's lightweight
- the general user-friendliness
- Ii you’re already using Apple products like an iPad or iPhone, you’ll love how easy the laptop works with these devices.
On the less attractive side, there is cost (looking at you, Apple!), and the lack of such things as an SD card slot. In addition, some software is only available for PC so that can be an issue.
Overall, though, I concur with Victoria: the best laptop for travel, which she would only replace with a Macbook Pro, someday. Perhaps.
- M1 chip for CPU, GPU, and machine learning performance
- Up to 18 hours of battery life
- 8-core CPU delivers up to 3.5x faster performance and up to 5x faster graphics
- 16-core Neural Engine for advanced machine learning
- 8GB of unified memory
- Superfast SSD storage
- Fanless design for silent operation
- 13.3-inch Retina display
- FaceTime HD camera
And yes, I do love mine.
The Acer Chromebook is a popular travel laptop because it's easy to use, lightweight and durable. It is also among the cheapest available. This particular model has an 11" screen, which may be a tad small if you're working a lot on your laptop, but there are larger screens (at still low prices).
Eden of Rock a Little Travel uses her Chromebook non-stop when blogging and says it's lightweight, there's no boot-up time (just open the laptop and it's ready to go) and it's extremely durable. On the down side, because it's a Chromebook there's no storage space, and some of the software, like Lightroom, can only be used in the incomplete app version.
That said, if you're looking for a low-cost starter laptop for your travels, start here. You can always upgrade once the money is pouring in.
- Runs on Chrome OS and compatible with all Google apps
- Built-in storage for offline access
- Additional 100GB of Google Drive
- 11.6” HD Touch Display
- Intel Celeron N4000
- 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
- Memory 32GB eMMC Google Chrome
- Up to 10-hours Battery Life
- Weighs 2.43 lb
If you prefer a Windows operating system, then the HP Probook 450 is a fantastic choice. This is one of the best small laptops for travel – it’s particularly versatile because you can use it both as a typical
laptop or as a tablet.
Stephanie from Bey of Travel swears by this laptop. She highlights its good battery life (5-6 hours of non-stop usage once it's fully charged), and its longevity. Her last HP laptop lasted for seven years.
"I love the webcam on the laptop. It makes Zoom and Skype calling super easy. It's slim and lightweight. With a 15.6 inch screen size, the laptop is not small, but it is lightweight enough to carry to the office or to the café."
On the down side, there is no CD drive to burn discs or install drivers (everything is done online). It also has a slow pixel response time, so it's not ideal for gaming, though perfect for normal professional office or writing tasks.
- 8th Generation Intel Quad-Core i5-8265u 1. 60 GHz (4 Cores 8 Threads, Turbo up to 3. 90 GHz, 6MB Smart Cache)
- 8GB DDR4 RAM; 256GB PCIe NVMe M. 2 SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 620 - max support (DP) 4K 4096x2304 60Hz
- 15. 6" Full HD 1920 x 1080 Anti-Glare LED-Backlit (Non-Touch), wireless 802. 11a/b/g/n/ac (2x2) + Bluetooth V 4. 2, 720P HD Webcam
- 1xHDMI, 2 x USB 3. 1 Gen 1, 1 x USB 3. 1 Type-C Gen 1 (power delivery, DisplayPort), 1 x USB 2. 0 (power port)
- Windows 10 Professional 64-bit - HP premium backlit keyboard, full-size, spill resistant with numeric keypad
If you prefer a Windows operating system, then the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a
good choice. This is one of the best small laptops for travel – it’s particularly versatile because you can use it both as a typical
laptop or as a tablet.
The Microsoft Surface Pro is somewhat
similar in terms of technical specifications to the Macbook Air, but thinner and even lighter. The downside is less battery life, but that may not be an issue for you.
- Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor, 10th
- Intel UHD Graphics and Iris Plus Graphics
- 12.3 inch
- Up to 1TB Gb SSD storage
- 4GB, 8GB or 16Gb memory
- 10.5 Hours Battery Life
- 8.5mm thin
on Windows, the Dell XPS is another powerful, lightweight option perfect for
anyone after the best travel work laptop.
advantage with the Dell over the MacBook and the Surface Pro is the whopping battery life, often reported to last up to 15 hours. Even the longest
haul flight won’t drain this laptop! While the earlier version was heavier than the other two, this latest laptop weighs in at 2.7 lb but isn't the thinnest of the lot, at 12mm.
- 13.3" Touchscreen
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) Display
- Intel UHD Graphics
- 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10210U Processor
- 8GB RAM
- 256GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
- 2x Thunderbolt 3 with PowerDelivery & Display Port
- 1x USB-C 3.1
- 1x MicroSD Card Reader
- Backlit Keyboard
- Fingerprint Reader
- Stereo Speakers with MaxxAudio Pro
- Windows 10 Home 64bit
on Windows, the Huawei is another powerful, lightweight option perfect for
anyone after the best travel work laptop and who would like to opt out of the Mac OS environment.
It's a bit lighter than the Macbook Pro, its main competitor, and some say a bit more attractive, with an old-fashioned keyword that is more user-friendly than its Mac counterpart.
Steph from Book It Let's Go! is a power user and loves how this Huawei works for both blogging and for computer games.
Here's what Steph has to say about this device:
- it's super lightweight
- it has a touch screen as well as a track pad so you don't need a mouse
- the screen is 4k so super high definition
- it has an i7 processor and built-in graphics for gaming
But – and there's always a 'but' – some of the arrow keys are a bit small and you may need to add a USB hub for greater capacity. The microphone is also a bit too sensitive when it comes to outside sounds, which makes recording meetings a bit awkward.
- Screen resolution 1260 X 1440 Pixels
- 1.6 GHz Core_i5_760 processor
- 8 GB RAM DDR3L
- 256 GB Flash Memory Solid State
- Intel HD Graphics 620 graphics coprocessor
- 2 USB 3.0 ports
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!
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