Whether I’m traveling for an extended period of time and have work to do, or simply want to bring a laptop along for when I’m feeling inspired to write, there are a few important qualities that stand out when it comes to the best laptops for travelers. Whether you’re a strictly Apple person like me or prefer to stick with a classic PC, need a travel laptop for professional or entertainment purposes, there’s something for you on this list.
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Why bring a laptop on vacation?
Regardless of the duration of your trip, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to bring a travel laptop with you on your next holiday. Whether you want a means of backing-up photos or videos, a way to stay entertained in the event of inclement weather, or have actual work to do, bringing a laptop with you can make life much easier. This is particularly true on longer trips, where it’s unreasonable to fill each and every day with tourist activities.
What to look for in a travel laptop
What will you be using your travel laptop for?
Depending on what you are going to be using your travel laptop for will determine which qualities need to take priority. If you’ll be on Skype, gaming, heavy multitasking, or have CPU-demanding tasks such as editing hi-res videos, a travel laptop with more power and higher performance is going to be more important than a travel laptop with the best display and lighter weight.
On the other hand, if your needs don’t require such power, you might place higher emphasis on things like long battery life and portability.
Important things to consider
Do you need to bring a travel laptop for your profession? This may justify spending a bit extra or opting for custom configuration.
Which apps do you need to use? This is going to largely be determined by whether or not your travel laptop will be for professional use. Be sure to double check compatibility, particularly if you’re going with a newer processor, like Apple’s M1 chip.
How much RAM and memory will you need? When deciding whether to go with the base model or get a number of add-ons, try to determine what your needs are before you begin shopping for travel laptops. Keep reading if you’re not too tech savvy and are unsure of your needs.
What are your space or weight restrictions? Oftentimes when traveling, we are working with way too little space and, depending on whether or not we’re flying, weight restrictions as well. Try to stick with a travel laptop that doesn’t exceed 1.5kg (3.3lbs) or 18mm in thickness. All of the laptops on this list will easily fit into the best vegan backpacks for travel, no problem!
Will you often be working from a space with no outlets? This may determine what your battery life needs are. If you’ll frequently be without a power source, you may want to consider a travel laptop with a longer battery life.
Laptop shopping for tech newbies
what is RAM and how much do you need?
RAM stands for random-access memory and, in short, refers to your laptop’s ability to multitask and run different programs simultaneously. The more RAM you have, the more efficiently you will be able to switch between programs and have multiple apps running in the background.
How much storage do you need?
Again, this is entirely based on what the main use of your travel laptop will be. This is one factor that you want to consider from the beginning, since, if you purchase a laptop with too little internal storage, you’ll constantly have to go through and delete files in order to free up space.
As a content creator, I save hundreds of thousands of photos and graphics to my laptop, save videos, and rely on different apps for different tasks. It’s probably safe to assume that I need more storage than the average traveler. I find I can get away with 512GB SSD, but would feel more comfortable with more. I use streaming services so I don’t have any music or movie files, which helps. For the average user who isn’t saving quite so many files, 256GB is probably just fine.
A travel laptop with a Micro SD slot is ideal if you’re unsure of your storage needs. If you wind up exceeding your allotted storage, there are always external hard drives, so don’t overthink it.
This can be super-important to consider, depending on what your travel laptop will be used for. In addition to content creation, I also teach English to Chinese kids online. This requires a lot of extra… stuff. I’ve got headphones, an external webcam, wireless mouse, ring lights, and all sorts of goodies that require a port of some kind.
If you don’t know ahead of time or if your needs wind up changing over time, don’t fret. There are always port hubs (I have to use one).
Overall best laptops for travelers
Most lists will have the Dell XPS 13 holding fast in the number one spot, but my affinity for Macbooks coupled with its other features make this my number one best laptop for traveling. But the best part is, with the new M1 processor, these two really are neck-in-neck.
The 13.3” display is Retina QHD (2560 x 1600) with P3 Wide Color Gamut. The Macbook Air’s display has always been (and probably will always be) non-touch, so if a touch screen is a deal-breaker for you, better move on.
A distinguishing feature of the Apple Macbook Air M1 is its innovative True Tone Technology, which is set to automatically adjust the screen’s white balance in order to compensate for color temperatures in ambient lighting. In layman’s terms, this simply means that you will always see the ‘true’ colors on the display regardless of the light in your environment.
The Apple Macbook Air M1 doesn’t have facial recognition, yet it does have a fingerprint sensor. Alternatively, you can authenticate your device if you have an Apple Watch as well.
One of the bragging rights of the Macbook Air M1 is its keyboard, which is backlit and super-spacious (perfect if your hands are on the larger side).
What makes this laptop stand out above the rest is Apple’s own M1 processor. This makes a world of difference, making it even better than Macbook Pros with Intel processors. This bad boy runs a whopping 98% faster than PC laptops, so it’s no wonder it’s found its home at the top of the list.
Apple’s Macbook Air M1 is ideal for travelers, regardless of the tasks they have to complete. The M1 processor can handle multitasking, uploading and editing hi-res videos, gaming, and more.
The Dell XPS 13 is at the top of any list of best laptops for travelers. Since it was first created, it’s undergone constant updates and tweaks to fine-tune it into the smooth running machine it is today. The Dell XPS 13 is pretty on-par with the Apple Macbook Air M1, so if you really don’t like Mac operating systems, you can still get a great-quality piece of equipment – albeit for a much higher price tag.
If you have space and weight restrictions, the Dell XPS 13 is an excellent option, as it weighs a mere 1.27kg (2.8lbs) and measures 11.6” x 7.8” x 0.6”. It’s perfectly suited to travel, and packs a punch for how compact it is.
The bezels on the XPS 13 are super-thin, giving you slightly more display than the Macbook Air M1. The display is available as Full HD (1920×1080) or 4K Ultra HD (3840×2400) resolution as well as touch or non-touch, making this a highly customizable option depending on your budget and other needs. Be forewarned that if you opt for the 4K Ultra HD resolution, you’ll be sacrificing battery power.
A standout feature of the XPS 13 is its Eyesafe Technology, which protects your eyes from UV light and HEV blue light.
The Dell XPS 13 uses 10th Generation Ice Lake Intel Processors. You have the option to choose between the Intel Core i5-10351G1 or the Intel Core i7-1065G7. Both are high-performance processors that can easily handle demanding tasks.
Another great feature of the Dell XPS 13 is the presence of a Micro-SD slot in case you need additional storage.
Without a doubt, the Dell XPS 13 holds strong in the number two spot for best travel laptops.
Best Value Laptops for Travelers
The Acer Spin 3 is a 2-in-1 laptop that boasts an Intel 10th Generation Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD storage.
It’s on the heavier side, coming in at 1.5kg (3.3lbs) which might not seem like much, but it can be pretty heavy to hold in your hand.
The most attractive feature of the Acer Spin 3 is definitely its price tag, and is the best laptop for travelers on a budget, particularly if you want a flip-and-fold laptop.
It comes with a stylus and carrying sleeve, a 14″ Full HD (1920×1080) touchscreen with LED-Backlit display. The port array on the Acer Spin 3 is also pretty impressive, with additional ports for an HDMI cable and a Micro-SD slot for extra storage space if required.
One reason for the attractive price tag on the Acer Spin 3 is definitely the underwhelming battery life – you can safely rely on 5-6 hours of battery power when away from a power source. Still, if you don’t mind working while plugged in, this is definitely the best laptop for travelers on a budget.
The Lenovo Flex 5 is another 2-in-1 laptop that costs a bit less than others on this list. This convertible laptop is ideal if you have a primary computer or laptop at home for work and want something convenient to travel with.
The Lenovo Flex 5 is a great value for the money, particularly if you are comfortable with 256 GB SSD storage. Its a good option for photo editing (Adobe Creative Cloud programs run flawlessly), and even has the active stylus to add some creativity.
The port array is excellent for an ultrabook, and even includes a coveted USB-A port. One annoying aspect of this design, however, is that when the Stylus is mounted to the side of the laptop, it blocks two USB-C ports and the memory card reader.
The Lenovo Flex 5 base model comes with 8GB and 256GB SSD, which is what you’d expect from a more expensive model, adding even more value to this travel laptop.
The AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor in the Lenovo Flex 5 is easily able to handle day-to-day tasks such as browsing and streaming, and is even mighty enough to take on more demanding tasks such as photo and video editing and graphic design. That being said, if you’re editing videos that are very graphic-heavy, it may be a bit of a reach.
The battery life on this model isn’t spectacular (around 8 hours on average) and won’t last for long-haul flights. For shorter trips, however, it’s perfectly suitable, and it charges super-fast when you do have access to a power source.
One final thing to take into consideration if you’re thinking about the Lenovo Flex 5 is how much time you’ll spend working outside. The screen brightness is definitely on the dim side, which is fine for indoor use, but with a maximum display brightness of 224 nits, it’s not the best choice for working outside.
In short, the Lenovo Flex 5 is a great value for the money if you’re not doing anything overly demanding.
Lightweight Laptops for Travelers
Ideal for minimalists not looking to spend an arm and a leg, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a great choice. It’s the smallest selection on our list (and also comes with the lowest price tag!).
Clocking in at a mere half a kilo (barely over a pound), Microsoft claims this is the lightest and smallest convertible laptop on the market today.
The Surface Go line is essentially a tablet that attaches magnetically to a backlit keyboard (including trackpad). This isn’t included in the base price, which will be increased by $100-$130 if you opt to purchase one.
You can use a stylus (the Surface Pen) on this convertible laptop. However, be forewarned that it is not included and will knock the price up another $100 or so.
Another reason for the low base price is the fact that it only comes with 4GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. However, you can upgrade for an additional cost. This is a necessity if you plan on doing more than the bare minimum.
It does come with a Micro-SD slot, though! So, you can add to the base storage for less money if you’re on a budget.
The Surface Go 2 comes with the Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor. For an extra $150-ish, you can upgrade to the Intel 8th Generation Core M3 Chip. Definitely upgrade the CPU, since you can’t do all that much with the Pentium Gold.
An optional add-on worth considering is LTE. This would enable you to use a SIM card and have an internet connection ready to go wherever there’s a cell signal.
For being so small and weighing so little, the Surface Go 2 offers a lot. It has a great touchscreen, front and rear cameras, expandable storage, and flexible design.
One of the best laptops for digital nomads or general travel is the ASUS Zenbook 13. If you’re looking for something at a lower price point than the Dell XPS 13 but with comparable features, you’re in luck.
One difference between the Zenbook and the XPS 13 is that the former does not have touchscreen functionality. The Zenbook does have an interactive touchscreen trackpad. This can increase productivity if you want to use two screens – you can launch certain apps directly on the trackpad!
The display brightness of the Zenbook is the same as the Lenovo Flex 5. Meaning if you’re planning to do some work outside, the screen brightness will be inadequate for you at only 250 nits.
The port array on the Zenbook is great. It includes USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, as well as a Micro-SD slot for external storage.
The Zenbook comes equipped with the latest 10th generation Intel Core i5-1035G1 Processor, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD storage with the base model. So, you shouldn’t need to spend extra on upgrades!
The Zenbook is a great choice if you don’t have graphic-heavy tasks or do extreme gaming. It’s an affordable alternative to the Dell XPS 13 if you don’t mind losing the touchscreen functionality!
So, what is the best laptop for travelers?
Unfortunately this is one of those questions that only you can answer! The best laptop for you will be entirely dependent on the tasks you need to accomplish, the apps you need to complete those tasks, your compactness and portability needs, etc. If in doubt, opt for a travel laptop with the option to add RAM or storage later if necessary. Or, grab one with a Micro-SD slot so that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on extra storage. I personally love love love the Macbook Air M1 (and the specs support its #1 ranking!), but what works best for you might be different!