While traveling the world, digital nomads rely the most on one thing: their work. In order to keep up their adventurous nomadic lifestyle, they’ve got to hustle. With the exception of farm hopping and working part-time in hostels, online work is the standard go-to for making money en route for travelers. And a reliable, well functioning laptop is essential.
A digital nomad will often be working anywhere, at any time, and in various conditions. At times they’ll be editing in an airport, blogging unplugged on a train, or answering emails at a remote beachside cafe. Lugging around a bulky laptop with a dead battery is not ideal.
There isn’t a device overtly marketed as a travel laptop, therefore, one must look to their nomadic community to get the scoop on the best options.
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Travel Laptop Buyer’s Guide
Before getting overwhelmed with all the options, or opting for the one their best friend in grad school thinks is best, a digital nomad should take their time deciding what laptop will best fit their specific lifestyle needs.
Important Travel Laptop Features to Consider
Before getting into specs, there are other important device features to consider when browsing the right travel laptop. These include the following:
Price– the of a new laptop is usually high on the list of concerns. Digital nomads with entry-level careers or who work part-time gigs will be on a much tighter budget than someone who is a mid-career remote work professional or a full-time freelancer who has an influx of income throughout the year.
Just like anything, you get what you pay for. But finding a good quality travel laptop in the $1,000 range is certainly possible. At the same time, one can spend upwards of $3,000 to meet their high performance standards and virtual needs. It all depends on the individual and the nature of their work (more on this later).
Portability– The size and weight of the laptop determines its portability; in other words, how easy it is to pack up and carry in a backpack or carry-on. Many digital nomads want to keep their luggage as light as possible, so having a lightweight computer is at the top of the list. They might also try to be as minimal as possible, so having a small-sized computer that takes up less space is essential.
Battery life is super important for when outlets are nowhere to be found. The show must go on! And in this case, the work must continue. Some may need to spend most of the day relying on battery power while in transit or in remote areas. Depending on the type of traveller, this can be an important factor when choosing a device.
Storage capacity– For digital nomads who need to store large files like video projects, having extra storage capacity is helpful. Although there are ways to backup files externally and on the cloud, in some cases, sophisticated software and overloading files can take up significant space and hinder productivity.
Speed– RAM is an important factor as well. A laptop that is ready to reboot and load up right away is a big concern for digital nomads. Spending 10 minutes waiting for a laptop to open a page, a software, or 3 at once can be frustrating, especially if there is a virtual meeting happening simultaneously!
Industry Standards – Get a laptop that will last
Techie nerds tend to speak in esoteric acronyms and number combinations.
Understanding the systems of a device and specs is pretty much its own language and for laypersons, this is all very overwhelming. What most people need is a quick brief understanding of basics, how well the laptop functions and if it’s worth buying or not.
This article aims to do just that. To demystify some of these terms, we made a list of what to expect when looking at new laptops and understanding specs:
RAM (Random Access Memory,) tends to be confused with storage. The amount of RAM determines the speed and capacity. The more RAM, the more programs, or window browsers, the laptop can handle all at once.
For light users with minimal programming work on the laptop, 8GB may be sufficient. Across the board, a good RAM of 16GB is ideal for most users. However, for serious professionals who require high functioning laptops like software developers, designers, and videographers, 32GB is recommended.
Screen Size can vary on a laptop, but is typically between 13-16 inches wide. It’s rare to find a laptop screen much bigger than this before getting into PC territory, and for good reason.
For digital nomads, having a smaller screen that makes the laptop more portable is of great concern. Any screen less than 14” is considered small for a laptop and usually means the device is more portable and easier to travel with.
Weight can also range between laptops, but generally clocks in around 5 pounds with some heavier-duty laptops over 6+ pounds. Considering the laptop case, the charger cord, and all other gadgets, this can add up to be even more. Factory lightweight laptops are typically between 2-3 pounds—so about half the weight. These are typically ideal for travel.
Processors are the central brain of your computer, and are often the target of shrinking for space and heat conservation. The trade off often is the more thin, the more likely a reduced “mobile” variant CPU is used. Processors on laptops are much harder to replace than on a PC, so look to find a speed you’re happy with for the laptops life span.
Battery Life is critical for those on-the-go. Standard laptop batteries put out around 6+ hours on average with a full charge, with a few units putting out 9+ hours. Most laptop batteries can’t be replaced by users easily, and come with a fixed lifespan. Typically these can be replaced by a tech-savvy individual, but keep in mind battery life when deciding a travel laptop.
Type of Traveler – Which travel laptop makes sense for you?
Another key feature when deciding on the right travel laptop is the type of traveler. Each traveler’s routine and lifestyle can look a bit (or a lot) different.
For instance, a business traveller who mostly stays in fancy hotels, airbnb’s and uses private transportation might care more about RAM speed than battery life.
Another type of digital nomad more into off grid backpacking, staying in remote areas, and ultra minimalist lifestyle might prioritize battery life and portability.
The lifestyle the traveller lives combined with the kind of work they are doing determines what device is most suitable for their needs.
Nature of Work – What do you need out of a laptop?
The nature of the work itself necessitates different features of the laptop. A full-time digital nomad will have different needs than someone who mostly relies on social media or video streaming as their main source of work.
Graphic designers have different needs than content writers. For example, a graphic designer may require extra storage and RAM speed for design software plus multiple USB ports and a disc drive.
A virtual administrative assistant might require a laptop that is more durable with a long battery life for long trips.
An Instagram blogger who relies almost fully on their iphone probably is less concerned about the features of their travel laptop besides the space it takes up in their traveller pack. And so on.
Serious professionals and seasoned digital nomads typically know already what their needs are in terms of specs. In this case, this article will give them some options and overview of a few of the newest, best choice laptops for travel.
For newbs and aspiring digital nomads, this is a great start to understanding what laptop they should purchase in order to start their dream life and hit the road.
Best Travel Laptops for Digital Nomads
With all the many models of laptops out there, one could sift through endless reviews for days. To make it easy, we’ve hand selected the following travel laptops we think are worth checking out.
Here are the best 6 travel laptops for business travelers and digital nomads:
Our Favorite: Dell XPS 13
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This Dell XPS 13” is our favorite because it is high-functioning, portable and has all the necessary features to perform work-related tasks.
It’s 13.3” screen is on the smaller side. Dell boasts the visual capacity utilizes the entire screen without the normal borders, making it a 13” screen in an 11-inch form.
The laptop is super lightweight, at 2.93 pounds, about half the weight of most laptops without compromising features and specs. Although thin, it’s not flimsy, and still holds up to its claimed durability. Most users are pleased with the small footprint and large display.
It’s high performance intel core processor is i7, 10th generation with excellent HD graphics. Photographers may prefer this design because the screen quality provides a clear, undistorted view of images.
Some reviewers complain that there are limited ports, and so they had to purchase extra parts to charge up all their devices. It has only a Mini SD port, so for photographers, they may need an adaptor part if they utilize a full-size SD card.
The onboard memory of 16GB is sufficient RAM for the professional full-time digital nomad. This laptop will handle opening many browsers and pages quickly and all at once with ease.
Another thing to consider is the screen brightness feature which changes automatically based on the external lighting. This is great for someone who is copywriting and doesn’t want to stare into a bright, blinding screen in the darkness. But for someone who edits photos or does design work, being able to compare images without change in brightness may be important. This feature, however, can be disabled with some tweaking around and customer support.
Some users complain about the internal cooling system not being sufficient. While charging up, the device turns into a miniature oven. For those who are constantly working on their lap, this may be an issue and can make working on the move uncomfortable.
This device is at a pretty good price point and definitely an excellent option for the professional digital nomad and average user. For those who plan to use this laptop for work and play, this is a winner.
- Portable and very lightweight
- Excellent display screen quality
- Durable build
- Good for professionals
- Speedy processor with high RAM speed
- Not enough ports (USB and SD card)
- Heats up while charging
Digital Nomads: MacBook Pro
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The newest MacBook Pro is high-end and next level, excelling in performance specs and quality. We chose this option for the serious digital nomad because it is versatile, reliable, and specifically, because of the most dependable customer care (more on this later…).
The screen size of this updated laptop is 16” in diagonal display, making this slightly larger than many other travel laptops.
It is also a bit on the heavy side, at 4.3 pounds. So, not the easiest to throw into a travel pack, but also not too bulky to travel around the world attending virtual meetings or editing long-form documents.
Depending on the exact model, the central processor is either i7 or i9, 9th generation intel. If the potential buyer requires more speed and onboard memory, definitely opt for the i9 model.
The graphics and color on the Retina display are excellent and incredibly clear. Expect to watch all the most radiant nature documentaries on Netflix with extreme pleasure.
With an incredibly powerful battery, this laptop will stay charged for up to 11 hours. Yep, 11 full hours. That’s more than full days work. Having this kind of reliability unplugged means that working in transit is a slice of pie.
This specific model has 16GB of RAM which is sufficient for most digital nomads. Other models go up to 64GB—an actual powerhouse.
Some users complain that the RAM and harddrive can’t be upgraded, which may be frustrating after such a hefty investment.
To be honest, the majority of bad reviews reflect on Amazon, and not the device itself. Many recommend only purchasing through a verified retailer with great reviews or purchasing directly from Apple.
Users are happy with the backlit keyboard, which is easy to use and improved from previous models. The trackpad is large and user-friendly, and the touch bar is an added feature. Writers will love this feature because it recommends words, cutting down the use of an online thesaurus.
As mentioned above, the plus side of getting an Apple laptop is the outstanding customer service. AppleCare provides up to 3 years of warranty, which honestly feels like forever. They win the gold medal when it comes to problem solving and troubleshooting any issues on a laptop anywhere in the world. As a traveller, this provides peace of mind knowing that pretty much whenever they are in the world, they’ll have access to Apple’s global repair coverage.
For the price, this is a great investment for a very reliable, long-lasting and high performing travel laptop. A bit on the big and heavy side, this is one for the professional, business before pleasure type of digital nomad.
- High-end laptop with great specs
- Excellent warranty and customer service worldwide
- High functioning intel processor and RAM speed
- Great graphics and retina display
- Durable and sturdy design
- On the expensive side
- Heavier and less portable than most other laptops
High End: Acer Predator Triton 700
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This laptop is a powerful beast and a serious investment. Incredibly fast and high performing with ample storage space, it’s perfect for gamers.
As far as travel laptops go, it’s not the most lightweight nor the smallest. But for full-time professionals or hardcore gamers with specific capacity needs, this will fulfill all their most important needs.
Super sturdy, this laptop isn’t flimsy like many lightweight designs. The screen size is 15.6 inches with full HD pixels and epic graphics. For videographers, gamers, or engineers who want the most enhanced visual graphics, they will not be disappointed.
A bit on the heavy side, this Acer weighs 5.4 pounds—about double most of our other reviewed travel laptops.
The speakers are not so good, but for most professionals or gamers, they’ll probably be using headphones and this may not be an issue.
This Acer has an i7 core processor and 32GB DDR4 SoDIMM which doubles the capacity of RAM while preserving power consumption. This allows it to be super speedy and double the capacity. Anyone concerned with RAM speed or onboard memory will be more than pleased.
While this is amazing for serious professionals and gamers, most digital nomads and travellers who don’t need this kind of high performance specs will find this unnecessary.
There is no shortage of ports, which is great for charging up all devices and
Short battery life makes this less appealing for those concerned about working unplugged. It lasts just a couple hours so people who want to be able to work for a full day on strictly battery power should look elsewhere. For all the seriousness of this high-powered machine, others might find that having a power adapter on hand at all times makes this a worthwhile purchase.
Some reviewers mention that this laptop gets hot like fire and it’s best to purchase a cooling pad. If someone can spend $3k on a laptop, they can probably shell out another fifty to keep it cool. Others say the fan seems to work pretty well, but gets pretty loud over time.
The trackpad is behind the keyboard, which some users complained about. Purchasing an external mouse is necessary for comfort and usability, but since most who purchase this will be using it for gaming anyway, they might not be so concerned. They’ll be ready with their mouse and headphones.
Overall, this is the perfect fit for someone ready to drop serious money on a high-performing laptop. Hardcore gamers and developers, look no further. Serious business professionals, consider this an option. Everyone else, keep reading.
- High-end specs and incredibly high-functioning performance
- Fast RAM speed and double memory storage
- Excellent HD graphics
- Sturdy and durable
- Very expensive
- Low battery life
- Not the most portable
- Runs hot and fan makes loud noises
Mid Range: MSI Prestige 14”
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This MSI model is a sleek, versatile and lightweight travel laptop. It provides all the necessary features a traveller might need without burning a hole in their pocket. This is a good option for the part-time digital nomad or entry-level professional who is looking to invest without spending a fortune.
The screen is 14” which is a bit bigger than most travel laptops. Although the screen is relatively wide, it is extremely lightweight at about 3.5 pounds. This makes it great for a digital nomad who is more concerned with traveling light than the speed of rebooting.
RAM is 16GB, making it decent for speed and onboard memory. This is sufficient for most professions, such as copywriters, bloggers, administrative assistants, and freelance photographers.
The core processing system is i7 and provides great graphics and image quality.
This design has a decent battery life; it can survive unplugged for up to 8 hours or more, making working more possible while traveling around on buses and trains.
According to some users, the internal speakers are worse than a phone. So if purchasing this product, one should consider plugging into some headphones right away.
The Thunderbolt 3 feature allows for a plethora of ports to sufficiently hook up and charge external devices easily. This comes in handy when access to wall outlets are scarce and charging a phone and uploading images through a laptop is ideal.
There is a slight flaw in the cooling system that results in throttling. The laptop only has one fan that functions at high speed, making it loud and somewhat obnoxious when the device is cooling down. This is not a good option for gamers, developers, or hardcore users—basically anyone requiring a high central processing unit (CPU).
Based on reviews, the silky glass backlit keyboard works wonderfully, and the trackpad works just fine. This device has a fingerprint reader
Overall, this is a great looking laptop that is sturdy, attractive, and lightweight. For light to moderate use, this is a wonderful option for travelers who don’t want to burn a hole in their pocket and still get the job done.
- Attractive and sturdy build
- Affordable at mid-range price
- Decent Battery life lasting up to 8+ hours
- Sufficient RAM speed
- Many external ports
- Lightweight and portable
- Cooling system flawed
- Poor quality speakers
Budget: Asus ZenBook 14 Ultra-Slim
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This Asus ZenBook is a wonderful option for a traveller on a budget requiring reliability and medium performance.
With an ultra portable design, this laptop is extremely lightweight at only 2.8 pounds. The screen is 14 inches with a Nanoedge display, meaning the borders are smaller to utilize as much of the screen for visual display as possible. This makes it an ideal laptop for travellers who want to lighten their load and pack more conservatively.
A very good lookin laptop with all aluminum build quality makes it durable and gives the laptop a sleek look.
There are two screens, one main screen and one on the keyboard which includes a smart-phone type interface that has a touch screen. This is designed to allow for easy access to apps and trackpad. As if a smart-phone was attached to and controlling the computer.
Some users mention that the touchpad feature is overrated and isn’t really necessary for everyday usage. If this feature doesn’t draw you in, it may not be worth the extra dollars to go for the screen pad model. The touch screen setting can be turned off, but it’s really the selling point and the reason this laptop is priced higher than other similar models.
On the other hand, for programmers or web developers who focus mostly on backend coding, the double screen feature may be appealing. Instead of clicking back and forth between screens, one on the trackpad can read documentation or output while the other works for coding purposes.
The central processing unit is Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, making this a high-performing laptop to suffice a working digital nomad with basic CPU needs. Hardcore developers may be quick to raise an eyebrow though, as 16GB may not be enough RAM for their software needs.
Speedy and efficient, this design proves to be great from multitasking, which most digital nomads and remote workers are doing the majority of the time. “How many web browsers can you open at once” seems to be an ongoing activity for many of us.
There have been some complaints about the fan running constantly and loudly. Due to the ultra thin size of this model, instead of having two fans running at medium speeds, there is just one going full-throttle. Well, you win some you lose some.
If performing normal web tasks, the battery life should last 8+ hours easily. If using streaming apps or gaming, then probably only 3-4 hours with the fan running at high speed the entire time.
- Great price point for someone on a budget
- Ultra portability and very lightweight
- Good performance and decent RAM
- Sufficient battery life
- Sleek and durable
- Double screens may appeal to developers/coders
- Loud fan running frequently
- Touchpad is gimmicky and unnecessary
Portability: Microsoft Surface Pro 5 12.3”
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This Microsoft Surface model is extremely portable and versatile at a very affordable price.
This is a great choice for the light-use traveller who mostly uses their laptop for normal web browsing and light workload.
For one, the screen is smaller than all the others reviewed in this article, at 12.3 inches. This laptop is also extremely lightweight weighing 1.69 pounds. The minimalist backpacker would appreciate these portability features so long as the nature of their work was not too demanding.
However, the intel processor count of 2 and a RAM speed of 4GB means that this system runs pretty slow. This includes click response, loading up apps and web pages.
It is not built for multitasking or anything other than browsing and minimal application and software use. This is important to keep in mind while thinking about the traveller’s work needs.
Even though it is small, the screen and keyboard are comfortable fit and not too crammed for most people’s hands. The OneNote feature is also a great addition, if purchasing the pen separately, and many people who like to use the surface to jot down some notes during a meeting tend to love this feature.
Many buyers who purchased this device on amazon complained that the keyboard is not included. We recommend always reading the fine print to make sure, because many item listings vary slightly from one another. The exact listing is the price of the surface without the keyboard or pen.
This device heats up very quickly because of its size and limited count processor. Some also complain about the hinge being a bit cheap.
As for the display, the 64GB HD graphics makes up for the lack of memory and speed with visually appealing image quality.
The battery life is relatively long, claiming 11 hours unplugged of charge. There are some mixed reviews about this, but for the majority, most are pleased with how long the battery lasts.
There is only 1 USB port, which may be a concern for travellers who need to charge multiple devices or hook up a mouse. In this case, they might consider purchasing an extension with extra ports or only rely on the trackpad.
Graphic designers and artists tend to love the drawing feature on the surface notepad with their pen. In addition, going back and forth with clients, sometimes it is convenient to be able to circle and make notes about specific changes to a document, design, or project.
Finally, this Microsoft Surface is a great choice for travellers who do not rely on a high-performance laptop for their work. It is super lightweight and perfect for anyone concerned with keeping the weight off their travel pack.
- Extremely lightweight and portable
- Very affordable
- Great for light use and web browsing
- OneNote feature is nice for notes and drawing
- Long battery life
- Cheap hinges
- Not a lot of ports
- Heats up quickly
- Accessories not included
Travel Laptop Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I spend on a travel laptop?
It really depends on the needs of the user.
For someone with basic needs, a decent, low-medium performing laptop can be between $600-$800.
A laptop between $1,000-$2,000 is probably the ideal range to get the best bang for your buck. A digital nomad may not want to invest more than this unless they are a serious professional with specific performance needs or a hardcore gamer.
Spending less than $1,000 is not highly recommended, as many products below this range don’t carry the same specs, build quality, and reliability. In other words, you get what you pay for. And when you rely on work to make a living while travelling, it is likely worth the few hundred extra to get something that will last.
Is it better to purchase the lightest weight laptop for traveling?
For many aspiring digital nomads, they automatically think the lighter the better. Of course less weight means less to lug around, and for the most part this is true.
Most lightweight laptops will be between 2-3 pounds, so almost nothing. For many who use their laptop for light web use and low workload, this may be a no brainer. Go lighter.
But for many, deciding purely based off of weight may pose some unexpected problems.
For one, as mentioned above, ultra thin designs have their own setbacks. Sometimes there is a lack of ports or an ineffective internal cooling system due to limited space internally.
Of course weight is one important factor, but a potential buyer should look at all specs to assess each device’s strengths and weaknesses.
How wide is the screen of a travel laptop?
Most portable laptops have a screen ranging from 13-15 inches. Typically, opting for a slightly smaller screen means the device itself is smaller and more compact. When you get to 15 and 16” screens is when you start to see bulkier laptops that are built more for aesthetic and performance over portability.
What is the safest travel laptop to purchase?
When it comes down to reliability and trouble-shooting, brand reputation and customer service plays a big part.
For example, AppleCare customer service exceeds everything else, and their extended warranty sets a traveller’s mind at ease. They have verified Apple stores all over the world and their chat and phone support is incredible from anywhere at any time.
So, for example, if you are stuck in Cuba with a malfunctioning Macbook, you are almost guaranteed to get the support or parts you need to fix the problem and get back to work in just a few days time.
MacBook Pro is one of the most highly-regarded laptops out there, which is why you almost find no bad reviews. Because Apple products all come from the same ecosystem, the buyer nearly always knows exactly what they are signing up for. No hang ups, no surprises. Just a machine built to run smooth, virus free, and meet expectations.
What is the best laptop option for a software developer or gamer?
Most developers require high CPU and RAM speed in order to efficiently complete complex projects. If they are also remote living or traveling, they probably need to prioritize their high-performance needs over portability.
The best of both worlds is a laptop weighing between 3-4 pounds with high internal processor i7 or higher and a RAM speed of 32GB.
Can I upgrade my RAM or hard disk later?
Some devices are easy to upgrade to RAM or a hard disk. One should consider whether the model they are purchasing allows for this upgrade easily or not.
If not, the potential buyer should consider shelling out a bit more for the model with higher storage or RAM so that two years down the line they don’t regret it.
For example, if someone’s career path is in backend coding and web development and they anticipate having higher performance needs down the line, they might want to think ahead before making a purchase.
Does it matter which core processor unit the laptop uses?
Yes, it matters. As mentioned above, the most optimal CPU is the i7 or higher. If someone doesn’t want to deal with a slow laptop while multitasking and opening many windows at one, they shouldn’t settle for less than this.
There are many versions of even the different levels of CPU counts which are essentially just upgrades to the processor. These are also known as “generations.” For example, in 2020, the newest most updated version is the 10th generation version of the highest CPU.
Dell XPS 13 : Why It’s Our Top Choice
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We chose this Dell XPS 13” model because it is the most versatile for a good price point. It is a great option for all types of travellers; whether travelling for business, as a full-time digital nomad, or content professional, this high functioning device is a practical choice.
The processor is the newest technology out there–the 10th generation version of a i7 CPU. And the newer the processor, the better. Like mentioned above, the better the CPU, the better the RAM, graphics, and functionality.
This laptop is quick like lightning and great or multitasking.
It is extremely portable and lightweight, which is perfect for anyone’s carry-on luggage or travel pack. Being able to pack minimally and keep the cost of luggage down is ideal when constantly going from point A to B.
The display provides wonderful graphics, whether working on designs, watching Netflix, or editing photos, this is worthwhile.
Overall, this laptop won’t break the bank, and will be the perfect device for a digital nomad to carefully pack up and be on their merry way.
This content was last updated on 2021-01-12. Contains partner affiliate links and images via Amazon Product Advertising API.