When you’re looking for a great laptop for traveling, you’ll often have to look a bit differently than for a laptop you’ll just use at home or at the office.
It isn’t just about sheer processing power or having the highest resolution screen. When it’s a device you’ll take with you on the road, other things come into play as well.
Besides power, it’s equally important that your laptop is versatile and lightweight, has lots of battery life, is easy to use, and that it can easily store everything you need on the go.
I’ve been traveling for work since 2008 and been a nomad since 2012. In this time I’ve worked from coffee shops, airports, hotels, and other places all around the world. I’ve worked with Apple laptops, Windows laptops, tablets and even a Chromebook.
I learned from first-hand experience how not every laptop is suitable for traveling, but also how some can really make your life on the road a lot easier.
Whether you are a digital nomad, frequent traveler, or a budget backpacker — with this guide, I will point you to some of the best travel laptops you can buy this year.
Quick Overview: Best travel laptops at a glance
Dell XPS 13" (latest edition)
Best premium travel laptop
- 9th generation Intel Core processors
- Super thin bezel screens
- Best digital nomad laptop
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Best 2-in-1 laptop
- 8th generation Intel Quad Core i7 Processor
- 512 GB of storage
- 16 GB RAM
Acer Chromebook R13
Best value / budget option
- MediaTek Quad-Core CPU, 13.3” Full HD Touch Display
- 4GB Memory
- 32GB eMMC
Acer Aspire E15
- Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor
- 4, 6 or 8 GB of RAM
- 256GB SSD
Acer Spin 1
- Intel Celeron N3350 Dual-Core Processor (Up to 2.4GHz)
- 11.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) Multi-touch widescreen LED-backlit IPS display
- 4GB DDR3L Memory, 32GB Storage
Asus ZenBook UX330UA
- 13.3 Inch Anti-glare FHD 1920 x 1080 Display
- Latest 8th Gen Intel i5-8250U 1.6 GHz Processor
- 256GB SATA 3 M.2 SSD
HP Spectre x360
- 12.0-Inch diagonal wuxga+ IPS wled-backlit IPS touchscreen Display
- Intel Core m3-6y30, 0.9GHz, dual-core Processor
- 4GB LPDDR3 SDRAM Memory
What kind of laptop do you need?
The best travel laptop for you will of course depend on your needs, what type of traveler you are, and your budget.
If you simply need to run basic productivity apps or need something to keep you entertained on the road, you may not need a laptop at all!
Tablets have come a long way. These days, you can easily store files on a tablet, attach an external keyboard, or take notes with a stylus. Premium tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro or the Apple iPad Pro function almost like mini laptops. But tablets weigh much less than laptops — only around 400 to 700 grams (0.9 to 1.6 pounds) — making them ultra portable.
If you need a cheap Windows laptop to travel with, you could look at something like an Acer Aspire E15 or Acer Spin 1. It won’t be the best or fastest, but it’s decent enough for browsing, Office, and other basic tasks.
You could also consider a cheap Chromebook. These don’t run Windows, so you can’t do everything with them. But they run Android apps, are lightweight, inexpensive, and can still do most basic things. In the past, I’ve often traveled with a cheap Chromebook while leaving my expensive computer securely at home. You can get a good Chromebook for as little as $299, making these quite attractive as a worry-free bit of gear to buy just for your travels (you won’t have to stress about it getting stolen or damaged so much).
But if you need to do a lot of work on the road, and you use some of the more demanding apps, then you’ll definitely need a high-end ultrabook like a Dell XPS or Apple Macbook Pro. These laptops are widely used by traveling professionals, as they can typically handle any tasks you throw at them — including photo or video editing.
If you’re a content creator or work online, then it’s usually worth spending some money on a great laptop (e.g. at least $1000 or more). After all, it’s a tool that will improve your productivity and make your work easier. If you just need it for some casual work, studies, or general use, you may well be fine with something under $1000.
Best travel laptops for pros
Ultrabooks are high-end laptops that have the best combination of power and portability. As such these lightweight laptops tend to be the favorite tool of many nomads, remote workers, photographers, videographers, and other pro users.
If you do a lot of editing, programming, or just a lot of multi-tasking, then an ultrabook is almost certainly the best type of travel laptop for you. But even for regular office and internet use, you may still wish to consider an ultrabook.
Dell XPS (13″ or 15″)
- High-end 'it does everything' laptop with excellent performance
- One of the thinnest screen bezels (makes it more portable)
- Latest 9th gen processors
- 4K and OLED versions have less battery life than FHD
If you’re looking for an it-does-everything laptop that is also still highly portable, the Dell XPS is one of the best around.
It’s one of the most popular laptops among digital nomads — and it’s also the main laptop I use these days. Whenever I go to a co-working office or a digital nomad event, it’s basically just Dell XPSes and Apple Macbook Pro’s that I see. But since Apple laptops have had some problems with their keyboards over the last few years, I recommend looking at Dell’s laptops first.
Here’s a cool thing about the Dell XPS line: their screens have a very thin bezel. This isn’t just for looks: it also means it’s smaller and more portable.
The XPS 13, for example, has a 13″ sized screen, but the chassis size is similar to a 12″ laptop. The 15″ version has a chassis closer to a normal 14″ — which is pretty amazing. It’s something very few other laptops can claim to have.
If portability is most important to you, then consider the XPS 13. At 2.7 pounds (1.23kg), it’s one of the lightest travel laptops around. The basic configuration starts at about $1000, but there are more expensive options with more processing speed, harddrive space, and so on.
If you’re looking for more power and capabilities, you might also want to go one step bigger with the XPS 15. It has more ports and a bigger screen. All the i7 and i9 configurations of the XPS 15 also have a dedicated graphics card. That means you can play games on it — maybe not the most demanding FPSes on the highest settings, but most types of games will run well at 60fps.
Previous versions of the XPS placed the camera awkwardly in the bottom corner, but the 2019 versions put them in the center front, so you don’t have to worry about a camera looking up your nose anymore.
Thanks to their USB-C ports, the XPSes can also be charged with an external battery. They can also be rapidly charged with this port, making them perfect for on the go.
Tip: skip the versions that have the i3 processor (they’re poor value for money) and go for at least an i5.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
- 2-in-1 laptop (also works as tablet)
- Up to 15 hours battery life
- Great performance
- No Thunderbolt 3 port
The Surface Book 2 is an update to last year’s 1st gen Surface Book. Although it looks similar, the internal configuration has been changed quite a bit. Surface Book 2 comes in 2 sizes- the smaller 13.5 inch and the bigger and pricier 15 inch.
The Ultra-HD display alone is enough to spin some heads with its crystal clear visuals. But the biggest attraction is the battery life — it can easily last for a good long 15 hours even when used for watching movies. That would be more than enough to survive long flights with ease.
You can use this device in any of the 3 modes- the laptop, the convertible or the tablet. That’s amazing for travel: in tablet form, it works fantastically as a digital notepad, ebook reader, or media device. If you attach the keyboard, it becomes an excellent workstation.
The Surface Book is probably due for an update sometime (it’s still on the 8th gen processors), but that also means it’s a bit cheaper right now.
Although Microsoft has put quite a bit of effort in making it nearly perfect it still has some drawbacks. Firstly, there’s no Thunderbolt-enabled port although you get a USB-C port. Instead, you get the Surface Connect ports which, if you ask me, are simply overhyped. Secondly, you won’t get the Surface Pen with it; you have to buy that $100 stuff separately.
Best travel laptops on a budget
If you need a fast and highly capable laptop that is also light and portable, then ultrabooks are truly the best category to look at. But if you’re on a tighter budget, or if you don’t necessarily need a ton of horsepower, then there are some good budget Windows laptops to consider.
These kinds of laptops are perfectly suitable for Office work, browsing, and media — and they can even run apps like Photoshop at least decently well. But if you’re a more demanding user, you may feel these are a little slow and lack sufficient storage space.
Chromebooks are another interesting option; they don’t run Windows, but they’re much cheaper and can handle basic tasks very well.
Acer Chromebook R13
- Incredible value
- Runs Chrome OS and Android apps
- Also works as a tablet with touchscreen
- Doesn't run Windows
- Very limited storage space (use cloud or SD card slot)
- Too underpowered for pro users
First things first: this is a Chromebook. Keep in mind they don’t run a full operating system like Windows 10, but a more basic one designed around the Chrome browser. This does make them much more efficient (and free of typical Windows bloatware) as well as a lot cheaper.
I’ve used the Chromebook R13 as a cheap travel laptop to use on the go, while I leave my expensive gear at home. While it can’t do everything, it’s perfect for basic tasks — and since it’s cheap, I don’t have to worry so much about it getting stolen or damaged while I’m traveling.
To be clear, you can’t run professional-grade video editing software or Adobe Photoshop on them. Instead of Microsoft Office you’ll have to use the free Google Docs app or the basic Office for Chrome. But for internet browsing, watching movies, basic photo editing, and everyday office suite use, a Chromebook will easily get the job done. It also runs any Android apps.
The Chromebook R13 is amazing value, selling for just $299. Judged on specs alone it might not seem like the fastest machine, but since it’s optimized for Chrome it’s surprisingly snappy in day-to-day use.
Mind you, it isn’t a premium laptop. The screen has a thick bezel, the trackpad is quite clicky, and the webcam is low resolution. Storage space is also very limited, as you’re expected you to store most files in the cloud. But given the price, you really can’t complain. And you can use the SD card slot to store some extra files, too (a free Google Drive subscription is also included).
The Acer Chromebook has a touchscreen with a 360-degree hinge, which means you can fold it up and use it like a tablet. This is great for traveling as there’s often little space on airplane tray tables or in trains and buses, yet the tablet mode lets you easily watch a video or flick through your travel guide PDFs from your lap. The battery life is between 9 and 12 hours, which is amazing for travel.
Acer Aspire E15 (latest version)
You don’t usually expect much from a sub $500 laptop — they tend to be poorly made, provide a lousy performance and offer only the bare minimum most of the times. But surprisingly enough, Acer Aspire E15 outperformed most of its competitors and offers those features that we expect only from the relatively pricier laptops. Let’s give it a closer look then.
It comes with either an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor along with 4, 6 or 8 GB of RAM. One of the biggest wow-factors of Aspire E15 is that despite being a cheap laptop it does offer an SSD, whereas most of the others include the slower HDD. Although small, the provided 256 GB solid state drive should be enough for your day-to-day stuff.
E15 comes with 2 types of display- the cheaper models feature an HD (1366 x 768) panel whereas the relatively costlier models feature a much better FHD (1920 x 1080) display. Surprisingly despite its compact stature, it comes with an array of useful ports. It touts 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, an Ethernet port and also a USB type-C port. It also includes the old school CD drive… in case someone still uses those!
It’s decent performance-wise and can handle a moderate amount of multitasking. Although there was no significant delay or stutter while watching videos and running dozens of browser tabs, the performance starts to degrade if you burden it anymore.
In terms of portability, it lasts for nearly 8 hours when surfing the web or doing light tasks. Not an outstanding performance by any means but it will be enough to survive a day’s worth of use. A big drawback of this laptop is, however, the weight. At 2.5kg or 5.6 pounds it’s nearly twice as heavy as your average ultrabook.
We recommend the Acer Aspire E15 for anyone who needs good specs at a low price, but won’t mind lugging a heavy machine around. It’s a good option if portability is not your primary concern, or if you just want a cheap but capable Windows laptop to take on the road while your main computer stays home.
Acer Spin 1
You think a good 2-in-1 have to be costly? Or maybe the cheaper ones must be terrible? Well, you’re not half wrong, but Acer Spin 1 is certainly an exception. It’s powered by either an Intel Celeron or Pentium processor which is accompanied by 4 GB of RAM. The included eMMC Flash storage (which usually range from 32 to 128 GB) may be insufficient unless you also use the microSD storage. The biggest positive of this convertible undebatably is the 11.6″ FHD panel which is one of the best in terms of clarity and brightness in this price range. It allows you to use the stylus which is supplied along with the laptop for scribbling and taking notes directly on the screen. The port selection is quite good as well including a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port and a microSD reader although it doesn’t include a USB type-C port.
Along with all the positives, there indeed are a few drawbacks as well. Firstly, the battery backup is decent at max at 7 hours while surfing the internet. And secondly, as mentioned earlier, the in-built Flash storage may be limiting even for day-to-day chores.
Asus ZenBook UX330UA
ZenBook UX330UA is slightly costlier than the rest of the entrants in this list, although that’s for a good reason. This aluminum armored knight is powered by either an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor along with 8 gigs of RAM. There’s is either a 256 GB or 512 GB SSD for your storage needs which is pretty average in terms of transfer rate as it’s pretty darn slow. The 13.3-inch FHD IPS display, on the other hand, is simply excellent thanks to both a high color coverage and brightness. At just 2.6 pounds or 1.2kg, it’s highly light and portable.
The port selection is good overall which includes 2 USB type-A ports, a micro HDMI port, a card reader and also a USB type-C port. The performance is simply fantastic as there was no noticeable lag even after burdening it with dozens of browser tabs. One key drawback is that the touchpad is somewhat lousy.
HP Spectre x360
Do you still believe that a 2-in-1 have to be a bland piece of metal and can’t look gorgeous? You haven’t met the HP Spectre in that case. This svelte looking convertible comes in 2 sizes as usual- the 13 inch and the 15 inch. It offers either the standard FHD display or the eye-catching UHD panel. Spectre x360 13 includes both the USB type-A and type-C port which makes it convenient for charging on the go with the help of external power bricks. The battery backup of the FHD variant under everyday workload is around 8-10 hours which is pretty standard. The backup comes down to a meagre 6 hours in the power-hungry 4K version.
One of the major drawbacks of Spectre x360 13 is that it doesn’t have the option of a dedicated GPU; you have to make do with the onboard Intel UHD Graphics 620 which can, honestly speaking, serve you only that much. If you are looking for a bit of serious graphics work or gaming I would suggest you to go for the 15-inch version which gives you the option of NVIDIA MX150 which is pretty decent performance-wise.
Things to keep in mind
Finally, let me share a few general tips for finding the best travel laptop for you. Whatever manufacturer you end up going with, keeping an eye out for these things
Make sure your device has a USB-C port — most new laptops do. Better yet, get one with a Thunderbolt 3 port, which is like a USB-C port but with extra functions (it does everything: it can connect screens, charge the battery, or connect external devices).
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports can charge your laptop super quickly. So even if you just have 30 minutes to charge at the airport, you’ll probably still gain a couple of hours of laptop use. You can also charge via USB-C from a portable power bank, should you need some extra juice in a pinch.
One cool thing about Thunderbolt 3: you can use it to connect your laptop to a dock, which in turn can be connected to a screen, keyboard + mouse, speakers, and so on. I used to have a desktop PC and a laptop, but now I just have a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 for use on the road, and when I get home I connect it to my desk setup with just one cable. Pretty neat!
Get a laptop with an SSD drive, not an HDD drive — most lightweight laptops do. SSD drives consume less power and are faster.
Consider how much storage space you need. I used to travel with a laptop with just a 128 GB SSD and I constantly had to load photos and videos on to it and then upload them to the cloud (over slow hotel and hostel WiFi) to free more space. I got sick of doing this, so now I have a 1 TB drive.
If you can’t afford the biggest SSD, you can still just go for something smaller. Remember you can still use the USB port to attach a thumb drive and get a bit more space that way. Or you can insert an SD card, if the device has a reader, and cheaply add some more storage space that way. SD cards are waaay slower than harddrives, but they’re still good enough for storing videos, music, or downloads.
Warranty and repair
Another thing to keep in mind, especially if you travel internationally, is your warranty. Some companies are cool with helping you out with problems no matter where in the world you are, while others restrict you to the country you bought the device.
Personally, I like brands such as Dell, Apple and Microsoft for this reason, as they truly operate globally.
I was once stuck in Mexico with a malfunctioning Asus laptop that couldn’t be repaired there, which really sucked!
Touch or 4K?
Keep in mind that having a touchscreen or a 4K resolution screen may drain the battery faster than just having a non-touch Full HD (1080p) display.
The difference is becoming smaller now that 4K screens are getting more efficient, but on many laptops you can still get many more hours of battery life if you get a more basic FHD screen. 4K is great but at the typical viewing distance with a laptop, it can be a bit overkill.
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