When you’re looking for a great laptop for traveling, there will be different criteria than for a laptop for use just at home or the office.
It isn’t just about sheer power or capacity, but also about weight, versatility, battery life, and ease of use on the road. And when you can’t always be assured of a good connection to the cloud, your device needs to easily store everything you need on the go.
I’ve been a nomad for over 10 years now, often working from coffee shops, airports, hotels, coworking offices, and other places all over the world. My experience has shown me that not every device is equally suited to traveling or for working remotely from anywhere.
In this recommendation post, we’ll help you find the right device for your travels while taking a look at the latest travel laptops and tablets.
Whether you are a digital nomad, business traveler, or budget backpacker, read on for our top tips for best travel laptops in 2021.
Travel for work
If you’re a business traveler, digital nomad, or a content creator, consider an ultrabook laptop like a Macbook Pro, Dell XPS 13″ or Surface Laptop 3. Ultrabooks offer the best combination of performance and portability. Alternatively, a pro tablet will be much lighter and may also work well for you, depending on the kind of apps you need to use.
Travel for fun
For holidays, backpacking trips, road trips, etc. consider traveling with just a lightweight tablet such as an Apple iPad. They’re ideal as a media viewer, e-reader, and for using travel apps, travel research, backing up your photos, and even some light work (especially with a keyboard attached). Alternatively, try a budget 2-1 laptop like an Acer Spin or HP Spectre x360.
Laptop or tablet?
You probably came to this page looking specifically for a travel laptop. Don’t worry, we’ll look at the best travel laptops in a moment.
But… tablets have come a long way!
And maybe a tablet is just all you need.
Sure, they may not be exactly ideal for heavy applications such as video editing or playing the latest video games on high settings, but they can still pack a real punch these days. Some tablets, like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7, have similar capabilities to an ultrabook laptop.
There are some key advantages to travelling with a tablet:
- Lighter. On average, tablets weigh under 0.7 kg (1.55 lbs). Laptops are often twice as heavy.
- More portable. Even with a keyboard and stylus, you’ll need less space in your travel bag.
- Better in tight spaces. Tablets easily fit on your lap in trains, buses, and airplanes, or on a small tray table. They’re easy to use even when seating space is limited.
Of course, tablets don’t do everything laptops do. But tablets have been getting better and better every year.
The lines between laptops and tablets have been blurred considerably. Some laptops with fold-over touchscreens are marketed as ‘2-in-1 laptops’. Pro tablets, meanwhile, have started to look more like laptops.
Consider that tablets can have keyboards, either as foldable accessories or by allowing you to connect them via a USB port.
Tablets can also have lots of storage. For example, the Surface Pro 7 can have up to 1TB of SSD storage, putting it on par with laptops.
Finally, tablets can now run advanced OSes. Some run Windows 10 with all the apps you already know. Apple’s iPad Pro uses iPad OS, which these days allows full file browsing, copying files to USB, multitasking, and more.
So it helps to think of tablets now as portable productivity stations, not just those limited devices from the past used for some casual games and browsing. If you think a tablet will be sufficient for your uses, you can jump to the best tablets.
However, there are still many cases where a full laptop is preferable, either for ergonomic reasons or because they still provide the most power and capabilities.
Best travel laptops
Are you a professional user? Then you’ll probably want to look at the latest ultrabooks, which are high-end laptops with the best balance between power and portability.
These lightweight travel laptops — such as the Dell XPS, the Microsoft Surface Laptop or Surface Book, and the Apple Macbook Pro or Macbook Air — are the favorite tool of many nomads, remote workers, photographers, videographers, and other pro users.
These ultrabooks can handle anything you throw at them — with high-fps hardcore gaming perhaps the only exception.
For international travelers, a premium brand such as Apple, Microsoft, or Dell gives more reliability as well as better global warranty. This is a must if you’re abroad often; I’ve had several situations where I had to get my laptop fixed abroad and with the bigger brands this is easy. With Apple, you can even walk into any Apple Store around the world (even at airports) and solve issues regardless of which territory you purchased your laptop.
Quick Overview: Best travel laptops & tablets
New Macbook Air (M Chip)
Best battery life + performance
- M chip is faster & uses less power
- Up to 20 (!) hours of battery life
- Up to 2TB storage
Dell XPS 13"
Best premium PC travel laptop
- 10th generation Intel Core processors
- Super thin bezel screens
- Only 2.7 pounds (1.23kg)
- Best lightweight high-performance laptop for Windows
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
- 10th generation Intel Core processors
- 13.5” touch screen with 3:2 ratio (more vertical space)
- 3.4 pounds (1.54 kg)
Acer Spin 5
Best cheap travel laptop
- 10th Gen Intel Core processor
- 14" touch display - can be used in 'tablet mode'
- 3.7 pounds (1.70 kg)
- 13.3 Inch Anti-glare FHD 1920 x 1080 Display
- Latest 8th Gen Intel i5-8250U 1.6 GHz Processor
- 2.7 lbs (1.23 kg)
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Best pro travel tablet
- 2-in-1 (use as laptop or tablet)
- 10th Generation Intel Core processor
- 1.7 pounds (770g)
New Apple iPad
Best casual travel tablet
- A10 Fusion chip
- 1.07 lbs (483 grams)
- Keyboard and stylus accessories
Macbook Air (New M Chip)
Price Starting at $999
- Industry-leading battery life (18+ hours)
- 8-core CPU
- Bright 500 nits Retina display
- Weighs 1.29 kg (2.8 pounds)
- Apple warranty and support
- Won't run Windows-only apps
In November 2020, Apple surprised the tech world by ditching the Intel chips it had been using in its laptop for 15 years and replacing them with its own M Chip.
The ARM-based M1 chip allows for higher performance while drawing less power, giving the new Macbook Air and Macbook Pro a reported battery life of 18 to 20 hours. The processors are an evolution of Apple’s A-series of chips that it has been using in the iPhone and iPad for many years.
It was harder to recommend Apple laptops in recent years as it struggled to keep up with the latest Intel chips and suffered issues with its keyboards, but now Apple is back in the game. Thanks to their speed and long battery life, the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro are again the best laptops for travelers or digital nomads working remotely.
For most users, the Macbook Air 13″ will probably suffice. It’s also attractively priced, starting at $999.
The hardware inside the Macbook Pro 13″ is very similar, its key difference being the internal fan that allows the processor to work harder without having to throttle down. It costs about $300 more than the Air, so consider getting the Pro only if you wish to have the highest possible performance for demanding tasks, such as rendering video. Otherwise, both the Air and Pro offer similar portability and capabilities.
Keep in mind that since these laptops now run on ARM architecture, you can’t run Windows apps or games on them anymore (not even with a dual-boot setup). However, Apple has developed the Rosetta 2 emulator to ensure any Intel-based Mac apps will continue to run smoothly.
The Macbooks are best for anyone who needs to use their laptop professionally and is fine with all the apps available on Mac (which are really all the key productivity and creative apps). However, if you’re a gamer or want to use Windows, the Dell XPS may be more what you’re looking for.
Dell XPS 13″
- High-end 'it does everything' laptop with superb performance
- One of the thinnest screen bezels (makes it more portable)
- Latest 10th gen processors
- 4K and OLED versions have slightly less battery life
Need a complete mobile workstation? Then look no further than the Dell XPS. It’s the most popular laptop among digital nomads besides the Apple Macbook Pro and for good reasons.
Firstly, it has a remarkably thin screen bezel, which 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 thick-bezel 12″ laptop. That’s quite amazing. The 15″ version has a chassis closer to a normal 14″.
If portability is most important to you, then consider the 13 inch XPS. 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 better options with more processing speed, hard drive space, and so on. I myself opted for an Intel i7 chip option with 1TB of harddrive space. I use mine a lot for video and photo editing, but if you mainly use your laptop for office applications, you could make do with a cheaper Intel i5 configuration. You can view the different configurations at Dell.
All configurations have an insane 500-nit anti-glare screen, which works extremely well even in bright outdoor settings. You can choose between touch or non-touch displays; the latter will give you a little more battery life.
Although it depends on which apps you use, the battery life can be up to 12 hours.
The Dell XPS 13 can handle pretty much anything, though if you use a lot of 3D applications or want to do some (light) gaming, consider the Dell XPS 15, which has a dedicated graphics card and bigger screen, while still being nicely portable.
You can use a Dell XPS on the road but equally well at home or at the office. I have it paired with a Dell docking station at home via Thunderbolt 3 to easily connect to an external monitor, keyboard, and so on, all through one USB-C cable.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
- Microsoft's flagship ultrabook
- Up to 15 hours battery life
- Great performance
- No Thunderbolt 3 port
For many years now, Microsoft has been making its own devices under the Surface brand, serving as a flagship offering for Windows PCs. There is a wild variety of devices carrying the Surface name, which can be confusing. But if you’re after a full-blown laptop there are two products to check out.
Firstly, there is the Surface Book 2 (soon to be updated to a 3rd edition), which offers 2-in-1 functionality. It may look like a normal laptop, but you can fold over or detach the screen and use it as a (rather oversized) tablet. This can be great for travel when you want to use your device in a more casual position. However, one downside is that the screen part is quite chunky, due to housing the processor and other essential components.
Arguably a better option is the Surface Laptop 3, which may not have 2-in-1 functionality, but is a more traditional ultrabook with a slim design. The Surface Laptop is similar to the Dell XPS in terms of capabilities and is more streamlined than Microsoft’s Surface Book. The battery can last a good 15 hours depending on use.
One reason why some travelers prefer the Surface Laptop is the screen, which is in 3:2 aspect ratio, instead of widescreen. This gives you extra vertical space when scrolling documents, or for placing your various toolbars.
The Surface Laptop 3 is better than the 2nd itineration in a number of areas. It introduces battery fast-charging (80% charge within 1 hour) which is perfect for travel. It now also uses USB-C, letting you easily get an additional charge from a powerbank. Sadly, though, it does not support Thunderbolt 3.
Acer Spin 3
- Great value for money
- 2-in-1 laptop (also use as tablet)
- Updated with 10th Gen processors
- HD space limited to 256GB
- Fairly standard 1080p display
Looking for a more budget-friendly option? Then the Acer Spin 3 has got you covered. It’s been updated with 10th Generation Intel processors in June 2020, though the previous 8th gen Acer Spin version is still for sale, potentially at clearance prices.
(A bit confusingly, the 3 in Acer Spin 3 is a brand name, not a version, so both are called the same. Acer Spin 5 is a different 15.6″ laptop.)
The Acer Spin 3 is a convertible 13″ laptop, meaning you can use it in tablet mode, tent mode (for media viewing), or like a regular laptop. It comes with a stylus, which is great for note-taking and creativity apps.
It has a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 functionality for easy connectivity and charging.
The most basic model sells for $499 with the most specced out version going for $799. If you’re looking for best value for money, you may want to consider the $699 configuration, which gives you a fast i5 processor and 256 GB of SSD storage space.
Best travel tablets
As mentioned earlier, tablets these days have a lot more functionality than they had just a few years ago. Both picks for best travel tablets here can be used stand-alone, or can be used with an attachable keyboard.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
- 2-in-1 (use as laptop or tablet)
- Runs Windows 10
- Very lightweight at 1.7 pounds (770g)
- Keyboard or stylus cost extra
- No Thunderbolt 3
When it comes to full-featured Windows tablets, Surface Pro 7 leads the pack. It is the perfect choice for professional users or for the more demanding home user. It has a 12.3″ touchscreen that comes with a stylus and optional foldable keyboard, letting you turn it into essentially a mini laptop.
At 1.7 lbs (0.77kg) it is ultra-portable, yet for such a small device it still packs a real punch. It has a quad-core processor up to i7, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of SSD storage. But for most people, the $899 Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is probably sufficient, so long as you’re mostly saving files to the cloud.
Sadly, the keyboard isn’t bundled, so you’ll need to spend an extra $129.99 on the Surface Type Cover. But it’s worth it, as it turns this into an everything-device that can serve equally well as a small laptop or high-powered tablet.
The latest 7th edition finally comes with USB-C, letting you easily attach peripherals or get some extra charge from a USB-C powerbank.
The Surface Pro 7’s extremely low weight but impressive capabilities and full Windows support make this one of the best travel devices around.
New Apple iPad
- Super lightweight at 1.07 lbs (483 grams)
- Perfect as entertainment/reading device
- New iPad OS allows file browsing and USB peripherals
- Small form factor unsuitable for serious work
As far as tablets go for casual use when you’re traveling for fun, there are just so many options to consider. But a great choice is to stick with the original inventors of the tablet and get an Apple iPad. It has a nice-size 10.2-inch screen and at 1.07 lbs or 483 grams, it’s light as a feather.
It’s attractively priced (under $300) and works amazingly well as an e-reader, browser, entertainment device, and for using travel apps. But its functionality can also be extended in ways that make it a productive device as well. Attach a keyboard with trackpad and you can easily write some travel journals or do a bit of light work. With the stylus accessories, you can draw, scribble notes, or edit photos more effectively.
The new iPad OS has opened up the system considerably, letting you browse and copy files, and attach USB devices or SD card readers. This makes it perfect as a lightweight back-up solution for your travel photos and other important files.
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