Best Travel Laptops (2017)

Recommended lightweight travel laptops, from budget to high-end

Laptop alone on empty oceanfront beach chair.

Last Updated: January 2017. With contributions from Mark Jones.

Portability, battery life, storage space and of course price are some of the key considerations when buying a travel laptop. When it’s a device that will be with you on the road, it helps to look beyond just raw specs like processing power. What quickly ends up being most important is that your laptop is versatile and lightweight, easy to use, and that it can easily store everything you need (as WiFi or mobile data is never guaranteed, especially if you’re travelling abroad).

I’ve travelled for many years, often working as a blogger / digital nomad. Before my nomad life, I travelled frequently either for work or holidays, and so I’ve been on the road with a variety of different devices. In this post I’ll highlight several categories of travel and ultraportable laptops, their pros/cons, and give you some favourite picks.

 


Budget Chromebook laptops

Get this if: you want an ultracheap ultraportable… and can make due with a simple OS
11.6 Inch Acer Aspire Chromebook

11.6 Inch Acer Aspire Chromebook

Price range: about $150 to $250 (similar in Euro, and about £116 to £193)
Typical weight: from 1.1kg or 2.5 lbs to about 1.5kg or 3.3 lbs

Want a no-frills budget travel laptop? Then a Chromebook can be a wonderful option, so long as you know what to expect.

They don’t run a full operating system like Windows, but only a basic one designed around the Chrome browser. This does make them cheaper, as manufacturers don’t have to pay Microsoft for a Windows license. Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop won’t run on these devices, so they may not be for the power users, but a Chromebook might be sufficient for your needs.

Chromebooks may not be that fast or powerful, though Chrome OS is also not very demanding. For regular internet browsing, watching movies, and basic word processing and spreadsheets, and for backing up files from your other devices (like a camera), they get the job done just fine. Internal storage will typically be no more than 16GB or 32GB—though you can hook up a USB drive or USB stick for more, or use cloud-based storage.

 Top Pick: Acer Chromebook

Price: $234.99 view at amazon

Acer has specialised in making great affordable Chromebooks and has become the most popular option in this category. The Acer Chromebook laptop does feel very plasticky and its screen is of very average quality, but that’s to be expected for a sub-$200 device. Go with the 11″ for ultra portability, or the 13″ for a more comfortably sized keyboard. I’ve used an 11″ Acer Chromebook extensively while travelling, in particular to countries where crime is a bigger problem (and where I don’t want to worry about losing an expensive ultrabook to theft).

Top Chromebooks

51M-7YIZPhL._AA160_ Acer Chromebook
Price: $234.99
41+EvoK3rAL._AA160_ Toshiba Chromebook
Price: Out of stock
41eyzlJX3iL._AA160_ Dell Chromebook 11
Price: $341.00 $219.99   -35%

 

2-in-1 convertible laptops

Get this for: the best balance of performance & versatility on the road

Price range: about $400 to $1200+ (similar in Euro, and about £308 to £925)
Typical weight: around 1.3kg or 2.9 pounds

Convertible laptops can be used both as a normal laptop and as a tablet. After a few awkward master-of-none concepts (such as the ASUS Transformer T100), Microsoft has now shown the true potential of convertible laptops with its amazing Surface Pro, and other manufacturers are following this template.

There are times when you need a full laptop, and other times when a tablet is vastly more comfortable, and now you can have both! I used to sit in airplane chairs all crunched up with my laptop in dinosaur arms position, but now I can just fold up the keyboard and hold the screen like a book. Much better.

It’s amazing to have a device that can easily function as ebook reader, video player, sketchpad, and more — but which can also transform into a full laptop with keyboard when needed. The only downside to convertibles is that they tend to be a bit less powerful than regular ultrabooks, due to obvious size/design limitations. If you need to do a lot of video editing or other intensive tasks, maybe they’re not for you, but they can handle other tasks very well.

Top Pick: Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Price: $659.95 view at amazon

Microsoft’s laptop helped define the 2-in-1 category, packing a ton of performance into a tiny 0.8kg / 1.7 pound device. If you’re looking for a mid-price option, then starting at about $800 (€692 or £617) it’s a great choice. Ultra-thin and with 9 hours of battery life, it’ll easily last you through a long journey. It may look like just a regular tablet, yet it has a full keyboard, video out (to connect it to a monitor), USB ports, microSD card reader, up to 1TB of storage, and runs the full version of Windows 10. At 780 gram, it’s lighter than any ultrabook.

Note: the Surface is sold both with and without keyboard. If you need the keyboard, make sure it’s included!

Top 2-in-1 laptops

 511w-vKhOsL._AA160_ Surface Pro 4 (128GB)
Price: $659.95
 51AeT49kkFL._AA160_ Lenovo Yoga 710
Price: $861.34
  Dell XPS 2-in-1 (2017 model)
Note: this 2-in-1 is different to the regular XPS
Price: $578.99
  HP Spectre x2
Higher-spec options also available
Price: $390.00

 

Travel ultrabooks

Get this if: you’re looking for a more traditional laptop
IMG_7375

13″ Macbook Air (shown with yellow protective casing)

Price range: about $800 to $1500+ (similar in Euro, and about £617 to £1,156)
Typical weight: around 1.3kg or 2.9 pounds

Ultrabooks used to be the go-to travel laptop thanks to a combination of strong performance and high portability. Apple essentially created this category with the first Macbook Air back in 2008, and was soon followed by other PC manufacturers. Ultrabooks replaced the slower and battery-draining HDDs with faster and more efficient SSDs, ditched the optical drive (DVD or BluRay), and put everything in a lightweight unibody chassis.

Having long used a Macbook Air, I now strongly recommend looking at 2-in-1 options for travel purposes. That said, since the keyboard and monitor don’t need to be separate on an ultrabook, their form factor allows for more powerful processors (along with air vents to keep them cool). This means you can usually get more processing power for your buck. Ultrabooks thus remain an attractive option for those needing extra horsepower but also low battery life (usually up to 9 – 12 hours).

One downside to ultrabooks versus regular laptops is that their SSD drives are typically smaller than HDDs. This can be solved by bringing an external USB drive.

Top Pick: Dell XPS 13

Price: $1,399.99 $1,009.99   -28% view at amazon

The Dell XPS is the current favorite Windows 10-based ultrabook; keep in mind that thanks to the unibody design, this model is more powerful than the 2-in-1 variant of the XPS listed earlier in this post. It comes with a sturdy full-size keyboard, a 12″ or 13.3″ display, and 12+ hours of battery life at a weight of just 2.6 lbs.

 31rvFvYnJ7L._AA160_ Macbook Air
Price: $845.00
 51dzW5BdffL._AA160_ Dell XPS 13
Price: $1,399.99 $1,009.99   -28%
 51C1sNaz87L._AA160_ Asus Zenbook
Price: $759.99 $699.00   -8%

This post contains some affiliate links. I get a small percentage fee of purchases made through them (at no extra cost to you), which helps me do more in-depth posts like these. 

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38 comments

  1. Sonya Reply July 6, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    This is an excellent post and I see people are still emailing for advice, so thank you for this… My daughter is going to Madagascar for 4 months with a student program. She needs a laptop that is cheap, light, durable and WiFi enabled. She will be using Word, XLS, PPT, SKYPE & internet. The program recommends against bringing Macs… Any recommendations?

    • Marek Reply July 6, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      If it’s just for 4 months and using light apps like the ones you’ve mentioned, maybe your daughter ould make due with a basic laptop such as this: http://geni.us/lenovo110swin10 Certainly not the fastest or the best laptop, but at least OK for educational purposes…

  2. Lily Reply June 20, 2017 at 6:56 am

    Hello,

    I am anticipating going on an excursion to china, Australia and Hawaii for a sum of 10 months (a crevice year). I likewise still have one year of secondary school to complete and will require a tablet for that do you all have any proposal for a decent lightweight travel portable workstation with loads of battery that I can likewise use for my last year of secondary school before I take off. My financial plan is around 500-600 euro’s I live in the Netherlands so ideally a non american site so I dont need to stress over delivery and power issues with the portable PC. I lean toward a windows PC however would it be more quick witted to purchase a less expensive chromebook?

    much obliged to you for any data

  3. Steph Reply June 13, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Any laptop would be a pain in the ass backpacking. I love my mac but when in the backcountry my iPad does just fine, uploads photos and videos from my Nikon key mission and other gear. I recently spent 18 days touring and can’t imagine lugging a laptop around. Those come with wen I fly & have a hire car!

  4. Jessica Reply May 13, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Hi
    I am looking for general travel equipment list which will allow me to manage a blog (including editing films etc). So a good laptop but also if you have any advice on best cameras for shooting film while on the road and taking images that would be amazing. Any other advice such as chargers, portable drives and so on would also be appreciated. In short what would your recommended perfect digital blogger tool kit be for working on the road. Thanks Jessica

    • Marek Reply May 19, 2017 at 10:37 am

      Hmm, maybe the gear list is something I should cover in a separate blog post. For serious work and editing video, I would highly recommend a high-end laptop such as Surface Pro 4, latest Macbook Air, or Dell XPS 13. I’d pair it with a 2TB portable drive, like the ones by Western Digital or Seagate, to ensure you have plenty of space to save raw footage.

  5. David Meyer Reply April 27, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Hi there,
    I’m looking for a light-weight laptop to work on the go, basically for writing blog posts, e-mails, social media and Youtube. I’m interested in buying MacBook Air but I think I should go for Chromebook for my needs. What would you suggest?

    • Marek Reply April 27, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      It all depends on your budget! Chromebook is fine for such basic tasks. I love the Macbook Air as it has a better screen, keyboard, processor, etc. and can do so much more – but it also costs more. 🙂

  6. Jephiter Reply April 10, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Bottomline for finding a travel laptop is that it must be lighter and efficient energy saver. This will reduce your load while traveling.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. Michael Chapman Reply March 20, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Your list is amazing. Thanks for those very informative reviews. I always try to make a good decision when choosing a laptop. A laptop has always been my best buddy so I need to have something that will really satisfy my needs. Thanks for sharing this post, what’s your favorite among the list you provided?

    • Marek Reply March 20, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks! For its versatility and low weight, definitely the Surface Pro 4. 🙂

  8. Gary O Reply February 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    When I was looking for a new high-end laptop I almost went for Dell XPS 13 last year. But it was a bit too pricey so “settled” for another model, ASUS ZenBook UX305CA. It’s great as well.
    Gary O recently posted…Lenovo Yoga 710 80V4000GUS Notebook ReviewMy Profile

  9. stl food Reply December 19, 2016 at 1:55 am

    I am glad this article exists. It was a tremendous help. Thanks!

  10. Sara Reply August 22, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Hi,

    I am just starting college and want something that will satisfy both my “college needs” and my blogging. I am especially looking for something lightweight, with a good processor (i5 or i7) and good memory. I also have a £650-ish budget… I would like a new laptop but I am willing to try a second hand laptop. Could you, please, either recommend some good laptops brands or advise me where I can find a reliable source selling second hand laptops?

    Thank you!

  11. Daniel Reply August 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Hi there,
    I am planning on going on a trip to china, Australia and Hawaii for a total of 10 months (a gap year). I also still have one year of high school to finish and will need a laptop for that do you guys have any recommendation for a good lightweight travel laptop with lots of battery that I can also use for my last year of high school before I leave. My budget is around 500-600 euro’s I live in the Netherlands so preferably a non american site so I dont have to worry about shipping and electricity issues with the laptop. I prefer a windows computer however would it be smarter to buy a cheaper chromebook?
    thank you for any information

    • Korinna Reply August 16, 2016 at 6:40 am

      Hey Daniel,
      you can also try to go for a more expensive laptop (with a good quality) and then go for a used one. In this way, I just recently got a used Macbook Air for only 500€!
      Think about it 🙂
      Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
      Korinna recently posted…Rwandese Traditional MusicMy Profile

  12. Elizabeth Reply August 13, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Hi there, thanks for this informative post. I’m going to Africa and need to something light weight and simple. Do you think the chrome book would be a good fit ? I will mainly be blogging, using Facebook and email.

    • Marek Reply August 14, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Yeah a chromebook is great for that – lightweight and simple 🙂

  13. Korinna Reply June 27, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Hey Marek,
    nice compilation! Never heard of Chromebooks before but the concept sounds quite interesting. I will go on a 6-months trip soon and I’m looking for an ultralight laptop that I can take with me. I’ll need it for working on my blog and for simple image editing. Not more, not less. I will bring an external hardware anyway. Should I give it a try or you’d say for image editing better go for an ultrabook?
    Thanks in advance!
    Korinna recently posted…Which food you need to try when you come to Hong KongMy Profile

    • Marek Reply June 27, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      For simple stuff, like adjusting contrast/brightness, cropping, etc. a Chromebook can be just fine (Chrome OS has a very basic image editor included and you can find apps for it too). For anything more serious I’d be more inclined to recommend an ultrabook. There’s a big price difference obviously so if budget is a concern, a chromebook can be a great option.

      • Korinna Reply June 27, 2016 at 10:44 pm

        Thank you very much for the quick reply! I will have a look at the app store to see what is available there.
        In general I wanted to dedicate my 6-months trip to improve my photography skills, especially to switch to the RAW format. I guess there won’t be s possibility for that on a Chromebook?

  14. Rai Reply June 26, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Hi Marek! As a student, I own a Macbook Pro 13″. I’m planning on travelling around the world after my graduation. Would it be okay to travel with that or should I switch to Air while I still can? Haha.

    • Marek Reply June 27, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      There’s nothing wrong per se with a Macbook Pro if you already own one. Though if I were buying a laptop specifically for travel, I’d easily go for the Air, as it means about 800 gr less weight. Whether you want to switch depends on how important you feel this is. For me, travelling light is super important, especially on a long term trip. If you could still sell your laptop second hand and maybe put in a bit of extra money for an Air, it could be worth it. 🙂

      • Korinna Reply June 27, 2016 at 10:36 pm

        Hey Rai,
        I recently took my Macbook Pro 13″ on a 10-days backpacking trip, I can tell you that thing was a pain in the ass.. if you are able to change, do it 🙂 I mean of course it depends on the kind of travelling you do: will you have to walk a lot with your backpack? How long is your trip?
        Good luck with your decision anyway 🙂

        • Hapa Reply September 19, 2016 at 10:44 pm

          It would help if you explained how the MacbookPro13 was a pain in the ass for you.
          I, personally, think Macs are a pain in the ass overall, but others would benefit from an explanation.

  15. amys Reply June 22, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    I need to be able to access emails and bluebeam/adobe software for commenting on drawings & documents….we will be in Germany mostly. What would you recommend?

    • Marek Reply June 26, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Any PC laptop (not chromebook) would be good for that. Maybe you should go for a tablet hybrid as it might be nice to draw on a document using a touchscreen.

  16. carlos sims Reply June 2, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Wow there no cheap laptop where i can edit my youtube videos? I’m going to Thailand & Philippines very soon on a budget & just wishing 11.6 Inch Acer Aspire Chromebook could edit videos…

    The main thing be doing on internet is uploaded pictures on facebook & replying to messages, emails, watching videos, movies, surfing the internet. I don’t see why i can’t upload pictures & videos (Edit videos to) on 11.6 Inch Acer Aspire Chromebook
    ?

    • Marek Reply June 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

      Uploading pictures or videos works fine on this type of laptop. There are some (very basic) video editing apps for Chrome OS as well, so you can edit video on them if you want. I just wouldn’t strongly recommend it as it’s slow and cumbersome on this type of device. I suppose it depends on what you mean with ‘edit videos’ though. If it’s just selecting a part from a video and exporting it to youtube, that’s much more doable than having a big timeline full of shots with lots of transitions and effects. Rendering will be very slow in that case and there are no programs like Adobe Premiere or GoPro Studio that let you do more sophisticated video editing on a Chromebook.

      • carlos sims Reply June 2, 2016 at 5:57 pm

        I can only imagine it taking 2 hours to upload a video to youtube on this computer but it ok. Sorry to ask this dumb question but what do you mean by cumbersome? lol.

        By edit i mean just delete some parts in my video (That i mess up on) & then uploaded it to youtube. That all i’ll be doing.

        • Marek Reply June 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

          Yeah for simple edits like that, it might be just fine. The computer just might take long to save the file after you’ve edited it. Uploading can take long but this depends on the WiFi, so it’ll be the same no matter what laptop you use 🙂 Cumbersome means inefficient/complicated

          • carlos sims June 3, 2016 at 8:10 pm

            Yea i’ll be edit my videos in Thailand & Philippines but i hear the wifi is good in those country, but not great like here in USA but as long as it upload than that be ok even if it takes hours, maybe i be out & about or on beach or something…

            How well these the wifi work for you in Thailand & Philippines?

  17. Marek Reply May 30, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Hmm, well, it’s difficult to say without knowing what kind of trouble you experienced with the tablet exactly. All I can say is the chromebook doesn’t have that keyboard docking problem (as it’s fully attached), and they’re quite user-friendly.

    Is the problem having to use a touchscreen? If you don’t need to do a lot of typing, I’d actually say a tablet makes for a better internet + ebook reader device. But if you prefer a touchpad+keyboard over a touchscreen, then you might like the chromebook a lot more. If you had issues with the software though, the chromebook software is going to be fairly similar to that of an android tablet.

  18. Gabi Reply April 20, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Great way of start thinking what the f. should I buy!!! Thanks a lot for doing part of my homework!!
    Gabi recently posted…que no se muestreMy Profile

  19. Linda Reply March 31, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Wow!, this post couldn´t be more perfect. I am in a huge need of a new laptop but still haven´t decided for which one to go. Great help!

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