We live in a society that is constantly online and connected. Checking Facebook in the morning and before bed has become a habitual action for most of us, and many people interact more online than they ever would in person. Between smartphones, tablets, laptops and even new “smart” watches, it’s not unusual to have at least one device on hand at all times, if not two or three. It’s only habit by now.
When we travel, we often disconnect to a certain level. Most phone plans don’t work abroad and Wifi isn’t always great. However, most of the time, there’s no desire (or need) to disconnect completely. For a short trip, packing your everyday electronics is no big deal, but travel can be rough on electronics, especially laptops. If you will be traveling frequently, or for more than a few days, it’s worth the extra effort to do some research and choose the best travel laptop for you.
Things to Consider Before Buying a New Laptop
There are so many factors to consider, both about the laptop and your travel style. With so many options available, it can be difficult to choose the best laptop for traveling.
Here are a few important factors to consider when shopping around for the best travel laptop:
Portability relates to the weight as well as the size. Weight is usually the most important portability factor as most travelers want to keep their bags as light as possible. The lighter the laptop, the more likely it is to be one of the best laptops for travel. The best size for your travel laptop depends on your needs. Small laptops take up less space, but also usually have fewer capabilities.
2.) Battery Life
Some laptops only have a 2 or 3 hour battery life while others can last for almost an entire day. How important battery life is depends on your travel style and use of the laptop.
3.) Storage Space
Storage space varies greatly. Basic laptops generally have a much more limited amount of storage space. Therefore, they are unable to hold big programs or the thousands of pictures you take on every trip.
Price is probably the most important factor when choosing the best laptop for traveling. The budget you have will likely determine all of the other factors so it may be worth a splurge to purchase the best laptop for traveling. Consider it an investment in your travel future. However, you don’t necessarily need to spend $1000+ to get the best travel laptop for your needs. There are several mid-range options, which I’ll share below, that will fulfill most travelers’ needs.
What Type of Traveler Are You
Before you think about specs, first consider what type of traveler you are and the needs you’ll have for your laptop. The best travel laptop for a full-time digital nomad will be different than the best travel laptop for a casual traveler.
What will you use your laptop for? Will you be working while on the road or using it solely for staying connected on social media? Are you going to be binge-watching the latest Netflix original in your hotel room or editing the day’s photos in Adobe Photoshop?
The answers to these questions will help determine the best travel laptop for you.
Below, I’ve taken the three main subcategories of laptops – Notebooks and Chromebooks, 2-in-1 hybrid laptops, and Ultrabooks – and described the basic functions of each, as well as what type of traveler it may be suitable for.
Notebooks and Chromebooks
Notebooks is a general term for basic, budget laptops. They often have a small screen size, minimum storage space, around 16GB, and usually run on Windows 10. Most programs and games will run on a notebook. The best things notebooks have going for them is their small size and long battery life.
Chromebooks are different from all other laptops – they run entirely on Google’s operating system, Chrome OS. They are meant to be used primarily online with Google apps, like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar. There’s little storage on them and many programs, like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word, cannot run on them. However, they do come with a very cheap price tag, are small enough for easy transport, and, on average, have a battery life of around 10 hours.
Notebooks and Chromebooks make the best travel laptops for travelers with basic needs, who need a laptop for staying connected and not much else. Whether you choose a Notebook or Chromebook is based entirely on preference – if you already use mostly Google-based apps, a Chromebook makes sense but if you’re a Windows-lover, go for a notebook.
Our Top Pick: Acer Chromebook 13
When choosing a Notebook or Chromebook, this Acer Chromebook 13 is definitely one of the best laptops for traveling. The 13” screen size is the perfect medium between the very small 11” and the standard 15”. It’s a very light laptop, making it ideal for putting in carry-on luggage. The 11-hour battery life, however, is what takes it from good to one of the best laptops for traveling. Other Chromebooks may have a similar battery life, but not at a $268 price point.
If your budget is under $200 and you want a laptop that runs on Windows, the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook is probably the one you want. Despite the minimal storage space, it’s still one of the best laptops for traveling when you have basic needs. It comes with Microsoft Office 365 and supports most basic programs. If you plan on storing lots of pictures, just grab an external hard drive before you leave.
2-in-1 Hybrid Laptops
2-in-1 hybrid laptops are a nice compromise between bringing your iPad (or any other tablet) and a high-end laptop on a trip. There is a low price range with hybrids, starting below $200 and moving upwards of $1200. There are two styles that are important to consider – detachable and bendable. With the detachable variety, the keyboard detaches completely so you can have separate pieces. With the bendable types, the keyboard only flips around the back, often to prop up the screen, and the entire thing stays in one piece.
Hybrid laptops are a good option for those who want something more than a budget laptop and don’t want to be limited by the Chrome OS on a Chromebook. If you plan on using your laptop for basic blogging, social media, and storing photos, a hybrid is probably the best travel laptop for you.
Our Top Pick: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is one of the most popular, higher end hybrid laptops. It boasts a 9-hour battery life and weighs just less than two pounds. The Microsoft Surface Pro is the best of both worlds, as you get a high quality laptop in the form of a tablet, but can quickly attach the keyboard to make it a complete laptop. Its versatility, portability, and advanced Microsoft technology make it the top hybrid laptop for traveling.
For a more budget-friendly hybrid option, the ASUS Transformer is a good option for travelers. It’s small in size, with a 10-inch screen and also weighs under 2 pounds. However, there’s a lot of power in those 10-inches, as it comes with more memory than most other options. The keyboard detaches completely and, in general, the build is not as fragile as some other laptops.
Ultrabooks are high-end, top of the line laptops, which is shown in the price but also in the capabilities of the laptop. With an Ultrabook, you can do all of the things that are not possible on hybrid laptops and nearly anything else you can imagine.
The term “Ultrabook” gets thrown around by many companies these days. Be sure to check before you buy that you’re getting a true Ultrabook and not just a fancy mid-range laptop. Ultrabooks are marketed on being light and thin, while maintaining the same screen size of other laptops and a long battery life.
For travelers that maintain a business on the road or spend extensive time editing photos or working with large programs, an Ultrabook will definitely be the best laptop for traveling, regardless of your destination.
Our Top Pick: Macbook Air
For anyone running a business on the road or otherwise using a laptop frequently, the Macbook Air is by far the best laptop for traveling. With a 13.3″ screen and weighing only 1.48 pounds, the Macbook Air takes up virtually no room in any bag. It comes with an internal storage space much higher than the hybrids and Chromebooks, and functions overall at a much faster speed, even when using large design programs.
Dell XPS 13 is the ultrabook for Windows-lovers. It’s a bit over a pound heavier than the Macbook Air but otherwise has similar specs, including screen size and battery life. If the Macbook Air isn’t your thing because you prefer Windows but you still need a high-functioning laptop on your trip, the Dell XPS is the best option.
Whether you need a laptop that can be used as a mobile office or just a simple device for staying connected, there are plenty of options available. To find the best travel laptop for you, remember to consider your travel style and what you will need the laptop for prior to shopping.
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