When you’re researching the best laptops for travel, you’ll be inundated with spec-heavy advice from tech experts. This advice can leave you spinning so much that it feels like you better take their word for it or ELSE (or else or else).
Tech blogs love to dish out advice that’s heavy on the gen intel core, solid state drive, 8gb ram-speak. I’m sure everything they share is true and accurate! But it can be overkill, especially for the average traveler or digital nomad who’s just trying to find the best travel laptop for their needs.
I’m not a tech blogger, and I honestly don’t know how many rams my computer has (*a shriek is heard in the distance*).
But I do know travel and working on the road. I know that a backlit magic keyboard or touch screen are nice at moments, but will definitely NOT determine the quality of your travel memories or your work output. I also know that the latest version or most exciting Kickstarter model won’t help you when you need to replace your charging cord or get your laptop repaired from the middle of X, Y, or Z.
I’m bringing you totally non-techy, spec-free advice for finding YOUR best laptop for travel, based on my experience as a digital nomad in North America, South America, and Europe.
If you take away nothing else about laptops for travel, let it be this: ask the right questions, find *your* answers, and don’t let anyone fearmonger you into a purchase that you aren’t totally jazzed about.
3 Questions To Find Your Best Laptop For Travel
During your travel laptop research process, remember that there’s no “right” answer. Find your answers, and you’ll have all of the info you need to make the most informed choice.
1. How discrete is this laptop?
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Macbooks. The Apple logo is well-recognized as a sign of wealth. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take one traveling, but you should consider where you’ll be going and where you’ll be working from before assuming it’s the goat.
No shade to Apple (I had one, too, when I began my digital nomad journey in 2017), but it’s a mistake to tout Macbook Airs or Macbook Pros as the hands-down best laptops for travel without looking at where you’ll be taking them.
I learned this first hand in Guatemala: when my Spanish teacher saw that I had a MacBook Air, he warned me to not let it be seen by too many people. Not because we were in a dangerous town, but because my laptop was worth the average amount of money that a Guatemalan made in a month.
This lesson was reinforced in Colombia. In a wee-hours-of-the-morning packing frenzy, I left my charging cord behind on the bunk. Bert-Jan and I walked around between electronics shops for *hours* looking for a replacement.
We would pull out my laptop and ask “do you sell chargers?” (in limited Spanish). You know what happened? Multiple people told us to hide my laptop and not let people see it. Specifically, seeing that we weren’t understanding him, one kind man charades-level acted out someone seeing my laptop and then a punching motion.
Mind you, this was with a Lenovo ThinkPad, which is completely anonymous and unimpressive looking, despite costing more than $1k new.
How important is discretion for your travels?
Discretion is particularly important for these travelers:
- Budget travelers. Travelers who will stay in nice hotels can worry less, but budget backpackers will find themselves in $4 hostels and on 27-hour bus rides
- Travelers who move often. Renting an apartment for a month and having a coworking space is a radically different type of travel from moving to a new town every few days. Backpackers who move constantly will not find themselves working from coworking spaces often, and instead will be replying to emails from bus and train terminals, bars, and anywhere else with WiFi
At a hostel in San Salvador, all the beds were booked and I ended up sleeping on (and working from) a mattress on the floor of the hostel bar. Travelers with expendable money won’t find themselves in these scenarios, but this is par for the course for budget travel.
Decide how important discretion is for you and pick a laptop for travel accordingly.
2. What’s my plan for repairs/part replacements with this laptop?
Just like your own travel wellness, you will have to tend to the wear and tear this lifestyle has on your laptop.
Access to replacements and repairs is a bridge you will have to cross if you’re a digital nomad long enough.
Some of the common wears and tears include:
- Losing or having your charging cord break
- The toll of unbelievable heat and humidity
- Accidents, such as sudden rainfall or a scooter accident
- Broken screens
- Keyboards that dull over time or get wet
Anyone who travels long enough will experience at least one of these hiccups. The most likely inconvenience is having to replace your charging cords.
In 4 years of working online, I’ve had to find replacement charging cords twice. Once was in Colombia and once was in the Netherlands.
For anyone who is planning their first big trip abroad, it’s good to realize that mail is very, very restricted in some parts of the world. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to order what you need and have it shipped to the current country you’re in.
If you’re going way off the beaten path, I personally wouldn’t go without a backup universal charger. Stick it in a shoe at the bottom of your pack to safeguard your ability to make money.
The latest Kickstarter laptop, or anything else that’s not somewhat universal, is not the best travel laptop. Spend a moment thinking about the “what-ifs” before you go.
3. What do I *really* want to use this laptop for?
Your gut sense might be to say “work and only work; I’m going to be 100% present in my travel experiences.”
That attitude will likely not hold up over months. Just like ANY routine, traveling will wear on you and have you wondering “is that how I really want to spend my days?”
When those moments come, you’ll want to reach for your comforts. Is that Netflix? A computer game? You should consider buying a laptop for travel that can do everything you’d ideally like it to do in normal life.
You can’t stay in tourist mode forever, and you won’t want to, either. Even though it may look that way on the surface, that’s not what the travel lifestyle is really about.
Check This Before Buying Used Laptops For Travel
Just check this ONE thing before you go: battery life.
When I bought a MacBook Air from a refurbishing company, I trusted that it would work like a charm and hopped on a one-way flight to Mexico.
Little did I realize, the battery only worked when it was plugged in. This limits your ability to do your work tremendously.
Of course, every key on the keyboard needs to work correctly, etc., but I’m calling out battery life because it’s easier to miss than the rest and will restrict your experience so much.
My Best Laptop For Travel
In addition to the battery life issue, the MacBook Air was painfully slow and would often shut down for no reason. My next laptop for travel was a used Lenovo ThinkPad.
It’s fast, has decent battery life, can handle all of the programs that I use, and is discrete. It’s how I run my entire Pinterest business and do all of my blogging. The “h” key is getting a little dull, so the keyboard will need replaced, but it’s a years-old laptop; that’s acceptable wear.
It’s been working tirelessly for 4 years, and I’ll be using it until the day it’s beyond repair and dies.
Do you feel more equipped to pick your ideal laptop for travel?? I hope these tips made the whole process seem much more approachable and forgiving.
Like all of your digital nomad gear, some things you take traveling will be perfect and others will need to be replaced. If you have any questions about choosing your best laptop for travel, ask in the comments and I’ll see if I can help!
I’m rooting for you, always.