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, 16gb 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 knowtravel 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 can also assure you 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 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 a Macbook Air or Macbook Pro as the hands-down best laptop 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 an Apple MacBook Air, he warned me to be careful flashing it around. Not because we were in a dangerous town, but because my laptop was seen as a huge chunk of money with an apple logo on it.

A very skinny white dog stands in a narrow Guatemalan street. There are hand-made signs written in Spanish handing on both sides of the street
Do you think she’s eyeing up my laptop?? San Pedro, Guatemala 2017

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. 

What a sweet soul that he took the time.

Ask yourself…. 

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 sleeping on the floor of a bar beneath a foosball table, but this is par for the course for budget travel. 

A woman and man (the owners of this blog) sit in sleeping bags on the floor of an airport with their trave backpacks. They're smiling at the camera
Every night spent in a terminal or airport is one less night of paid accommodation! These spontaneous nights are what the budget travel lifestyle is all about. Sleeping in the airport in Lima, Peru, 2018

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 yourcharging 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.

This little alley in Bogotá echoed with live music as strangers danced together and passed around a bottle. Post-covid, that feels a little gross, but the moment was pure bliss. You want to spend your time traveling in moments like these, not searching for replacement gear. Colombia, 2017

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 aim to buy 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.

The day I took this photo, we laid next to the Eiffel Tower playing cards and eating snacks the exact same way we would at home. After traveling long enough, it’s natural to long for the normal comforts of life. It’s not a failure. Paris, 2020

Check This Before Buying Your Budget Travel Laptop

Buying any of your digital nomad gear secondhand makes a lot of sense. You’ll save money, and be a more sustainable traveler. Secondhand shopping for laptops for travel is no different!

Here are a few things worth checking before buying:

Battery Life

I think you can get really far by checking just this one thing: battery life. This is based on experience.

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.

Laptop sitting on table in Mexico with a hammock in the background
I volunteered in this hostel for 3 weeks and this was the *only* spot that I could work from because it had the only outlet/table combination. Mexico, 2017

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.

Is A Lightweight Laptop Worth It?

While there is no such thing as picking the wrong travel laptop, there are choices you might regret when you’re a few months in on your digital nomad journey.

Weight is one of those.

When have to carry everything you own on your back, the weight of your laptop becomes an issue.

Laptops nowadays come in many different shapes and sizes, with the ultra lightweight laptop on one side and heavy gaming laptops on the other.

The right choice depends on how you picture your travels. If you think you’ll travel a lot, opting for a portable laptop that’s not too heavy is the way to go.

In fact, most lightweight Windows laptops can be used for blogging or watching movies and unless you plan on doing some serious video editing, you don’t need a heavy gaming laptop.

As long as you get a light laptop, you should be alright. Though your perfect travel laptop can be a fairly basic model, don’t fall into the trap of buying just any cheap laptop.

In fact, let’s talk a little more about money.

Price

As digital nomads, we’re completely dependent on our travel laptops so it’s important to get a quality piece of machinery.

Quality doesn’t mean you have to buy the fastest, latest or lightest laptop. After all, the best lightweight travel laptops are super expensive and you shouldn’t pay for more than you need.

Your choice in operating system is a big factor. Whether you prefer Windows operating system, Chrome OS or MacOS, your laptop costs will vary greatly.

A realistic budget travel laptop for digital nomads starts at about $500and goes up from there.

When you look online for affordable laptops, it’s tempting to look at refurbishes ones. Before you do so, it’s worth checking out the pros and cons that come with buying a refurbished laptop.

Always make sure you get good value for money. The best cheap travel laptop has great battery life and does what you need it to do without breaking the bank.

Do your research and don’t compromise quality in order to save a few bucks!

Using Your Laptop Abroad

A few months ago, I completely wrecked my laptop. As I opened the screen, there was a loud crack followed by an eerie silence. Apparently, the screen itself had split in two and was slowly peeling off the back…

I was fortunate enought to be able to get my laptop fixed at an ordinary computer store on the next block.

Although you might have a state-of-the-art laptop that works well in your home country, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for taking on the road.

Most laptops will be fine on the road but when you’re traveling long enough, something will break.

While this is a big problem for most laptops, it’s a lot worse for Macbook Air or Macbook Pro users as Apple has very strict rules around laptop repairs.

True, you could probably find an Apple Store in most western countries but it becomes more difficult when you go off the beaten path.

Just Google Apple store in Bolivia… you’ll see what I mean.

A country might have one or two but you really don’t want to go on a multi day trip just to have your laptop fixed!

My Best Laptop For Travel

In addition to the battery life issue, my old MacBook Air was painfully slow and would often shut down for no reason. My next laptop for travel was a used Lenovo ThinkPad.

This Windows laptop is fast, light, has both decent storage space and a long battery life, and is discrete. Finally, the intel core i7 has plenty of processing power and can handle all of the programs that I use.

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. Especially for a used device.

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.

Lenovo ThinkPad on Amazon

It’s been working tirelessly for 4 years, and I’ll be using it until the day it’s beyond repair and dies.

Final Thoughts On Travel Laptops

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.

It’s been working tirelessly for 4 years, and I’ll be using it until the day it’s beyond repair and dies.