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Best Travel Laptops for Digital Nomads

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As a digital nomad, your laptop is not only a vital tool to get work done, but also a connection to the wider world.

Choosing the right one isn’t always easy and getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to the best travel laptops for digital nomads.

Travel Laptop Overview

Why Do You Need a Travel Laptop?

So, what’s special about travel laptops, and how do they differ from regular ones?

Easier to carry

When you’re on the road, a regular laptop can really weigh you down, and take up valuable space in your backpack. Generally speaking, travel laptops are slimmer and lighter than regular models, making them much easier to carry around.

Longer lasting

Another common issue that plagues travelers is that they can’t always find somewhere to charge their laptop. So, with this in mind, many travel laptops are able to offer a longer battery life for those times that you can’t plug in.

The best travel laptops should also be remarkably durable, despite being lightweight.

It’s a lifeline!

Your laptop is key to your existence, and enables you to work on any project, anywhere, any time.

You want to make sure that you have the best travel laptop with you, because without it, you’d essentially be unemployed and a long way from home.

What to Look for in a Good Travel Laptop

Top Travel Laptop for Digital Nomads

Depending on the nature of your work your needs will vary. For example, a graphic designer will probably need a laptop with a bit more processing power compared to a copywriter.

The following features are things that every type of digital nomad can look out for. However, you might prioritize them differently depending on your specific needs.

1. Battery Life

I remember going for days without finding somewhere to plug my gear in during one trip. When I got back online, I’d missed several deadlines because the battery in my old laptop couldn’t hold its charge.

The best travel laptops typically have a battery life of at least 8 hours, with some models offering more than twice that.

2. Storage Space

With an increasing number of cloud storage services (such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive) and affordable external hard drives available, integrated storage space isn’t really that important anymore. However, choosing the right storage isn’t only about size.

The two types of storage drives to be aware of are SSD (Solid State Disk) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive). HDDs generally offer more space for your files compared to SSDs. However, SSDs weigh less and run far faster than HDDs, leading to improved start-up speeds.

3. Portability

The best travel laptops are lighter and more portable than regular versions.

Try to avoid large screens and search instead for something around 11-15”. In terms of weight, look for laptops that feature an SSD hard drive rather than an HDD, as these are typically much lighter. Some laptops are also extremely thin, helping them slip into your backpack with ease.

4. Processing Power

Processing power helps determine how fast your laptop can run software, and is particularly important for those working on editing programs and high-resolution videos.

Two terms will crop up CPU (Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random-Access-Memory).

The former is essentially the brain of the computer, and there are several notable processors available, with the Intel Core i5 or similar working well for most of the best travel laptops.

RAM is essentially the memory that the CPU accesses to run software and other services. The more RAM you have, the better the performance. Most travel laptops should be good with 4-8gb RAM.

5. Durability

A good travel laptop must also be tough enough to endure life on the road.

Be sure to check which materials are used on the case. A one-piece aluminum chassis is generally more protective than a plastic case.

It’s important to check the terms of the warranty as well. It takes time to get a feel for a new laptop and understand its longevity. A good warranty will protect your investment and allow you to swap a faulty or damaged laptop with ease.

6. Operating System

When searching for the best travel laptop, one major decision you’ll need to make is the operating system you’ll require. Some software will only function on a particular operating system (OS), so make sure you know what you will need to get your work done.

Here are some of the most common:

  • Microsoft Windows — probably the most familiar OS, packed full of features to allow you to do pretty much anything.
  • Apple macOS — Apple’s equivalent of Windows is another powerful, user-friendly OS that can run a wide variety of software.
  • Linux — a top choice among developers, it’s fast, powerful, more secure than most other systems, and extremely flexible.
  • Chrome OS — simple and secure, it’s mostly found on tablets and small laptops. It focuses on surfing the web rather than offline tasks, and lacks the functionality of the other systems.

Best Travel Laptops for 2020

Now that you have a better idea of what to look out for, let’s check out my list of the top 5 best travel laptops for digital nomads.

It’s worth noting that most of the laptops below are standard models and can be upgraded in terms of processor, storage, memory, etc.

Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 is among the best work laptops for digital nomads.

With powerful processing technology, adequate storage, and up to 12 hours of battery life, it can handle any type of work you throw at it. A slim, lightweight case makes it ultra-portable, while its superb Wi-Fi range means you’ll never struggle to get connected.

Pros

Ports: High number of additional ports compared to competitors, including SD, HDMI, and USB-C.
Extremely powerful: it’s great for work and multitasking.
Durable: Aluminum case that remains lightweight.
Configuration: There are a variety of options, including touchscreen and a 2-1 laptop/tablet version (which is great for designers).

Cons

The touchscreen is an expensive add-on.
Speakers are on the bottom, which can impact sound quality.

Tech Specs:

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • Storage space: 256GB SSD
  • Processor: Intel Core i5
  • Screen size: 13.3″
  • Weight: 2.71 lbs
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Touch screen optional

MacBook Pro 13-Inch

Macs can be divisive, you either love them or hate them!

It was a tough choice between the MacBook Pro and Air, but for digital nomads, the Pro just has the edge, especially for designers and video editors.

The 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro is among the most reliable laptops for digital nomads, with many users happily using theirs for years without issue. High processing power and ample memory make multitasking and running memory intensive apps a walk in the park.

Pros

Extremely powerful: it’s great for work and multitasking.
Durable and portable: this MacBook Pro will slip into your backpack with ease and survive the occasional knock.
Great sound and display: amazing for watching movies, but even better for working on sound and vision sensitive projects.
Touch bar and Touch ID: allows you to log in with your fingerprint and many a variety of tasks at the slide of a finger.

Cons

Fewer ports than competitors (2 USB-C ports and no regular USB).
The most expensive option on our list.

Tech Specs:

  • Operating system: macOS
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Storage space: 128GB SSD
  • Processor: Intel Core i5
  • Screen size: 13.3″
  • Weight: 3.02 lbs
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Various upgrades available

TIP: If you want more ports (including regular USB) and to save a bit of cash, look for a slightly older model that doesn’t have the touch bar feature.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Amazingly versatile, the Microsoft Surface Pro is one of the best 2 in 1 laptops/tablets for digital nomads.

It’s also the smallest and lightest laptop on this list, but still manages to pack enough power to manage a variety of apps at once. Its responsive touch screen and surface pen stylus make it a great, affordable option for designers and artists on the go.

It’s worth noting that the Surface Pro Keyboard has to be bought separately. However, the whole bundle is still extremely affordable, and the quality and ease of use of the keyboard is well worth it.

Pros

Great functionality: the Surface Pro 4 has a multitude of uses, from e-book reader to sketchpad, to video player, making it great for work and play.
Ultra-lightweight: the compact design makes it ultra-portable, and even with the keyboard attached it packs up small.
Affordable: even when you factor in the additional cost of the keyboard, this is one of the most affordable options on our list.

Cons

It’s more suitable for low-power apps and will struggle with power-intensive apps such as video editing tools.
The Surface Pro Keyboard must be bought separately.

Tech Specs:

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Storage space: 256GB SSD
  • Processor: Intel Core i5
  • Screen size: 12.3″
  • Weight: 1.7 lbs
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • 2 in 1 laptop/tablet

ASUS ZenBook 13

The ASUS ZenBook 13 is the skinniest laptop on our list, but that doesn’t mean performance is compromised.

Boasting a powerful Intel Core i7 and 16GB RAM, this laptop is capable of handling almost anything you can throw at it. A larger than normal 512GB SSD hard drive gives you plenty of storage, while ensuring your laptop starts up at lightning speed.

The all-aluminum chassis doesn’t just look stunning, but after extensive testing, is able to offer military-grade durability.

Pros

ErgoLift: The ErgoLift hinge tilts the keyboard automatically for more comfortable typing, plus improved cooling and audio performance.
Touchpad: A dual function touchpad quickly switches into a number-pad, saving space on the keyboard, and allowing fast data input.
Ports: Wide range of ports for extra compatibility (USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, microSD, etc.).
Graphics: Separate graphics card for improved performance.

Cons

USB-C is not compatible with Image Output (for dual monitors).
The keyboard takes some getting used to, and the small, right shift key can be a pain.

Tech Specs:

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Battery life: 14 hours
  • Storage space: 512GB SSD
  • Processor: Intel Core i7
  • Screen size: 13.3″
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Memory: 16GB RAM
  • Razor-thin exterior

Acer Swift 3

The Acer Swift 3 is another great choice at a fantastic, mid-range price.

It has a larger screen than other laptops on this list, and is slightly heavier, but it’s still remarkably slim and stylish. The aluminum framed chassis keeps your hardware safe, while the insides are powerful enough to keep a variety of tasks running with ease.

The HD webcam and dual microphone for voice clarity make this a top choice for V-loggers and digital nomads who need to make a lot of video calls.

Pros

LTE optional: this technology allows you to plug in a sim card and connect to the 4G network, enabling internet connection even if there’s no Wi-Fi. This option does cost extra though.
Recording capabilities: Excellent for video calls and recording v-logs on the fly.
Extremely affordable: considering that it offers Intel Core i7 technology, a healthy amount of storage space, it comes in at a much lower price than other options offering older tech.

Cons

Aluminum/plastic chassis is less durable than other laptops on this list, however, the use of plastic is required to enable LTE connectivity.
The keyboard may seem a bit small at first.

Tech Specs:

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • Storage space: 256GB SSD
  • Processor: Intel Core i7
  • Screen size: 14″
  • Weight: 3 lbs
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Optional LTE connectivity

Conclusion

Having taken a good look at our roundup, hopefully you’re closer to making your choice. In terms of the best travel laptop, it really does depend on your needs. However, for me the best all-rounder has got to be the ASUS ZenBook 13.

First, it features the Windows 10 operating system, which is familiar enough to most PC users that they can get going straight away. Next up, the ASUS boasts the longest battery life of all the featured laptops, with a whopping 14 hours.

In terms of storage, the model listed offers twice as much space as other laptops on this list at 512GB of SSD storage. The ASUS also offers twice as much memory, with 16GB RAM, and not only features an Intel Core i7 processor, but also a separate graphics card. This combination leads to ultra-fast boot-up times and smooth operation across a range of apps.

Finally, the ASUS ZenBook 13 is far more portable than you might imagine considering the screen size. With ultra-slim bezels, it’s designed to give you the most screen area in the least physical space, resulting in a laptop that has about the same dimensions as a sheet of A4 paper. It’s also razor-thin and light, and can be packed away with effort. Surprisingly, this doesn’t compromise the features or durability of the laptop at all.

Overall, the ASUS ZenBook 13 is ultra-portable, and ideal for the life of a digital nomad, with a mid-range price tag making it a top choice.