We’re lucky to be in an age where we have so many great options for devices to take on the road. I used to think the only option, especially for creatives, was Apple, but I’m happy to have personally come back to PC. It’s no longer just a question of finding the best travel laptop overall, but which is the best laptop for writers? The best laptop for photo editing on a budget? Or the best laptop for blogging? Vlogging? Photography?
The best travel laptops for digital nomads and creatives
(and how to choose the right one for you)
Let’s get into the options! If you need to think about what specs you need and what format you want, you may want to skip ahead to the section on considerations for deciding which travel laptop is right for you, and then come back to the top.
The TLDR version:
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Overall best travel laptop for digital nomads: HP Spectre x360
Personally, I use an HP Spectre x360 13” and love it. And I did a lot of research before making that decision, wanting something powerful enough to handle writing, photo editing and video editing and would be compatible with travel, meaning I could use it as a laptop on planes and trains, but maybe on buses, I could use it as a tablet (yes, that’s me using it on a safari truck while we’re waiting to go).
It also helped that HP is the largest PC retailer and often the highest-rated brand.
Pros: Size and weight; great performance and customizable; incredible battery life (advertised at 22 hours!!); SSD; 2-in-1 and touch screen; micro SD reader; higher quality sound than most.
Cons: Not much! Feels more delicate and less rugged than larger option. Customizations can add up quickly.
There are both 13” and 15” options in the HP Spectre x360 Series. Using the 15” as a tablet, however, is a bit big for use while traveling, but it does offer what feels like a way bigger screen for just a bit more size. You can start at the HP Spectre x360 choices and go from there, both for size and customizations.
Other options from HP:
- Style: If you want something more stylish, you may want to consider the HP Spectre Folio, which has a genuine leather folio standard.
- Travel: HP Envy is similar to the Spectre in size, weight and specs, but slightly different design and lower price point.
- Professional: The HP Elitebook options are touted as business computers, with the addtional expense going mostly to security and durability features. Depending on your line of work, this may be a better option than the Spectre.
- Creatives: Lastly, HP has a ZBook travel and workstation designed specifically for creatives. You get more power and capability, but lose some portability.
Dell’s XPS 2-in-1 is a close second to the Spectre and also has 13″ and 15″ options. It is super thin, which means it’s very portable, but also that the keyboard is more shallow than traditional laptops. It has a beautiful display, high performance and long battery life.
Microsoft Surface Series options for travelers
Microsoft has a Surface option, regardless of if you’re looking for a laptop or a convertible. They have a tool to help you figure out which Surface best suits your needs. They are highly customizable, from processors down to the color.
Most affordable Surface: Surface Go
The Surface Go is the lightest, smallest, most portable device and is starting at $399. But that comes at a cost of storage space and memory.
Best Chromebook for travel: Acer Chromebook 13
Chromebooks are devices running a Chrome operating system, as opposed to Windows or Apple’s iOS. They tend to be the cheaper, more entry-level options out there. But they are getting more powerful and worthy of consideration, especially for travelers. If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly and aren’t taking up too much memory, a Chromebook might be a good option. Acer Chromebook 13 is one of the best options to choose from.
ASUS ZenBook 13/14/15
ASUS is one of the highest-rated laptop brands and the ZenBook 13 is an under 3 lb, under $1000 option with strong performance and portability.
Apple options for digital nomads
Apple has long been the go-to option for creatives and portability. While they have shifted focus from MacBooks to iPad Pros, there are still plenty of options to balance portability and power. The biggest benefit to choosing Apple as a digital nomad is that you can typically find support no matter where you are, and don’t run into country-specific warranty issues. When shopping for MacBooks, it’s important to note that you cannot customize memory and hard drive size on many models (they are soldered in). This means you should shop for the specs you want, rather than plan to upgrade a device later on.
iPad and iPad Pro
Laptop accessories for travelers
After you pick the right device, you’ll want to optimize it with a few accessories. Look for portability and connecting by Bluetooth (to save your very few ports).
Best mouse for travel laptops
If you want a more budget-friendly option (about 1/4 the price of the Arc), I use this Bluetooth, rechargable FENIFOX mouse. I like that it’s rechargeable (USB micro) and it’s very slim. But not everyone likes a flat mouse.
External hard drives for travel
External hard drives are a must while traveling, either to let you have a lighter laptop and/or to make sure you’re backing up. When picking what’s best, think about your style of travel. You likely want to go with a rugged option like LaCie or a Solid State Drive. SSDs are more expensive, but more reliable.
Considerations for deciding which travel laptop is right for you
Which specs are your priority?
While we’d all love a feather-light, super powerful system whose battery never dies, it’s important to take a look at where your priorities are for use. Think about what you need now, and what you want to grow into. Personally, I recommend starting with something you’ll use most of now rather than a super expensive fancy computer you may never grow your skills into before it’s time to upgrade again.
- Operating system: Do you want an Apple, PC or Chromebook? For me, it comes down to which works best with your phone and overall ecosystem, and the software you use.
- Weight and size: How much space and weight of your carry-on are you able to dedicate to your laptop? If you’re not carrying it every day, maybe you can afford a little more weight for a bigger screen. But if it needs to tuck into a daily purse, you probably want a lighter 13″.
- Memory: Memory is one of the biggest factors in performance and what will create lag if you don’t have enough. Think about the tasks that you want to do and if you’ll have enough memory. If you’re editing video (and even photos), you probably want 16GB RAM. If you’re just writing, you can go with less.
- Hard drive: The hard drive is the amount of storage space on the device. The new type is Solid State Drives, which are much better for travelers as they are hardier. Especially while traveling, an external hard drive is important (see above), so you can balance how much you need in your device and on hand externally.
- Screen resolution: If you’re vlogging or editing 4K video, you obviously need better resolution. But better resolution is more expensive and a big battery consumer, so weigh if you need it.
- Battery life: Do you have the opportunity to charge frequently or do you need longer battery life?
- Ports: The smaller the device, the less ports you can expect. Think about how you use it, practically – will you have an external hard drive plugged in? A cordless mouse? How many of which types of ports do you need?
- Format: See the next section on laptops, 2-in-1s and tablets.
Which style of travel laptop is right for you? (laptop vs. 2 in 1 vs. tablet)
The first thing you will want to consider is if you want a traditional laptop or a new format? There are three basic options (each with variations).
Traditional laptops are lighter and more powerful than ever, and some even offer touchscreens. They will still offer the most connections (USB, etc.), but at a cost of weight and flexibility.
A 2-in-1 laptop is basically a laptop-tablet hybrid and there are two styles: attached and detachable. Attached 2-in-1s look like a traditional laptop and have better keyboards (a better option for writers). Detachable 2-in-1s prioritize the tablet experience as it detaches completely from the keyboard, but still run operating systems like desktops.
Tablets are more of an option for professionals than before, with more powerful hardware and constantly improving software. Plus, almost all are compatible with accessories like keyboards and/or a Bluetooth mouse for those who want to mirror a traditional setup.