A portable laptop for travel is a digital nomad’s best friend.
Most normal travelers can get by without packing a computer, but not digital nomads. (After all, it’s called the “laptop lifestyle” for a reason!)
And not only do you need a laptop, but you need the right kind of laptop.
The best laptops for digital nomads have some unique characteristics (which we’ll get to in a sec), but one thing is for sure…
If you buy a crappy laptop, digital nomad life isn’t gonna be fun.
Since you will be using it on a daily (or almost daily) basis to earn a living while traveling, it’s an investment you’ll want to take seriously.
Let me tell you from experience…it’s no fun having your travel laptop poop out on you in the middle of nowhere, then having to throw down big bucks to get a whatever type of emergency replacement is available (Long story short, Day now works with a Thai keyboard…)
A quality laptop is a must.
And after nearly 50 hours of research (plus quite a bit of first-hand experience), I’ve narrowed it down the list of best digital nomad laptops to 7 rock-solid options in 2020.
Now, since every digital nomad’s needs are different, the best laptop for you might not be the best laptop for me.
That’s why in this list, I’ll break up each recommendation based on what type of traveler you are, and what you will use your travel laptop for.
Whether you’re looking for the cheapest possible option, the most ultraportable and lightweight laptop, or the most powerful high-end computer…I’ve got you covered.
We’ll start with what to look for when comparing laptops for digital nomads. Next, we’ll take an in-depth look at each of the top picks. And finally, I’ll share some tips on how to save money when buying your travel laptop.
Let’s dive in!
TL;DR: The Best Travel Laptops for Digital Nomads
Macbook Air – Best Portable Laptop
Macbook Pro 13 – Best Laptop for Travel Professionals
Ipad Pro – Best Travel Tablet
Dell XPS 13 – Best Apple Alternative Travel Laptop
Acer Spin 3 – Best Value Digital Nomad Laptop
Lenovo Flex 5 14 – Best Budget Travel Laptop
Lenovo Yoga C940 – Best 2-in-1 Laptop for Travel
What to Look for in a Digital Nomad Laptop
Lightweight – Most of the laptops on this list are under 3.5 pounds. You want something compact that won’t weigh your backpack down (and break your back), and ideally something that is usable in tight spaces like airplanes. Your best bet is a 13” screen laptop that weighs less than 3.5 pounds. But keep in mind, the lighter you go, the more sacrifices you’ll have to make in other areas.
Sturdy – As I mentioned, replacing a laptop for remote work while you’re traveling is not fun. You want something that’s not going to snap in half when you’re on some remote tropical island. It’s easy to feel the difference between a quality piece of equipment and a chintzy one.
Fast/Reliable – You are making a living from this machine. If you buy a crappy laptop, work will be miserable. The best laptop for digital nomads will have an i7 chip or better. Apart from the chip, the higher the clock speed (usually stated in GHz or MHz) and number of cores, the better.
Ports: To keep travel laptops portable and lightweight, you might have to sacrifice some ports. If you find a laptop with all the ports you need, consider it a plus. But if there are limited ports, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll get used to carrying around an adaptor. That said, ideally your choice will have at least a USB-C port, as they are the “ports of the future”.
Memory: Memory (or RAM) is the short-term storage in your computer that allows it to access information and run quickly. 8GB should cover most digital nomad needs. But if you’ll be editing 4k video, 3D modeling, or running tons of apps at once, then 16GB might be a better option. Keep in mind that some laptops have upgradeable memory, while others do not (i.e. you’re stuck with whatever you buy).
Battery Life: Sometimes outlets are few and far between when on the road, so long-lasting batteries are a must. A good travel laptop should have at least 8-hours of battery life. I recommend looking for 3rd-party reviews when researching battery life, as the manufacturers tend to exaggerate.
Brightness: If you dream of working from a hammock out in the sun, you’ll need a bright display. Shoot for a minimum of 400 nits.
Storage: Running out of storage on the road SUCKS. This happens fast if you’re taking lots of videos (especially 4k). 256GB should be enough for normal people. But if you work with a lot of images and videos, you’ll want more. Keep in mind that some storages (like Macbooks) are not expandable. So if you don’t get enough when you buy, you’ll need to end up using external drives (which isn’t the end of the world—this is what Day does).
Laptop vs. tablet for travel (or both)?
For the past five years, I’ve traveled with just a laptop. Now that I’m turning into a bit of a slower traveler—setting up shop for several weeks at a time (or more)—I was delightfully surprised when Day bought me this entry-level iPad.
At first I thought I wouldn’t use it much, but it’s turned out to be the best travel gift ever!.
I love using it as an extra monitor so I don’t have to keep switching tabs as I work on a small laptop screen. I realize you can do this cheaper with a lightweight portable external monitor (like this one). But I have a rule that if something takes up space in my backpack, it better have multiple uses. (Plus I LOVE drawing on it and making graphics for the blog, and it’s way more comfortable to use on planes, trains, and buses).
You definitely don’t need both, but it can make your digital nomad setup more productive.
Also, if you like the idea of both a laptop and a tablet, but don’t want to carry around two separate devices, I’ve included some awesome 2-in-1 laptop/tablet combo options on this list. That way, you get the best of both worlds!
1 – Macbook Air (Best All-Around Portable Laptop)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.63” x 11.97” x 8.36” (16 x 304 x 212mm)
Weight: 2.84 lb (1.29 kg)
Storage: Up to 2TB SSD (non-upgradeable)
RAM: Up to 16 GB (soldered)
Processor: Up to 1.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1060NG7
Ports: Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (x2)
Battery Life: Up to 11 hours
The Macbook Air is a super lightweight laptop for digital nomads that you really can’t go wrong with. It won’t blow you away with high-tech features, but it’ll do everything you need it to (and do it well).
In the past, it was more for casual users who didn’t work on their computer for a living. But after recent upgrades, it’s now a powerful machine that can handle most tasks.
I say most because if you’re looking to do graphics-intensive work like editing 4k video, you’ll probably want to choose something on this list with a bit more power (but that’s not to say it’s impossible!)
The Macbook Air is one of the lightest and most compact travel laptops on this list, weighing in at just 2.8 pounds (1.29 kg), it won’t take up much space in your carry-on bag (and is comfortable to use on a plane).
The base model comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, which is plenty for the average user. And if you think you’ll need more, you can soup it up even further (but at that point, you might be better of just getting the Macbook Pro).
|✅ Lightweight, ultraportable laptop|
✅ Unlike older models, recent upgrades make it powerful enough for most digital nomads
✅ Apple products are built to last
✅ Super convenient if you already use an iPhone, iPad, etc.
✅ Thousands of Apple service centers worldwide if repairs needed
|❌ Not as powerful as Macbook Pro for things like video editing|
❌ Limited ports
❌ Doesn’t have some cool feature that other non-apple laptops have in this price range
❌ Can’t do aftermarket upgrades
Who It’s Best For: The Macbook Air is best for digital nomads who like/already use Apple products, don’t need to do a lot of graphic-intensive work, and don’t care about touchscreen or tablet capabilities.
2 – Macbook Pro (Best Laptop for Photographers and Youtubers)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.61” x 11.97” x 8.36” (15.6 x 304 x 212mm)
Weight: 3.1 lb (1.4 kg)
Storage: Up to 4TB SSD (soldered)
RAM: Up to 32 GB (non-upgradeable)
Processor: Up to 2.3 GHz 10th Gen Intel Core i7
Ports: Thunderbolt 3 (2 or 4 depending on model)
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
The Macbook Pro is about the same size as the Air, but at 3.1 pounds, it’s just a teensy bit heavier than the Macbook Air. That said, the performance packed into those 3.1 pounds is far FAR from teensy.
I’ve been traveling with a Macbook Pro for the past 5 years, and it’d be hard to convince me to use something else. For most people, the Macbook Air might be sufficient. But if you’re going to be editing videos, you’ll want the power of the Pro.
The downside of using a Macbook Pro as your travel laptop is obvious—It’s expensive. And you’ll always have to worry about it getting damaged or stolen on the road. (A Pacsafe gives me a little peace of mind, though).
That said, if you’re going to be using it to make a living, spending long hours behind it—you’ll thank yourself for choosing quality.
It’s also reassuring to know that these things were built to last (and hold their value). I gave my 2009 Macbook Pro to my brother, and it’s still kicking just fine. A few months ago my wife sold her 2013 Macbook Pro to another traveler for $250, which we used towards her new one.
Basically, the Macbook Pro is like the Air on steroids. It has much more processing power, a bigger trackpad, louder speakers, more ports (except for base model), a better display, and more customization options.
The question is—how important are those things to you?
If they’re important, choose the Pro. You will not be disappointed.
If they don’t matter much, save your money and stick with the Air (or other non-Apple choice on the list, which have some pretty sweet features not found on Macs).
|✅ Enough power to crush any task |
✅ Plenty of expandability options
✅ Good battery life
✅ Similar dimensions as Air (and only slightly heavier)
✅ Last a LONG time (in our experience)
✅ Thousands of Apple service centers worldwide if repairs needed
|❌ Expensive (compared to Windows laptops with similar specs)|
❌ Can’t do aftermarket upgrades
❌ Lacks some cool features that non-Apple products in this price range have
❌ Touch bar is stupid and annoying
Who It’s Best For: The Macbook Pro is best for those who prefer/already use Apple products, need a lot of power, want something that stands the test of time, and don’t care about touchscreens or tablet options.
3 – Apple iPad Pro
Dimensions (H x W x D): 11-inch model (0.23” x 9.74” x 7.02”); 12.9-inch model (0.23” x 11.04” x 8.46”)
Weight: 11-inch model (1.04 lb / 0.47 kg); 12.9-inch model (1.42 lb / 0.64 kg)
Storage: Up to 1TB
Processor: A12Z Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture
Ports: USB-C (x1)
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
While not an actual laptop, the Apple iPad deserves to be on this list. If you go with the latest iPad Pro and connect it to a magic keyboard, you can do almost the same (and sometimes more) than most laptops on this list.
However, there are some drawbacks…
- The keyboard is small, so typing isn’t quite as comfortable as a normal laptop
- Some apps still don’t have cursor support (but that will probably improve)
- Multi-tasking is easier on a laptop (but might be good enough on the iPad)
- There’s only one USB-C port, so connecting multiple devices is complicated
- Editing apps are limited (and some aren’t even available) on the iPad
That said, if none of these are deal-breakers for you, the iPad Pro might be just what you’re looking for.
This is especially true for artists, as drawing on the iPad is AMAZING (and addicting!).
You also have the option of buying a celular-equipped iPad, which lets you use a SIM card to stay connected.
If none of that bothers you and you prioritize saving space, then this might be the option for you.
So, depending on what your needs are, it’s possible you can nix the laptop altogether, do everything you need to do with an iPad, and travel super light.
The other, not-so-light option would be to do what I do and use an entry-level iPad (which is WAY cheaper than the Pro model) in addition to my Macbook. It fits right alongside my Macbook in my laptop case and works as the perfect second monitor for maximum productivity.
|✅ Allows you to travel super light|
✅ Easy to use in small spaces like airplanes
✅ Celular models can stay connected with a data SIM
✅ Touchscreen, drawing, and notetaking is awesome
|❌ See bullets in description above|
Who It’s Best For: The iPad Pro is best for ultralight and carry-on only travelers who don’t mind the limitations of not having a normal travel laptop. It’s also great for people who love art.
4 – Dell XPS 13 (Best Apple Alternative Laptop for Digital Nomads)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.6” x 11.6” x 7.8” (14.8 x 296 x 199mm)
Weight: Touch: 2.8 lb (1.27 kg); Non-touch: 2.65 lb (1.2 kg)
Storage: Up to 2TB SSD
RAM: Up to 32GB (soldered)
Processor: Up to 10th Gen Intel i7 1065G7
Ports: Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (x2), microSD slot (USB-A adaptor also included)
Battery Life: 12+ hours
The Dell XPS 13 is one of the best laptops for travelers for those who aren’t tied to Apple.
In fact, some would say it even outshines the Macbook in a few different areas.
For one, it’s even lighter and more compact than the Macbook Air, making it the most ultraportable travel laptop on this list.
It comes in three different options: a regular clamshell laptop, a touchscreen laptop, or a 2-in-1 laptop.
The XPS 13 also boasts a 12+ hour battery life, which is longer than both Macbook models. You have the option of choosing between a Full HD screen (1920 x 1080) or 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2400), but with a 13” laptop, all you really need is Full HD (this will also extend your battery even longer).
As far as tech specs go, you can build it out exactly as you need it. Choose from a 10th-gen i3, i5, or i7 processor, beef the RAM up to 32GB, or expand the hard drive up to 2TB—there’s a customization option for every need.
Similar to Macbook laptops, you’re stuck with only a couple USB-C ports (plus a microSD slot). But really, it’s a small price to pay for such a lightweight and portable travel laptop. Plus, unlike Apple, they’re nice enough to include a USB-C to USB-A adaptor in the box.
|✅ Compact and powerful|
✅ Quality materials and slick looking
✅ Great battery life
✅ Tons of customization options to suit your needs
✅ Can upgrade hard drive later if you need more space
|❌ Lack of ports|
❌ Keyboard heats up when working hard
❌ Poor quality webcam
Who It’s Best For: The Dell XPS 13 is the best lightweight laptop for travelers who aren’t tied to Apple’s ecosystem.
5 – Acer Spin 3 – (Best Value Travel Laptop)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.78” x 12.95” x 9.41”
Weight: 3.7 lb (1.68 kg)
Storage: Up to 512GB
RAM: Up to 16GB
Processor: 8th Gen Intel Core i7 8565U Processor (Up to 4.6GHz)
Ports: USB-A (x2), SD card reader, HDMI
Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
If you can’t justify plopping down over a grand for a new digital nomad computer, the Acer Spin 3 might be right up your alley.
And as you’ll see, even at a lower price point, it has some pretty awesome features not found on the more expensive models we’ve covered so far.
The first of which is that it’s a 2-in-1 laptop. That means you can:
- Use it as a regular “clamshell” laptop
- Fold the screen backward into a screen stand (perfect for movie-watching in tight spaces)
- Fold it completely backwards to use as a tablet
That said, the 2-in-1 option does come with a downside:
The Acer Spin 3 is a bit bulkier and about a pound heavier than some of the other options on this list. But unless you’re traveling carry-on only and counting every ounce, are you really going to tell a one pound difference?
That’s for you (and your budget) to decide.
It’s good to know that the weight is put to good use, though, with the base model boasting some higher specs than other laptops costing several hundred dollars more. Also, with a bigger laptop also comes more space ports (yay!), but for some weird reason, no USB-C port (boo!).
A rechargeable stylus is also included with the Spin 3, so if you like to draw or take digital notes (and don’t want to fork over several hundred dollars for an iPad and Apple Pencil), this is a great alternative.
Overall, this is one of the best budget laptops for remote work.
|✅ Impressive value for the price|
✅ 2-in-1 flexibility
✅ Extra ports
✅ Good battery life
|❌ No USB-C|
❌ Heavier and bulkier
Who It’s Best For: The Acer Spin 3 is the best computer for digital nomads looking for the best value for their money. If you can get over the fact that it’s slightly heavier, it’s a great bang for your buck.
6 – Lenovo Flex 5 14 (Best Budget Travel Laptop)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.7” x 12.91” x 9.02”
Weight: 3.59 lb (1.6 kg)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 3500U 2.10 GHz Quad Core
Ports: USB-A (x2), USB-C (x1), HDMI, SD card reader
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
If you’re looking to get a quality travel laptop as cheaply as possible, you can’t go wrong with the Lenova Flex 5 14.
In many ways it is similar to the Acer Spin 3, though not quite as powerful. You’re not going to want to edit photos and videos on this bad boy, but it’s perfectly fine for most tasks.
With the Flex 5 14, you get the flip-around screen with stylus. So despite it not being the smallest laptop on the list, the tablet mode makes it’s portable enough for flights and other cramped spaces.
It also boasts a surprising 16GB of RAM, which is more than what you’d expect for a digital nomad laptop at this price point.
And, while chunkier than some of the other ultraslim laptops on this list, at least you’ll enjoy a dongle-free experience as it comes with two USB-A ports, a USB-C port, HDMI port, and SD card reader.
You might consider this a “starter” laptop for digital nomads. But other than being slightly heavier, a not-so-bright screen, and a meh battery life—this laptop is perfect for those on a tight budget.
|✅ Super affordable|
✅ Converts into tablet with stylus
✅ Lots of ports
|❌ Not a bright enough screen for extended outdoor use|
❌ Heavier and bulkier than more expensive options
❌ Battery life is just “ok”
Who It’s Best For: The Lenovo Flex 5 14 is the best portable laptop for digital nomads who are on a tight budget, have a little extra space to spare, and don’t plan on spending too much time working outside.
7 – Lenovo Yoga C940 (Best 2-in-1 Laptop for Travel)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.6” x 12.6” x 8.5”
Weight: 3 lb (1.4 kg)
Storage: 512GB SSD
Processor: Intel 10th Gen Core i7-1065G7 1.3 GHz
Ports: USB-A (x1), Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (x2)
Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
So far we’ve covered a couple different 2-in-1 laptops for digital nomads. They’re both great bargains that’ll get the job done. But there’s only so much you can expect at those lower price points.
If you love the idea of a 2-in-1, but want something lighter with top-of-the-line specs, the Lenovo Yoga C940 is exactly what you’re looking for.
Weighing in at 3 pounds, it’s lighter than the other bulkier 2-in-1s on this list. It also boasts a whopping 15 hour battery life (with the FHD screen)—perfect for those travel days where it’s hard to find a place to charge.
And if you want to draw or take notes, the included stylus has a nice handy storage slot in the back.
The Yoga C940 also has one of the most bumping sound systems on this list. It makes the perfect mini entertainment system for netflix binges when you need a break from all that hard digital nomad work.
You’re also covered with both a USB-A and two USB-C ports, so you can ditch those pesky adaptors and save space in your backpack.
Overall, the Lenovo Yoga C940 is a super versatile pick and is a great choice for those looking for the best laptop for travel and work.
|✅ You can feel the quality|
✅ Powerful enough for pretty much anything
✅ Bumping sound system
✅ Super long battery life
✅ Lighter than other 2-in-1s
❌ Still heavier than other ultralight weight models on this list
Who It’s Best For: The Lenovo Yoga C940 is the best laptop for digital nomads who love the 2-in-1 concept, aren’t on a tight budget, and are looking for the best quality.
How to Save Money on Your Travel Laptop
The best time to buy a travel laptop is when you don’t need a travel laptop. That way, you have the flexibility to shop around for deals.
Here are some top tips for making your money stretch as far as possible:
Compare cost of third-party upgrades. If the laptop you choose is upgradable, it may be cheaper to buy the cheapest base model and upgrade it yourself (vs. buying it with top specs out of the box). You can learn how to do anything with Youtube these days!
Only buy what you need. Just because you see everyone else with their fancy Macbook Pros doesn’t mean you need one too. Remember, the best travel laptop for writers won’t necessarily be the best travel laptop for video editing and other “heavy” jobs. If you’ve got money to blow and want the absolute best (or you do a lot of photo and video editing like we do), then go for it. You won’t be disappointed. But other than that, it’s probably overkill.
Consider a fast SSD external hard drive. If you’re buying a non-upgradable laptop (like Macs), it may be cheaper to buy a fast SSD external hard drive (like this one) than buying a laptop with a bigger hard drive. This is what we did when we bought our emergency laptop in Thailand. It’s kind of a pain to have to plug in all the time, but it also adds flexibility to your setup.
Research the cheapest countries to buy in. Speaking of Thailand, laptop prices vary from country to country (and Thailand is NOT the cheapest…at least for Apple products). If you do buy abroad, remember that you can usually get reimbursed for taxes when you leave the country. This usually only works if you are flying out though. We learned the hard way that you can’t do it at land border crossings.
Buy refurbished. Before buying anything new, check for Amazon Renewed products or the Apple Refurbished pages. You might be able to save a couple hundred dollars and still get a “good as new” digital nomad laptop with a warranty.
Wait for holidays. If you’re able to wait until Black Friday (or at least the next big holiday of the year), you’re bound to find cheaper prices.
Open a rewards credit card. Whenever I’m planning to make a big purchase, I always open a new rewards credit card. For example, if you open the Chase Sapphire Preferred and spend $4000 within the first 3 months, you get a 60,000-point sign-up bonus (at the time of writing). That’s equivalent of $750+ in flights. So if you think about it, it’s kinda like getting a $750 discount on your computer…just in the form of flights. A lot of these credit cards also will double the laptop’s manufacturer warranty, so you won’t have to pay for an extended protection plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Traveling with a laptop is safe if you take the proper precautions. Be careful about where you pull it out, always have a place to lock it up, and consider buying travel insurance that covers your laptop.
The best travel laptop depends on your specific needs and priorities. If you have no operating system preference, the best overall travel laptop for most people is the Dell XPS 13.
Fifteen-inch laptops get a bit bulky when it comes to traveling light. That said, I’ve seen many digital nomads using them. If your work requires extra screen space, you have plenty of room, and you don’t mind the extra weight—go for it!
You can protect your laptop while traveling by only taking it out in safe places, getting it covered by insurance, buying a Pacsafe to keep it secure in your room, and making sure you have a way to protect it from water (e.g. a backpack rain cover)