Best Travel Laptops For Backpackers

Best Travel Laptops For Backpackers

The links to online stores (like Amazon) on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South East Asia Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases.


Ten years ago the travel world was barely opening its eyes to smartphones, tablets weren’t even worth talking about unless you were a founding member of the computer science club and the only laptops you would have seen were big, slow, bulky, expensive machines that sounded like they wanted to take off!

Fast forward to the present day and the landscape has changed dramatically. Smartphones are everywhere, tablets provide easy ways to watch films or read books and laptops are smaller, lighter and more powerful than they have ever been. 

What is the Best Laptop for Travelling?

With there being so many different laptop brands, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the choice available to you. Instead of just rolling the dice and picking the first cheap computer you see, read on to see our picks of the best laptops for travelling!

Best Laptop for Backpackers – Quick Answers!

Do You Need to Take a Laptop Backpacking?

There is a lot of discussion among travellers today as to whether or not you really need a laptop on the road with you. With smartphones and tablets being so powerful, there is very little that average Joe requires from a laptop that can’t be done on a smaller, lighter device. 

From photo editing to translating that Thai menu, from watching films to booking flights, your smartphone will easily cope with almost any task that travel requires. So why travel with a laptop at all? It’s a fair question and one that you may already be asking yourself. 

For some people, there is no choice. Those working on the road will almost certainly need a laptop. You will be hard-pressed to find a digital nomad that can sustain their business using just a smartphone or tablet. A lot of functionality is removed from these smaller devices, which doesn’t affect most of us but can get in the way for many remote workers. 

For other people, it is just personal preference. Sure you can book your next flight or watch another episode of 13 Reasons Why on your phone but wouldn’t it be easier with a bigger screen and a keyboard?  With the conversation going back and forth on this topic I asked a few of our readers and community members whether they travel with a laptop and if they would recommend it to others. 

Mitch swore by his and wouldn’t be without one, “I carry mine in a small backpack, separate from my main 32L bag. It is easy to keep close to me when I’m on buses or planes that way. I wouldn’t travel without it, as there is a lot of downtime between activities/adventures.”

Whilst both Grace and Asia fell on the other side of the fence.

“Personally, I wouldn’t bother, it’s just extra weight. If you have a decent phone with a good screen is fine. I took mine travelling for one year and used it once when I was sick to watch Netflix, the rest of the time used my phone.” – Grace.

“I regret taking mine! Not using it enough to carry the extra weight around.” – Asia. 

Despite all the glamorous beach + laptop shots, working on the beach isn’t kind to your laptop! (Sand + Heat + Salt!)

What to Consider when Buying a Laptop for Travel:

Portability 

The weight and size of your laptop is something you really need to consider when picking out which one to take with you on your travels. Obviously, you don’t want your bag weighing more than it has to but don’t go for the lightest option possible if you think it looks a bit flimsy.

No matter how careful you are, it will end up getting knocked about at least a small amount! If you don’t need a large screen, try to avoid getting one much larger than an 11 or 12 inch. You will notice a huge difference when trying to pack an 11-inch laptop as opposed to a 15-inch monster!

Battery life

There are few things more annoying than arriving at a coffee shop, picking your table and then realising you only have 45 minutes of battery remaining. I made this error after walking 90 minutes into a small village in the Amazon to visit the only bar with wifi.

Stupidly I had left my charger back in my room so after just half an hour of working I had to trek back to get it! Save yourself the grief and make sure your laptop has a good battery. Oh, and of course, keep it charged!

Processing speed

Depending on what you are using the laptop for, you might not need the fastest computer around. If you are only using it for booking flights and watching films, save yourself some money and avoid the fastest laptops out there.

Alternatively, if you do require a faster machine, look out for those with large amounts of RAM, big solid-state hard drives (SSD) and good Intel i5 processors.  

Price

Arguably one of the most important factors to think about is the cost of your laptop. We all know how painful it is seeing your bank balance drain when you are supposed to be saving for your long-awaited trip!

On the flip side though, it can be terribly frustrating to have spent a chunk of money and have a computer that does not make the cut. Spend the money you need to but don’t go overboard.

You don’t want to be apprehensive about losing your thousand dollar laptop every time you get on an overnight bus!

Operating system

Whether your an Apple fan, Windows user or a member of the ChromeOS club will make a huge difference in what machine you will find the most user-friendly. 

Whilst both Windows and ChromeOS laptops are available across all price ranges, Apple computers tend to be only for those with a larger budget.

Screen

Laptops today are available with touchscreens and ultra HD 4K capabilities. Whilst both of these are nice, they are not an integral part of your normal laptop. In the case of 2 in 1 laptops, a touchscreen is necessary but we’ll get onto that. 

Both touchscreen and 4K use more battery power than a normal screen and can actually add a small amount of weight to your machine. If you are not doing high-end video/photo editing or some sort of graphic design, you can go without a posh screen!

Price and intended purpose

Finding the best laptop for travel involves a few factors but for the sake of simplicity, it can be boiled down to these two: price and intended purpose. 

In this article, we will go on to discuss different types of laptops that serve different budgets and purposes to help you find the laptop that suits your travel needs!

Best Travel Laptops For Backpackers: The Full List!

Notebooks:

  • Good for: General day to day tasks. Average backpackers. 
  • Bad for: High-intensity tasks. Working professionals.

The notebook is a catchall name essentially given to all low-end laptops. They usually boast a decent sized hard drive, solid battery and enough processing power to get you through most tasks without a problem.

Sure, they’re not going to be capable of high-intensity work, such as video editing or graphic design but they are fine for average day to day use.  They will almost always run a windows operating system as standard and are generally small and light, making them very portable. 

They range in price but rarely get above $550 brand new. If this feels like too much to spend on a laptop for travelling, then have a look on sites such as eBay or Facebook marketplace. You can often find great deals on second-hand laptops there.

Lenovo V330

  • Price: $799
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Pro
  • Weight: 1.8kg
  • Size: 15.6”
  • Battery life: 6 hours
  • Hard drive: 256GB SSD
  The Lenovo V330 might not be everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to travel laptops. It is relatively pricey and the large 15-inch screen means it takes up a lot of valuable backpack space.

That said, if you are looking for a laptop for working while travelling and you don’t want to fork out over $1000 for an ultrabook, this might be the machine for you.  It is designed to be durable and with 8GB of RAM plus the 256GB SSD, this computer will happily take on what you ask of it.

The large keyboard makes it easy to type for hours but the trackpad for the mouse is slightly off centre, which can take some getting used to. The battery life is less than ideal at only 6 hours but for this price, you can’t expect much more from a laptop that can deliver so much in terms of performance.

Lenovo love talking about the fact that this laptop can open 180 degrees. Meaning both the keyboard and the screen can sit flush to the table. Whether this feature is a gimmick or not (I, for the life of me, can’t work out why you would want this), it is one they are proud of so it is probably worth mentioning. 

Iota Slim (Only available in the UK)

  • Price: £299
  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Size: 14”
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Hard drive: 32GB
  Whilst still larger than your ideal travel laptop, the Iota Slim is much more of a budget option.

The fully metal laptop is lightweight and tough enough to survive being knocked about in your backpack. The specs aren’t great but providing you don’t need it for anything too demanding you’ll be fine. The biggest downside is the tiny 32GB hard drive.

You can extend this with memory cards or thumb drives but that’s just one extra thing to lose. Alternatively, make sure you back up your data in one of the many cloud storage systems. 

Iota also make a superb 2 in 1 laptop for just £139.  Its specs are slightly lower but with its reduced weight and size, it is only 10.1 inches, it could make an even better travel companion!

Acer Aspire 1

  • Price: $249
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home
  • Weight: 1.6kg
  • Size: 14”
  • Battery life: 6.5 hours
  • Hard drive: 64GB
  Aesthetically, the Aspire 1 from Acer looks like it hasn’t changed in the last 10 years.

Black plastic casing gives the machine a cheap look but considering the price, we can’t really grumble. 4GB of RAM provides more than adequate overall speed and the 64GB hard drive will keep your most important data safe before you need to save it elsewhere. 

The plastic used in its construction is not the most durable and users report it showing wear and tear quickly. That might be something to think about if you don’t like your electronics looking scratched and battered. 

The keyboard is large enough to be comfortable without expanding too far and the screen quality is fantastic for a computer of this price!

HP Stream 11

  • Price: $165
  • Operating System: Windows 10 S
  • Weight: 1.1kg
  • Size: 11.6”
  • Battery life: 11 hours
  • Hard drive: 32GB
  HP’s Stream 11 might be the best budget laptop for travel that you will find.

Weighing in at just over a kilo and being smaller than 12 inches means this computer can be packed and carried easily.  The price is also a strong selling point, at only $165 this is one of the cheapest machines available that would still be capable of day to day tasks.

Sure, the internal storage is only 32GB and the pre-installed S mode in the operating system can be annoying but that is nothing a few minutes of tinkering and a cheap thumb drive can’t fix. 

Some users report that the touchpad can be a little tricky to get used to, due to its lack of sensitivity and that the plastic casing shows up dirt very quickly.

There are a few downsides to this laptop but for the price there really is little else out there that would beat it!

Chromebooks:

  • Good for: Casual users, especially those on a budget.
  • Bad for: Digital nomads or gamers who require a whole suite of programs to run offline.

Chromebooks are much like notebooks in the fact that, when compared to higher-end laptops, they appear to have low specs. For Chromebooks though, this is less of an issue than with notebooks and that is because they run on the much less resource hungry, Chrome OS. 

Chrome OS is Google’s very own operating system, which is designed to run almost entirely online. This means that even with their significantly smaller hard drive, processor and RAM offerings, these computers still power up and work at a really solid speed. It also means they can be much cheaper and lighter than their Microsoft based competition and the battery life is incredible! 

Because of compatibility issues between varying operating systems and the online requirements of the Chrome OS, there are many programs that you might be used to that won’t run on a Chromebook. Don’t worry though, Google have created many of their own apps to replace these.

The main downside of Chromebooks is the same thing that makes them so light and efficient: the need to be connected to the internet. Although some apps can run offline, many of the computer’s main programs require an internet connection to work to their full capability.

However, that is not to say they are useless when not connected to the web. They are just not quite as useful as a fully-fledged laptop. Realistically though, on how many occasions are you using a computer without a wifi connection?

The best thing about these laptops is how commonplace they are and you can easily pick up a second hand one from eBay or Facebook marketplace for around $120.

Jen, a member of our Southeast Asia Backpacker community had this to say about Chromebooks, “I bought myself a refurbished Acer Chromebook for £100 off laptops direct and I made sure I got a daypack that has a laptop sleeve (Osprey daylite plus). So far no problems and I’m really glad I brought it as it’s come in handy when booking and making plans on the road. Because it was so cheap, I don’t ever worry when I’m leaving it in my hostel, (I lock it up inside my backpack).”

Acer Chromebook 11

  • Price: $200
  • Operating System: GoogleOS
  • Weight: 1.4kg
  • Size: 11.6”
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • Hard drive: 32GB
  Okay, the Acer Chromebook 11 looks a little like a “my first computer” that you might buy for your 5-year-old sibling but bear with me on this.The cheap-looking plastic is actually super durable and the whole laptop has been designed to survive whatever life, or in this case travel, can throw at it. 

Thanks to its impact-resistant body, you can chuck this tiny 11-inch laptop into your pack without worrying that it might come out damaged. Acer has even gone as far as making the keyboard water-resistant and has created unique drainage channels to move liquids away from any vital areas. Next time you are using the wifi in a coffee shop, you can be safe in the knowledge that even an errant spill won’t be able to stop you!

Acer has also created the 2 in 1 version of their Chromebook series. It’s a touch pricier at $260 but for that, you get the full tablet and laptop experience without having to take two devices on your journey.

Asus Chromebook C202

  • Price: $229
  • Operating System: GoogleOS
  • Weight: 1kg
  • Size: 13.3”
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Hard drive: 16GB
  Looking even more like a child’s plaything, the Asus Chromebook is one of the most rugged laptops on this list.

Its rubberised case will absorb all but the worst impacts, so even if you knock this laptop off the table, it will be fine when it hits the ground.  Just like the offering from Acer, this laptop has a water-resistant keyboard with drainage channels to keep it safe from water and other liquids. 

The hard drive on this laptop is small, even by Chromebook standards but you can get the upgraded 32GB version for $259, although it’s cheaper at this point to buy some external storage or make sure you are always connected to the cloud. 

The main complaint from users about this machine is the keyboard. It can be hard to see the keys in low light conditions and the feedback from the keys themselves is not the best. However, that is a price you pay for a budget Chromebook.

Google Pixelbook Go

  • Price: $649
  • Operating System: GoogleOS
  • Weight: 1kg
  • Size: 11.6”
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • Hard drive: 64GB 
  Google’s very own Pixelbook Go is one of the more expensive Chromebooks on the market but it has the specs to back up this price. 

With 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage as standard, this Chromebook looks much more like the laptops featured earlier in this list but performs at a much higher level. There is not much you could ask of it that it would not be able to handle, especially for everyday users. Even digital nomads and those working on the road would be hard-pressed to find its limits. 

The Pixelbook Go does not have the same childish looks as the other Chromebooks we have featured but that also means it is not quite as durable! Bear that in mind before just shoving it deep into your pack. Eighth generation Intel processors mean the laptop is booted up in seconds and the ergonomic keyboard/trackpad layout are a doddle to use. 

2 in 1 Laptops:

  • Good for: Casual users or those who want to take both a tablet and a laptop on their travels.
  • Bad for: Travellers who are packing light or need a more rugged machine.

A 2 in 1 laptop is essentially a hybrid between a laptop and a tablet. Some have detachable keyboards whilst on some, the screen can rotate all the way around so it lies flat against the back of the keyboard. It is also common for 2 in 1 laptops to utilise the keyboard, as a stand for the screen, when it is not in use. 

The screen is always touch-sensitive so it can be used in exactly the same way as any other tablet. They come with either Windows or Chrome operating systems and there is enough variation in hard drive sizes, processing power and cost to suit all travellers.

As a general rule, the battery life on these laptops is great but depending on the style of 2 in 1 laptop you chose, they can weigh a little more than their laptop or tablet equivalents. They are also reported to be more fragile than the other types of laptop, so bear that in mind. 

Lenovo Yoga

  • Price: $629
  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.2kg
  • Size: 13.3”
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Hard drive: 265GB
  The Yoga range from Lenovo provides us with great 2 in 1 laptops to suit all needs. With large amounts of memory and storage, this computer is great for watching films, writing novels and everything in between. 

The keyboard is not detachable but folds round so although thin for a laptop when used as a tablet it can feel quite bulky. Some users report quality control issues with the laptops, with many having to return or exchange them within the first couple of days of purchase but Lenovo’s great customer service team can take care of any issues that may crop up. 

Microsoft Surface Go

  • Price: $390
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home
  • Weight: 500g
  • Size: 10”
  • Battery life: 9 hours
  • Hard drive: 64GB
  The Surface series from Microsoft are some of the best 2 in 1 laptops available for travel. The basic Surface Go starts just below $400 but the price can rise quickly if you pick an option with higher specs. 

As one of the lightest computers available it is definitely worth considering adding one of these into your backpack but be aware, you will need to buy the keyboard separately from the main tablet computer. Costing close to $100, this keyboard starts to make the Surface Go a more expensive option. The keyboard can be fully detached, so the laptop can be used as a full-on tablet when required. It is also possible to get a mouse and stylus for this computer but they are also a tad on the expensive side so if you don’t really need them, I wouldn’t bother. 

This laptop is more than capable of handling all casual use and will only start to struggle with very high-intensity programs. If you intend to use your laptop for those kinds of tasks then check out the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 which costs over $1000 but will handle anything you can throw at it. 

HP Spectre 360 2 in 1

  • Price: $1200
  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.3g
  • Size: 15”
  • Battery life: 14 hours
  • Hard drive: 512GB
  Whilst the HP Spectre will not be for everyone, it does suit those who want a light computer with a large screen and enough power to keep them working, uninterrupted for hours on end.

It might seem ludicrous to spend $1200 just before you go travelling and for a lot of people ludicrous is exactly the word they would use to describe that decision.  However, you will be hard-pressed to find a 2 in 1 laptop with better specs that is even close to the HP for this amount of money.

The SSD means it boots faster than you would believe and the powerful i7 processors will keep it powering along no matter what you ask of it. If you are working on the road and need more than your typical 2 in 1 can offer, then this is the choice for you.

Ultrabooks:

  • Good for: Digital nomads, those who require high spec machines.
  • Bad for: Casual users, those on a budget.

The term Ultrabook was originally coined by Intel and was supposed to be used to describe a series of MacBook beating Windows laptops. Small, light machines with the power to handle almost anything, Ultrabooks are a top choice for those working on the road.

Expensive when compared to the other types of laptop we have looked at, these machines are not for everyone but do boast great battery life and super-fast boot speeds. When looking for Ultrabooks make sure you check the specs of each machine, some more unscrupulous companies have marketed midrange computers as Ultrabooks in the past. 

As the term Ultrabook has become more ubiquitous, many people have started referring to Apple’s MacBook series as Ultrabooks because they tick almost all the same boxes. This is technically incorrect but for the sake of this article, I will also be lumping them in together.  

There are many members of our online community who swear by their Ultrabooks, Ca Ling is one search person, “I use my Dell XPS 13 (2019 version) because I work remotely (part-time). It’s pricey but it’s my baby. I leave it always locked up in my hotel and if we are on transport, it is on my carry on backpack, in my sight all the time. It’s one of the lightest laptops out there at the moment.”

MacBook Air

  • Price: $1099
  • Operating System: macOS
  • Weight: 1.3g
  • Size: 13”
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • Hard drive: 128GB
  Whether you’re a backpacker, a digital nomad, a stay at home mum or a great grandparent, MacBooks are divisive. Some people love them with such a passion they will use nothing else whilst others cannot get on with the operating system at all.

For some, the high price puts them off but as the saying goes – Once you go Mac, you never go back. Actually, I don’t know if that is a saying… Anyway, Apple is well known for great build quality and that remains the case for the newest incarnation of the MacBook Air. This 13-inch model starts with a 128GB hard drive but larger versions are available and don’t forget, apple also provides 5GB of free cloud storage to its customers which can be expanded easily for a very low monthly fee. 

Made from durable, light aluminium and providing the same great feeling from the keyboard that is expected by Mac users, this MacBook Air is a great choice for those who need a reliable machine but don’t really need to full power capabilities of the MacBook Pro.   

It is safe to say that the MacBook Pro is a better all-round laptop than the Air and for things like high-end audio or photo editing that holds even truer. However, for travelling, the MacBook Air truly is one of the best laptops for working that the world has ever seen. 

Dell XPS 13

  • Price: $1499
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home
  • Weight: 1.3g
  • Size: 13”
  • Battery life: 13 hours
  • Hard drive: 512GB
  The Dell XPS 13 is the Microsoft answer to a MacBook. Its sleek lightweight design tells little of the story as to what this laptop can do. With 512GB SSD storage and 8GB of RAM, this laptop could keep working long after you have stopped for a cold beer!

The 13-hour battery life means you don’t need to carry your charger with you at all times and the carbon fibre reinforced casing means that the laptop is strong but also light! Perfect for sliding into your backpack before you leave the house. Due to its high specs and even higher price, this laptop is probably not of much interest to your average backpacker. Instead, it is aimed at working professionals or digital nomads. 

A Final Word of Advice…

When travelling with a laptop, there is always a chance something will go wrong. It could get broken, you could spill a whole mug of coffee over it, it could get lost or even stolen. 

It would suck for that to happen but you probably have travel insurance right? That covers your belongings too, right?! Sometimes. Most of the time, however, buried somewhere deep within the small print will be an exclusion about covering expensive items.

This exclusion will state that only $500 (if you’re lucky but more likely $250) can be claimed on one single item. Check your insurance policy carefully if you plan on taking expensive electronics travelling and if need be, upgrade your policy or take out separate insurance for anything of high value.

Gear Specialist at

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since the incident, he has travelled in South East Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and is currently backpacking around South America. His first book 'From Paralysis to Santiago' chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident that changed his life and will be released later this year.

shares

Trust us, we can't wait either...

  • Updates on travel in Southeast Asia.
  • A mix of fun & thought-provoking articles.
  • Honest trip planning advice.

Trust us, we can't wait either...

  • Updates on travel in Southeast Asia.
  • A mix of fun & thought-provoking articles.
  • Honest trip planning advice.
A girl on a beach in Asia.