Important, fun for some but not for others, is planning what to take when you travel. In our gadget loving year of 2015, my toughest decision has been what laptop to go travelling with, or indeed, if I should just take a tablet instead. This afternoon I bought a new ‘travel laptop’, one which is durable, lightweight and budget-friendly. The decision to buy a new laptop came after much thought on whether or not to take my Macbook Pro.
If you’re wondering what computer equipment to take and whether to shop for the best travel laptop for you, you’re in the right place.
Why not take your existing laptop?
Probably because it’s expensive, at least £300+ or in the case of Macbook users, £800+. Travel insurance can cover theft or damage but taking something costing nearly £1,000 seems a heavy burden, especially for two months backpacking in europe, and a risk not worth taking. What if it gets scratched? Consider your answer as there’s a high chance it’ll receive some minor damage.
However, buying anything new is an expense and even the cheapest laptops for casual users will cost £150+ so you have to have the funds available. Simply, it’s about weighing up whether you can afford to break or deal with losing a top of the range piece of kit, as opposed to buying something usable and ultimately more disposable.
Before you search for a new laptop – what will you use it for?
Think about the capabilities of the device you have in mind. What will you be using it for on the road? Does it need certain specifications to meet your needs? If you’re anything like me, you’ll require a fast machine with a decent battery life, with the main aim of staying connected. Write out what you’ll use it for over the length of your trip to get a better idea of what to spend your money on. My main uses will be browsing the internet, uploading photos to social media, checking email, using WordPress and Skype. Nothing particularly demanding and way below the capabilities of a Macbook Pro.
If your needs are basic as well, then a budget option is perfect, paying just for features that you need. At this stage, it’s best to realise that a laptop doesn’t have to look stylish; as with all branded products, you pay extra for looks and design.
Will a tablet not do?
Again, refer back to your list of requirements. Personally, while you can buy keyboard attachments for tablets. I’ve never been able to use them for extensive pieces of writing or even instant messaging. They’re too fiddly and without a mouse or trackpad you have to keep switching between typing and touching the screen, which breaks up your flow and affects usability.
If you’re just Internet browsing and video calling, a tablet could be perfect but be realistic as it’ll be harder to sort out once you’re off. Ultimately, while a tablet is lighter and takes up less space, a laptop offers a less frustrating and awkward experience, especially when you’re busy and trying to use your time wisely seeing the world.
Choosing an operating system
It’s likely you are either a Mac or a Windows user and will want to stick with your preference when away as there’ll be enough new things to deal with, good and bad. I’m happy to use either or, but if you’re tied to a particular one, I’d urge you at this point to open up to an alternative operating system.
Chromebooks are relatively new to the market; laptops manufactured by a range of brands from ASUS to HP, all using the Google Chrome OS. Made with budget in mind, the OS doesn’t come fully loaded with a range of features, instead letting you download what you need as you need it.
Similarly, the build is basic but many deliver on performance. For my needs, anything with 2 GB memory and a 16-32 GB hard drive is sufficient, as long as it offers 8-10hours of battery life, as I can’t always be plugged in on charge.
It might not be a familiar browser – I’ve never used it before but have a trust in Google products – but it’s also a basics browser that was designed to be used by anyone, so don’t let this put you off. Users of Chrome as their preferred browser over IE or Firefox will have no problems, and neither will users of Google Drive.
Finding the best deal online – read reviews
Here, we come back to Google! Search for best budget laptops or go to travel laptop sections on the major shopping sites, like Amazon. Filter any product search to suit your budget and then add an additional filter for reviews of three stars or more so you have a solid basis of other people’s experiences to build on.
At this stage, I found three laptops that suited my needs, price range and weight (I didn’t want anything more than 1.5kg) and then googled the brand name of the device as well as ‘review’ to compare them more thoroughly.
With smaller screen sizes come smaller laptops and usually lighter laptops, so opt for an 11-14 inch screen. This is enough to scrutinise photos from your latest adventure and to Skype family and friends with enough intimacy. For screens as well on budget laptops, they’ll have a lower resolution or pixel count, so a smaller screen won’t be so obviously lower in quality. Win, win!
Complete a final check of specs
Make sure every aspect is acceptable if not ideal for you, including the weight of the product, which I would consider a deal breaker for backpackers. At the end of the day you know what you can live with from a device, whether it be speed, battery life or build. In my choice to eventually purchase the ASUS C300MA which met all my spec requirements and came it at a reasonable £179.99, I accepted the hardware would fall short of perfection and that this wasn’t a problem; I have my Macbook safe at home ready for when I want the finer things in life.
This brings up another important consideration, will your travel laptop also be used at home? Is it exclusively for travel purposes? If so, then being flexible on a cheap casing etc is recommended; while you can pose in Parisian coffee shops with an Apple product, should you? 😛
Hopefully this has been useful, comment below if you agree or disagree on anything I’ve said.