Buying a laptop for work and travel

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Buying a laptop for work and travel

Working remotely, you have to get a laptop that will help you complete your daily tasks without a hiccup. Check out our tips for buying a laptop for work and travel.

One of the most important decisions you will make as a digital nomad is the acquisition of the device you will work with. Think about it: You spend hours every day coding, building websites, writing and doing other things that ultimately earn you money.

Let’s make one thing clear: There is no perfect laptop for every digital nomad. Every person who works remotely has different needs. The following guide will tell you how to get your priorities straight and pick the best device for your personal needs.

Buying a laptop for work and travel is not an easy task

The operating system Windows has the biggest worldwide market share. There are so many reasons why this is the case — let’s not get into the specifics because they don’t really matter. But: There are certain benefits when you use an operating system millions of people use: Chances are high that you will find the software you need.

Speaking of software: Buying a laptop for work and travel doesn’t start with the hardware, but with the software. Make a list of tasks you have on a daily basis, for example:

  • designing website prototypes
  • coding the website with HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • testing the website locally
  • deploying the website online
  • selling the website to clients
  • helping clients figure out how to use the site

All those little tasks have to be completed as effortlessly and fast as possible so that you ultimately work efficient. Meaning: You do more work in less time.

The following table gives you an idea of the pros and cons of the three major operating systems available (Windows, Linux, macOS):

Windowswide selection of compatible hardware & drivers, easy to find support, big library of freeware & shareware applicationsprone to viruses & spyware, stability problems, poor security, not that many open source apps
Linuxopen source & free, compatible with many systems, not demanding, very stable, fast & responsive, flexible, quite secureno official support, missing essential software like Microsoft Office suite
macOSeasy to use, perfect for content creation, quite secure, very stable, big selection of open source & paid appsexpensive hardware, limited hardware choices

Choosing the right hardware

Depending which operating system you choose, you now have to think about which hardware to get.

Let’s brake this paragraph up in three different categories to make things a bit clearer:


If you choose Linux, you have to first think about which distro you want to use. For beginners, I recommend something like Ubuntu. It’s easy to set up and get the hang of.

Professionals might look into Debian or other more complex distros.

Choosing Ubuntu has an advantage: There is Ubuntu certified hardware available from Dell, like XPS 13 Developer Edition. It already comes with Ubuntu installed.

If you’d like a different laptop, take a look here at Ubuntu Certified hardware, before you buy a device. As you can see, only Dell, HP and Lenovo have many certified Laptops, Asus also has a few.


The Microsoft operating system has the advantage over Linux that it has a terrific driver support. You don’t have to think that much about compatibility. And: You can buy most laptops with Windows already installed on them.

Still: The most recent version, Windows 10, has had quite some bad press due to it’s invasive, creepy nature. You might want to buy a laptop with an older Windows version or look for an opportunity to downgrade to Windows 8. The last resort would be to buy a notebook without any Windows on it and get the OS license separately.


Picking macOS means that your hardware choice is quite limited. You basically have the following devices to choose from:

  • MacBook: The MacBook only comes with a 12 inch screen and is designed to do very light work. Bear in mind, that it doesn’t have a fan and that it might overheat if you live in a hot climate.
  • MacBook Air: Apple got rid of the small MacBook Air with an 11 inch screen — it’s been replaced by the MacBook. Now you can only get the 13 inch version. But: It doesn’t have a retina display like the other MacBooks. Still: It’s cheap and might do the job for many digital nomads.
  • MacBook Pro: The MacBook Pros got a redesign in 2016 and are available in three different versions:
    1. The first one (no Touch Bar) basically replaces the MacBook Air; it has a ultra low voltage processor (15 Watts), slower RAM and only two Thunderbolt 3 Ports.
    2. The 13 inch MacBook Pro has a Touch Bar and Touch ID. It has faster processors (28 Watts) than the no Touch Bar version, faster RAM and four Thunderbolt 3 ports.
    3. The 15 inch MacBook Pro has not only a bigger screen, but also a dedicated AMD graphics card.

Starting with the 2016 models, they only have USB-C ports. These are not compatible with the old USB connector; you might have to buy new cables or devices.

The build quality is important

Many people say that Apple laptops are overpriced. Yes, comparing them to your average Windows notebook, pretty much any MacBook seems to expensive.

But let’s get into the details: How many laptops are made from aluminium? Not many. Most of them are made of (cheap) plastic. Not only is plastic not as sturdy as aluminium, it also doesn’t keep your laptop cool.

Of course, even Apple and other companies that make high quality laptops have problems with their devices. That is why it’s a good idea to know buy the newest device at launch. Let others tip their toes in the cold water and wait for their response. Major problems will get ironed out with the next update.

Don’t forget to read (real) user reviews online. You can find those in topic specific forums. If you have the chance, take the laptop you want to buy for a test drive at your local shop.

Keyboard, trackpad & screen

Depending on what work you do as a digital nomad, your needs might be different. But: There are three important things every digital nomad has to look for:

  1. the keyboard must be top notch
  2. the trackpad should be responsive
  3. the screen has to be high resolution

You should definitely try them out, because not many manufactures make good keyboards.

For programmers and writers, the keyboard is the most important thing with their laptop. Apple has been known for their superb keyboards, but introduced in 2015 the butterfly mechanism, that has split the loyal fanbase in two: Some love it, others hate it.

On the other hand, Apple has the best trackpad in the industry. Nothing comes close to the accuracy and speed of the trackpad found in Apple MacBooks. If you use a mouse, you might not need a good trackpad. But the vast majority relies on this input device to navigate their notebook.

Last but not least, the screen: In recent years, companies have upgraded their screens with high resolution displays. Apple calls theirs retina, others have different names. Not only is the resolution of importance, but also the coating. There are two types of displays: glossy and matte.

Most laptops have glossy displays; some of them have an anti-glare coating. Those prevent light reflections only to some extent. If you are constantly outside in broad daylight, you should look at notebooks with matte screens.

Don’t forget about your accessories

Choosing the hardware you should also take a look at accessories and other devices. If you already have a few external USB 3.0 hard drives but buy a new MacBook, you might have to also buy adapters or new cables to use them with the USB-C connector.

Do you take pictures with a camera, use drawing tablets or other devices? Make sure that they are compatible with your new operating system and laptop.

Article image: Olu Eletu | Unsplash