The Best Laptop for Travelling and Working on the Road
We have spent the last 11+ years as digital nomads travelling perpetually with laptops writing books, creating websites, and making films. This article summarises the lessons we have learned for choosing the best laptop for travelling and working on the road, and a few practical tips. Below is a list of the brands and models we have had, and the problems we experienced with them.
- 2004-2006 Dialogue “The Red Devil”
This flybook's display hinges broke down, and a serious overheating problem forced us to buy a new hard drive in New Zealand. Eventually, the flybook had to be cooled down for half an hour in the icebox of a refrigerator for every 5-10 minutes' use.
- 2006-2008 Asus “The Missing Keys Monster”
Some keys fell off, which appears to be a typical problem with Asus. Another problem was that Asus international warranty turned out to be valid in Thailand only, where we had bought the laptop, and their warranty did not cover keyboard manufacturing defects anyway. Luckily, the laptop got stolen in Spain so we had a good excuse for buying a new one.
- 2008-2011 Fujitsu Siemens “Hot Rod”
Amilo was designed in Europe for local weather conditions and had serious overheating issues in the tropics. Eventually the heat fried the hard disk killing the laptop.
- 2010-2012 HP Atom Mini Netbook “Throwaway Toy”
After we hosted a couple who were travelling with two laptops, we wanted to have two laptops, too. Päivi used this slow but surprisingly reliable mini netbook happily until Santeri accidentally dropped it on the floor in Kuala Lumpur airport. The LCD screen broke. In Burma, where we landed, a replacement screen would have cost more than a new netbook in Sicily, where we had bought the netbook.
- 2011-2014 Asus “Fool Me Twice”
This slightly heavy but reliable laptop miraculously lost only one key and we managed to fix all other keyboard issues before we gave it away after receiving a grant for buying a new laptop, which was better suitable for writing books on the road.
- 2012-2016 HP “Incredibly Indian”
Our first high-end laptop model was sold only in India with a slow but durable hard drive. The keyboard, the Achilles' heel, broke after warranty expired and spare part keyboard from AliExpress suffered the same fate two days after its warranty (3 months) expired. The battery was also pretty dead after 3,5 years of intensive use, but otherwise the laptop is still in good condition. Would you like to have it?
- 2014 HP “American Dream”
This high-end light-weight Spectre 13 had a rotten Lite-On SSD hard disc, which we had to replace after the one-year warranty had expired. The factory-installed Windows 8.1 operating system was crashing daily, but Windows 7 finally stabilised the ultrabook.
- 2016 Dell “Dell from Hell”
Malaysian reseller promised us 940M GPU and dos, but we got 930M and GNU/Linux. The fingerprint reader was also missing. GNU/Linux was actually a nice surprise and after updating BIOS, the system stopped crashing all the time. So far so good, knocking on head.
Lessons learned for selecting the best laptop for travelling and working on the road
It is best to buy laptops in the area where you will be using them. Environmental factors such as temperature have a significant effect on the design. For example, an Alaskan laptop is no good in Africa where desert sand blocks the cooling fan or humidity of rain forest causes overheating.
Internet is a rare, expensive luxury is many places. The last thing you want is that your laptop starts secretly downloading a Windows 10 update, while you pay dearly for each transferred megabyte. If you travel in such areas, forget cloud services and prefer older, more reliable technology. If you want to use Windows, stick to Windows 7. Otherwise choose GNU/Linux or Mac OS.
Although branded laptops can be an important part of your identity and they offer the perfect way to show off, on the road they attract unwanted attention and are more likely to be stolen. You can remove logos and hide brand marks, or avoid buying them. Eventually the laptop will be stolen, or more likely it will break so remember to take backups. Copy all your important files to an external USB hard drive, a pen drive, or an SD card, and keep it in a separate location. If you go out with your laptop, leave the backup to your hostel and vice versa. When you travel with both, hide the backup with your other valuables.
The more robust your laptop is, the better. Contrary to common misconception, laptops are not designed for travelling. Try to move your laptop as little as possible, and when you are staying put, let it stay in the place where you use it and keep the lid open.
If you are planning to live on the road as a digital nomad, warranties make as little sense as insurances. It's much more important to check the global availability and cost of spare parts, especially keyboards. Always use a silicon keyboard protector during intercourse.
Would you like to read more about the best laptops for travel and work on the road? Or how to configure your system so that it is as secure and as reliable as possible? Or how to install Windows 7 or GNU/Linux to HP Spectre 13-3010dx or Dell Vostro 14 V5459-50814G-DOS? We are happy to share the detailed instructions, just let us know.
Our brand choices have not been influenced by any laptop manufacturer. For our three latest laptops we have received grants from The Finnish Association of Non-fiction Writers, which has forced us to buy higher-end models. Without these grants, we would have selected under 300 euro laptops.
We are currently looking for a hardware manufacturer who is interested in developing durable laptops that are better suitable for extreme mobilities and digital nomads.
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