My Favorite Travel Computers

by Jay on April 27, 2010

Sue and I enjoy traveling with minimal pre-planning and booking. Sure, before we start the trip we will have a general sense of what route we will take over the course of the trip, but we purposefully avoid making detailed commitments to itinerary until we are in country.

We like to get to where we are going, settle in to whatever city we landed in for a day or two, catch our breath, shake off the jet lag, and talk to the locals about what’s what. More and more now we pack a computer to help plan as we go. When we are a day or two away from moving on, we get on the internet and start researching towns, lodging, dining, and sightseeing further on down the road.

On our last trip, we really took this process to the limit. Here’s what we used the computer for most:

  • browsing the web for lodging, dining, sightseeing ideas, etc.
  • managing photos and video that we take during the trip
  • blogging the trip
  • checking email (we try not to do that too much, especially if we are cultivating “vacation mind”)

Perhaps ironically, bringing the computer along actually helped us travel with greater freedom and much less preplanning. Using our computer for travel, we felt more agile and able to respond to the interests and needs of the moment, rather than being locked in to an itinerary that had been cast in stone weeks or months before we arrived at our destination. I think one needs to be careful about getting sucked in to work, just because you have a computer. We made a conscious effort to use it to enhance the travel experience while avoiding the itch to check in to work.

When shopping for a computer for travel, the factors that we value most are:

  • light weight
  • not too big, not too small, just right
  • reliable (can take a licking and keep on ticking)
  • Mac operating system (there are plenty of PC alternatives with travel-friendly features, we just prefer Macs)

Here are our four favorite mobile computers, along with some of the distinctive travel related features:

Computer Model Weight Screen Size Battery Life Base Price
MacBook Air 3.0 lbs 13.3” 5 hours $1,499
MacBook Pro 5.6 lbs 13” to 17” 8 hours $1,199
MacBook 4.7 lbs 13.3” 7 hours $999
iPad 1.5 lbs 9.7” 10 hours $499

Though each person will have features that are important to them, for us, lightweight, a real keyboard, and ability to take a beating are critical. For that reason, the MacBook Air is the best for our needs. I detail each computer option below, highlighting the travel-friendly features that matter most.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is my ideal travel computer. Though not as light as the iPad, it has a real keyboard. Since we are usually blogging on the road, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is easier and faster to type with than the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard. In addition, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is backlit, which makes it handy for typing in a darkened plane or hotel room.

MacBook Air

An option that makes this laptop extra robust is the Solid State Disk (SSD). When I travel, if I drop the laptop, odds are if a component fails, it will be the disk drive.  Unlike a regular disk drive, the SSD has no moving parts. It is just a chip. Note that the MacBook Pro has an SSD option, but it weighs twice as much as the MacBook Air. The iPad also has SSD, and I like it for travel, but only if I won’t be typing too much.

This laptop has it all – lightweight, compact form, full keyboard, solid state disk, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 13.3″ screen – plus it is very cool.

MacBook Air quickLinks to Amazon.com product information

MacBook Air, 11.6-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 256 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is a road warriors MacBook Air. It is faster, has a bigger screen, and numerous other high-end laptop features, but it does weigh almost twice what the MacBook Air weighs. Like the Air, it has a lighted keyboard and a Solid State Disk option. This laptop is ideal for someone who needs top-end performance for work and travel, and is willing to take on the extra weight.

MacBook Pro product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  250 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  320 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  320 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 17.0″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz


MacBook

MacBook

For the money, this is a great travel laptop. Not as heavy as the MacBook Pro, not as light as the MacBook Air, this is a fine laptop for the occasional traveler. Note that there is no SSD option for the MacBook, so get a nice padded case for it and be gentle. If you don’t need to type much, than the iPad is a great alternative, with its lighter weight, and Solid State Disk.

MacBook product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook 2.26GHz, 250GB


iPad

iPad

iPad Keyboard DockThis is amazing travel computer. Of the four listed in this article, it is the lightest, lowest cost, has a Solid State Disk and an agile touch screen interface. Perfect for checking out websites for travel planning and such, and if you need to type alot, you can add the portable keyboard and tilt stand.

All iPad models come with built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you want to extend your network coverage further, choose iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G and sign up for access to 3G data service.

And unlike laptops, airport security usually won’t require you to remove an iPad from your carry-on bags.

iPad product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
iPad 16 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 64 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 16 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad 64 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad Keyboard Dock

Travel Accessories

We carry our computers around in Case Logic neoprene cases. They absorb impact well, are easy to get into and out of, and are good looking. Here’s an example at Amazon.

When traveling abroad, you will need an adapter to plug your computer in to.  We like the Kensington Travel Adapter.  It is a clever all-in-one unit that provides plug adapters for use in more than 150 countries. Simply slide out one of the built-in plugs and plug in a laptop, cell phone, battery charger, or similar electronic device. Here’s product information at Amazon.


Previous post:

Next post: