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Smartphones, Tablets, or Laptops: What’s Best for Travelers?  December 1, 2021 – 04:36 pm

Dave Dean playing with his smartphone abroad“Should I bring a laptop, tablet or smartphone?” It’s a question I’m often asked — and for good reason. There are pros and cons to each device and, with overlapping features, picking the one that’s right can be confusing.

There are a lot of issues to think about with each device: size, weight, costs, insurance, and security. Striking the right balance between them all isn’t easy, but it is possible. As a tech guy, I carry a lot of devices (and a lot of chargers) but for those not obsessed with every new device on the market, you only need one device — you want to keep it simple on the road. Here are the pros and cons of carrying a smartphone, laptop, or tablet with you on the road, as well as product suggestions!


There are plenty of reasons to take a smartphone along on your trip — in fact, for travelers who aren’t trying to work from the road, it could be the only device they need. While rarely best at anything, smartphones are fine for many tasks that used to require separate gadgets. When you’re trying to reduce space, weight and cost, that’s a big benefit.


  • They take the place of multiple devices. There’s no longer a need to pack a separate flashlight, map, calculator, music player, or alarm clock.
  • It’s easy to get connected when you need to, even if you’re not using cell data. Cafés, airports, and train stations usually have Wi-Fi available, and in much of the world there’s always a McDonald’s or Starbucks nearby if you want bad burgers and coffee with your Facebook.
  • There are hundreds of useful travel apps out there that work offline. Currency converters, translation tools, navigation helpers, guide books, itinerary trackers, and more can help make your travels easier.

Dave Dean taking a photo of the sunset abroad with his smartphoneCons

  • The biggest con is battery life — it’s rare to find a smartphone that will last more than a day of normal use. Long flights, bus rides, and days of exploring often result in a dead phone before you get to your accommodation. With everyone else in your dorm room also wanting to charge their gadgets every night, even finding a power socket isn’t always easy.
  • Although phones are getting larger, a 5″ screen isn’t ideal for entertainment — books and movies aren’t so great on a small screen.
  • Websites without mobile-friendly versions get annoying very quickly.
  • Typing on phones is fine for updating your Facebook status or sending a quick message, but you’ll end up frustrated if you’re hoping to do much more.

If you are looking for a simple, cheap, and basic device, a phone may be for you. If you aren’t planning on using your device for work, don’t mind a small screen, or need much, a phone may be for you. For longer-form writing, you can always use Internet cafes!

I personally carry a Google Nexus 5, which is a high-end phone without the high-end price tag. Other than better battery life, I wouldn’t change anything about it. The camera takes good shots, even in low light. It’s remarkably fast, with video and the most demanding apps running flawlessly. I wanted a phone that would take three years of abuse on the road without needing an upgrade, and so far, it feels like I’ve found it. The Nexus costs 9 for the unlocked 32GB version.

Girl sitting in a chair in a hostel playing with her tech tabletTablets

Tablet computers have only been around for a few years, but ever since the iPad came out they’ve been very popular. They offer a larger screen and better battery life but are more expensive and take up a lot more room.

  • While you won’t have standard calling or texts, tools like Google Voice, WhatsApp, and Skype can be good replacements if your Internet speed is fast enough. All of the apps work as well or better than on a phone, and the larger screen makes many tasks a little easier.
  • Battery life is usually longer than a smartphone, especially when in flight mode or just using Wi-Fi. If your tablet does have a cellular data option, you’re in luck there, too — tablets usually have an unlocked SIM card slot. Pick up a local, data-only SIM and you’re good to go.


  • Size is an issue. Even the smaller 7-8″ versions won’t really fit in your pocket unless you’re wearing a large jacket. They’re also heavier than smartphones, especially if you have a full-size tablet.
  • Taking photos with tablets is, quite frankly, a horrible idea. Their size and bulk make them hard to hold steady, and that’s before the cover starts flapping around. Screens are hard to see in direct sunlight, and since it’s rare for people to use durable cases with tablets, it’s easy to damage or drown them. Plus, let’s face it, you look pretty silly doing it.
  • While the screens are bigger, the apps and input are usually exactly the same as a smartphone. That means typing is still slower than using a proper keyboard, and software options for doing real work are limited. While you can use a Bluetooth keyboard to speed up your typing, that’s yet another piece of technology to buy, power, and carry around.


For those looking to do more with their device, especially watch a lot of movies, a tablet is a lot easier on the eyes. When it comes to tablets, I recommend the Google Nexus 7. It’s small and light, reliable, and surprisingly powerful. At $229 or $269 (depending on storage space) for the Wi-Fi versions, it’s also great value. I’ve been using mine for around a year now, and am very happy with it. If you absolutely must have an Apple device, opt for the iPad Mini. It’s more convenient to carry around than its bigger brother.


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