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What do you do with your laptop that you couldn't do with your phone already?

I'm a carry-on only traveler, trying to keep the backpack light. A laptop usually requires a powerbrick, maybe a dedicated cable, too.
I find that I usually can't justify the weight based on how useful it is, especially since I have an iPhone.
The only important thing that it helps me with is typing, and I'm usually not in the mood to do much of that when traveling for leisure.

So, what makes packing a laptop and its accessories worth it for you? What are you using it to do that you couldn't already do with your phone?

One reason this is on my mind now is that I notice that the eBags MotherLode Jr that we've discussed here on the Forum many times in the past is my new go-to bag, and the dedicated laptop compartment can just fit a current MacBook Pro 13" inserted crosswise.
That sets my heart a-flutter, but just because I can carry it conveniently, doesn't mean that I should, if it doesn't carry its own weight, so-to-speak.

Posted by
8192 posts

To answer your question... nothing.
i only use my laptop (at home) for Zoom meetings. I use my iPhone 8 for everything - at home and on trips.
I don’t take a laptop for the reasons you mention because my phone does everything.

Posted by
2325 posts

When I took combined work/ vacation trips, I had to bring the laptop. I'd spend evenings in the hotel organizing the day's pictures and making notes about my trip. That's much easier on a laptop.

Now I just bring my phone and a backup.

I do miss the typing efficiency of a laptop. I've gone backwards technologically and actually started bringing a journal for some of my trip notes: easier than typing into the phone. And more fun to look at after the trip.

Posted by
1094 posts

I take a "microsoft surface go", which I use for accounting (in Excel). I couldn't get my fingers to do it on the iPhone. And I take both the keyboard and a mouse.

Posted by
14772 posts

I've been traveling with a laptop since 2007 and I only got a smartphone 3 years ago, so my uses may not be as helpful to you, Avi.

First is having the keyboard. I hate the pecking on the tiny phone, but my touch typing has always been fast, so the laptop is my go-to for email, travel diary, and surfing the net. It's also my back-up for everything - again, I'm a dinosaur so I prefer everything on my devices, not on some company's storage facility.

BTW, how's the air quality in your area? Can you go outside safely? Happy New Year - let's hope it's a better one.

Posted by
305 posts

Once I got an IPad mini I ditched the laptop when traveling. I also take my phone, mainly for use as a camera when overseas. The IPad is great for doing email etc., for keeping up with news back home, have downloaded movies and of course the Kindle App. Also not required to produce it when going through airport security and fits comfortably in my travel purse.

Posted by
4633 posts

I have to take my laptop for work purposes. Always on call.

Posted by
7421 posts

I only take my laptop (very rarely) when I know I'll be having to actually work remotely.

Otherwise it is phone, iPad (with photo card connector), and Bluetooth keyboard for me.

Posted by
5766 posts

A phone works for me for most things and trips of up to 2 weeks, but a laptop is much more comfortable for many things like others have mentioned, so for longer trips, I want my laptop.

Not mentioned, while a phone can access nearly all of my applications and needs, the Mobile Apps are not equal to most full websites, sometimes the laptop just works better for financial sites and management of my life, more critical during a longer trip. This does not apply to everyone though.

Posted by
2952 posts

I carry my 13" MacBook Pro on pretty much every trip -- domestic or international.

  • I like having a bigger screen than what is on my iPhone for looking up activities/other things when at the hotel.
  • I like having a keyboard.
  • I use it for making notes about the trip ("journaling" would be too strong of a word).
  • Like others, I use it for work stuff.
Posted by
2396 posts

I use an iPad mini. I like the larger screen. I go through my pictures at night to keep them manageable and can watch a movie here and there. Also, I can FaceTime with family if we are away for a month or longer.

Posted by
138 posts

I have found that using Google maps to plan a trip on my 2-in-1 PC has a few more capabilities than are available on my iDevice. If I'm comfortable with our itinerary, I leave it at home. If I think I'll need to adjust or improvise I bring it along, sans keyboard.

Posted by
174 posts

I don't like using my iPhone for anything but talk and text unless I have to. For me the small size of a cell phone is just to inconvenient. My wife and I always carry iPads when we travel, even on car trips in the US, leaving the 13" Macbook at home. She uses the regular size and I have always used the Mini. A year ago I got a Zagg folio cover/keyboard for my Mini which I like very much. The keyboard is USB rechargeable, charges quickly, and can be left shut off and use the Mini digital keyboard. I have Pages, Numbers, WPS Office, Docs, Sheets, and Drive Apps on the Mini so I can do most any type of work or communications I need without having the Macbook.

Posted by
3487 posts

When traveling for fun, I never have need of any more than my iPhone. Been that way for over 10 years.. It has everything on it I need. I can watch videos, if I want, but find I am usually not in the mood after a full day of exploring and sight seeing. I have never worked while on vacation (because that is not a vacation), so no need for office apps. The iPhone email app works well enough for me. I use notes app for any note taking or compose my thoughts in email and email it to myself.

I have a MacBook Air for when I traveled for work. It had the work issued VPN (which did not have an iPhone version) which was required to connect as well as all the Office apps and a few programs designed specifically for the company I worked for. With the larger screen it makes watching video easier after work (I did sometimes watch videos or TV shows while traveling for work). The power brick was not so much a brick and didn't weigh that much. And I never found any need for other laptop accessories. The track pad on the Apple laptops has always worked fine for me (I actually like it better than a mouse for most uses), so no external mouse needed. At one time I did carry a decent length ethernet cable, before WiFi was everywhere and many hotels had only a plug in option, but haven't needed that in years.

Which do I prefer? The iPhone. I can do everything on it I can on any laptop or tablet (except connect to work which is no longer a requirement). I don't see dragging both with me, and I always have the phone, so decision made.

Posted by
9993 posts

I use my laptop (a lightweight Surface Pro) for blogging, downloading my photos, and accessing my trip files which include an extensive Excel spreadsheet as well as travel docs such as tickets and reservations. While many of these can be accessed online, I download where possible as a back up. Also, I do not enjoy typing on the phone or doing extensive research while on a long trip (we go for 6 to 8 weeks). I take an iPad too. Yes, a lot of electronics but I use the, all and they all fit in my daypack easily for travel days.

An upgraded iPad is in my sights with hopes I can leave the laptop behind...if I can manage photos successfully and get a keyboard.

Posted by
2878 posts

Succinct answer: Nothing.

For years I traveled with just an iPod and was perfectly happy. I had no use for telephone calls (except in UK & Sweden I did have a local top up phone) and it did everything a larger device did. It was hard for typing, as is a cell phone; in fact, at one point my husband thought I might be having a stroke (as I was too tired to correct my typing), but other than typing, the iPod worked fine. I still use a paper journal so no worries there. I'd only bring my MacBook air when I was doing genealogy due to its weight and size. Then I purchased an iPad mini. It did require larger purses, but nothing major. I liked it as it is just a bigger screen and typing area to work with and it enabled me to buy more purses... However, as I have now "thrown out my drug dealer phone" says daughter, and gotten an iPhone I am back to thinking I'll just travel with the iPhone as my tablet, and turn cellular off. Succinctly, the iPhone alone will work perfectly well, just not as comfortable as a larger device. I listen to audio books versus read or watch movies on my iPod/iphone so it is perfect for that.

On the side, my individual thoughts: I really want to like this bag for an extended trip, but just can't think I'd like it in airports and other extended carry times. I haven't liked backpacks in the past. I travel two nights per week and love my Weekender Jr for that, which involves only house to car to house, repeat. I bring my iPad and iPhone on these trips, but I am not running around, except after a 1 year old. There is little more I would pack than I do for my two nights away...maybe one more shirt and unders. So Avirose, I'd love to hear your success stories when carrying it, as I love this bag.

Posted by
27424 posts

Because of the way I travel my wife and I always take an electronics satchel in the car along with the luggage.

The iPad (and bluetooth keyboard) goes along for easy email and RS Travel Forum reading and updating in bed. Also a large backup GPS solution if the one in the car goes erp. It is also our Kindle, where we keep our tour books.

The 13 inch Dell laptop is used daily for work-desk (if the room has one) RS updating, committee meetings (used to be on Skype, I bet we will stay on Zoom when we get to go travelling again), video calls to family and friends, and is our TV, using Slingbox so I can keep up with home news and weather and most important the Formula 1, DTM, and cricket.

The iPhone is always in my pocket and is my pedometer, podcaster, camera, prayerbook, finance centre, audio notebook, news centre, smart home controller, train planner and ticket office, message centre (especially WhatsApp), to-do list, project manager, and swiss army knife.

So each piece has its purpose. That's what I've done for several years, except when I was working I would also carry a BlackBerry and a Samsung phone.

We make sure that my wife carries her android phone with Tile on her phone and keys so I can find things which might be buried in her purse.

Posted by
1294 posts

I several friends who are photographers. Hobbyists as well as one professional. When they are post processing their photos it is much easier to do on a larger screen.

Slightly off topic but I find reading on a kindle paper white much easier on my eyes that a phone. So I often times carry one with me but not when I am out and about.

Posted by
1662 posts

While there definitely are things that better/more easily done on my laptop, I find I use it less and less even at home. I rely on my iPad and iPhone - so that is what I travel with. I could even skip the iPad, practically, but it’s like a luxury item so I am willing to carry the weight in order to bring it. Of course, I don’t have to work when I travel, either. That might be different.

Posted by
172 posts

The work related tasks while traveling that I find hardest to do with a phone or ipad are editing or presenting a power point presentation and final draft editing of documents. For giving presentations, I bring a flashdrive and try to arrange to use someone else's laptop whenever possible. The technology exists for doing it from a mobile device but is not always available. For more comfortable typing with a phone or ipad, I bought a very light portable keyboard and traveled with it several times but found I rarely used it, so I now leave it home. Voice recognition for typing on mobile devices has improved, which also helps. I love my ipad mini for reading and don't mind it for watching video.

Posted by
841 posts

I always travel with my 11" macbook air. I take a lot of photos, both with my phone but mostly with a 'real' camera and I need to download and check them (and back them up in case something happens to the memory cards). I also write pretty extensive trip report/journal entries. I do post these on line but I mostly do it for myself. I used to tell myself it was so I'd have a way to relive trips I could no longer take when I got too old. Who knew how handy they'd come in during a pandemic. Reading them now is bittersweet but does give me a bit of comfort. Anyway, between the photos and the typing the computer serves a purpose the phone or ipad could not. But since I have it with me, it really is much easier to research things I'm doing the next day, or look up stuff about some place I was the day before, etc. That type of tying could be done on a phone but it's more pleasurable on a computer.

Posted by
1835 posts

Thanks everyone for sharing your own experience - it's always interesting to learn what other people have settled on, what works for them.

The two things that stood out for me as relevant (potentially) advantages were [A] handling financial activities when you're away for a while and/or have payments or other transactions to transact that weren't set up ahead, and [II] the ability to do research on-the-fly for itinerary adjustments. I think I've given up on carrying a good/real camera and on nearly live blogging, so not germane for me any more.

In the past a cheap workaround I would do when on a trip that combined work and leisure, like a convention, was to carry a KindleFire around during the day, using the wifi at the meeting center, and then in the evening pairing an Apple wireless keyboard to the Kindle to do notes/commentary/correspondence.

I'm sometimes drawn in by accessories that develop a cult following; to go along with my new iPhone SE2 this Spring I got a nifty small keyboard that comes in a pleather portfolio that unfolds into a phone/tablet stand by a company called Nulaxy. It stays charged for weeks, supports special keys, and is aimed squarely at smartphone and tablet users who don't want to pay the name-brand premium for a compatible keyboard. I haven't used it much yet, though, so no review to give.

Posted by
778 posts

I’d never take my Macbook Air on a big trip to, say, Europe; iphone, of course, iPad, very likely.

Posted by
48 posts

I'm envious. Would that I could travel with my phone and a backpack, that would be awesome! Like most people I use my phone for just about everything in Europe that I use it for at home. Unfortunately, I'm often on call when traveling and need to be able to remote into work. For the past five years I've found a Dell XPS 13 works nicely, doesn't add too much weight, has a small charger, and does everything I need. I'm tempted to switch to a MacBook Air but I'm waiting for the M1-based MacBook as it promises to be ultra-lightweight.

Posted by
2678 posts

Work, that's it. I can't do my work on an iphone, not even check my e-mail (security concerns, I assume? I'm not in the IT department, I just follow the rules). I don't work much on trips, but I check e-mail every few days and spend a couple hours a week doing whatever is most urgent. This makes coming back easier and also I think gives me leeway to travel a lot.

I don't like editing my photos on a phone, so I do that on the computer, but that's not essential. Photos CAN be edited on a phone, and now that I have an iphone 11pro, I rarely use my DSLR so the phone is more convenient. If I need to do detailed editing I can wait until I get home, the phone is fine for quick edits.

If you need a bigger screen than a phone but don't want the weight of a laptop, an ipad is a good compromise. My husband brings one and it is helpful for some kinds of research and for watching movies on the plane/train.

Posted by
4340 posts

I haven’t brought a laptop for a few years and that was because I needed it for work. The non-work use of the laptop is easily replaced with my iPad.

I could even get by without my iPad when I travel except that I use it in the evenings to view my day’s photos to delete them down to what I want to keep. I also like to search on the iPad much better than the iPhone for viewing and what’s displayed. And the iPad is my emergency backup in case my phone was stolen.

If you have that extra compartment, I’m sure you will find something to fill it! A museum book purchase or small painting for your wall?

Posted by
1172 posts

I’m definitely not a carry on only shoestring type Rick traveler, but I’d never bring a laptop to Europe. There’s things I like better on the laptop but it’s not worth the added weight and theft threat.

I bring my phone, iPad and kindle on most trips . That allows me to do almost everything. I’d hate to type a long email on either, but it would be a rare situation where it couldn’t wait until I got back.

Posted by
79 posts

im a solo backpacker (52) that travels with my ASUS laptop as well with my iPhone and camera .
I usually stay in private rooms in hostels and Airbnb .
I take it for 3 reasons:
backup my photos each night
easier to read the news , research and surf the net before i sleep
watch a movie or Netflix when I'm not in the mood to have a late night out

Posted by
1835 posts

@Jean in ID -- thanks for that encouragement.
Another 'shoestring' budget tip I like to use is to go to the bargain/clearance section of an art museum gift shop and see if they have the exhibition catalog or other coffee-table book from a previous show, now at great discount -- those would fit in the laptop compartment, I bet. (Usually I make them one of the boards of my packer/folder in my backpack!)

Posted by
394 posts

1) Work-related stuff. Sometimes I just have to have Python and a terminal window. I try to get everything cleaned up before I leave, and my boss tries not to bother me while I am traveling. At the same time, I work for a small company, and when something needs to be fixed there's nobody else to do it.

2) Photos. I like to do a preliminary culling, cataloging and tagging of my photos at the end of each day.

3) It's nice to have a full keyboard, although I could live without it if I weren't already dealing with items #1 and #2.

Posted by
6503 posts

My laptop rarely if ever leaves home: too many difficult-to-replace things on it, and its too bulky to leave in most in-room safes. I can do email on my phone. eReader and a phone is enough. Wife takes her iPad, mostly for games and Facebook.

Posted by
27424 posts

one reason I don't worry about taking my laptop is that virtually everything on it is actually in the Cloud - mostly Dropbox and some in Googleland. I love having such a fast - but very small - SSD instead of a hard drive, which I keep backed up at home.

It really is a great little TV with the Slingbox.

Posted by
694 posts

No laptop anymore..... But the iPad mini with all guidebooks downloaded, better website presentation of information than in most "mobile" Apps, and better editing capability than my phone is the go-to second device. The SE can also handle two SIM cards for local and home phone connections.

Posted by
1179 posts

I’ve traveled phone only for almost all my trips. That included a 5-1/2 week long trip where I was blogging the trip.

I used voice to text to help me blog. I could have brought a small flexible Bluetooth keyboard if needed.

I backed up my pictures etc with an expandable drive. I felt this was needed because I was off grid for a week at a time.

The rare times I bring my ASUS 2 in 1 is when I have presentations etc. The 2 in 1 still fits In my bag when I travel personal item only. The only reason I brought the laptop was because I might have to edit a PowerPoint presentation I was making. It’s hard to edit illustrations etc. on a phone.

There are apps out there that let you work things like Excel sheets. But it’s impossible to see the whole sheet at the same time.

Posted by
18228 posts

I would never go to Europe without my computer. I first started taking one in 2000, when I went with my first digital camera, and memory sticks cost a fortune for one big enough for only a few pictures, so I took my laptop and downloaded my pictures every night to free up the memory stick for the next day. This, remember, was before everyone had a cell phone, before there was a cloud, and when there were few places with WiFi to upload your pictures.

I found so many uses for the computer on that trip that I would never think of not having it with me. Since then I have owned a series of laptops, handhelds, and netbooks just for traveling. (At home I have big desktop with a real keyboard and 32" monitor; on the road I have a 2# netbook with a 10" screen and a real keyboard.)

During that first trip, because I had a computer available, I created a spreadsheet version of the expense report companies had made me fill out when I traveled, and found it a very useful tool for understanding where my money went, and therefore to plan for future trips. I also used my computer to write a log of my travel (later, when WiFi was more available, I would upload my trip report to my website for others to read). For the next trip, I found many more uses for the computer. I created a giant "workbook", with pages for every day of travel, with rail schedules, my preferred connections and alternatives, and with pages for places I would visit, with downloaded maps and information on attractions.

I created a dummy expense report with all my known and expected expenses. As I paid for things, I took them off the spreadsheet; that way at any time, I knew pretty closely how much I needed to take out from ATMs to finish my trip.

Of course, I could, with difficulty, do all this on a phone today, but, as someone else pointed out, it's difficult to see a spreadsheet on a small screen. I learned to touch type in HS, and I find the phony keyboards on phones to be very aggravating because they are so inefficient. I can touch type much, much faster than I can pick keys on those tiny keyboards, and, with a real keyboard, I don't have to look. I find it so irritating, on a phone keyboard, to be constantly hitting the wrong, tiny key and having to stop and backspace.

But the real shortcoming of a phone computer was brought home to me last summer when my partner and I visited her relatives in Maine. They had just moved into a house in a rural area and they were trying to get the best route into town. Siri was of absolutely no help (maybe she didn't know all of the minor roads, I don't know, but she was taking them on a long, roundabout way into town. I had just acquired my first "smart" phone (my old flip phone was G3, and they weren't supporting it any longer). On my phone's screen, if I could see the entire route into town, I couldn't see the names of the actual roads, and if I zoomed in enough to see the road names, I couldn't see the big picture. So I fired up my netbook, which fortunately I had brought along, and, on the bigger screen could see the whole route.

To me, phones are just a poor substitute for a computer, if you can't access one, but they are always a poor substitute.

Posted by
474 posts

It all really comes down to personal preference.

Certainly, taking a laptop with me can be a bit of a hassle - it takes up space in my backpack, there's weight to it, it needs an adaptor, and it brings with it additional security concerns.

Having only my phone makes for a bit of a hassle at times as well, though - I find trying to navigate and deal with certain websites far more annoying on the phone than desktop; certain things will take much longer to type out on a phone than laptop; I'm able to more effortlessly and quickly breeze through certain tasks on a laptop than on a phone. Of course, there are certain other tasks my iPhone does way better, and it has apps and functions the laptop doesn't. But having both available suits me just fine.

Even when traveling, I'll occasionally have to hop on to the laptop and do some work and there are certain pieces of software or 3rd party websites I need to visit for which phone-only would not work.

Posted by
296 posts

I run my own business and need a laptop - because I'm not going to be editing html and logging in the wrangle websites on a phone!

I also use it to watch video, manage my photos, and update blogs etc

What confuses me is why anyone would say they wouldn't take a laptop but will take an iPad. The Surface Pro is only marginally, heavier, and is smaller than an iPad pro The keyboard cover is one of the best keyboards I've used, the charger is very light (and includes an extra usb charger which is handy. I take a travel mouse because of graphic work I do.

The surface pro is just brilliant - you take the cover off - its a touch screen tablet - but one with a kick stand. But its running a full operating system (the iPad does NOT run MacOS it runs iOS which is not the same thing)).

Posted by
292 posts

It all down to what works for you.

In my case, I've travelled for years with a small laptop (13") and an iphone. My wife travels with her ipad and iphone. I did, for a while, travel with a Surface Pro 3 - which seemed to work really well. These days, I have a 13" HP Envy. Backup pictures, research for the next day, games on a long flight, the laptop just feels comfortable.

Posted by
2396 posts

Only a few have mentioned Bluetooth keyboards, essential for any kind of data entry and not a big deal.

I've been toying with getting a Chromebook for my next trip, small, light, quite cheap, just smart enough to use Google apps and access the intergoogles. So effectively a larger tablet with a keyboard.

Posted by
1085 posts

I'm firmly in the camp of cutting extra weight, so I stopped taking the laptop (a netbook at the end) years ago. If I knew I'd need to type a lot of information, I'd take a Bluetooth keyboard. They are super lightweight and connect well to my phone. The keyboard has arrow keys for direction control, which really helps with moving about the phone's relatively small screen

Posted by
18228 posts

A number of people have mentioned the size and weight of the charger as a negative for a laptop. My Asus Transformer Pad uses a USB phone charger, just like a phone, so there is no advantage there to a phone. And the fact that it has a real keyboard and a decent size screen more than makes up for the small additional in weight.

But the real disadvantage of one of those "toy" computers was brought home a while back when visiting relatives who had just moved into a new home back east. They were using their iPhones and Siri's instructions to get into town. I had the fealing that they weren't going the most efficient route, but the screen on the iPhone wasn't big enough to let me see the entire route. If I zoomed in enough to see the road names, I couldn't see the big picture, If I zoomed out far enough to see all the roads, I couldn't read the road names. After playing the zoom in/zoom out game unsuccessfully for a while, I fired up the Transformer, and I could see both the route and the street names on the bigger screen, and I quickly realized that Siri was taking them on a roundabout route. Apparently she did not recognize one of the street on the shorter route, so routed them around it. So I told them the new route and we saved beaucoup time from then on getting into town.

My Transformer opens with an "App" screen, just like a phone, but one of the tiles takes me to a desktop. The first thing I do when I start up the Transformer is go to the desktop; I've found the App screen to be more or less worthless.

Posted by
258 posts

I back up (200+) photos from 2 cameras to my MacBook Air each day and write a family/friends blog that I turn into a book when we return. I can’t imagine doing that on my iPhone 11.

Posted by
1117 posts

This is really a matter of personal taste, and there is no right or wrong about it. I am on the laptop side because...

  • I touch type, and I go crazy trying to type even a short text message on what we call the "mouse piano" of a cell phone.
  • My eyesight isn't what it used to be. It's just plain inconvenient to me to try and do more than look up phone numbers on that tiny screen.
  • I am an amateur photographer. Yes, I know that people do post process their photos on a cell phone screen, but that's just not the same thing as seeing them on a 13'' screen.
  • Backup of photos etc. is another reason. I don't really want to trust them to some cloud system in the first place, and I certainly don't want to start uploading big files with whatever bad WIFI I may have when traveling.

Since I am not a Mac person, this has made me decide on a lightweight 13'' ultrabook (I've had Toshiba and Fujitsu). Yes, it's heavier than a phone, but for me, it's the best solution.