The Best Laptop for Traveling Freelance Writers on a Budget – Under $300!

Isn’t it crazy how things always seem to conk out at the worst possible time? Last week, while moving out of our apartment and preparing to spend the summer traveling, my laptop stopped working.

Considering my laptop is how I make a living, having it stop working is bad news! Of course, it’s better that it stopped now than after I was in Costa Rica where the cost of replacing it would have been substantially higher, but it was still certainly an inconvenience.

Because I had four days before my flight left, buying a computer online really wasn’t an option. If it failed to arrive on time or didn’t meet my expectations, I would be in real trouble. Furthermore, with projects due, I didn’t have time to sit around waiting for a new computer to arrive.

So, with a few article deadlines approaching, a half-packed house in need of boxing, and a desire to keep my costs down, I began a laptop-hunting blitzkrieg – scouring the web for reviews, and visiting Fry’s and Best Buy for testing.

Fortunately, I found one that met my expectations. And one that, in my opinion, may just be the best laptop for traveling freelance writers!

My Requirements for a New Writing Laptop

There are very few things that I need in a laptop. I’m not a gamer and I don’t edit videos. When it comes to computer software, I’m a minimalist – preferring to use apps for things I can’t access online.

While I often use Google Docs for writing my content, many of my clients use Microsoft Office, and so it’s essential for me to have a computer that can operate the Office Suite (removing Chromebooks as an option). However, I don’t have many other requirements.

In short, what I wanted in a computer was:

  • The ability to use Microsoft Office
  • Easy web browsing with the ability to watch online videos
  • A comfortable keyboard for typing
  • Small and compact without reducing the keyboard size
  • A touchscreen (not a necessity, but a very strong preference)
  • The ability to run at a decent speed (it doesn’t need to be fast, but I don’t want it to lag)
  • Preferably under $500 (because I know I don’t need a lot of extra horsepower)

That’s it!

So, if you’re a hardcore gamer or designer, my choice of laptop probably won’t work for you. However, my last several computers were high-end and I never maxed out their potential. Sure they could play complex games and run high-quality video editing software, but I never did either of these things. Instead, I was using a $1000+ computer to write articles and watch Netflix.

This is why I wanted to try to keep my price under $500 (if possible). Why buy more computer than you’re actually going to use?

The Best Laptop for Traveling Freelance Writers on a Budget: The Dell Inspiron 3157

Again, this is my opinion, and I’m sure there are many other people who would recommend another computer.

However, as I sought out articles about the best laptops for freelance writers, the only computer that seemed to come up was the Apple MacBook Air. I certainly enjoy Apple products, and believe they have their place. However, if you’re trying to be a frugal writer, there is no need to spend $999 on a Mac.

Yes, you’ll look trendy sitting in Starbucks, but that’s about where it ends.

After trying dozens of computers and reading multiple reviews, I settled on the Dell Inspiron 3157 – and I believe this is the best laptop for traveling freelance writers.

Personally, it met all of my requirements! It runs everything I need, has a touchscreen (and actually folds all the way around into a tablet), and cost me a mere $270 at Fry’s (after matching the Newegg price).

So, not only did I find a computer that I could pick up immediately, but it ended up costing me a total of $294 after taxes! For a touchscreen laptop running Windows 10. That’s an incredible deal.

The only minor adjustment that I needed to do was to speed it up just a hair. I know nothing about computer hardware, but this laptop comes with 2gb of ram when most laptops now use 4gb. That means it can have a tendency to briefly lag or skip on occasion.

Although it’s still not bad, and able to run everything I need it to, bumping this laptop up to a 4gb ram stick will eliminate the only minor issue I’ve noticed with this computer. And the good news is, updating the ram only costs about $20.

How to Upgrade the Ram on Your Inspiron 3157 to Increase its Performance

I’m not a techy. And if you aren’t either, don’t let this sound intimidating. For about $20 and 15 minutes of your time, you can improve the speed of your Inspiron 3157 by upgrading the ram – making this laptop almost on par with several $700 laptops.

To update the ram on your laptop, go to the Dell product manual website where you can select your laptop model. Then, after selecting the Inspiron 3157 2-in-1, order the 4gb memory stick that they recommend.

Note: this laptop cannot use an 8gb memory stick. And if it isn’t a DDR3L, it won’t work. I made the mistake of trying 2 different sticks before deciding to use the Dell ram. Save yourself time and just go to Dell’s website to start. If you want to save a few extra dollars, you can usually find discount Dell gift cards here.

Once the memory arrives, follow the manual to remove the back cover (simply unscrew the screws and unsnap the edges), remove the battery, and take out the ram. Really, the entire process doesn’t need to take more than 10-15 minutes. Then, simply do the opposite to install the new ram and get your computer back up and running.

By making this small purchase and spending a few extra minutes of your time, you’ve suddenly increased the speed of this little laptop – smoothing out your browsing and working experience.

Closing Thoughts…

For someone who installs a lot of software or needs extensive amounts of memory, this laptop is definitely not for you. It will start running slow very shortly.

However, if you’re looking for a comfortable keyboard on an incredibly light and compact computer, the Dell Inspiron 3157 is an excellent choice – whether or not you upgrade the ram. Just remember, it’s not the fastest (but for under $300, that should be understandable!).

If you know of another budget laptop that would be great for traveling writers, by all means, share in the comments below. Meanwhile, if you’re on the hunt for a new computer, I certainly recommend checking out this laptop. In my opinion, this is one of the best laptops for writing, with an incredibly comfortable keyboard.

And considering a price tag of $300, it’s hard to beat.


Rob is enthusiastic about everything related to money and investing. A financial analyst and instructor, he enjoys using what he’s learned from 10 years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He founded Money Nomad in 2014!

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  1. That’s great advice since I think I may need a new personal laptop soon. Dell would be a good option since with the MacBook you are paying a lot for the brand I think. It’s just a waste of money. Thanks for the post!

    1. Glad you found the post helpful! From my research, Apple’s are a great deal for what they offer (comparable in price to PCs that do the same thing), but most of us who aren’t video-editors don’t need all of the processing power and functionality of these pricier machines. I’m extremely happy with my Dell – particularly the 3000 series. It’s what I concluded to be the best laptop for the price range.

  2. You know, it’s not cheap but I prefer the surface pro 4 tablet. It replaces my desktop, laptop, and tablets. You can dock it to display to your large monitor (good for your web design, spreadsheets etc) use as a laptop on the go (for writing or updating) and pull off the keyboard and use it for media in bed or on the couch or whatever.

    I literally threw away everything else because it’s so powerful and versatile.

    It isn’t that expensive if you consider the cost of all three items you won’t need to replace in the future

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Eric. And I did look heavily into the Surface – for the very reasons you mentioned above. Two reasons I stepped away from it:

      1. It seems like the Surface isn’t really a laptop, as it is hard to actually use on your “lap” – as you need the back supported for the screen to stay up (from what I saw at least). Considering I do a lot of work randomly in bed, in the airport, in the car, or other places without a solid desk/table, I need a self-supporting back for my laptop (and maybe some version of the Surface has that, but I didn’t see it).

      2. These Dells are referred to as 2-in-1’s because you can flip they keyboard behind and use it as a tablet as well. Sure, having the keyboard there is a bit annoying, but it essentially allows you to use it as a tablet for watching movies in bed, etc.

      Those two points, the price difference ($300 vs $800-1200), and the fact that I wanted to do an experiment to see how much work I could do with a $300 laptop, led me to this decision. But I do agree, the Surface is an awesome computer. I will likely pick one up in the future.

  3. I have a Dell laptop now that I’ve owned since 2010. It’s still pretty good for a PC, but I know it will be kicking the bucket soon. I’m considering another Dell or an Asus, since those seem to get good reviews as well. Like you, my budget is less than $500, preferably no more than $400.

    I don’t game so it just to be good at word processing & editing videos (something I want to learn & start doing for my wife’s business).

    1. Yep, Dell’s are pretty great. Asus seems to do well also, but everything I was looking for just seemed to work better in a Dell.

      If you need video editing capabilities, you will definitely need to pick up something with more power then this little guy – but I’m sure you can find something for a decent price. And, if you really want to keep your budget low, you could always buy a desktop. It’s amazing how much computer you can get for cheap if you don’t mind immobility.

  4. I’ve considered getting a laptop for freelancing, but a budget was something that I thought would limit me. However, I’m glad to see that this wouldn’t be too hard or expensive to achieve. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad it helped Rachel! I’ve certainly been happy with this laptop and the price is great! Of course, it is much slower than many options (and you can’t install as much) but it does the trick if you’re focused exclusively on writing and using the web!

  5. Thanks for the review Rob. In the past I haven’t had the best experiences with dell, although I haven’t tried this particular model. Also haven’t tried upgrading the RAM as you suggested which I suppose will help having the laptop run more smoothly. Cheers for the advice. All the best,

    1. Hey Peter, thanks for stopping by! I’ve liked Dell, although I know many people do feel otherwise. Personally, I think a lot of it comes down to what we expect for the money. A $300 laptop can’t compete with a Mac, but being 1/3 of the cost can certainly make it worthwhile. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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