How do you work without multiple monitors? I can only carry a MBP 15"

Hi Nomads!

Starting January 2016 I’m going to be starting a year as a Digital Nomad.
The last 5 years I’ve never worked with less than 2 monitors in front of me.
Sure, I’ve done some café and hotel-room work. But all my biggest project has all been done in front of a stationary setup.

I do webdesign and development and have created a working habbit with several monitors on a large desk. Funny enough this is my biggest concern getting closer to January.

How do i teach myself to work from a 15" screen?
Do you find working from a 15" screen enough or do you have some kind of magical folding screen in your backpack?

If you have any ideas for me keeping a dual-monitor setup (The laptop being the first monitor) I’m all ears!

Regards! And thank you for this delightful Forum!

1 Like

Time to say goodbye to your comfort zone!


I really had that one coming ;-).

I do web design & development too. I used to have a set up of a desktop and 3 monitors back home, but now the only things I have are a 15" Macbook Pro and a Logictech G602 mouse. It wasn’t so comfortable but I got used with that just after a few days, still gets work done perfectly. I’ve been even thinking of changing to a Macbook Air to even travel lighter. If you want yourself to be mobile then you must mobilize everything you have first.

However some coworking spaces have external monitors and you can rent one to use if you need it. You can also use the TV’s in hotels, just remember to pack a HDMI cable. I personally work fine with only the laptop.

1 Like

Google Avatron Software Air Display — turn your iPad or Android tablet into a computer monitor as I can’t post URLs.


suck it up buttercup. :slight_smile: I’ve yet to work with more than one monitor or on a screen larger than 13" and clearly the world didn’t end as a result.

1 Like

You would be in for a treat with a dual-monitor-setup ;-).
I really can get more done this way. I just hope this changes in a couple of days :smile:

Using a HDMI with a TV or my iPad as second monitor are good tricks! Thanks.

Super great question.

Until 2013, I had been working on multiple monitors on a huge self-built PC tower with 24GB RAM, 6 hard drives, two graphic cards, an external audio DAW card (I was making music back then), like as maxed-out as you can go. It even had a backup battery, like completely insane:

Then I wanted to travel and replaced all of that with a maxed-out MacBook Pro 15".

It was a very lucky timing because since then most of the stuff on that big PC, you can now do easily with a MBP 15".

About the multiple monitors, here comes to the crazy part: I’m a lot more productive on one screen than two or three. Why? I think it’s because I’m forced to focus more on what I’m doing. Before I’d have lots of different apps open because the multiple screens LET me do it. Now I have to choose what to open and it’s a constraint.

I think constraints are GREAT for creativity and productivity.

When I first switched for a year I would maximize all windows and use the 3/4-finger swipe to move from screen to screen. You kinda then have multiple monitors again. But that swiping takes a second or so which is too long for me. So now I have everything on one screen again.

I use one app to make it similar to multiple screens called SizeUp, it lets you resize windows to 25% or 50% of your screen and lock it to the left and right. Really useful.

Anyway, I’d recommend it. A great example is @mengto who’s a great UX designer and switched to a 15" screen too: Hi, I’m Meng To, author of Design+Code and world traveler. AMA!

By the way I tried Duet Display to have my iPad as a second screen with Mountie, honestly it worked great. There’s 0 delay and latency. It’s just that I ended up being more productive on one screen, that might be personal. I also like simplicity and sold my iPad to carry less.


Man, I feel that pain. I have a 13 inch Air (I7, 8G RAM) as a mobile coding solution, and it works well (with an external mouse, preferably). But when I’m back at the base (currently Calcutta), I’m on a Mac mini with two 1080p 24 inch LCDs. The Air is higher spec’d than my old mini, but there’s no comparison in terms of productivity. I’d add a third screen if I could.

I recently broke one of the LCDs. Even following online tutorials is a pain when you have to switch workspaces or switch apps to toggle back and forth between the two. I can squeeze an open browser and two terminal windows into one LCD, but adding, say, Sublime either means making everything microscopically tiny or switching to another workspace.

I may give Duet a shot one of these days. I’m also thinking seriously about picking up a stand-alone 13 or 15 inch external screen for laptops; I suspect I can squeeze a very thin one in with the laptop in the Pelican backpack.

Man I think some of you have been spoiled haha :smile:

Been using 15 inch laptop screens for the last 8 or so years. Before that I had a 17 inch CRT monitor back when I had a desktop. Never really experienced anything larger except for a few times using a school computer, and have never used a dual monitor before. So to me 15 inches is pretty normal.

I have a friend who has a 13 inch laptop and that thing is tiny!!! I feel like you lose soo much space and had to squint to see stuff haha. Must be how some of you feel losing your dual 24 inch monitor setup.

A few companies (among them: Asus, Lenovo) offer portable external displays using the DisplayLink technology - have a look at the Asus MB168B+.

Resolution is king. I’m currently using a 13" MBP Retina with the Retina display scaling turned on. Using the display scaling you can almost get a 1080p resolution on the tiny 13" screen. Great when you need a lot of screen real estate. I’ve found using the retina display scaling with spaces/virtual desktops has replaced the need for 24" dual screens. When using dual screens, you’re only ever looking at one screen at a time anyway. Instead of turning your head, you’re switching your virtual desktop. Ctrl+left and right arrow keys makes it quick and easy to switch. I’m also using hyperdock (similar to sizeup levels mentioned earlier) to snap apps to either the left or right half of the screen using keyboard shortcuts.

1 Like

I did not know about this. That Asus looks very nice. Thanks for sharing :smile:

I have the Asus MB168B+ and it is an absolute game changer when out of your office or traveling. Get a separate compact stand as the one it comes with is clunky.

Kantong knows whats up. 13" retina pro is the ideal travel computer. Dial the scaling down and you have plenty of real estate. Learn your shortcuts for changing screens and switching between windows. Use a program like Divvy to quickly split the screen. You don’t need extra screens to do the work. They are just a crutch.

1 Like

As other commenters have said above, the key is virtual desktops (and, I find, especially the “Assign To” function which constrains certain apps to a particular desktop, allowing you to stop different tasks from overlapping visually) and then mastering all the keyboard shortcuts to switch between apps and desktops effortlessly.

If there’s a tiny piece of advice I can offer you is install a window manager, like Spectacle. It will save you so much time…

I’ve given this subject a lot of thought. I used in the past a 15" with an external 27" screen for a while and then switched to a 13" only for the last 3 years. In the past year, I’ve tried couple things to increase my screen real estate. Here is my experience.

As mentionned by @levelsio I think that multi screen is often a disctraction but there are some tasks that are really nice with two screens. A common one for me is to have the web inspector on one screen while previewing how the design really look fullscreen in the browser. All that to say that I learned to not depend on multiple screens but appreciate it once in a while.

I think there are two things that matter when using external screens. 1/ The posture and 2/ the screen real estate.

1/ The posture

I decided not compromise on the posture because when I only have my laptop, I tend to work a lot in the couch which is terrible for my neck and back. Even when I work on a desk, I have to look down. And anyone that worked on a standing desk with only a laptop knows how terrible it is.

So I currently travel with a stand and wireless keyboard/trackpad. It is heavy (~700g) but is totally worth a healthy back (except when you carry them). You also have to know whether you will be always on the move and backpacking or traveling slowly and stay longer in every place. I tend to do the second, making the extra weight totally acceptable.

For the stand, I currently have a cheap one from Amazon. It works decently well but is not very solid and must be handled with care. I also backed the Roost 2 on kickstarter, I should have it by the end of the year but haven’t tried it (or the first one). For the keyboard/mouse, I have the apple ones. You might want a mouse if you do some cad, retouching or gaming though.

What I like is that i can reproduce a desktop-like setup anywhere, both on a sitting or standing desk. Talking of which, I tend to alternate between the two when I can. If possible I buy a Yoga Ball to sit when I arrive in a new place (they are rather inexpensive, 20-40$). I then give it to someone that wants it.

2/ The screen space

The first thing here is to have a retina display. I used it for a long time with the “more space” setting but it is rather small and recently switched to a slightly lower resolution. I have an iPad mini that I use as a second screen once in a while, attached to the screen with a Sidecar. I tried the Mountie, it is nice but I recommend the Sidecar over it. I sometime also simply drop it on the keyboard like that:

What I can say is that the iPad mini is really small and even with Duet Display (the best option I found), there is a slight lag and you really need to focus to see what’s on the screen. I don’t find that to be a viable option if you need a permanent second screen. I only plug it when I really need it. It might be better with the iPad Air but I haven’t tried. I’m also thinking of trying with the new iPad Pro since it would be both a wacom tablet and a second screen. But it adds even more weight and is pretty expensive for a second screen!

Update: I forgot to say, I like Better Touch Tool for window management, and it is free. Another tip for mac user is to disable screen reordering based on usage since it gets in the way of maintaining a mental map of your screens.

I hope it will be helpful to some of you. Happy travels!

1 Like

By the way I tried Duet Display to have my iPad as a second screen with Mountie, honestly it worked great.

Fully seconded. Duet works quite well on my iPad mini. I tend to leave either my command-line window or a chat app open on it.

I am anxiously waiting for THIS: Portable Rotating Dual Monitor for Laptops

1 Like