Best Portable External Hard Drives for Travelers and Digital Nomads

Best Portable Hard Drives for Travel Photographers and Digital Nomads

Over the course of our 3+ years of travel, we have taken a lot of photos. I mean a lot! We are currently traveling with over 6 terabytes of photos. We shoot most of our photos for our blog and Instagram in RAW, meaning the file size for each photo is over 30MB. This means we need a lot of storage.

We have tried various methods of storing and backing up all of our photos and digital assets. Now, we prefer storing as little as possible on our laptops, so all of our photos go on external hard drives. We need fast, reliable external hard drives to be able to do our jobs every day.

If you’re planning an around-the-world trip, you have probably already thought about upgrading your photography equipment so you can capture all the beautiful moments from your travels. But what you may have not considered is how you’re going to store those hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of photos you’ll be taking.

Here are the best external hard drives for travel so you can store all of your irreplaceable memories and sleep soundly at night!

Don’t forget to check out our web story: Best Portable Hard Drives for Travel Photographers and Digital Nomads! 

What to Consider When Choosing a Portable Hard Drive

Storage Capacity

When choosing the best travel hard drive, the first question to ask yourself is “how much storage will you need on your trip?” You should consider the following:

  • How long will you be traveling?
  • Are you going to be shooting JPEGs or RAW photos?
  • Are you selective when you press the shutter button or do you like to rapid-fire and pick your favorites later?

We have found that a 2-terabyte external hard drive is perfect for shorter trips. It will allow you ample storage without having to worry about deleting any images until you get home and can take some time to cull any unwanted photos from your library.

If you’re going on a longer trip and expect to be shooting all of your images in RAW, you’ll likely want more storage capacity. The largest external hard drive option currently available in the “portable” category is Seagate’s 5 Terabyte Backup Plus. If you need more storage than that, you should invest in two (or more) hard drives and split your photo library across them.

Size and Weight

Since you’ll be carrying your hard drive in your luggage, you should choose one that is small and lightweight. Technology advances are being made rapidly in digital storage. You’ll be amazed by the capacity of an external drive that is not much bigger than a cell phone.

All the external hard drives we recommend in this article are super compact and portable. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. If you go searching for a hard drive on your own, just be sure to buy a “portable” drive rather than a “desktop” drive.


Unless you’re planning on being especially rough on your hard drive, you shouldn’t worry too much about durability. All portable hard drives are built to withstand the general wear and tear of everyday travel and use. That being said, you’ll want to invest in a padded case to keep your hard drive protected. You’ll find a few of our favorite options for hard drive travel cases at the bottom of this article.

If you’re planning on putting your hard drive through more extreme conditions, such as taking it trekking, using it while camping, or having it out in any type of wet conditions, you should invest in the LaCie Rugged External Drive or SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD (detailed below) which are extra durable travel hard drives built to withstand loads of abuse.


When evaluating external hard drives for travel, the most important thing to consider is reliability. One of the worst things that can happen is to have your hard drive fail unexpectedly. In the best-case scenario, you can take it to a computer repair shop where they can hopefully recover your data. And in the worst-case scenario, you’ll lose everything you had stored on the drive. Either way, it will likely put a serious damper on your vacation.

Most hard drives come with a warranty and the manufacturer will replace the faulty drive. But that’s of little value when you have just lost all of your beautiful photos and travel memories.

While it’s impossible to be 100% certain that your external drive won’t fail, you can minimize the risk by sticking to reliable brands like Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, and LaCie.

You should also keep an additional backup of your most important photos on a second external drive or online photo storage services, such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Our Top Picks: Portable External Hard Drives for Travelers

1. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim: 2TB Portable External Hard Drive

Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim: Portable External Hard Drive

Seagate is our go-to brand when it comes to portable hard drives for photo storage. They are reliable, affordable, lightweight, and compact. Everything you could possibly want in an external hard drive!

The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim is less than a half-inch thick and weighs less than five ounces. It’s potentially the best travel external hard drive for shorter trips unless you want to shell out for a solid-state drive.

Squeezing 2 terabytes of storage into a conventional hard drive this small is a marvel of modern engineering. It also offers a fast read/write speed of up to 120Mb per second.

If your data storage needs are less than 2TB, look no further than this portable hard drive. Plus, it comes in a couple of sleek finish options: platinum and gold.

Check it out on Amazon

2. Seagate Backup Plus: 5TB Portable External Hard Drive

Seagate Backup Plus: Portable External Hard Drive

As much as we love the Seagate Ultra Slim drive, our storage needs have now outgrown it. Luckily, the Seagate Backup Plus line of drives comes in a variety of sizes ranging up to 5TB. They’re still super compact with the largest option measuring 4.5″ x 3″ x 0.8″ and weighing just over eight ounces. Plus, you can choose from multiple colors: black, blue, red, or silver.

We currently carry two of these awesome external hard drives – one as our primary and a second for backup. We can personally attest to the quality of these drives as we have carried them all over the world and they have never let us down.

If you have storage needs over 2TB, then this is the best portable hard drive you can get at this price point!

Check it out on Amazon

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3. Western Digital My Passport: Portable External Hard Drive

Western Digital My Passport Portable External Hard Drive

Western Digital is one of the best names in data storage and for good reason. The WD My Passport line of external drives is not only reliable, but they offer an extra layer of protection for your peace of mind. You can choose to have your data encrypted and password protected while it is stored on your external hard drive.

So in the unfortunate event that your hard drive is stolen, no one but you can access your sensitive or personal information like photos of your passport, financial documents, or travel itineraries.

My Passport drives are compact, lightweight and one of the most inexpensive portable hard drive options on the market. They also come in a rainbow of bright colors – yellow, orange, red, blue, and white making them a great portable photo storage choice for travelers and photographers.

Check it out on Amazon

4. LaCie Rugged USB-C Portable External Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged Portable External Hard Drive

If you’re an adrenaline junky and plan on carrying your hard drive along on your outdoor adventures, you should opt for LaCie’s Rugged USB-C portable external hard drive.

These durable drives can handle being dropped from a height of four feet and even getting run over by a car! They are also dust and water-resistant. So whether you’re carrying them through the jungle, across mountain tops, or just to the beach, you can be confident that your data will be safe.

Not only are these drives practically indestructible, but they also utilize USB-C to offer faster transfer speeds of up to 130 MB per second. And if you’re traveling with a Mac laptop, then check out their Rugged hard drive with built-in lightning cable to speed things up even more!

Check it out on Amazon

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5. Samsung SSD T5 2TB Portable Drive

Samsung SSD T5 Portable External Hard Drive

If you don’t mind spending a little extra on your storage needs, the Samsung SSD T5 is one of the best portable hard drives currently on the market.

Samsung has made a major investment in solid-state memory drives, and the SSD T5 is their top-of-the-line product. It uses solid-state memory which makes it faster than the other portable drives we’ve reviewed here – with transfer speeds up to 540MB per second.

Solid-state memory also means there are no moving parts. Because of this and its metal housing, Samsung’s T5 drive can withstand a drop from up to 6.5 feet! It also offers data encryption and password protection so any personal data you store on the T5 will be safe in the event of theft.

All of this comes in a shockingly tiny 2.3″ x 3″ x 0.4″ package and weighs in at just 1.6 ounces. That’s about the size of a stack of credit cards and the weight of a golf ball!

Tiny, lightweight, dependable, and fast, this drive blows away conventional external hard drives, but it comes with a high price tag. The Samsung T5 runs 2-3 times what a comparable amount of storage would cost you in a conventional (non-solid state) hard disk drive.

Check it out on Amazon

6. SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD

Raising the bar another notch for travel hard drives is the brand new SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (Solid-State Drive).

This incredible external hard drive is as durable as it is portable. With an IP rating of 55, it can withstand water and dust as well as a drop onto a concrete floor from as high as six feet. This portable drive also gives the Samsung SSD T5 a run for its money in terms of performance. It boasts transfer speeds up to 550MB/s.

SanDisk has managed to pack all of this into an extremely portable hard drive measuring just 3.8″ x 1.9″ x 0.3″ and weighing a measly 1.44 ounces (roughly what a stack of seven quarters would weigh). There is no doubt that this is the best external hard drive for travel photographers!

Check it out on Amazon

Portable Drive Protective Carrying Cases

Your external hard drive is going to be full of irreplaceable data (amazing vacation photos) so you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t get damaged. Be sure to invest in a carrying case to protect your portable hard drive while traveling. Here are a few of our favorite options for protective carrying cases.

Lacdo Portable Hard Drive Carrying Travel Case
Pelican 1020 Micro-Case Portable Hard Drive Travel Case
KAYOND Aluminium External Hard Drive Protective Travel Case
UGREEN External Hard Drive Travel Carrying Case

Do you have a favorite external hard drive or portable photo storage method we have missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!


About the Author:

  • Nick Wheatley

    Nick took his first solo trip abroad to Ireland and Scotland when he was just 19. Since then he has visited over 70 countries around the world (plus 45 states in the USA).

    He coupled his passion for travel photography with Val’s passion for writing and thus Wandering Wheatleys was born. He now lives in Asheville with his two rambunctious kids, Humphrey and Wilhelminha.

    Besides photography, Nick loves eating the weirdest food he can find in a country (sheep’s brain currently sits in first place) and making Val get up an hour before sunrise to make sure he gets “the good light”.

2 thoughts on “Best Portable Hard Drives for Travel Photographers and Digital Nomads”

  1. Will this read a card reader? I am looking for something to back up my sd/cf cards while traveling without lugging around my laptop.

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