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Traveling with your iPad – A Field Guide

by on September 14th, 2010

With its compact size and multi-functional capabilities, the iPad seems like the ideal travel gadget. I would even argue that it’s better than carrying a smartphone. [This isn't to say you shouldn't travel with a phone for safety reasons though.] Having recently come back from a run through Northern Europe, I’d like to share some tips and insights that you should consider when you bring your little tablet on the road.

1. Staying Entertained

Whether traveling alone or with friends, having portable entertainment proves essential for those hated waits in airports and train terminals. The iPad offers a myriad of possibilities for entertainment through its eBook and games selections. I’m sure I don’t have to tout the benefits of eBooks on the iPad, but playing board games and multiplayer games on a larger screen certainly has its benefits after a long day on the road. The larger screen makes it easy on the eyes, while the lack of game pieces and its portability make this an ideal way to have more than one game in your arsenal on the road.

Make sure you grab one of the many eBook apps in the market and load up with a few good reads. If you’re traveling with friends, ask if there are any multiplayer board games that they’d be interested in and stock up on that too. Even iPhone based games can offer a lot of value; I couldn’t imagine bringing a full Monopoly board on my trip and not losing single game piece.

2. Staying Connected

As luck would have it, we live in a cold desolate country where mobile data rates are some of the worst in the world. The costs only skyrocket when you’re roaming outside of North America. Fortunately, there are some options to reduce your data cost to near zero, but it may require some planning.

Free WiFi hotspots will become your friend while abroad. Not only can you check up on email and your Facebook feed, but you can also take time to fire up the Maps app and download the lay of the land. In North America, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, Starbucks will probably be your best bet when you’re in urban centers. While there are plenty of WiFi hotspots in Europe, most of them require payment or subscription. In times of need, though, you can always turn to McDonald’s for free internet access.

In the unlikely event you can’t find a hotspot, you can also invest some time and money up front to get an offline maps application. For my trip, I used OffMaps, and I was quite impressed at how reliable it is when we were lost in the middle of Stockholm.

In either case, it’s useful to check WiFi options are available before you arrive at your destination.

3. Staying Charged

The biggest downside of the iPad [and any other piece of electronics] is that it needs power for it to stay functional. I’ve had a few occasions when I completely drained my iPad because I wasn’t able to charge it. Unfortunately, because of the iPad’s technical specs, there aren’t that many battery packs or solar chargers that can charge it. The recently announced Kensington PowerBack may help you out here, but it’s quite pricey at $130. My tip here would be to reduce battery consumption. Avoid watching videos or using your iPad as an music player. Turn on Airplane Mode. Turn down the screen brightness. Every little bit helps.

Also, if you’re traveling out of North America, make sure to pack travel adapters. Apple offers sets that work great with your existing charger.

4. Staying Portable

Traveling light? Packed too much and can’t fit your iPad? The TSA is only allowing 1 piece of carry-on luggage? [Yes on all counts for me.] That shouldn’t stop you from bringing your iPad! If you’re willing to make a small investment in specialized travel gear, you can find some jackets or vests that can fit an iPad. I traveled with an old ScotteVest, and the inside pocket was just large enough for my iPad. There are other travel gear solutions too [511 Tactical comes to mind], so I recommend doing a bit of research and seeing what your budget allows you to do.

So, there you are; my top 4 tips for traveling with your iPad. I know I’ve left a few out though [Remote Desktop, for one], and I’d love to hear your travel tips as well. I’m sure that they’ll come in handy for those family visits for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

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Posted under: App Store, Recommendations

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tip re: OffMaps! Been looking for a good offline google maps alternative and
    this fits the bill perfectly. Another tip I have is that the built in Maps app actually holds a cache of areas you’ve viewed, so long as you don’t quit the app. What you can so is load up the area you plan on visiting while on wifi for all magnification levels the day before and it should remember it when you’re offline. But OffMaps sounds like a better solution so I’ll have to check it out.

  • Geoff

    Great tips and thank you. Last time I traveled with my iPad to Asia (Hong Kong, China, Japan). In China, I purchased their prepaid 3G data card (no contract) from China Unicom and cut the SIM card into microSIM size. It worked perfect all over China and I stayed connected all the time. This only costed me US$30 for a 3-month duration. In Hong Kong, lots of free wi-fi. If not available, you could always sign up the daily service from PCCW for less than US$3 per day with unlimited use. PCCW have thousands of wi-fi hotspots in all over Hong Kong.

  • http://www.iphoneincanada.ca Gary

    Amazing tips! I bought a Scottevest years ago and it was worth its weight in gold while traveling. You can dump all your electronics in the jacket and just place it into the xray. So easy, plus the weight doesn’t count towards your carry on! Stuff away! ;)

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