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How do you use your iPad (or tablet) when traveling that makes it worth packing along?

Last year at this time I posed a question about how people use their laptops nowadays when smartphones are so power-packed, and the discussion was very interesting:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/what-do-you-do-with-your-laptop-that-you-couldn-t-do-with-your-phone-already

So, with the arrival of September again this year, and new gizmo announcements as well, I want to ask you how you use your iPad while away from home that makes it worth having along, and not redundant if you also are leashed to a smartphone as so many of us are.

My impression is that iPads and similar are still mostly for entertainment consumption, though clearly they are now marketed as being good for productivity and connectivity as well -- so, for you iPad fans, make the case that it's worth toting it along on our travels!

Posted by
756 posts

Love traveling with an Ipad. I take a transfer gizmo that allows me to upload my pictures from my camera (scandisk) to the Ipad for backup. My camera isn't WiFi compatible (yes it is old, but works great and is small). Sometimes WiFi is too slow to do this. I like a camera and an iphone. I keep a daily journal on the word type software. I use the excel type software to track expenses (yes, I'm a numbers geek). Great for email, with bigger keyboard. Fits in day pack if I need it. Holds a charge much much longer than my iphone. Fits in a hotel safe.

It is true an iphone can do all these things, but it is just too small to use a lot IMO.

Posted by
6517 posts

I take both my ipad and iphone when I travel. I don’t have to lug books along as I have a Kindle app and read books through it on my iPad. This is a HUGE plus to me. I used to have to carry a lot of books and usually left them behind in hotels to save carrying them back home. I prefer reading a good book and newspapers to watching films on a flight.
I also read US newspapers on it. We used to have to find a place to buy Intl Herald Tribune. Now we always have the NYT with us.
It is certainly easier to stay in touch and edit my photos on the iPad. Once I am in a WiFi zone the photos travel to my iPad from my phone.
I get a SIM card for my phone, great for local calls.

Posted by
50 posts

First rule--never check email on vacation or a trip. Seriously, noone emails to chit chat and see how your day is going. Email is a tar pit that prevents us from being present. Forward emails to your team, out of office, etc.

With so much great inflight entertainment, I don't need to bring my ipad anymore.

I did invest in a Microsoft Surface years ago--only to back up my pics. Now we have iCloud or dropbox, or whatever other cloud service you use. That Surface got donated eons ago-- I didn't like it, but it was great to have all my pics from my digital camera backed up each day.

My belief--it's time we get to enjoy life. Everyone will live without our presence. It's not a vacation if one is still doing work. Vacation is not time to be productive, but as Steven Covey said "sharpen the saw."

Posted by
649 posts

I am not a fan of apple products. I have a Samsung 10 inch tab A, and a Motorola low-end smartphone. I never got into playing games a tablet or phone. I bought my most recent guidebooks in electronic format. I use the 10 inch Samsung device as an electronic-book reader; I have used it to look at Google maps, blogs, and email. I know it would be technically possible to do that stuff on my phone but the phone's screen is only 5-3/8 inches. I never got into using the cameras on my phone or Samsung device. I have a compact digital camera.

Posted by
113 posts

I normally take my Macbook Pro for general web/mail, because I don't like using the small phone screen for that stuff. I use my Android phone for phone/pics/ and occasional web/email when away from my hotel. I also take my Kindle Fire 8HD for reading and video on the plane; the Kindle is about to be replaced by the new iPad mini 6, as soon as I can get my hands on one.

Posted by
2891 posts

I DONT have a smart phone. Call me old fashioned - I don't care. I don't need one. DH has one, and since we travel together, it is sufficient. I carry a flip phone at home for emergencies only. So my Samsung tablet sees plenty of use. It is my e reader. It holds my Netflix downloads for those late evenings or long train rides when I want to watch something in English. It even has a few games on it.

When we have wifi I have access to my various apps. We can take care of banking and bills as necessary. I use it almost daily for the things most people use their phone for - except making phone calls. And unlike a previous poster, while we are retired and have no work concerns, we are often away from home for several weeks, up to a couple of months at a time, so email is important to us. We have friends and family who we love and who want to know how and what we are doing (and vice versa). We also use it to read our Toronto Star to keep abreast of the news. Even DH uses his tablet instead of his phone except when we are out and about, mostly because of the larger screen and ease of keyboard use.

Posted by
1932 posts

I brought only my phone on my last few trips - my tablet was so old it was worthless. But I just bought a new (cheap) tablet and I'll probably bring it to save my poor eyes from squinting for the duration of my trip when I'm checking info on sights and schedules, finding restaurants, making reservations, etc.

Posted by
9719 posts

I used to take a Surface laptop and and iPad. The Surface was for writing, managing photos, held my trip nots, expenses, etc. As we travel for weeks at a time, having a keyboard and lots of storage was essential.

This year I invested in a new iPad Air with a Magic keyboard and left my ancient Surface at home so I dropped a couple of pounds!

While the iPad has many differences from a Microsoft environment laptop, Excel and Word work fine for my needs and I use Apple Photos and Google Photos to safeguard my precious pix. I also use Dropbox so I have access to some files I knew I might want on a long trip.

Hubby uses a Mac laptop to manage all financial affairs behind a VPN.

Posted by
4686 posts

We would never leave home without an iPad each, an iPhone each and he has a Mac laptop.

Uses? The phone’s screen and keyboard are too small for other than email, messaging friends and using Google to find something whilst we are out and about. Photos. Plug it into the car for navigation and Amazon music. Plus of course making and receiving calls. My iPhone is 5 years old and it’s always telling me it’s nearly at capacity.

iPad uses - watching YouTube or tv, particularly whilst in transit and on a flight; games; sending longer emails; a better screen size for FaceTime and Skype; it stores more photos than my phone; bigger screen for navigation; Amazon music; checking the security cameras at home; he attaches his drone to iPad or phone; books, although I use my Kindle if reading on a beach holiday. The larger screen is easier to read than a phone and the keyboard is better. I would never go away with just one device in case the other got lost or damaged.

Laptop - better screen for films, tv or YouTube when at the destination; paying bills; storing photos.

Posted by
2487 posts

When I travel with my DSLR camera I use the iPad to back up and edit the pictures. There’s a cord that lets you transfer things from a memory card to an iPad, which is very helpful. Otherwise I’d not be able to send any pictures to friends at home, and I’d be worried about something happening to the memory card. I will transfer the photos each day but only keep the good ones on the iPad due to space. The memory card stays full with everything,

Other than that, for me it’s just for entertainment. Some airlines no longer have the tv screen on the seat, you need to use their app on your device. Could be done on a phone, of course but I think it looks better on an iPad.

Posted by
6395 posts

Exactly as Tthreadwear and Mira said, the biggest advantage it to be able to move camera photos to the iPad for editing, backup, and sharing.

For me otherwise, it’s just more pleasant in my hotel room to read the pages I need, do whatever searches I need, or look at Instagram/FB/Twitter than it is on my phone.

And the longer battery life is nice. I read articles that I have saved to my Pocket account from the New Yorker or wherever - so I can read them for example on a long bus ride when I don’t want to be using too much network connection time.

I don’t watch movies or tv programs or anything, or read books on my iPad. But the reasons above mean that I enjoy having my iPad very much ! (Was thinking about my Norway trip I just finished, where I had it, vs my Scotland August 2018 trip, where I didn’t. Was really glad to have it this time.)

P.s. I also really love my mini foldable Bluetooth keyboard, that i bought after Frank II had discussed here. Makes it nice and easy for emailing.

Posted by
883 posts

I mainly like having my iPad with me because the photos that I take on my phone automatically copy onto the iPad. At night I can look through a larger version of the pictures I have taken during the day. I also like to use the iPad for reading, sending emails, and looking at social media at night. I just like having a larger screen for that, and my iPad is so light that it doesn’t cause any trouble to bring it along.

Posted by
2024 posts

I use my IPad mini to send emails home with pictures, sort through my pictures taken on the phone to delete the bad ones - don’t want them piling up, check museum times and websites and make reservations if necessary, check weather for the next day(s) to help with planning, read the books we downloaded on flights etc., directions if needed, check how much a dinner or something costs in dollars after it’s been charged, jot down notes for my journal and scrapbook which I make when we get home, check RS forum, now add COVID updates. I don’t like doing these things on my phone as I find the apps not as easy to use and have less info. I don’t know how we travelled before without it!

Posted by
628 posts

My impression is that iPads and similar are still mostly for entertainment consumption, though clearly they are now marketed as being good for productivity and connectivity as well -- so, for you iPad fans, make the case that it's worth toting it along on our travels!

Tablets come in three tiers of power and size with the iPad Pro (and maybe another brand, I wouldn't know) packing laptop-grade capabilities. You probably don't need that kind of power or you'd already have one. I have a portable computer at home but I spend most of my online time on the tablet. I have zero need for a laptop when traveling and the tablet provides convenience and easy grab'n'go flexibility. It's far more pleasant to use than the phone for, say, news over breakfast and mail. I wouldn't know about games but I like having a couple of movies available for domestic flights.

You can research the popularity and practicality of taking a tablet on the road endlessly all over the web and then assess the real world utility for your own needs. If you want to be offline or want one fewer thing to keep track of (and keep charged) leave it home.

Editorial: Since 1989, Macintosh has been the only computer I have used so naturally all of my toys are from Apple: MacBookAir, iPad Pro, iPad, iPhones, Watch, and more.

Posted by
1828 posts

First rule--never check email on vacation or a trip. Seriously, no one
emails to chit chat and see how your day is going. Email is a tar pit
that prevents us from being present. Forward emails to your team, out
of office, etc.

To each their own, but I enjoy staying connected with home and office. I find my vacations are more relaxing after I've put in an hour or two before my wife wakes up and then knowing I won't have a mountain of paperwork when I get back. I've also got a 90 year old mother who enjoys vacationing vicariously through me. The delight it brings her with my daily photos is enough reason for me to stay connected. You're right, nobody emails anymore to chit chat, but they do a lot of other messaging styles for informal conversations.

I have no Apple products and so I assume we can discuss more than iPads. I carry my phone a Samsung Tablet and also my Surface. I'll do 90% of my surfing and emailing on my phone and use the tablet almost exclusively as an e-reader. It's only 7" and so not much of a burden. I don't find the Surface much of a burden either compared to older laptops that I've brought in the past. As long as I'm still working the Surface will be with me. Once I'm retired I'll reevaluate, but I like it more than my tablet for the keyboard function and speed.

Posted by
1035 posts

Ditto what Jennifer said. I am sitting in Rovinj now reading and writing this and it is far easier on my eyes and fingers. While in a pinch I can get by fine on my phone, I don’t mind the extra weight of my iPad for research, reading, making notes, and email because of the larger screen.

Posted by
8203 posts

Years ago when my Kindle died the nice folks here talked me in to an iPad Mini. I always travel with it...mostly to read thru the Kindle app. I also keep up with some Trip Advisor forums and it's easier to type answers on the Mini than on my phone.

I'm retired so no need for connectivity with anyone but family and friends.

Posted by
1010 posts

Since we don't have smart phones, the iPad mini is our main communication device. We connect to the hotel wifi and occasionally check emails. We have no need to be constantly in touch with folks back home.

Posted by
382 posts

Pretty much what others have said:

1) To back up and view our photos. We tend to keep going like Energizer Bunnies during the day, but by after dinner, we're ready to put our feet up. So, we copy our photos onto the iPad and then go through them together, choosing favourites to store in the Cloud. We really enjoy this daily review.

2) To plan and organize. We look up things to do and how to get there. We make reservations, if necessary. I keep copies of our travel documents and tickets, as well as notes from my pre-travel research, and I refer to the latter to plan the next day or two. If I have purchased any travel books, these are on my iPad, as well.

3) To keep in touch. We keep in touch with our (grown) children, one of whom is usually looking after our house and pets, and with our elderly parents.

4) For entertainment. I can keep multiple books on my iPad. Also, some airlines don't have a screen in the back of the seat. You have to use your own tablet while in flight, or rent one from them. I sometimes use it to play games while in transit, too. Occasionally, we will use it to stream a movie when we have some down time.

5) Once, when DH had applied for a new position and interviewed shortly before our travels, he used my iPad to sign and return his new contract when he was offered the position and to resign from his (then) current position. :)

6) Every so often, I use it to take photos or video. I prefer a travel camera, but sometimes the iPad is handy--such as the time we were having dinner with our guide in Namibia and going over photos from the day, when the staff came out with a cake and sang Happy Birthday to my husband in 3 languages (English, Afrikaans, and Damara Click language). (My phone is old and takes terrible photos. My iPad is newer and has a better camera.)

I have an iPad mini, which is easy to stash in my handbag. I find a phone too small to be useful for most things, and we don't bother travelling with laptops anymore--tablets are smaller, lighter, and more convenient.

Posted by
25583 posts

when I travel I take a 13 inch laptop (Dell), a 10 inch iPad, an android phone (Motorola), an iPhone, a lightweight bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, a mouse, and cables.

Laptop for all the many tabs I keep open every day, zoom meetings for which I am Secretary (easiest to save recordings locally), and by far best for evening TV (often HDMI to the TV).

iPad backup for the above, best for FaceTime and Messenger, best for mobile Zooming.

iPhone for WhatsApp, phone, SMS, all the daily apps, GPS, travel tickets, travel apps, wifi hotspot for the iPad, and oh so much more

Android phone as backup and device to find my wife.

I used to take a Samsung large tablet. Since the Samsung service centre didn't even make an attempt to fix the Samsung not starting or charging completely out of the blue (Thanks for Everything, Samsung) it now acts as a small bookend on the bookcase and that's when I got the iPad - never looked back. BTW - thanks, Samsung.

Posted by
1612 posts

This has been a lot of interesting replies across a really wide range - all the way from tech just gets in the way of good travel to tech is essential to good travel.

I should look up the moment when Hamlet is bantering with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about lady Fortune, and they joke that their interest lies not with the bottom of her shoes or the top of her hat but somewhere in the middle. :-)
The comments that caught my eye were those that particularly favored the iPad (mini) over things near to it or parallel to it.
Very useful.

thanks again.

Posted by
4574 posts

I asked Santa for a tablet a few years ago, and have enjoyed it ever since. The main reason I wanted it was to stay in touch with my parents while we were in Europe. We didn't have cell phones, and I wanted to be able to call my folks and check in with them. At the time (spring, 2019) my mother was in a nursing home with Parkinson's and dementia, and my father visited her every day. I did too, when I was home. So I used Skype to call them every few days. Yes, we could have opted for a cell phone instead, but the tablet also made it easier to keep up with email and other internet platforms. We're both retired, but we're heavily involved in various volunteer activities (heavily involved means: we run them.) The tablet was my "all in one" solution.

We do have a cell phone now (a friend gave us her old one,) but I almost never use it, and it probably is classified as an antique; it may access the internet, but I don't know how to use it effectively. I suspect we'll upgrade before the spring of 2022, when we're returning ( we hope) to Europe. But so far I find the tablet much easier to use for email and research - it's much easier to read and easier to type on. Both my parents have passed since our last trip to Europe, so phone contact isn't as important; I may just stick to my tablet (Samsung A).

Posted by
17940 posts

How do you use your iPad (or tablet) when traveling that makes it worth packing along?

First, how do I use my tablet, (not iPad, 'cause iPad has an almost unusable "virtual" keypad? And if I had to bring along a separate keyboard, an iPad would probably be more trouble than it was worth). Then I might use a smartphone, but hate it.

Travel info: All the information (itinerary, maps, accommodation information and reservations, rail schedule and prices, etc) that I have stored in preparation for the trip is on one big spreadsheet, which I can easily view on a tablet or netbook screen.

e-mail: I found out years ago, that using a phone to keep in contact with people back home is cumbersome. Because of the time difference, it seems like whenever I can talk they want to either go to sleep or are in a hurry to go to work. E-mail works great - I can write an email when I have time and they can read it at their leisure when they have time.

financial: My expenses, again, are all kept on a spreadsheet, using a format that companies required me to use when I was working. This allows me to accurately estimate expenses for my next trip. I also keep a "filled-in" spreadsheet with my known and anticipated expenses. I remove expenses when they are paid; near the end of my trip, I have an accurate estimate of what I need to take from the ATM to finish my trip.

Journal: I usually keep a journal of my trip, which I add to in my room at the end of the day.

I have to admit that my M.O. is somewhat influenced by the fact that I am retired and at home 23/7, where I have a powerful desktop computer connected to the internet, a 32" monitor, and a real keyboard (I touch-type). I do all my planning on this system and then transfer the file to my netbook/tablet before my trip. At home, my primary use of my cell phone is for making emergency calls when out-and-about.

To me, "smart" phones are just poor substitute for real computers. I would rather carry an extra pound or two than settle for an inferior substitute.

When I got my Transformer pad, my thought was that I could leave the keyboard, which just snaps on and off, in my room and use it as a pad when out-and-about during the day, but still have the keypad at night to do my "homework". I quickly concluded it wasn't worth a pound saved in my carrying case not to have the keyboard with me during the day.