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Ipad? What kind of computer to take?

Hi - three week trip to Paris and Italy upcoming and trying to decide what kind of computer to take. All the old topics on here were pretty old, so I thought I'd start a new discussion. I'm committed to packing light, and we all have iPhones, but I feel like some kind of computer would also be good to have. I don't want to take my laptop (MacBook Air) unless I really have to due to weight.

So, what kinds of portable computers are best to travel with? iPad? iPad Mini? How much memory? Android tablets (I'm all Mac, but open to opinions), laptop? large screen phone? Wi-fi vs. Cellular?

I would likely use it mostly for internet things - looking up info on locations, possibly mapping, mail, Facebook, some apps if they were useful.

If you have travelled recently with such a device, what apps were most useful?

Posted by
5318 posts

Smart phone used as a WiFi device (without data connection) worked for us over the past three trips -- GPS, offline maps, email, even checking this forum at the hotel in the evening.
Used citymaps2go for mapping and GPS.

Posted by
908 posts

Last year I took my iPad with me to Italy & Paris. For the most part when I got back to the hotel I found myself checking my email and sending messages out all from my iPhone. Did not transfer any photos to the iPad, my camera's SD card was 4G, so could hold over 2,000 pics. So this past May when I went to Germany/Austria/Prague I only used my iPhone. I used a Postcard App so that I could send family/friends a postcard picture that I took with a message that was mailed directly to them. Next May when I return to Paris, it will be my iPhone 6 again.
Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
4214 posts

I've been using an 8-inch Android tablet (Samsung) the last few years, a good choice for me, light and compact but with a screen I can see and touch effectively. No doubt an iPad Mini would be at least as good, and you might prefer that as a Mac person. Wifi is enough for me, at least in Europe where there are plenty of places I can use it.

As for apps, I use XE currency converter, the apps for whatever airports I'll be going through and airline(s) I'll be flying, Trip Advisor, Google Maps, Kayak (might consider Skyscanner as an alternative), SeatGuru, booking.com, Google Translate, and Rick Steves' Audio Europe (of course!). Wikipedia and the NY Times app also come in handy. The device has an e-mail app with both of my addresses, and we add my wife's on trips. On a recent trip to Greece I used a Greek alphabet app and another one to help learn phrases and vocabulary. I also take paper maps, phrasebooks as appropriate, and hard copies of things like e-ticket receipts and reservations. And a Kindle loaded with enough books for the flights and down-times. I've tried guidebooks on the Kindle but it's hard to retrieve stuff compared to a paper book, which on the other hand can be heavy -- so the jury's out (for me) on that tradeoff.

If I blogged or sent a lot of chatty e-mails, I might go with a netbook for easier typing than the tablet, but I don't do enough of that to justify the weight. Occasionally I'll take a picture with the tablet to e-mail on the spot, but I take most of my photos with a little point-and-shoot in my pocket, to be stored on the big computer after returning. For road trips I bring my portable GPS with a Europe map. I have a cheap unlocked cell phone and buy either an all-Europe SIM card before leaving or country-specific SIM cards on arrival -- but I use it very little.

More than you wanted to know -- but you asked!

Posted by
267 posts

I usually take my MacBook Air for work-related needs, but it sounds like an iPad or an iPad mini would work fine for you. Since you are already accustomed to the Apple ecosystem, I would definitely choose some sort of iPad over an Android tablet.

I wonder, though, if you really need to take a tablet for mapping, mail and Facebook. Your iPhone may be all you need. The large screen of an iPad is easy on the eyes, but you will have balance that against the extra weight.

Use your iPhone -- with cellular turned on -- as your daily walk-around computer for mail, maps, and the occasional web/Wikipedia fact check. (Make sure to get an international plan from your provider. Keep cellular on, but turn it off on an app-by-app basis for all but the most essential apps. Also, turn off image downloads in Mail.)

If you have room, take an iPad (Wifi only) for use on the plane and in the hotel. Download some movies and books to keep yourself occupied on the plane. Use it at the hotel in the evening for web surfing.

You could choose either an iPad or an iPad Mini. Really, it's whatever you are comfortable with. My own preference is for a small phone and a large iPad.

As for memory, you don't need much for email and maps. I would get a mid-sized amount of memory (64GB?), unless you are planning to download a lot of movies or a photo backup, in which case I would get as much memory as possible.

My most essential app for traveling is Maps With Me, an off-line map application that uses almost no cellular data. I use Maps With Me all the time. Some other apps that come to mind (in addition to Mail and Facebook):

  • Google Translate -- and make sure to download the modules that let you use your camera to translate text.
  • various airline apps (very useful for checking flight status and baggage)
  • Google Maps -- I rely on Maps with Me most of the time, but once in a while Google Maps can come in handy for finding ATM machines and such.
  • public transit apps. The transit systems for most major cities have apps to help you negotiate buses and subways.
Posted by
2663 posts

Hi,

We take an iPad Mini 16gb wifi only with us. We take screen shots of important info and maps before leaving home and we used Skype for calling home to check on our pet/house sitter. No problems and will use it again on future trips.

Paul

Posted by
5019 posts

This is like asking people what's the best food or who's their favorite politician - people are going to have every possible opinion.

That said, I have found that an iPad Mini is perfect for me. No way could I ever justify schlepping around a laptop computer. For me, a phone's small screen is a bad experience unless all you want to do is make phone calls. The iPad Mini hits my sweet spot. Others will disagree. Only you can decide what's right for you.

Posted by
7689 posts

This Fall I took an iPhone and an iPad Mini which replaced my recently deceased Kindle. I loaded the RS guides in the Kindle app and they worked great. I had tried guide books on my old Kindle and thought they were awkward. I used both devices for email and web surfing.

I did not like the City2Go app but maybe I just wasn't figuring it out correctly. I did use the TFL web site for the Tube in London and the RATP app for the Paris Metro each day before I left my hotel. I did not have a data plan for my phone so was relying on Wifi.

I always think I will have time to read on vacation which was my main purpose for the iPad but I didn't get around to much reading! I felt it was worth taking both the phone and iPad.

Posted by
1994 posts

My iPhone 5 has been all I needed on my last two trips, and I'll keep using it until it dies. When traveling I use it for email, web searches, maps, notes on places I plan to visit, music, and reading for entertainment. I also use it as a back-up camera when the battery in my digital camera dies.

So if you're comfortable with your smart phone when you're home, I think that's all you need when you travel.

Posted by
17659 posts

In addition to other things, I do a lot of typing on my "computer" (emails, posting to my website, writing in my journal), and I am an accomplished touch typist, so the faux keyboards on most tablets and smart phones are unacceptable. For the last few trips I have used a small netbook (Acer,) and it has fit my needs.

I recently acquired an Asus transformer. I think it might work even better. It has a detachable keyboard. I can take just the touch-screen tablet with me during the day and attach the keyboard for heavy use at nights. And, it has enough battery life for the whole trip over.

Those two devices work perfectly for me. Does Apple have anything equivalent?

Posted by
11970 posts

I generally travel to Italy with my work laptop, but only because of my work needs, otherwise it stays parked at my mother's home in Italy and I use it only for work purposes when I need to do work. Otherwise when I'm tripping around, my iPhone is all I need. I bet the iPhone would be the only thing you need as well, unless you have work related needs while you travel.

I also get a local SIM card (2Gb data+ 300min worldwide+ 300 SMS texts worldwide with Vodafone Holiday plan) so that I have the full functionality of my iPhone with plenty of data at a cheap price (30€ for one month). Other carriers offer similar plans for foreign visitors. My US carrier, AT&T, would charge me $60 for the international data plan (300mb) and a 50cent/min plan. Due to my data and voice needs when I'm in Europe, I found that the local Vodafone plan is better for me than the international plan my carrier (AT&T) offers.

Posted by
34 posts

These replies are so helpful! I bet they will inform other people too. I like a keyboard for typing, so if I get an iPad I might get some kind of keyboard solution with it. I still need to figure out what we'll use for photography too - possibly some kind of point and and shoot camera. Around here I use my iPhone for casual pictures, but not sure how much capacity to store pictures it would have and my battery life is not amazing. I'll have to learn to manage my phone memory better before the trip too. I'll keep thinking about it. At home I spend a lot of time on my laptop.. Apple also has that cool little 13 inch laptop that's very light too.. but probably shouldn't spend the money for that. Thanks again for the ideas and if anyone else has anything to add I'm finding them great to read.

Posted by
30971 posts

kh,

I prefer using a small Netbook as it provides a good balance of size/weight and capacity. I'm also a touch typist so can't function with those goofy virtual keyboards. While I could pack along an external keyboard for a tablet, that's an extra item to carry which would be a hassle. As I do a lot of photography on trips, another significant advantage of the the Netbook is that it has a "proper" hard drive, which provides more capacity for photo storage.

There are some excellent P&S cameras on the market these days, and that will provide better images than a smartphone.

Posted by
2296 posts

For general internet things, an ipad is good. A macbook would obviously work, but is heavier and more cumbersome for the kind of things you describe. I only bring a laptop if I need to work. Otherwise, ipad it is. I prefer the regular, not the mini, but I do a lot of photo stuff. The size of the mini might be helpful for packing light, though. As for memory - if you will be uploading lots of photos or videos, get as much memory as you can, but if you mainly want internet and some apps, the lower memory levels are fine.

Apps - google maps, citymaps2go (offline maps, more useful on a phone you will have with you throughout the day), facebook, yelp, city-specific guides and maps (i.e. apps for a museum I'm going to, or maps of the subway system), duolingo for language learning (better before you go to practice!), language dictionaries, itranslate, xe converter (converts currency), an app to convert metric and other quantities, simplenote (I can write a note on any of my devices and in syncs to any other), kindle app for reading e-books and guidebooks

Photos - my ipad is a 16GB (lower memory). I upload each day's photos onto the ipad, send the photos to dropbox and other web services, then delete 75% of them. I leave each day's best pics on, but due to memory constraints I can't keep everything on the ipad. So the photos are backed up online, and on my memory card, but only the best can stay on the ipad too.

Posted by
1154 posts

Well, I have the whole series of Apple products (iPhone-ipad mini-iPad-MacBook Air-MacBook) bought at different times and I have tried all possible combinations. An iPhone with a data plan is useful for maps, infos on transportation services and general info on the field. The iPad mini has probably the best space/features ratio; you can load it with books and having to read during all your trip and for short travel can substitute a computer. If anything serious is to be done - in my case managing email and documents, the MacBook Air is quite light and much better than a full size iPad, as you have a real keyboard at about the same weight of an iPad. - On the cons side, it begins to get expensive and you have to consider if you have a place to leave it safely stored. The MacBook is the choice if I have to do extensive work - being a musician, it works as a portable recording studio. IMHO the full size iPad is the worst choice as you may have more features at a lower weight with the other devices.

Whatever your device is, be sure that on all traveling devices (but even on those that stay home) all sensitive data like passwords to bank accounts are encrypted. Having your iPhone stolen is a deal, having your iPhone stolen, your bank account emptied and the photos of your night out with your lover sent to your wife is a much more serious deal.

Posted by
3318 posts

The past two years on all of my trips to Europe I had just my iPhone 5 S. I was able to do everything I needed to do including typing emails, handling banking as needed, and taking photos. It has a large enough memory that I did not overfill it and so far have never needed to unload the photos during the trip. For me, a laptop would be serious overkill (and worrying about it in the hotel room while I am out and about is frustrating). Even an iPad is more than I need. But then I am on vacation on a guided tour for these trips and spend most of my time enjoying the sites instead of being on the computer.

I did find out something interesting with Google maps and my iPhone on my last trip. I would set up my destination directions while in the hotel on WiFi. Once leaving the hotel it would continue to know where I was and provide proper directions -- with cellular data turned off and not being logged in to any pf the WiFi signals along the way. As long as the phone could find a WiFi point, Maps could tell me where I needed to go! This was super helpful in Venice in helping me find my way back and forth from the hotel through the twisty streets.

Posted by
3811 posts

We went from no computer on our first visit in 2008 to a netbook (2010) to an ipod touch (2012) to an ipad mini (2013 to now). The netbook of course was too big to lug around all day. The ipod touch was pretty much useless (for us) for looking at maps as the screen was too small. The previous two items were mostly used for emails, facebook, the ipod for music on planes and trains...but - I love the iPad mini - lightweight (32 gb, mine is a few years old now), fits nicely in our daybag, use it for map app, reading books and magazines and travel guides, facebook, email, watching movies on the plane, podcasts, trip budget app, blogging...endless uses...a few more - alarm clock and 'white noise' app for drowning out street noise when trying to sleep. Hubby also got an iPad air in 2014 which we take as well, but it stays in the room - he uses it for reading and watching videos mostly, but it works faster than my mini and has more memory (64 gb) so I usually upload the photos from the day onto it to check them out.

Posted by
7640 posts

I take my iPad and iPhone. I leave my iPad in the room when out touring, but like the bigger screen when I'm blogging, emailing and surfing the web. I have maps on my phone for when I'm out and about. I also use the Note app for restaurant suggestions and other things I might want to refer to when I'm out.

Posted by
6543 posts

We travel with a Samsung 10" Chromebook that weighs just over 1 lb. It does anything I need for travel, and it boots up in just a couple of seconds. And the battery is very long lasting.
I now feel like a bird out of a cage since I'm no longer lugging around a 17" Dell laptop that's extremely heavy.

Posted by
17659 posts

"While I could pack along an external keyboard for a tablet, that's an extra item to carry which would be a hassle."

Ken, take a look at the ASUS Transformer. No extra item to carry. With the keyboard attached, it's just like our netbooks (similar size, weight, screen size, and function). In fact, I carry it in the same case as I use for my netbook. It has two USB ports, bluetooth, and a memory card slot. But, you can detach the keyboard and the tablet weighs half as much. You can use it when out during the day as a tablet I really like having a bigger screen than the iPhoney. And it has far more battery life than the netbooks.

Posted by
2092 posts

My iphone alone has served me well on my trips to Europe--calls, looking up info, texting, email, facebook, photos and keeping up with my scrabble games. I don't want to be unnecessarily burdened with a bigger device and don't want to worry about losing an expensive item like an ipad.

Posted by
138 posts

I'm still happy with my Acer which I aquired two years ago, it fits in the day bag. I like to write a pretty detailed journal of my experiences. Later in the hotel or hostel I'll compose a daily blog cutting and pasting some of what I wrote, plus photos. I always back up the content on my hard-drive before my trip. When my first Acer was ripped off a couple of years ago, I didn't lose much because the notes taken since the back-up was done were sent to friends and family each night.

Posted by
30971 posts

Lee,

Thanks for the info on that. I wasn't familiar with the Transformer series. Unfortunately the cheapest price I can find on one is $460 on Amazon.ca (plus taxes, shipping & handling). Also, it appears to only have 32 GB of SS memory, which is a disadvantage for photo storage. My current Netbook has (I believe) a 350 GB hard drive, as well as a port to accept SD memory cards.

Posted by
17659 posts

Sounds like they have really gone up in price. I think I paid less than $200US for mine within the last year. Maybe it was an older model. But it does have a micro SD card slot, so I can expand the memory as much as I want.

I don't need a lot of memory for what I do. I even swapped out the hard drive on my netbook for a SS drive, just for the faster booting.

Posted by
11613 posts

I have an iPad mini and bought a cover for it with a keyboard, but the device keyboard works just fine. I like a larger screen and keyboard than my iPhone has, the iPad works fine for many functions.

Posted by
8631 posts

I travel with an Ipad mini with a detachable Logitech keyboard cover--raised keys but slightly smaller than normal. It took me a couple of days to get used to the keyboard but now it's second nature.

I had an Asus Transformer but the Ipad mini is smaller and lighter even when including the keyboard.

I can do everything I need to do--work, editing my website, emails, photos, etc. I use the cloud for storage and can easily transfer photos between my iphone, that goes with me during the day, and my Ipad mini that stays in the room.

I use my smartphone as my camera as it takes some great shots. I can easily edit the shots and upload to my website from the ipad mini.

However, for what you're describing, I'd probably just make do with a smartphone.

Posted by
2430 posts

I just bring an ipod and (now also a sim compatible smart phone for international travel but I won't use that for much to keep my personal info off of it. It's just for local people I've met to reach me or for emergencies). The ipod touch can do anything I need when in wifi and talk to all apple product users. While I might look things up on occasion, make a brief comment very occasionally, I really don't have time to be on the internet when I'm traveling as I concentrate on the moment, where I am. I'm always amazed people have time to update their blogs or be on this forum when traveling. You guys obviously have more energy than I do! LOL. When I'm back in the room, it is time to go to sleep. Wray

Posted by
351 posts

For shorter trips (4 days or so) I travel with just my iPhone. It does everything I need for a short trip.

Anything longer than 4ish days and I want a more functional device and a bigger screen. I used to carry my iPad but since migrating from a Dell laptop to a Surface Pro 3 I travel with that instead. It's a full computer, running Windows 10, lots of storage, real keyboard, full Office, etc. It's only marginally heavier than my iPad and much more functional for my purposes. Since I can take the keyboard off it becomes a tablet and I don't have to stow it for takeoff and landing. The TSA is never quite sure if it's a laptop or a tablet, though, so I do put it in its own bin for screening.

Surface Pros are pricey, though. If all you want/need is apps you'll probably be perfectly happy with something like an iPad.

Posted by
30971 posts

Lee,

They probably haven't increased in price too much in the U.S., but as usual we Canadians get shafted with pricing. Every time the Canadian dollar drops a point, Apple Canada raises their prices (which is the main reason I'm not upgrading my phone right now). It's the same with fuel prices. Unfortunately I don't live close to the border so can't make a quick trip across the line to fill the tank with cheaper fuel, as so many in the Vancouver area do on a regular basis.

Posted by
1406 posts

I have a Kindle which works just fine, I got a small Bluetooth keyboard because it's just so much easier to type on but I only use it on the plane and in the room.

Remember that if you plan to watch TV or movies from Netflix or Amazon or the like you may discover that you are geographically blocked because you're outside the US. I think Amazon even has a setting somewhere in Prime for that .....

Posted by
607 posts

The Asus transformer comes in various configurations. There is one model that has either 32 or 64 GB in the tablet and another 500 GB hard drive in the detachable keyboard.

You can often find them on sale at NCIX, Memory Express or the big electronics stores (CAD$299-$399 depending on the configuration). I was thinking about buying one, but I still have an ipad, full laptop and an old netbook which just refuses to die. If you can still find an older model which comes with a full version of MS Office 2013, that is a great deal. All of the new models come with MS Office 365 which is only a one year subscription.

Back to original question, everyday, i carry a shoulder pack with my smartphone, wallet and a 7 inch tablet. On my trips, i carry the same. I will also take my old netbook, which is thick compared to newer laptops, convertibles, etc. However, it has a small footprint and is fairly light. I like having the keyboard to do actual work, send emails. I also like to load all my daily photos onto the hardrive and to organize and label them while my memory is still fresh. I take almost 200 photos a day, so it it is nice to just spend 10 minutes a day to deal with them. My netbook is old and cheap so i would not be too peeved if it was lost or stolen. I did consider bringin an ipad witha clip on logitech keyboard (it is very thin and is like a cover for the screen). However, doing work is just a bit more difficult and it does not have a large harddrive for my photos. Plus, the more expensive iPad is more tempting for any thief compared to an old netbook.

Posted by
771 posts

My husband and I have each taken an iPhone and shared one wifi-only iPad on our last trips. We used the iPad a lot. He downloaded the day's pictures from his DSLR to it. I blogged. We checked email, did banking, made reservations, etc., on the iPad. But next summer, I'm traveling solo, and I'm trying hard to limit devices. I don't use a DSLR, so the iPhone will be my camera. I have a 6s+ now, which is almost as big as the iPad Mini, with a very sharp display. I think it will do the job of all devices. I will need a pocket keyboard though. I won't be able to do any journaling/blogging with the iPhone screen keys without driving myself nuts. Even with dictation, there is still too much typing and correcting. The keyboard I really want is the TextBlade, but it's not quite released yet. This Jorno, or one of its knockoffs, may have to do. But wouldn't it be sweet to travel with only a phone and a 1.5 oz keyboard? No separate camera, no GPS, no laptop, no tablet. (And, for the record, no Go-Pro, and most definitely, NO selfie stick! Not that either of those were ever considered :) )

I may change my mind after trying it, but for this trip, less is more. Hope you find the right balance for you.

Posted by
5437 posts

I would love to have an iPad Mini with more memory on it. Someone mentioned above about a low-memory iPad or iPad mini and said they uploaded their photos every night to Dropbox or some similar and deleted 75% of their photos from their device since they didn't have much memory. But I find that on a trip, you often don't have good enough wifi to do such a substantial upload to the Cloud. (edit: re-reading Mira's post, I see that she also logically mentions that the photos remain on her memory card as well. So if one didn't have sufficient wifi to upload to the cloud, it wouldn't really matter.)

My perfect combo would be my phone (Windows phone with HERE maps) for out and about, I don't use internet, might use wifi if I really need to, but usually just maps and a call or text if necessary, and an iPad or iPad MINI for the train/plane and back in the room. For now we have an old (2nd generation) iPad - so I certainly don't have to worry about anyone thieving my two-year-old Windows phone nor my how-many-years-old iPad.

(Reminds me of a funny story: a year or so ago, I was doing what I shouldn't have been doing in the metro at line 1 - talking loudly in English, blah blah, had my bag open, etc. When I was going down some stairs, felt something in my bag, which was kind of behind me. It was a fellow a step or two up behind me, reaching in to steal my cell phone. i turned around to yell at him - when he was the thing was an old BlackBerry instead of a new iPhone, he simply handed it back to me and ran off!! It wasn't even worth his trouble.)

Posted by
118 posts

Love my iPad Air, but I took a wi-fi only Nexus 7 tablet to Europe last year. Terrific size for travel (large enough for middle-aged eyes to see/read, fits in almost any bag), and not too expensive. I used a inexpensive folding keyboard with it for journaling. Used the Lumix app for transferring photos. It spoiled me for traveling with anything bigger than that.

Posted by
101 posts

I usually travel with my iPhone, and an iPad or a Kindle. But since I bought the gargantuan iPhone 6S plus, that could easily be my sole device. It is ok for reading on, viewing maps, and though it is not perfect, reading guidebooks. My iPad Mini is actually close to the same size, so it seems silly to carry them both.

The only extra device I carry on my next trip to Germany will be my Project Fi Nexus 5X, because it is a small, light phone with a SIM card that lets it work all over the world.