iPad Tips for Travel

I know there are a lot of websites for iPads but as I’ve been using one since Gen 1 I figured its worth sharing a few ideas about them, especially when travelling. I had no idea how much I would come to rely on my iPad on my last Japan trip, but it soon became indispensable and here’s why!

Getting lost, found and the fun that occurs between those two states
As I mentioned previously, to avoid running up large data charges in Japan I rented a portable wifi modem & router from Japan Mobile Rental – the only problem is that its battery life was only about 4 hours of continuous use and occasionally I would have to ration its use, but to solve that problem for my next trip I just bought an external USB battery. The ideal of travelling light is to not to have take too many guide books or maps, but the one advantage of a physical book is there are no batteries to run flat…

Along with web browsing (for hotels, art galleries etc) one of the main uses I had for my iPad in Japan was via google maps. Combined with GPS it made finding places in Japan comparatively easy. But one trick I didnt know, despite having owned my iPad for a year or two prior, was how to take a screenshot. To take a screenshot you simply press the on/off button and the home button at the same time. You’ll hear a camera click to confirm and the screenshot just gets added to the photo library on your iPad. An incredibly handy feature!!


This function was super useful in two ways. When I was at home or at the hotel or on a train researching the next mission, I would take screenshots of each website and particularly of the access page for each website which states the physical location. This meant I could call these up instantly, without having to load web browser & access wifi. But I would also do this with google maps – taking a screenshot of a zoomed out map, so I had a feel for the overall trip, and then multiple screenshots zoomed in to appropriate locations so as to navigate the specific route. It is so much faster to call up an image on your iPad than it is to load a web browser! Also to get by my lack of Japanese language skills a few times I would show the screenshot to a taxi driver….



One problem I struck with my iPad was the issue of sync. My iPad is synced to my home Mac and I had loaded a bunch of photos before I left home… But I also had my laptop with me in Japan, primarily for backing up data from my cameras and field recorder and there were times I wanted to transfer some of the new photos to my iPad to be able to show people…. but of course I couldn’t, as it is sycned to my home Mac and to sync it to my laptop iTunes wanted to erase all my existing photos! To me this is a fundamental flaw in Apples concept of device sync. I totally understand the need to sync but then I realised: this IS the fundamental reason iCloud exists! It can’t compete with Dropbox in normal file sync, but with Apples tightly controlled proprietry devices it can provide a service that no one else can, and solve the sync-multiple-devices-to-multiple-computers problem. And I strongly suspect they will slowly make it next to impossible to avoid using iCloud… But in the meantime a few work arounds!

I solved the problem of transferring photos to my iPad by not using iPhoto at all – I bought this little app: Media Folders us$1.99 which lets you transfer any files from your computer – I found this the easiest way to transfer photos without having to use iTunes Photo sync…


Another tactic I used, especially in the weeks before my trip, was to build a library of PDFs of the places I planned to visit. Often I would generate these from travel guide web sites or images online. I built a little JAPAN TRIP library with a folder for each location in my DropBox and then used the PDF Expert app to transfer & read them on my iPad (PDF Expert can transfer directly from Dropbox) All of my travel documents also were transferred into PDF Expert – my itinerary, a scan of my passport & credit cards, all my contacts & addresses. And another handy feature of PDF Expert is that you can add your own notes to the PDFs (I also use this app for reading film scripts in the same way) Again there were a few times I had to show one of my PDFs to hotel staff or taxi drivers to get some help finding my way…


Of course the iPad is handy as an entertainment device at times too – apart from loading up with music I also transferred a stack of ebooks into Good Reader (again, directly from my Dropbox) and just as with purchasing vinyl, I now really wish every physical book I buy came with a free download of PDF version…

Heres a few other sites worth a read on the subject:

Tips for traveling (or not) with the iPad
A Year Traveling With the iPad
21 Applications for the 21st century traveler

So what are your must-have apps for when you travel? Or do you have better solutions to some of the problems I mention?

5 Responses to iPad Tips for Travel

  1. Great tips Tim. Thanks so much.

  2. I’m currently on a 6 month tour of South East Asia so I loaded up on travel apps before I went. I’m now three months in and most of the apps I downloaded have fallen by the wayside. However, two really stand out.

    1. Pocket Earth. For when you can’t afford data or no signal is available and you really need to know where you are, I can’t recommend Pocket Earth highly enough. You can download offline maps for any country (from Open Street Maps) and it’s also got a pile of offline Wikitravel articles. It uses the built-in GPS and compass and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’d have been lost in a strange city without it (especially in China!)
    2. Pleco. Talking of China, Pleco offers a huge offline Chinese/English dictionary. Even better than that, using the camera, it can read Chinese kanji characters (a lot of which are used in Japan.) Again, invaluable when there’s no English menu translation, or deciphering travel tickets.

    I actually used one more app fairly regularly – Tripit – to keep track of my travel plans. The service is good but could be a lot better and the iOS app is fairly clunky, but so far I’ve not found anything better.

    I’d list the apps that didn’t make the cut but that would take too long…

  3. MD says:

    thanks for the great article!
    I am a regular traveller and would be lost without my ipad
    although if you are using pdf expert i would highly recommend giving writepdf a go as well!

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