To bring a computer, or not to bring a computer? A common debate for many travelers ever since the advent of the laptop computer… but the times, my friends, they are a-changin’.
With Apple’s revolutionary release of the original tablet computer, the iPad, back in 2010, this once-difficult decision became a whole lot easier. And now, with a “new and improved” version of the device available – the smaller, lighter and faster iPad 2 – it may no longer even be a question.
Selling over 25 million units in the mere 15 months the iPad has been available, Apple has silenced, if not converted, all early critics. The usefulness of the gadget is significant, for an extremely wide variety of purposes, but it is due to the combination of its portability, reliability and ease of use, along with the incredible scope of its functions, that I believe the iPad will never be more useful than it is for the modern day traveler.
So what exactly can the iPad do for you, in your travels? The following is a list of 21 useful functions for a traveler today:
1. Wifi Internet Access
Selling over 25 million units in the mere 15 months the iPad has been available, Apple has silenced, if not converted, all early critics.
*Note – The iPad is offered in two versions: Wifi-only or Wifi + 3G cellular connection. Unless you have the unique need for an Internet connection at all times, and you are willing to pay an exorbitant amount to your cellular provider for that convenience (in addition to a higher price for the device), the Wifi-only device is the way to go for international travel.
2. Staying in Touch
The iPad comes equipped with an extremely user-friendly contact management system and centralized email service. You can direct all your email accounts into a single inbox and jump between accounts with a simple touch of the screen.
Beyond email, there are seemingly endless apps available for utilizing the most popular social networking services (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Most are offered from third party providers, but often times actually enhance the functionality of the original website. You can test and review different services until you find one to your liking.
For those seeking more immediate, face-to-face interaction with family members and friends, the iPad 2 also comes equipped with an inward-facing webcam, allowing you to video chat from the device for free, via the Skype app. If you own an original version of the iPad, the Skype app can also be utilized, however, due to the fact that there is no inward facing webcam on the device, the person you are speaking with will not be able to see you.
Language barriers, no more. Utilizing the incredible Jibbigo language translator applications, you can now carry your own personal translator with you wherever you go. Simply speak or type your desired phrase directly into the device and the translated phrase will be both spoken aloud and displayed on the screen, within seconds. The person you are speaking with can do the exact same in return, and their phrase will also be displayed spoken aloud, but in English. Most major languages are available.
Countless other language phrasebooks and language learning applications are also available, so you can self-study new languages and/or simply pull up your needed phrases when needed in your travels.
4. Offline Maps
Now you can perform Google Map-style searches from anywhere, without an Internet connection. With any of the several free offline map applications available, you have the ability to reference, search and easily zoom in and out on the maps, all the way down to street level. Maps are available for every continent, so you can find and use one anywhere in the world. The applications come equipped with GPS, compassing capabilities and direction assistance.
Offline map applications for local bus and train lines are also available for most major cities, all across the globe.
5. Transit Schedules
Need to quickly check times, available seats and ticket prices for trains from Paris to Rome? No problem. With any of the various local transit apps that are available, it takes just a touch of a button and a quick input of your place of departure, place of arrival and travel date. You will have the related transit schedules and prices at your fingertips within a few seconds, often with the option of booking a ticket right then and there.
Several apps offer the ability to perform quick searches of available accommodations all over the world, on the dates of your choosing. Whether you seek a luxury hotel, a youth hostel, or anything in between, there are services for everyone.
The ever-useful and impressive World Clock application offers a beautiful and easy to use interface, showing the plotted locations of cities you select on a world map, and the corresponding times for the cities on individual clock faces underneath. The app allows you to easily schedule appointments across time zones and, of course, set a daily alarm for yourself – wherever you are in the world that day.
Recommended Apps: World Clock
8. Travel Guide Books
Gone are the days of lugging those bulky and heavy travel guide books. Pick and choose between the location-specific applications from your favorite companies (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Rick Steves’, etc.), then purchase and download the guide books directly to the iPad.
Additionally, there are a few very good free guide book applications, which are both extremely detailed and easy to use. I often utilize the comprehensive World Travel Guide as a starting point for research on a new country, region or city.
Do you write in a journal while you travel? Pick up a writing stylus, download one of the journaling or note-taking applications, and you can keep your hand-written travel journal notes directly on the iPad. Your notes will remain archived and ready to print or email with just a few quick touches of the screen.
Perhaps you maintain a travel blog to share your experiences with your family, friends and the world? There are numerous word processing applications available which have been integrated with the most common blogging services (WordPress, Blogger, etc.), making the writing, formatting and submitting of your posts a piece of cake.
*Note – If the idea of typing on the iPad’s touch screen keyboard all the time concerns you, there are now several different options for external keyboards, all of which compliment the iPad extremely well. I am, in fact, using the iPad along with the Apple Wireless Keyboard to write this very article.
Between airfare, accommodations, trains, buses, food, entertainment, etc., let’s face it – traveling can be costly. Any successful long-term traveler will tell you how crucial it is to keep a budget and meticulous records of your expenses while on the road. Fortunately, there are several great options for budgeting on the iPad.
For those preferring a program with preset travel-related expense categories and an easy to use interface, there are a few very good options out there for you to choose from. For true simplicity and great functionality, I believe it is still hard to beat the good old iPhone app, Trip Boss, which is now compatible with the iPad.
If, on the other hand, you are the type who enjoys creating your own spreadsheets and personalized models for budgeting (as I am), the Numbers application (Apple’s version of Excel) is an extremely easy to use and functional spreadsheet application.
11. Exchange Rate Calculators
Typically budgeting in our own home currency, and it can often be difficult to convert foreign costs, in foreign currencies, to that of our own. With the use of any of the exchange rate calculators available, you can complete your computations quickly and easily, to be sure you know exactly how much money you are spending, before you spend it.
12. Music & Audio Books
Anyone spending considerable amounts of time on the road (or on a plane, or train…) understands the importance of having some good tunes or a good audio book available to keep them company. Fortunately, Apple still does music better than anybody. The iPad utilizes the same music player and extensive music databasing options that Apple revolutionized with the iPod, along with the services of the iTunes store for finding and downloading new music directly to the device from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Several other music applications are also available, offering streaming music over a Wifi Internet connection.
13. Movies & TV Shows
Often times you may wish to have something to watch, to either pass some time or give you a small comfort of home while in a foreign place. With its state-of-the-art 9.7 inch, high-definition LCD screen and tremendous audio output, the iPad makes for a truly excellent portable video player.
iTunes will allow you to either rent or purchase movies and store them in a movie library right on your device. Other applications, like Netflix, will allow you to stream movies to your device over a Wifi Internet connection, provided you have an account with them. Still, other applications, such as Azul, actually assist you in searching the web to find free, downloadable movies and television shows, and save them to your device for viewing any time, anywhere.
14. Books & Magazines
Again, saving space and weight in your luggage, the iPad allows you to download and/or stream your favorite books and magazine subscriptions directly to your device, for reading any time, anywhere.
With so many changing variables every day, it can be difficult for a busy traveler to keep everything straight. Lucky for us, the iPad comes equipped with an easy to use calendar application that integrates easily with almost all desktop management software. If, instead, you are one of the many people who take advantage of the great web-based calendars that are now available, like Yahoo! or Google Calendars, the iPad offers a few great applications which also integrate seamlessly with those.
Invest a very small amount of money into the iPad Camera Connection Kit and you will be able to plug either a memory card or USB cable from your camera directly into the iPad, then use the touch screen to select the files you wish to upload. From the photo/video library on the device, the iPad provides an extremely simple service for sending videos directly to your YouTube account, or photos directly to your Picassa or Flickr account (or other preferred photo hosting service).
17. File Sharing
Need to access those personal files saved on your desktop computer back home? With the Dropbox application for the iPad, you can share files with your home-based computer, making it easy to access important documents from the road, or share documents with people back home.
Recommended Apps: DropBox
18. World News & Sports
Thanks to a huge variety of free applications from some of the biggest names in news and sports, it is now quick and easy to stay in touch with what is going on everywhere around the world, from anywhere in the world.
Often times, the best ways to enjoy an activity in an area will be tied to the weather conditions. With a quick reference of your preferred weather application, you can be sure you are paying attention and plannng accordingly.
Crosswords? Sudoku? Angry Birds? Fruit Ninja? Whatever your guilty pleasure game to pass the time, there is an app for it, and you can download and play to your heart’s content. Many games now offer the opportunity to play online, so you can still play your favorite games with your favorite people, wherever each of you are in the world.
21. Health & Fitness
Often overlooked (or simply disregarded), it can be very difficult to maintain good health and any kind of a regular fitness routine while on the road, particularly if you are traveling extensively. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of applications available to assist.
Calorie tracking applications provide the nutritional information for almost every type of food in the world, along with a simple system for tracking daily caloric intake.
For some encouragement and assistance in maintaining a regular physical fitness routine, there are a few good applications which provide text, video and audio instruction for workout routines and yoga sessions. The programs can be downloaded and then played offline, anywhere along your path.
What are your favorite iPad features and applications for travel? Please share your thoughts below: