How to Customize Your iPad for Travel

iPad travel

If you’re one of the millions who bought the iPad or iPad2, no doubt you love the functionality the tablet provides. You’re probably also baffled by the thousands of apps available and may not have even progressed beyond downloading Angry Birds. With a few simple tweaks though you can optimize the iPad to be a great traveling companion and maybe you can even leave that pesky laptop at home.

Using the iPad as a Laptop
Before you do anything, there are a few tweaks that will enable the iPad to have most of the functionality of a standard laptop. Not everyone travels with a laptop, but most do in order to check email or at the very least transfer photos from their cameras while on a trip.

If you don’t like typing on the iPad, the best travel option is to purchase the Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69), which doesn’t need to be docked and is easy to carry around. If you need a word processor on the road, there are many options but one of the most popular is Documents to Go Premium ($16.99), which allows the user to create and edit documents. The best option though is to use a remote terminal app that will allow you to access the programs on your laptop from the iPad. The one caveat to this option is that most Home versions of Word are not supported. But using a remote terminal app also alleviates some of the storage issues inherent with using the iPad as a primary laptop.

The iPad has fairly limited storage capabilities, so other than using the aforementioned remote terminal app, it’s best to use cloud storage to access any documents you may need. Google documents is also an option, but currently it is difficult to use and has limited functionality.

Staying in touch on the road is important, and luckily it’s easy to set up your email account on the iPad. The tablet arrives in the box ready to support several email options including Microsoft Exchange, Gmail and Yahoo. Other web based email accounts can be accessed through the Safari browser without problem.

iPad Trip Planning
Ok, you’ve successfully tailored your iPad to your liking so you can finally leave that heavy laptop at home. Now it’s time to plan your next trip.

One of the best apps available to look for and book cheap airfare and hotels is Kayak (Free). Kayak is a great site for finding some of the cheapest fares and rates by searching multiple travel search sites at the same time. While it doesn’t always return the lowest fare, on average Kayak provides some of the most competitive rates available. I love their iPad app because you never leave the application during the search, unlike many other search apps. It’s easy to use and is fun for someone like me who likes to play around with airline searches.

While Kayak is good, one of my favorite booking sites just released an app for the iPad, Hipunk. Hipmunk almost always finds the absolute cheapest airfare and displays the information in an easy to read and analyze grid.

My favorite hotel app is the Intercontinental Hotels Group Concierge Insider Guides (Free). The Concierge app, one of the few hotel apps specifically for the iPad, is truly a work of art. The user friendly interface allows the visitor to select a hotel and then learn about all the various activities in that city, as delivered by the hotel’s concierge. The video inclusion is seamless and not choppy like some other apps. Each city profile includes everything you need to know before planning a trip from restaurants to daily itineraries. The app is a true pleasure to use and takes travel day dreaming to an entirely new level. InterContinental truly understands that by promoting a vacation destination, they are in turn encouraging people to visit their properties.

Like hotel brands, not all airlines have done a great job designing useful and engaging iPad apps, but one of the few that have is Cathay Pacific (Free) . The first thing that jumps out are the superb and engaging graphics. Simply said, the app is gorgeous. The app allows the user to check in, check status, manage bookings, etc., but it goes far beyond that. The best feature of the app is the comprehensive city guides. You can select from dozens of destinations to learn more about the sights, dining, hotels and much more. Essentially, it’s a really good travel guide app in addition to being useful for flying. I don’t anticipate flying with Cathay anytime in the near future, but the app is one of my favorites for the guide feature.

Once you book, instead of keeping track of emails or printing out hard copies of reservations, send everything to Tripit ($3.99). TripIt organizes all of your travel information for you and generates complete itineraries easily accessed through your mobile device. You can input the information manually if you want, but it’s so much easier (and cooler) to have them do it for you. All you do is forward your emails to them and within seconds a complete itinerary will be generated for you, instantly available in your TripIt account. I am endlessly fascinated by technology and this app really amazes me.

Before you leave on your trip, you’ll need to pack and you better believe there’s an app for that. The best on the market is Packing Pro ($2.99), which allows the user to do a lot more than just make a simple packing list. With this app you can create a pre-trip to do list, such as recharge batteries and make general travel arrangements. It then separates your packing list into categories: essentials, clothing and accessories. Feeling stumped? Packing Pro supplies sample lists for a variety of different profile types and trips. This is the perfect app for the travel over-planner.

iPad at the Airport
Ok, you’ve done it. You’ve purchased your tickets, reserved your hotel rooms and are finally at the airport en route to your travel destination. The best airport app is the Point Inside Maps for Airports & Malls (Free). With more than 85 US and International airport maps and more than 700 mall maps, it is an amazing travel resource. Rather than wander around aimlessly looking for a restaurant or bathroom, Point Inside has interactive maps featuring all restaurants, bathrooms and other service areas throughout the airport. It is extremely easy to use and very well done. Plus it’s free, which in itself is amazing.

Already checked in, only have carry ons and don’t feel like stopping by the desk to print out a boarding pass?  Well you can use your iPad as your boarding pass, kinda. This is still shaky terrain and many people have reported problems with going paperless, especially with the TSA. If the TSA is unable to scan the electronic boarding pass on your iPad, you’ll be forced to go back to the counter to obtain a paper version. If you’re running tight on time, this could be disastrous. That being said, many airlines include within their apps the ability to store boarding passes, but I’m still too wary to rely on them completely.

iPad at Your Travel Destination
Now that you’ve arrived at your travel destination, it’s time to put your iPad to use while you travel. Depending on your style of travel, there are plenty of apps from which to choose. If you’re in an urban setting, then you’ll definitely want to download All Subway HD ($0.99). AllSubway compiles comprehensive metro and light rail maps for more than 100 cities around the world and puts them at your fingertips. I love this app because I can quickly and easily access a transit system map without being online and without looking like a tourist. I have used this app around the world and love its ease of use and convenience.

If you’re in a foreign country, then you’ll need the XE Currency app (Free). I always use the XE currency conversion site whenever I need to find the latest rates and was thrilled to find their iPad app which brings the same high quality of their site to the mobile app. XE is very simple and straightforward. You simply select the currencies you want to convert, the amount and you’re done. It’s a must have app for anyone planning a trip overseas.

Regardless of how far technology advances, I still love having my handy guidebook with me when I’m traveling. There are a couple of areas though where guidebooks stumble: local events and restaurant recommendations. When traveling I always like to know what special events are going on while I’m there, from concerts to special museum exhibits. This is where Goby (Free) enters the scene. In addition to being a great general travel resource with information on popular sites and attractions, it provides current information on local events. Goby also succeeds where guide books fail by providing great dining information. The “Where to Eat” sections in guidebooks are usually too small, too incomplete and many times totally off the mark. I don’t think I’ve ever been happy with a restaurant recommended by a guidebook. Goby, on the other hand, lists all dining options in the area, making aimless wandering in search of good eats a thing of the past. Their listings also provide reviews, contact information and directions.

No matter where you are, having a map is usually a travel necessity. National Geographic has responded to this need with their phenomenal World Atlas HD ($1.99). NatGeo took their collection of maps and created this interactive globe, allowing the user to explore the world at their leisure. The detail is extraordinary, down to the smallest of roads just about anywhere on the planet.

iPad Photo Editing
You knew this one was coming, and it’s one of the trickier issues when customizing your iPad for travel. The first hurdle to ditching the laptop and using your iPad is transferring photos from your camera to the iPad so you can upload them to Flickr or another photo sharing site. Apple does sell an accessory that solves this problem, the iPad Camera Connection Kit ($29.00). The kit enables the user to upload via USB connection or SD card. As we discussed earlier though, storage is an issue. Because of that, I don’t recommend uploading all travel photos to the iPad. Even if you’re transferring them to a third party site, it would take too much time to upload to the iPad, then the site, erase the photos from the iPad, etc. Instead I would upload selected photos to the iPad which can in turn be edited or shared.

A simple app to use for photo editing is PhotoPad (Free), which allows the user to crop, scale and add special effects. It’s actually a pretty handy app, especially since it’s free. I store my photos on Flickr and have been very happy with the FlickrStackr app ($1.99). The Stackr gives me full access to my Flickr account to edit photos as well as upload new ones directly to my account. If you’re a professional photographer, there are several other apps available including Photogene ($2.99) which allows you to edit your photos as you would on your laptop, as well as share them via email or social media.

My only problem with the iPad regarding photos is that I can’t upload my travel photos to a secure device or web site while I’m traveling without some difficulty. As the iPad, and the accompanying apps progress I’m sure this will become more convenient for the casual traveler.

The iPad is a remarkable new tool for a variety of reasons, but especially for improving the travel experience. Not all of these tricks and tools will be right for everyone, but overall they should help the casual user customize their iPad to enhance their next trip.

What have you done to customize your iPad for travel?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

13 Responses

  1. Cailin

    Love this! I am thinking about getting an iPad 2 before I make the great journey across Canada for TBEX and this just made me want to get one even more! thanks Matt! :)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thank you! I hope it’ll be helpful for people.

      Reply
  2. Jeff Titelius

    I can’t believe how comprehensive this article is on practically every app you need while you’re traveling. Undoubtedly, I am saving this in my travel resources folder FOREVER! Great job in pulling all of this valuable information together in one handy-dandy page!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks so much Jeff. It took a lot of research, but I hope it’ll help people.

      Reply
  3. Wendy

    Great article – thanks! Shame that many of the apps are so US-centric though…

    Reply
  4. Andre

    Great tips. If only you wrote this three months ago it could have saved me a lot of trouble. One tip I can add is the app called eezeer. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Ryan

    This is all very helpful information, especially the currency converter for me personally. But in regards to your photo sharing, keep in mind that Drop box is free for online storage and has been a huge help to me when transferring photo’s so I do not have to re-sync my library on a regular basis.

    Reply
  6. Sharina

    I just bought my first iPad 2 and stumbled upon your blog while I was searching for travel apps. I love travelling too and I appreciate your blog very much. Great tips on iPad for travel. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Awesome, thank you and welcome! I hope you’ll stop by from time to time now that you’ve found me. :)

      Reply
  7. JM

    oh it really helped a lot ;) and i already got a couple of app what you mentioned. thanks a lot!!!

    Reply
  8. Dave Morgan

    Bookmarked this incredible post, thanks for the amazing info. We’re planning a trip at the moment and I’ve just been researching how to prepare my iPad. This post was more than I could ask for..

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Wow, thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. Hope it’s useful and happy travels!

      Reply
  9. Jenny

    Hi Matt! Love your website! I just bought an iPad and am planning on taking it to Europe with us next month. We are visiting Portugal, Germany, Italy, and France. Do you have any recommendations for getting a micro sim card so that we can have Internet access over there? I’ve heard of several companies that I can buy a card from, but do you know of any that have cheap air time? Thank you for your advice!

    Reply

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