There is obviously more than one device offering GPS, email and other services that you could take on a trip to Europe. This article doesn’t compare devices but simply focuses on the iPad. If you’re thinking about a vacation to that part of the world and can't decide about whether you should take your iPad, what follows may help.
We should first recognize that all iPads are not equal. Ours is an iPad 2, which means it’s lighter, thinner and includes cool features like a camera that allows you to take photos on the fly. These may not be the quality pictures you would blow up and hang on the living room wall, but you can capture something spontaneously… assuming you have the iPad handy and outside the case in which you might carry it. So what are the chances of that? Walking around with your iPad in your hand in a foreign country isn’t the best idea.
Carrying The iPad
We found a lightweight, slim profile, zippered “jacket” for the iPad that has a sturdy adjustable strap and three outer pockets for storage.
The case can be worn in front of you, eliminating the possibility of a thief grabbing it before you realize it. The shoulder strap is removable, and the case can be carried with the quick grab handle. Hopefully you’re the one grabbing it.
There were days on our trip where we left our iPad in the room while seeing the sights. Every one of our hotels and our riverboat cruise ship had a room safe large enough to accommodate the iPad.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Our European trip began with three days in Budapest. It would have been great to FaceTime or Skype with family in the states via our iPad while standing in front of the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica...
but that would require 3G and a special sim card for a service carrier in the region, none of which we had. Although we couldn’t share the experience live with family in that way, we were delighted that we could take photos with the iPad and email them immediately from a restaurant in the square only feet from the Basilica. The sun was setting as we ate dinner in the square, providing us with great lighting and photo opportunities.
Most cafes and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi, pronounced “vee-fee” in that part of the world, for paying customers. Pubs and McDonalds operate the same way. At some establishments you may have to ask the proprietor for a password. Other shops don’t require a password but will provide you with 10 or 15 minutes of Internet use automatically. But they don’t tell you unless you ask. After the allotted time, you have to pay. The easy way to know if it’s free is to just pull out your iPad and see if you can access Wi-Fi without a password.
Before out trip we loaded Google maps into our iPad for major cities we would be visiting. Having the images in such a large format was a great benefit and far easier to read than most paper maps. If you don’t load maps into your iPad for your trip and you stray off the beaten path, you can stop into a shop with wi-fi for coffee and use Google maps to find out where you are. If you are moving from one hotel to another during your vacation, an iPad gives you the opportunity to email reservation confirmations.
Hotels are not as generous with their Wi-Fi as coffee shops. At the InterContinental Hotel in Budapest, daily charges for the service were extreme. That may be expected because the hotel is located in a touristy area on the banks of the busy Danube River. But the solution was simple - we would cross the street each day to a pub and get Wi-Fi free.
On day four, we left Budapest for a seven-day riverboat cruise on the Danube. Our Avalon Tapestry offered Wi-Fi for 15 Euros a week or 5 Euros a day, which from our experience, was less than the charge on large ocean cruise ships. On our seven-day cruise we sailed through four countries. Because providers changed when crossing borders, there was an interruption in service, and no Wi-Fi was available for periods of time, even though it was paid for.
Importing Photos From Your Camera To The iPad
We lost track of how many photos we took daily with our digital camera. At the time we wished we could review them each night on our iPad to discard duplicates or poor quality shots, something that is always a time-consuming project after we return from a vacation. Of course, we could do that by viewing the photos on our digital camera, but the small screen limits how much detail you can actually see in each photo. We opted to wait until we returned from Europe.
At home, after sorting through more than 400 trip pictures, we discovered the wonderful camera connection kit made for the iPad.
The compact device allows you to import photos and video from your camera to your iPad in two ways: using the camera’s USB cable, or directly from the SD card. The kit supports typical photo formats and you can view your photos with clarity on the iPad’s large screen. Once the camera and iPad are connected, you get to choose which photos to import and can then organize them into albums. This is one item we will not forget to pack on our next trip!
Charging The iPad In Europe
Throughout Europe you’ll find 220 voltage, which is not compatible with all iPad chargers. The configuration of your American made plugs may not match either. In both our hotels as well as on our river boat, we discovered a 110v socket in the bathrooms. Although designed for an electric shaver, it was the perfect outlet for charging the iPad each night because it had the two-prong set up we’re used to in the United States. If you don’t come across this kind of 110v socket, your option is to bring along a voltage converter and plug adapter.
We’ve had experiences with voltage converters coupled with hair dryers on trips that didn’t quite perform as they should. One converter popped and smoked, blowing the circuits. An electrician told us that the manufacturer used a fuse with an amperage that was too high for the converter. He said this was not unusual for American made converters. While it wasn’t a fun experience, the upside was, we had one less item to squeeze into the luggage and carry home. Possibly damaging an inexpensive hair dryer is one thing, but could a similar situation occur while charging an iPad? Could it damage the device? My specialty is popping circuits not building them so I don’t have the answer.
The life of your iPad when you’re traveling can be greatly enhanced with an extended life battery. Well worth the cost, it will give you as much as 16 extra hours of use. So what does that mean in your travels to Europe? Between the natural life of the iPad and the life of the extended battery, you could fly across the pond, even including reasonable connection times and layovers, and never have to recharge!
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