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Traveling with just an iPad Pro in 2023: my experience

Some reflections of mine on traveling with just an iPad Pro in 2023.
Sid Metcalfe

Cartesian Mathematics Foundation


October 15, 2023

As I like to travel, I’ve am always on the lookout for the perfect travel companion—tech-wise, that is. This year, I decided to put my trusty iPad Pro to the test and see if it could handle the rigors of travel as my sole device. The idea was to travel light without compromising on my digital needs, from entertainment to work. To my surprise, the iPad Pro didn’t just meet my expectations; it exceeded them in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Here’s my take on ditching the extra tech weight and going all-in with just an iPad Pro on my travels in 2023.



Click on photos to enlarge them:

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Why an iPad Pro

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In the whirlwind world of tech, I’ve watched the evolution of mobile devices weave through the fabric of our daily lives with impressive tenacity. The rise of smartphones, the boom in laptops, and—cue drumroll—the dazzling entry (and staying power) of iPads have reshaped how I, and many others, experience both work and leisure, particularly on the move.

I recall the days traveling with a clunky laptop, cozied up in a crammed airport lounge, my phone perpetually glued to my hand. It was then that the iPad emerged, sleek and enticing, born from a marriage between convenience and innovation. From those early days to now, its role has only expanded in my travel routine.

As someone who indulges in the digital nomad life, I’ve noticed the iPad has almost become an extension of myself. I’ve always been one to pack light, but with an iPad, I’ve flung even more off my shoulders. At the risk of sounding like an Apple evangelist, I must admit, my iPad has made a compelling case for being the ultimate travel buddy.

Sure, I initially bought into the iPad dream for its entertainment chops—hello Netflix binge on a long-haul flight—but I was pleasantly surprised by its versatility. With the right apps and a trusty Apple Pencil, my iPad doubles as a makeshift workstation for light tasks and note-taking. Heck, it’s even stood in as my impromptu camera on countless occasions, capturing vibrant memories with a tap and a swipe.

I see this iPad wave catching with different crowds too. Dotted across cafes or parks, I spot students scribbling away on their iPad screens with the Apple Pencil, their faces a canvas of concentration. Being a bit of a techie, I appreciate that unlike traditional computers, iPads offer a more tactile, immersive experience.


Nowadays, with the lines blurring between phone, laptop, and tablet capabilities, the iPad stands strong in this ever-competitive tech landscape. The ecosystem Apple has built around it is nothing short of impressive—something its rivals often play catch-up with. I’ve tinkered with GoodNotes for annotating PDFs, dabbled in Procreate for some digital art, and plunged into Sidecar to extend my Mac’s display. It’s this seamless integration that keeps pulling me back.

I’ve overheard discussions, online and in person, about the iPad’s limitations, particularly in regards to ports and general flexibility when compared to a Mac. But then there’s that alluring simplicity. It’s this streamlined sophistication that makes iPads a hit among travelers who crave tech without the fuss—myself included.

Admittedly, I’m still a bit of a stickler for my MacBook when heavy-duty coding or video editing is on the agenda. But for those fleeting moments between destinations, when I’m squished into an airplane seat or sat at a café waiting for my next adventure, my iPad lightens the load.

In essence, my travels have evolved alongside the tech I carry. As our lives become increasingly mobile, so do our devices. The iPad is the epitome of that progress—compact, capable, and constantly surprising me with its prowess. Sure, it might not replace a hardcore developer’s rig or a graphic designer’s monitor setup, but for the average traveler, it comes pretty darn close to tech nirvana.

The iPad experience versus a laptop (e.g. Macbook Pro)

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I’ve been following the ongoing debate about the iPad versus the Macbook Pro for my travel tech stack, and boy, is it a tough one to navigate! I’m someone who leans a lot on the Macbook Pro for heavy tasks, but the draw of the iPad, especially when it comes to travel, is huge.

First off, let’s talk about the iPad experience. There’s something undeniably sleek and convenient about having this slim tablet tucked into my backpack. It’s the gadget that goes from my lazy Netflix binge-watching to my impromptu brainstorming sessions with a simple tap on the screen. Oh, and with the Apple Pencil, it’s become an extension of my thought process—scribble here, doodle there, and voila, I’ve got an idea fleshed out without the need for old-school pen and paper.

When I’m on the road, my iPad feels like the ultimate travel buddy. It’s got the stamina to last all day, which is more than I can say for myself after a red-eye flight. And with cellular models, I’m always connected, which has saved my bacon when I’ve needed to fire off an urgent email from the back of a cab in the middle of somewhere with no Wi-Fi. I remember being skeptical about the iPadOS Files app at first, but now I’m zipping files around like they’re hot potatoes—no sweat!

But here’s where my Mac mindset kicks in. As much as I adore my iPad, handling tasks like programming or deep video editing still make me reach for my MacBook. There’s just a level of flexibility in macOS that iPadOS hasn’t quite caught up with yet. Sure, the gap is closing with each update, but there’s something about having my full suite of dev tools or that sweet spot of multitasking with multiple windows that has me reluctant to let go entirely.

One thing that has really impressed me, though, is how the iPad has been adopted across different demographics. I’ve seen kids in coffee shops swiping through games next to uni students furiously annotating lecture slides on their iPads with such finesse that I get a pinch of envy. And it’s not just tech-savvy millennial stuff. My grandma uses her iPad to stay connected, flipping through photo streams and face timing with relatives with a grace that makes me wonder if she secretly worked at Apple.

For someone who can’t seem to travel light (even though I try), the iPad is a breath of fresh air. It’s the device that I reach for on cramped trains or during those seemingly endless layovers. And with my whole digital world streamlined into this slim piece of tech, it’s almost enough. Almost.

Now, I’m not saying the iPad can fully replace the Mac—I’ve got love for my MacBook that won’t fade. But for those trips where every ounce in my backpack counts, and when convenience trumps the need for pro-level power, the iPad is the front-runner. And with each iteration, it’s getting harder to argue against its rising prowess. Will it ever make me ditch my trusty MacBook? Who knows, but for now, it’s earned its place in my digital nomad toolkit.

Carrying Multiple Devices

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I’m one of those people you’ll catch at the airport lugging around what seems like a Best Buy inventory in my backpack. You know, the whole shebang: smartphone, laptop, tablet, maybe even a Kindle sneaking around in there. The funny thing is, each one does a uniquely stellar job for different scenarios.

Let’s break it down. My smartphone? Non-negotiable. It’s my lifeline to family and friends, my emergency GPS when I inevitably get lost, the perfect snapshooter for travel memories, and my music box for those tunes on the move. Plus, with the smartphone in hand, an impromptu hotspot is always a swipe away.

Next up, the laptop. I’ve got a lightweight ThinkPad which, by the way, only tips the scales at a hair under a kilogram. This bad boy is my window to heavyweight tasks, coding escapades on GitHub, and those deep-dive research moments when Google Scholar and I get real intimate. It’s the undeniable workhorse.

But then, there’s the iPad. Oh, the iPad. My entertainment hub and digital sketchpad rolled into one sleek device. The perfect in-between for when my phone feels like a toy yet my laptop seems like overkill. Honestly, there’s something deeply satisfying about curling up with the iPad to flip through ebooks or sketch out ideas with that magical Apple Pencil. And with iPadOS getting niftier by the update, the line between “toy” and “tool” gets blurrier each day.

Now, I’ve glimpsed into the eyes of those who swear by the one-device-to-rule-them-all mantra. They look at my gadget arsenal like I’m some tech hoarder. But here’s the thing: carrying multiple devices isn’t about being unable to let go. It’s about the freedom to choose the best tool for the job – and sometimes, the job is chilling with Netflix at 30,000 feet.

Universities seem to be catching onto this multiplicity vibe too. Walking through campuses, it strikes me how iPads have become almost as fundamental as the classic notebook and pen were in my day. Students switch fluidly between taking handwritten notes and watching STEM tutorials online; it’s a glimpse into a digital-native approach that we could all learn something from.

At times, I ponder if I could streamline my life, maybe embrace the minimalist aesthetic and go all Henry David Thoreau with just an iPad in my backpack. But each device I add to my tech tapestry seems to weave itself irreversibly into the fabric of my daily life.

Sure, I groan when I unpack them at airport security, but each serves a purpose and underscores a reality of today’s digital lifestyle – where the idea of “too much tech” is subjective. But hey, as long as they all keep cozy with a single USB-C charger (take a hint, Apple), I’ll consider this first-world problem tolerable.

To sum it up, it’s not device overload; it’s device optimization. We live in times where our tech reflects our multifaceted lives, and each device we carry is an extension of our various needs and whims. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll whittle it down to just an iPad – if it evolves to cater to every itch and task I have. Until then, I’ll keep embracing my tech medley and the symphony it creates in my hyperconnected life.

The iPad User Demographic

As someone deeply embedded in the tech world, I’ve found it fascinating to observe the demographic that gravitates towards iPads. Honestly, when I first saw iPads popping up everywhere, I brushed them off as glorified e-readers. But I was wrong—oh, so wrong. The iPad has become this universal gadget, bridging gaps I didn’t even know existed.

Let’s talk about the younger crowd, the university goers. You barely see students lugging around chunky textbooks anymore. They’ve got everything on their iPads: lecture notes, PDFs, digital textbooks—you name it. It’s not just about reading; the Apple Pencil has revolutionized note-taking, doodling, and encoding those last-minute study notes. Plus, I’ve seen them in the hands of every other student during my guest lectures. They’ve made the iPad their academic sidekick, and it’s paying off—better organization, interactive learning, you get the gist.

Then there are the professionals. My colleague, a designer, sketches directly onto her iPad Pro, flicking through design apps with a finesse that’s honestly mesmerizing. And then there’s me, sometimes using my iPad as a secondary monitor—thank you, Sidecar! It’s a productivity boost that really makes a difference when multitasking is the game’s name.

I’ve noticed a similar trend among parents. It’s not just about keeping the little ones quiet with cartoons, though I won’t lie, it does work a treat. It’s also about the ease of use. An iPad is this intuitive, all-in-one device that’s perfect for someone who doesn’t want to tinker with settings or troubleshoot software issues—just tap and go.

But it isn’t restricted to just these groups; iPads have made their way into many older adults’ lives, too. My aunt, in her 70s, is glued to her iPad. She’s video chatting with grandkids, playing brain teaser games, and hats off to her managing her finances through simplified UIs tailored for the iPad. It’s empowering, to say the least.

I have to give credit to Apple’s ecosystem for making iPads so sticky. It’s not just about the device; it’s the enthralling apps, the seamless integration with the iPhone, and the continuous, long-term OS updates. Not to mention, the build quality keeps these tablets ticking for ages. Also, can we talk about resale value? The iPad clings onto its worth like no other device I’ve seen. It’s a stable investment if you look at the tech world.

Reimagining Productivity and Entertainment on the Move

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For me, the iPad has transformed from a luxury item into a practical tool that fits snugly into the sweet spot between my phone and laptop. The debate around the iPad’s competency as a standalone travel device might rage on in forums and articles, but from my personal experience, it’s the closest thing to a tech Swiss Army knife for on-the-move productivity and entertainment.

Let’s talk practicality. I’m seeing more and more fellow travelers clutching their iPads—students annotating PDFs with their Apple Pencils, professionals day-trading or video-conferencing, and creatives whipping up sketches or editing their latest vlogs. It’s not just a matter of possessing a sleek gadget; it’s about harnessing the power of convenience. And yes, while I’m well-versed in the unabridged capabilities of a Mac, there’s something alluring about the simplicity and accessibility the iPad provides.

In the realm of entertainment, my iPad is my portable cinema, e-library, and gaming console, all rolled into one. Unlike bulky laptops or squint-inducing smartphones, my iPad delivers a Goldilocks-zone screen size that’s perfect for those Netflix binge sessions on long flights or diving into an eBook while waiting for the next train.

A major turning point for me was realizing how technology could be tailored to everyone’s unique needs on the move. In a way, it democratizes tech use. Whether it’s students annotating lecture slides or children being momentarily pacified by an engaging game, the iPad often serves as the gateway for seamless digital interaction.

What solidifies the iPad’s status as a travel essential for me is the ecosystem it’s part of. AirDrop files between nearby Apple devices? Check. Instantly sync notes and documents across all my devices via iCloud? Absolutely. These interconnected features act as force multipliers for productivity and ease of use.

I won’t claim that the iPad is the end-all-be-all for every traveler—there will always be a role for the trusty smartphone and laptop for some. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, for a growing majority, Apple’s slate is becoming the go-to for fulfilling both professional and leisure needs.

In closing this discursive journey, the iPad hasn’t simply earned a spot in our travel bags; it’s carved out a niche that neither the phone nor the laptop can wholly claim. It hits a sweet spot of portability, functionality, and enjoyment. Whether I’m jotting down inspirations struck by the landscape blurry through a train window or finalizing a work report before my stop, my iPad has become an extension of my creative and professional persona on the move.

So, if I had to sum it all up, I’d say the iPad sure does a stellar job of standing alone as a remarkable travel companion. And as the ecosystem evolves and grows more intertwined, who knows? It might just redefine our entire concept of travel and tech.