102068 iTraveled Jim and Ellen McElwain iPhone Life 1528-5456 2012-01-04 January-February 2012 4 1 27 iUsers Travel iPad

The Idea

imageWith the oldest of my four kids starting college in the fall, our chances to travel as a family were dwindling. Who knew if we would ever get a chance to go there together? So, if we went, we wanted to see it all! We drastically cut down the long list of desired destinations, and it still couldn’t be done in less than four weeks.

I have been with my company for 21 years. I get five weeks of vacation per year, but rarely use more than two. I approached my boss armed with the fact that I had given up nearly a year of vacation over the past 21 years and needed this four-week "sabbatical" for my family. He was very supportive, so I started to do some real research.

Friends, family, and co-workers will tell you, I’m a “gadget guy.” I bought my first handheld, a Palm, in 1996. Then I graduated to Palm III, Palm V, Treo 600, Treo 650, Treo 755, iPhone 3GS, and finally the iPhone 4. I desperately wanted an iPad, but since I had a new iMac, a new iPhone 4, and an HP tablet PC from work, it was hard to justify the cost to my wife.

This was my chance! "Honey, if we are going to be in Europe for a month, we’ll need a way to communicate, check email, and blog from the road. An iPad would be perfect!" With a half-smile and a raised eyebrow, she agreed. That was all I needed.

So there I was, at 7 A.M. on a Sunday morning in 23-degree weather at the Apple Store at Easton Towne Centre in Columbus, Ohio. I didn’t know which warmed my heart more… the prospect of a month in Europe with my family, or the sight of my 32GB Verizon WiFi+3G iPad 2.

The Plan

imageI started using my iPad 2 and iMac to research plane tickets, hotels, and Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs). I began to have doubts when I realized European hotels and B&Bs strictly enforce a four person per room limit. We are a family of six. I couldn’t hide two family members for a month, but I wasn’t able to afford two rooms every night. Then it hit me. My wife and I had talked in the past of renting an RV for a trip out west. Why not Europe? A few clicks showed me that camping and RVing are big in Europe, and many campgrounds have Wi-Fi. We were back in business!

We were delighted to find that many RV campgrounds across Europe have Wi-Fi.

We wanted to update friends and family from the road, so I began researching blog apps. I chose Blogpress ($2.99, app2.me/3210) to allow me to post pictures, video, and commentary from the road (mcelwainsineurope.blogspot.com). To make posting pictures a better experience, I bought the camera kit from the Apple Store online for $29. It was so easy to use that my 8-year-old could do it. Just plug into the iPad 2 port, slide in the SD card, and the pictures I took with my Kodak digital pop up on the screen ready to go. The iPad 2 is a wonderful picture viewer! It was fun to sit outside the RV at night and look at pictures we had taken that day.

iPacking

Timagehe iPad, iPod, and iPhone would be of little use if we couldn’t charge them on our trip, so we bought some European adaptors. Then, I packed my Yahoo Mail “Europe” folder with long term parking reservations, flight information and confirmations, reservations for the RV, and directions to the RV rental company in Munich. This way the information would always be a tap away. Then, using Nook for iPad (Free, app2.me/2542), Kindle for iPad (Free, app2.me/2482) and the iBooks app (Free, app2.me/2403), I packed enough e-books to keep me satisfied for a month, and they didn’t add an ounce to my luggage.

The e-books on my Nook for iPad, Kindle for iPad, and i Books app didn't add an ounce to our luggage.

“I didn’t know which warmed my heart more, the prospect of a month in Europe with my family, or the sight of my 32GB Verizon WiFi+3G iPad 2.”

Embarking on our Epic Journey

With excitement and apprehension, we packed our bags, left our three dogs, three fish, and a lizard, and headed to Europe.

We were flying from New York City, so we decided to drive to the Big Apple first for a quick visit before leaving for our 28-day European adventure. Using my new iPad and Expedia, I made hotel reservations on the road for our night in New York City. Walking down Broadway in NYC, I downloaded the New York Transportation Map for iPad (Free, app2.me/4195) so we could decipher the subway system and get to the Statue of Liberty.

Staying Connected

imageThe iPad never rested while we traveled. My 18-year-old needed Facebook, my 15-year-old had to have iBooks, my wife Ellen (the REAL writer in the family) wanted to create blog posts, and through email and Salesforce (available in the App Store if your company uses this CRM), I kept my finger on the pulse at work. I am a sales manager with a team of 19. Going away for a month meant I had to stay connected with the office and my sales team. That awesome group finished at 115% of quota while I was away! Luckily, my 12-year-old brought his iPod touch along to keep himself busy. My 8-year-old daughter has 20 games on my iPad. Her top three are Fruit Ninja ($.99, app2.me/3013), Cut the Rope ($.99, app2.me/3182), and Virtual Villagers ($1.99, app2.me/4196). She wasn’t the only one playing games, though. Heading north on the train from Barcelona to our campground in Saint-Pol, my wife pulled out the iPad to play Boggle ($.99, app2.me/4197), one of her favorite games. An especially friendly Greek teenager sat down and began pointing out words with us. I wonder if it was my teenage girls or the iPad that attracted him!

Everyone in the family took turns using the iPad for games, socializing, and more.

Not Getting Lost

I used the native Map app to chart my course from Germany to Austria, Italy, Spain, France, and England and then back to Germany. This, in conjunction with my GPS, got us wherever we wanted to be. Then, from a campground outside Paris, I used the iPad to make ferry reservations to get the RV from Calais to Dover. While camping in London, I made reservations to return to France through the tunnel under the English Channel.

Staying updated on the news

I read the newspaper every day. Thankfully my hometown paper, The Columbus Dispatch, has an app in the App Store powered by Olive. It was nice to occasionally sit down and leaf through the local news back home (where stories are written in English!). How else would I keep up with the Ohio State Buckeyes? I also read The Shop by J. Carson Black on the Kindle app and Blockade Billy by Stephen King on the Nook app. The latest of Alyson Noel’s “Immortal” series was released in our absence. My 15-year-old had to have Everlasting. She bought it from Amazon while sitting in a McDonalds between Munich and Salzburg. She immediately devoured it, reading it on the Kindle app. And for traditional book reading at a dark campground on a summer night, Just Light (Free, app2.me/4198) is the perfect app to provide illumination.

imageWhile we were in London July 7th, we watched many celebrities from the “Harry Potter” movie exit the red carpet at the world premiere of the 8th and final movie from a theater near Trafalgar Square. We took pictures and video from the iPhone 4 and the iPod touch (you can check them out on our blog). I think three of our kids would say that was the highlight of the trip. We saw many of the characters including Hermione, Ron, George and Fred Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Snape, Neville Longbottom and JK Rowling herself.

We got a glimpse of actors from the Harry Potter movie (right) at the world premiere in London.

imageIn fact, we were so excited that I jumped on the iPad and ordered midnight show tickets for the U.S. premiere in Harrisburg, PA, where we planned to stay on the last night of our trip after landing in New York. How cool was it to be in England, searching "theaters, Harrisburg PA" on Google, checking show times, pulling out my credit card and getting six tickets to a movie in Harrisburg, PA? I guess that is why I am a geek!

Managing Finances

Keeping up with our finances was a cinch. From the iPad, I watched my stock options vest in one account, and was able to use Fidelity’s app (Free, app2.me/4199) to keep track of my 401(k). I also tracked our precious metals on Kitco’s app (Free, app2.me/4200). Most importantly, we still had to pay our bills! Chase Bank (Free, app2.me/2717) has an exceptionally easy-to-use app that allowed us to pay bills and deposit checks by snapping a photo and sending it to the bank. My wife and I sat on the patio of our campground restaurant one morning in Riom, France, sipping coffee, eating a croissant, and paying our bills with the iPad. What a relief it was to get that done before hitting the road to Paris.

We rented two National Geographic world phones that never worked right. The iPad saved our skin more than once. When the ATM swallowed my wife’s card, and one of our credit cards was stopped due to “suspicious activity” in Europe (it was us), we were able to make some critically important calls to our bank and credit card companies using Skype (Free, app2.me/4076).

Perhaps more importantly, we were able to stave off some homesickness when we used FaceTime to keep in touch with close relatives back in Ohio. Gathered around the iPad in Nimes, France and Munich, Germany, we got to see some familiar faces. We updated them on our trip while they told us what was happening at home and about their vacation to the Grand Canyon. They couldn’t wait to show us their new puppy, and they didn’t have to! It was amazing to be thousands of miles from each other and feel like we were sitting in the same room.

Our Constant Companion

imageOn this trip, the iPad 2 was our clock, our phone, our map, our tour guide, our bank, our social center, our game player, our financial advisor, our concierge, our library, our flashlight, our camera, our blog, our weather reporter, our newspaper, my work center, our movie player (YouTube), and our link to home. The only way it could have been more helpful is if we had brought more than one with us!

One last stop before jumping in the RV and heading for Barcelona

The stats for our trip are amazing: six people, 28 days, nine countries, 12 cities, and 4,300 miles of driving (New York, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Rome, Pisa, French Riviera, Barcelona, Paris, Calais, London, Brussels, Luxembourg, Augsburg and back to Munich).