I don’t know what to pack. I’m about to take a trip to Dublin, Ireland, and I have no idea whether to pack my MacBook Pro, my less-powerful-but-more-portable MacBook Air, or just an iPad. And if I opt for only an iPad, do I take my favorite one—the iPad mini—or do I choose the full-size model to take advantage of the more extensive screen real estate?
Oh geez…if I take only an iPad, do I pack my Bluetooth keyboard, too? Because typing, especially on the iPad mini, isn’t ideal. And if I do stow an iPad, should I leave the Kindle at home? (Okay, technically the Kindle isn’t an Apple device, but it’s a gadget I use daily and feel much affection for.)
Coming up for Air
Let’s get one thing out of the way at the outset: This is the firstest of first-world problems.
It is not, however, a first-class problem: I will most decidedly be seated in the economy section of the plane on this trip, as I will on trips later this year to Australia and France. And that’s a factor in my decision: The MacBook Pro is unwieldy when parked on a tray table in coach, especially if the unconscionable rube in front of me yields to the misanthropic temptation to recline his seatback from its full and upright position.
On the other hand, my MacBook Pro is my main axe, my go-to machine. Leaving it behind feels not quite like admitting defeat, but like resigning myself to an imperfect computing experience abroad. Nevertheless, I can’t make a sufficiently compelling case to myself for bringing my heaviest Mac laptop with me on a jaunt across the globe.
That said, the globetrotting nature of my travel contributes to my thinking that maybe taking the MacBook Air could be useful, if for no other reason than to use it as the world’s largest charging station for my iOS devices: My iPhone is coming with me no matter what, but I can’t plug my charger directly into the Irish outlets. I have only one adapter, so I’m thinking that I could plug my MacBook Air in there, and then use the laptop’s USB ports to charge my other devices.
Of course, if that were the only reason I wanted to take the MacBook Air, it would make sense to pack a powered USB hub instead. I could plug that piece of hardware into the adapter and leave the vestigial laptop at home.
Can I track with the lack of a Mac?
The key question I have to answer is: What would I use the laptop for? I’m speaking at a conference in Dublin, with a Keynote presentation I built on my Mac. I could make last-minute presentation tweaks as needed using Keynote on the iPad, if necessary, but the iPad would warn me about irreversible minor changes that might occur. And that’s scary. If I go without a laptop, I’ll need to consider my presentation finished before takeoff. I think I’m okay with that.
If I were planning to do serious work while in Ireland, I’d definitely pack a laptop. That’s because—though my friend and colleague Dan Moren made a decent go of working from his iPad—I find my iPad too stifling to use as a full-time work machine.
Since I don’t plan on putting in full workdays from Ireland, the only things I would be likely to use the laptop for are tasks that the iPad generally excels at: email, RSS, the Web, Twitter, and FaceTime with the family back home.
And thus, with a heavy heart but a lighter backpack, I decide to leave the laptop at home.
Maxing out the mini
At this point, I’ve committed to traveling without a MacBook, but there’s no way I’m forgoing an iPad. The long plane ride alone necessitates that the iPad accompany me. But it won’t be merely my in-air entertainment; it will also be my main Internet connectivity device in Ireland.
My lovely third-generation iPad has a Retina display and a huge screen with an essentially full-size keyboard to tap upon. And yet my iPad mini is my favorite iPad of all time. Despite the full-size iPad’s advantages, leaving my preferred iPad at home seems silly, so that’s the one I’ll take.
If I don’t take a keyboard, I won’t get any writing done. The iPad mini on its own is not conducive to long-form writing. I’ve tried (and mostly loathed) the Ultrathin mini keyboard cover for the iPad mini, so I’m definitely not taking that. And though I’ve tried better iPad mini keyboard cases, I don’t own them. So where does that leave me?
Even if I end up not using it at all, the Apple Wireless Keyboard doesn’t add much heft to my carry-on, and I’d rather tote it and not need it than need it and not have it. So I’ll toss the keyboard into my bag and hope that it’s not for naught.
Let’s review where I am at this point: no MacBook Pro, no MacBook Air—just an iPad mini and a wireless keyboard. Given that my packing list seems fairly light, I think I’ll go ahead and pack the Kindle, too.
Here’s why: While I can read on the iPad mini, I prefer reading on the Kindle for various reasons—including the fact that the Kindle presents fewer distractions, and the undeniable advantages of E-Ink. But the top reason I’ll pack the Kindle in my carry-on is its battery life. Impressive as the iPad’s battery life is, I find reading on the tablet a smidgen stressful, as I can’t help but watch the device’s remaining battery percentage sink inexorably toward zero. I never think about the Kindle’s battery life. So for reading on the plane—I have to finish The Night Circus already!—the Kindle makes the cut.
As may be obvious by now, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for determining what to pack for a given trip. For me, at least, the details of my travel plans strongly influence which gadgets I take.
For my trip to Ireland, then, I’m packing the iPad mini, a keyboard, and a Kindle. That makes sense for this trip because I don’t expect to work and because I’m also packing an actual suitcase. If I were traveling, as I often do, with no checked baggage, the available space and cumulative weight in my carry-on would be critical factors; and I might have to give up the keyboard, the Kindle, or both. But if I were working—or traveling for a longer time—I would likely have brought a laptop along for the ride.
The question of which of my pricey gadgets to take with me on a trip is perhaps a rarefied one. But as we juggle more devices, it becomes increasingly apparent that everything is a compromise. Presented with situations like this one, you realize that maybe consumers would like a toaster-fridge—if Apple made a really good toaster-fridge. Macs are big and powerful; iPads are light but limiting. A hypothetical hybrid device that offered the best of both would be awesome. At home, it’s no big deal: I have my Mac and my iPad when I need them. But when it’s time to travel, the weaknesses of each device weigh in the balance just as heavily as their advantages.
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Lex uses a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 5, an iPad mini, a Kindle 3, a TiVo HD, and a treadmill desk, and loves them all. His latest book, a children's book parody for adults, is called "The Kid in the Crib." Lex lives in New Jersey with his wife and three young kids.