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How to travel with a Wi-Fi-only iPad

Get five travel tips to make the iPad the perfect travel companion.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
4 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET
Watch this: 5 ways to use your Wi-Fi-only iPad while traveling

Whether traveling for work or pleasure, the iPad is a perfect travel companion. It's lighter and runs longer than a laptop and springs to life instantly. Plus, its screen is large enough to get work done or enjoy TV shows or movies while in transit.

If you have a Wi-Fi-only iPad (or are traveling abroad with a cellular iPad and don't want to return to find hefty international data roaming charges tacked onto your next bill), here are five tips for making the most of your travels with an iPad.

1. Download music and movies before you leave

Don't run the risk of getting stuck on a Wi-Fi-less plane. For such flights and long car trips, you are going to want to download any shows or movies you want to watch before you leave.

At long last, you can now download Netflix shows and movies. Amazon Video lets Prime members download select titles to Fire phones and tablets along with Android and iOS devices, and YouTube lets YouTube Red subscribers download videos for offline viewing. You can also purchase and download movies and shows from iTunes to view offline.

Matt Elliott/CNET

Video files can be large and can take a while to download, so be sure you leave yourself enough time to complete the download; this is something to do the night before you leave and not something to do as you are walking out the door.

Because video files can be large, you may also need to remove some apps or delete or offload some photos and videos to make room for your in-flight entertainment.

2. Make Google Maps available offline

If you plan to use your iPad as a city guide, you can download areas of Google Maps to view offline. Here's how:

  • Search for a city in Google Map, tap the triple-dot button and then tap Download offline area.
  • Pan and zoom on the map to get the area and level of detail you want.
  • Tap Download in the lower-right corner, give the map a name and tap Save.
Matt Elliott/CNET

To view your saved offline maps, tap the hamburger button in the upper-left corner of Google Maps, tap Offline areas and then tap on one of your saved maps.

Likewise, business travelers may want to make files available offline in Google Drive . To do so, tap the triple-dot button to the right of a file in Google Drive and tap Keep offline. Your offline docs can then be found by tapping the hamburger button in the upper-left corner of Google Drive and tapping Offline from the menu.

If you have a paid Dropbox plan, then you can download entire Dropbox folders in addition to files.

3. Turn off Wi-Fi when you aren't using it

The iPad boasts good battery life but constantly searching for a Wi-Fi signal can needlessly drain battery resources. Swipe up from the bottom edge and turn off Wi-Fi from the Control Center before you toss your iPad in your backpack or purse and head out on the town.

4. Take security precautions

It won't help you locate your iPad if it's offline, but it's still a good idea to turn on Find My iPad because it lets you enable Lost Mode to lock your missing tablet. Lost Mode will be turned on the next time your iPad is online. It remotely locks your iPad and displays a message on the lock screen with your phone number. It also disables Apple Pay.

To turn on Find my iPad, go to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPad and turn the toggle switch on for Find My iPad.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Also, in order to protect a missing iPad before Lost Mode can be turned on, give it a passcode while you are traveling. Go to Settings > Passcode and enter a passcode.

5. Accessorize: Case, keyboard and splitter

Protect your iPad from the bumps and bruises of being on the road by outfitting it with a tough case. That means leaving Apple 's Smart Cover at home and getting a case that protects both the front and back of your iPad.

If you plan to get some work done on your iPad during your travels, get a Bluetooth keyboard so you aren't forced to type for long stretches on the iPad's onscreen keyboard. Or combine the previous two tips and get a keyboard case for your iPad.

Lastly, a tip for parents traveling with two kids and one iPad: get a headphone splitter and thank me later.

Editors' note, December 8, 2016: This story was originally published on June 11, 2016. It has been updated with new information, including Netflix's support for offline viewing and Drobox's support for folder downloads.