In part one of this series I wrote about the impetus of this journey, the hardware I was going to use, and how I planned to accomplish keeping my freelance web development business up and running while walking everyday - you can read that here.
In part two I wrote about the software I chose on my iPad and how I planned to use these tools to keep my productivity and communications at a level my clients expect (and deserve) - read about that here.
In this post, I simply want to tell you how it all worked out! I have returned from my trip hiking on the Camino de Santiago! Over 600 miles on foot, 7 weeks away, unforgettable.
The hardware I chose worked flawlessly. The iPad Air 2, paired with my QODE™ Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2, was perfect for everything that was sent my way to handle. It spent a lot of time in my pack, folded shut, patiently waiting for my clients’ needs. Light, compact, with a rugged build quality, it more than held up to my pack being slung around and dropped at the end of each day. Not having to worry about it was priceless.
When I did fire up my iPad Air 2 to get real work done for my business, the keyboard connected automatically every time without an issue. Other pluses included the backlit keys which became a god send when proper lighting wasn’t available, or I was bone tired and didn’t want to squint at the keys to see what I was mistyping. On top of all of this, the battery life of the keyboard was incredible! I never had to recharge the keyboard during the entirety of my time away. Ever. Seriously.
The iPad Air 2 performed admirably as well! With iOS 9 (of which 9.1 dropped while I was there), I was able to complete everything I was asked to do with efficiency and with iOS9’s new multi-tasking abilities, was able to get other tasks done in tandem. Yes, I had to recharge several times, but all in all I was super impressed by how capable this tablet computer is. No lag, no latency, it was the ultimate in ultra light computing.
I am definitely hooked on this being a more than viable alternative to my laptop when I leave on trips. It still can’t do everything, but knowing this setup accomplished 100% of what I needed, will always be compelling.
The software I chose worked equally as well! Testing my set up the month before leaving proved to be quite fruitful because when I hit snags (more on that in a bit), I was so familiar with the workflows I created that I was able to work around the limitations I encountered.
It also helped immensely that my clients sent what I considered to be “light” tasks for me to fulfill. Email correspondence, content updates, small media edits (pictures mostly), invoicing, document edits, PDF edit and conversions - all relatively easy to achieve and deliver on. I did have a few server template changes, but those were easy to edit (in Coda for iOS) and were on a site that was still in development.
Luckily, I never encountered a task that I had to launch Screens to access my laptop back home for. But I did launch it once because, honestly, it’s kinda cool to be able to do that on the other side of the Atlantic.
All told, I stuck to the plan that I had originally for the tools I gathered beforehand and it all paid off. Ironically, the one thing that I didn’t have a chance to test was the one thing that I had the most trouble with. Which brings me to…
The one thing I had no chance of testing before I left was connectivity. Everything I had read researching the Camino said that there was “wifi everywhere, don’t worry” and it’s true. There is wifi everywhere. But what they don’t tell you is that, 9 times out of 10, that available wifi is always saturated to the point of either booting you off, or being so slow that it is basically unusable.
No matter though, I got an international SIM card right? I’ll just use my phone as a hotspot and knock these things out! Wrong. The international carrier I went with, Vodafone, didn’t allow me to tether my phone to my iPad. Yes, it was WAY cheaper than an international package from my US carrier, but it ended up being a bit of a set back for me because, while I did in fact have a connection (and often a good one), it could only be used on my phone. Even so, it was doable to accomplish objectives on my iPhone 6 when I didn’t have a viable wifi connection for my iPad. It was just slower going and, obviously, cramped because of the screen size.
There were a few spots in northern Spain that didn’t even have cell service, but it was always an understandable situation as we were truly out in the middle of nowhere. Hotspot mess aside, I’d totally recommend Vodafone, their coverage was great and the connection speeds were always better than I had expected. I got the SIM card from a brick and mortar in Pamplona without issue using the tiny bit of Spanish I knew. One thing though, if you go this route, write down the SIM unlock code. Every time my phone had to be rebooted, it relocked the SIM.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have changed much at all. Honestly, the setup I had was the perfect blend of hardware and software, working with nary a hiccup. I never was concerned about how I would accomplish any of the requests that came in - big or small. The iPad or iOS was never a limitation for me and there wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t accomplish with the tools I had gathered and tested ahead of time.
I would’ve made sure that the SIM card I used could have supported hotspot connectivity but, honestly, on this trip with the language barrier (clearly not their fault) I don’t know how I could’ve gotten past that hurdle. Plus, I am not even sure any international carriers would’ve even allowed that with a monthly SIM that you could “top up”. I could always just buy another iPad with cellular connectivity, but that seems ridiculous (yet always tempting). Regardless, it’s definitely something I will look into/research for the next time.
So that’s how I used an iPad/iPhone and a Bluetooth keyboard to keep my business up and running effectively for 7 weeks while walking across northern Spain! Would I recommend it to anyone else? Sure! It truly wasn’t that much of an inconvenience and in many ways it was actually much easier.
With the advent of the iPad Pro launching, you can easily find many professionals questioning the need for a laptop now when they travel. I no longer think that the limitation is the hardware. It’s been that way since the iPad Air 2. The new iPads are just that blazingly fast! Any bottleneck or limitation you’d find (if you even find one, I couldn’t), would be in iOS itself. There are just some things that OS X can do more efficiently (or at all) that iOS can’t accomplish natively. Again, that wasn’t the case for me, but it may be for you.
As a freelance web developer with paying clients, I obviously found this setup to be a more than capable replacement for my 13 inch MacBook Pro while traveling. Depending on what you do for a living, your mileage will vary. I definitely recommend giving it a shot though. For the portability of the hardware and the singular focus of the software alone, it’s worth your time I think. You may be surprised at just how much you can get done.
Me? With out a doubt, I am a convert. Throw me in that bucket of paid working professionals who do real work on an iPad.