Jon with iPad

Taking an iPad to Africa: My Story

  by Jon Valdiva4 Comments

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I received it with a hint of doubt. There it was, pure white. It screamed Cupertino all over. I had wanted it for a looooong time, and now I had it. I felt a cleaner, more spotless human being just by owning it.

The design, the texture… it all talked about a polished world of technology that belonged to the uber-cool designer, to the fancy executive who is too clean to use old-fashioned paper, to the “i-want-to-impress-you” media showcase in a minimalist office made of glass.

Why then would I want to take this state of the art iPad to Africa? It seemed counter-intuitive. Surely I would be better off by packing a long machete and an Indiana Jones hat?

I was about to be proven wrong. During the three months I have spent here, the iPad has established itself as a reliable digital Swiss Army knife, a deserving companion, almost a girlfriend … well, that’s between the iPad and me.

So why do I claim that the iPad is the best gadget for Africa?


Assuming you want to have any sort of relationship to the world you left behind, the iPad brings you all the Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and e-mail you could need without the hassle of carrying a laptop aroud, or the inconvenience of writing long emails on a tiny smartphone keyboard.

It is the perfectly-sized solution for hooking up to hostel wifi or any other internet connection you may find.


It’s not small, but it’s not big either. It’s light, and you can equip it with “battlefront” covers or cases. Mine is already dirty, ugly, and smells of beer. I love it.

To me it holds the magical charm of the Holy Grail journal by Henry Jones Sr. The dirt tells stories of travelling around the world, accumulating dust and adventure.

You can carry your iPad in your bag and let it receive the beatings of your journeys while the inside stays pristinely clean and functional.  One word of caution, though… don’t show your iPad openly in dangerous areas.  Someone may want to relieve you of it, but even then…

Location Services and iCloud

Jon - reading iPad

Yup, I got my iPad stolen, but thanks to Location Services I found it again – and managed to get several guys a free tour of Arusha police station. The good guys won! That is another story, but thanks Steve Jobs for location services. Not only did I recover my iPad, but also the other things I had in my bag.

I was not clever enough to have purchased extra space on my iCloud account. Normally if you lose your camera, you lose the pictures. On the iPad, just switch on your iCloud backup and you don’t have to worry about losing those pics and videos — convenient when you are on the move, without many chances to sit at your home computer and secure your material.

Again, Africa is a great place for this type of perk. Imagine your bag gets stolen or lost… you just get home and… voila! Your memories of your trip are stored in the cloud (up to the last backup, that is).

Pictures and Videos

Granted, nobody is prone to win a photographic competition with the iPad, but the pictures and videos are very decent, and the zillion apps you get to edit them make the iPad an excellent platform to build an honest photo collection and share it on social networks on the go.

I am a big fan of video, and the iPad allows me to film, edit, and upload my pieces on location. This is really convenient and saves me from taking my expensive and bulky HD Camcorder + editing laptop to places I visit.

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Speaking of going places, I use the iPad to read, play games, write emails or blog on the move. I am an avid reader and now I can read virtually anything I want through the Kindle app or iBooks store.

Here in Arusha the number of books is limited, so connecting to Amazon and getting a book for a few bucks is a great perk – even more useful here than elsewhere in the world.

Ok, maybe you’re not a reader but a music fan or a role playing addict or all of it together. You can count on the iPad for those moments you want to unwind with hobbies that are difficult to exercise in some African locations.

Travelling Companion

Want off-road maps? Download them! Want to track your into-the-wild journey? Get the iPad to track you with the built in GPS, or attach a professional one for around $200 bucks. Need your “Lonely Planet”? You can download that too.

Access websites, guides, and social networks of the places you are going to. Ok, maybe it doesn’t have the charm of a dirty country guide, but that is what the dusty battlefront cover is for.

Last perk… the battery lasts a lot if you manage it well. I’ve had my iPad on for more than an entire week without plugging it in to recharge.

I don’t mean to sell you on it, but in Africa, the iPad has proven to be my best companion. From playing music to being a flashlight at night, blogging, making videos, knowing where I am and connecting to people. I have even used its front camera to assist me during shaving at locations without available mirrors. I easily carry it almost everywhere.

And I mean… everywhere.

You don’t need to know that right now I am sitting on a static bike, sweating a bit in a local gym while I write this post on my beloved iPad. Even at the gym it helps me to be entertained and sometimes even productive.

It’s getting to the point where I should give my iPad a pet name.

Any suggestions?

About the Author

Jon Valdiva

Jon Valdivia writes at, sharing his experiences, insights, and inspirations about being a traveller and a distance learning student at the Open University. He loves to connect and interview with fellow OpenDreamers: people on track to meaningful dreams and projects. He is Spanish and apologizes for any awkwardness you may find in his excellent English writing. Follow him @jonvaldivia


  1. Nice article, share many of your views of the iPad. Though my generation 1 lacks the camera abilities, it has still carved out a permanent spot in my travelling kit. From entertainment on the flight, source of information and backup store for my regular camera using the memory card reader.

    I’d recommend naming yours “Christof”, after Saint Chrisopher, patron saint of travellers.

  2. I completely agree!

    I only wish I had not skimped on the extra $100 and bought the 32 GB iPad. I would definitely mention in this article that if you are going to be doing extensive travel it is worth it to not skimp on storage. The iPad is AMAZING, but when short on storage I am left with nothing but endless dreams of an SD card slot! Any suggestions?

    P.S. Just purchased your book, really is wonderful and a huge help, great job!


    1. Yeah, expanding the storage space on an iPad is really quite a challenge to say the least. The best option I’ve found so far is something like the Seagate Wireless Plus, which is essentially a wi-fi enabled hard drive. It’s obviously not as elegant a solution as something that attaches to (or even better, inside) the iPad, but hey, you do what you can, right? It does have a battery that lasts about as long as the iPad itself, at least, so you can be relatively self-contained.

      Thanks so much for your support and kind words with the book, by the way! 🙂

  3. Funny how few things which you count as really good things especially in iPad are actually normal things on android. Example cloud backup for your photos work with dropbox automatically. Find your iPhone works on Android too but of course just with different name and so on…
    So many of your reason why especially iPad is good choice are not really a reasons why especially iPad is good. You could say those same things pretty much every Android device too.
    So your reasons are like saying that Toyota is best because it has four tires…

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