Traveling with an iPad in Israel

flowers in a pot in Beit Shemesh, Israel
flowers in a pot in Beit Shemesh, Israel – taken from balcony of an apartment
I just came back from a one week trip in Israel. After discussing various options for connecting on social media and keeping up with my email, I decided to bring my iPad mini on my trip. This post will examine where it worked and where it did not. In the comments, feel free to offer your own travel advice.

Connecting with the iPad in Israel

Originally, we were supposed to stay with my cousins most of the time. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, we stayed with a relative by marriage (who was an absolutely wonderful hostess). She had great wifi in her apartment, so when we came back after our busy days we were able to both re-connect and re-charge our iPads (I was traveling with my eldest son, and we both have iPads). The three prong adapter seemed to do the charging better than the two prong, so I would suggest buying a three prong adapter if you are traveling from the U.S. to Israel. I bought the adapter easily on Amazon. If you stay in a hotel, I would assume most of them will have great wifi available to guests. Verify before booking your place.

train station in Petach Tikva, Israel
train station in Petach Tikva

I loved traveling on trains in Israel. The wifi is free, although I discovered it is not very strong, and you may not have any if you sit in the “wrong” part of the train (is the corner not a good spot? I would need the locals to help with this). Even when I did get decent wifi on the train, it was not strong enough to upload a photo. So save your photo sharing for the strong wifi locations.

Tel-Aviv Art Museum: Yay, Tel Aviv! The art museum had its own wifi, so we were will able to look up the museum website for more information while viewing. The Israel Museum did not have this feature. I might write a post comparing the two museums in general. Both were wonderful. In general, the Tel Aviv municipality has approved a budget for free wifi in the city, in parks, main streets and commercial centers (coming soon in 2013?).

The Galil seems to have less options for free wifi than the central part of the country. This is not surprising, as the Galil is more rural.

You can sit on the Ben Yehudah mall in Jerusalem and depending where you sit, it is not hard to find free wifi. The Jerusalem bus station had enough wifi for me to load one Google map of Jerusalem unto my iPad, then it went away or asked for a password.

One friend I visited had computers but no wifi. I Googled connecting my iPad via her networked computer, but it didn’t seem so simple to do. One techie friend said I would probably have needed to add iTunes to her computer. I certainly didn’t have the right administrative privileges to do so, but the truth is, with guest privileges I could check email and Facebook, so what more did I need?

Ben-Gurion airport had free wifi while we waited to board (leaving Israel). When we got off the plane (arriving), we had none, but my cousin came right away so there really was no time, anyway.

Setting up your iPad for your trip

In some ways, my iPad was prepared properly. In other ways, I would have done things differently. I downloaded a few games that required no wifi for the plane ride. I got fairly good at Bejeweled Blitz on the plane – I don’t have the patience to read books on planes. I only got through a few pages of Jane Austen’s Emma (which I had downloaded for free in advance via Free Books app).

A big mistake I made in preparing my iPad for the trip was that I set up my email to work, but I only checked incoming mail and not outgoing. I couldn’t get the setup for outgoing mail in Israel for my regular mail, so I depended on my Gmail account. If you regularly use Gmail, just download the Gmail app in advance. I prefer to do work correspondence with my leoraw account; for future travel, I will make sure I have outgoing mail set up properly as well.

Facebook and Twitter on the iPad are easy: just download the apps in advance and make sure they work properly. I found it nice to take a few photos with iPad as I traveled. Then, when I had the chance, I shared one on Facebook and one on Google+. Most of my photos I took with my Canon Rebel. But I wasn’t planning to utilize those photos until after my trip was over – the ones on my Canon I will probably edit a bit before sharing.

On turning mail accounts on and off: I share the iPad with my daughter. I added my email accounts to the iPad a while back, checked them, and then turned them off. For the trip, I turned off her email account. Now that I am back, I should turn her email account back on and turn off my email accounts.

I actually bought a pocketbook for the trip in which my iPad mini fit exactly. So it was simple to carry it around – it even came with me on the hike on Mount Meron in the Galil. I have great photos of flora and of views from that hike. The famous red poppies were in bloom for me.

Planning the next trip

Although it may be a while before I go on my next international adventure, I am still thinking ahead to how I might plan differently next time. By the time I next travel, I suspect I will have a different smart phone. I will probably want to get some sort of SIM card for the smart phone so I can connect almost anywhere instead of searching for wifi. But the truth is, not being connected everywhere is not so terrible. It’s OK to just enjoy nature without needing to look on Facebook. If I don’t use my smartphone in Israel, I would spend more time getting a better Israeli phone for rental. The ones we rented I would not recommend.

What is your travel advice?

I am sure some of you have traveled more than I have. What have you found useful for connecting online? What questions would you advise to a traveler anticipating a trip?

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44 thoughts on “Traveling with an iPad in Israel

  • Your post should be informative for others. It sounds as if you managed quite well with your iPad mini. When I have traveled internationally, I used a three-prong adapter which worked wonderfully. I also did some checking online before leaving home, as to free WiFi in certain areas. I had no problems in most train stations, hotels, relative’s homes, museum cafes, independent cafes and restaurants. Some cafes charge a fee for internet use (non WiFi). I found several WiFi “hotspots” near hotels and cafes. Starbucks offered free WiFi at any of their locations in England and Scotland, and so did book stores.

    • I realized people who live in Israel couldn’t answer my travel questions, like three-prong vs. two-prong adapters, so I bought both. My son and I shared the three-prong. Knowing who to ask is part of the issue. It’s easier if you are staying in a hotel – hotels have the basics and expect the questions.

      There are lots of BEZEQ connections in Israel, but those sometimes only let you online for five minutes and then ask for info. In the Galil, when you are in the middle of beautiful scenery, you get nothing, but my friend who lives in Israel could still make phone calls with her Israeli-connected 3G or 4G iPhone.

      I remember seeing Starbucks somewhere in Israel. I’ll keep that in mind as a connection spot.

      • Will I need to declare my iPhone and iPad that I intend to bring with me for my one week visit to Israel. I have heard horror stories about being charged high duties just to bring wi-fi items into Israel, although this may only apply to citizens.

      • I haven’t heard these complaints from my friends who live in Israel. They have complained about the outrageous taxes the U.S. applies to citizens who live abroad. Different topic …

  • A very thorough post!
    I also download several books on the iPad before I leave and am thus happy to have them whether there is a wifi connection where I go or not but, like you, I don’t like reading on the plane. Most airports offer free wifi and places where batteries can be re-charged.
    I always take my iPhone with me but try and connect via wifi as 3G is far too expensive abroad.
    I had the same problem for my emails and have thus set up an iCloud account which I use for travelling purposes. So if you get an email with this address, you can assume I am not at home.
    Most hotels have wifi nowadays but it is not always free. One of my brothers was in London a couple of weeks ago and the wifi was 15EUR per day, which is pretty expensive for an individual. When we rent a house or a flat, I also make sure there is an Internet connection before booking.

    • I had a bad experience trying to use my smart phone even briefly in Israel, so I left it at home. When I get a new one (and I get another trip planned!), I’ll investigate SIM cards. I gather they take over your phone, so they have a set rate (perhaps through an Israeli company so I don’t pay international prices).

      Verizon has an international plan, but I assume for England it might be reasonable and for Israel it won’t be, because I don’t know anyone who uses that plan.

  • I’m glad to hear that you were able to figure out a system that worked for you, but I’m really sorry that I didn’t get to see you this time.

    Looking forward to the rest of your pictures.

    • Mrs. S., yes, that was a disappointment! You seem to have a busy life – the bat-mitzvah was so recent, no?

      I told my cousin I need to work a lot to save up for another trip. Maybe my middle son (who is going on Mach Hach Ba’Aretz this summer) will come for the year in two/three years, and I’ll visit again then.

      I enjoyed the trains, but I wish the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train ran more frequently. Also, they need better signage in the train system for us visitors.

  • Wow, you really have figured out how to make the most of your ipad and use it to maximize your trip! I visited Israel many years ago, before the advent of all these electronic tools. I was reliant on the friends I traveled with, which was more limiting. Your approach is smart! I also loved the photo you took. It’s very fresh!

    • Laura, this was, I think, my seventh trip to Israel, so I knew what questions to ask in advance. On my first trip, one could only communicate with the U.S. via asimonim (funny coins for telephones), postal mail that took months or telegram (I sent one to my father on his birthday). Even Israelis rarely had phones in the old days. Now, everyone in Israel seems to have a cell phone and many have smartphones, too.

      Thanks for the compliment on the photo (I assume you meant the one with the flower). I had fun with my camera in Israel, although I did get some backache from shlepping it around everywhere.

  • My partner’s about to set off sailing for a year from thre UK to Caribbean & back. He’s taking his trusty ipad with him so he can keep in touch & blog away. (He also taking a macbook so he can work at various stops he’ll make!) I’ll pass on your post – I’m sure it’ll will be useful! Thanks

    • I shlepped my old, heavy laptop through Israel on our last trip. On that one, however, we had rented a car, so shlepping wasn’t as big a deal. The iPad mini seems ideal for travel.

      Travel through the Caribbean for a year – now there’s some great blog material. Thanks for commenting, Barbara.

  • Not having an iPad the last time I traveled is definitely something that I regret. It was a time when they had just come out and I didn’t understand the hype surrounding them. I figured they did the same thing my laptop did so i wouldn’t need one. Little did I think about, iPads are much more convenient for traveling because they are smaller and much, much lighter. Every time I left the ship and planned to check into a hotel, I took my laptop and it was a giant pain!!

    • A friend pointed out that the Android tablets are cheaper and do similar tasks, in case anyone prefers a low budget option.

      The iPad can’t do nearly as much as my laptop, but as I was trying *not* to do work, maybe that is an advantage. I was forced to enjoy where I was!

      My iPad mini fit in my purse.

      Thanks for the comment, Mary.

  • I just came back from NY/NJ/PA trip and used my Nexus 7 on the plane with a book and bejewelled (and candy crush). I used wifi in the US when I could (Starbucks, NJ Turnpike rest stops and various homes where I stayed. I used my smartphone as a modem a few times when I needed it in the car (for briefly viewing my location and setting up Waze).
    Keeping the phone charged was the main thing as using it as a hot spot eats up the battery like crazy. I bought a charger that I could use from the cigarette lighter in the rented car I had. In the end the car also had a USB port which also charged so I on the drive I charged both the phone and the tablet.
    I’m not so sure how much this all cost me but I will update when I get the final bill. I had a plan but went over the limit so I don’t know how it works out.

    • Funny how addictive Bejeweled can be! I’m afraid to try Candy Crush.

      Sounds like you have quite the travel system worked out, Risa. I’m planning my next smart phone to be one that has more battery options. When I picked up my son, I traveled alone, and I really needed the GPS on my smart phone. The battery drained too quickly. I read the Samsung Galaxy 4 allows for easy battery switching. Also, there are new fangled USB chargers that work for both iPhone and Android.

  • It sounds like you had a great trip. I can wait to see your pictures. What you experienced is what I found as well. While in France, some wifi’s were better then others. I turned my international option on for my iPhone which allowed me to view my emails or communicate if I needed to. I found that to be a very helpful option when wifi was scarce. 🙂

    • I had a bad experience with using international option on my last trip to Israel (a whopping bill for which I achieved nothing), so I left my smartphone at home. I really need to learn how to do this SIM card switching business. I think then you use a company based in the country you are visiting, which in my case would be Israel.

      Thanks for your experiences, Susan, and I will be sharing a few pictures at a time through out the summer. Hoping to start with some nature pictures of Mount Meiron next week for Nature Notes. That was the trip highlight for me.

  • The last time I travelled overseas I took a laptop but next time it will be an Ipad. Your tips about setting it up, some I would not have thought of Leora.

    • iPads and tablets in general have become a great asset for travelers. Much lighter in weight, and as long as you can do basic connecting on the iPad, you can leave the heavier laptop at home.

      Glad my notes are of use to you, Susan.

  • Hi Leora, glad you had a nice break in Isreal
    I traveled a few years ago around South America for 6 months. I found wifi quite prevalent in Hotels and similar accommodation. In fact, the poorer countries often have it free to lure guests. The richer ones and hotels often charge – ironic? I made do with a Asus Netbook to blog via, and an iphone for quicker access (the asus is super slow). I also took a Kindle and it broke while hiking at 4500m in the first weeks – long story that one. I also found it refreshing to be able to use wifi all the time, but not need it as I was so busy traveling :>

    • Ashley, thanks for your comments about your own travel experiences. I can understand why rich countries can afford to charge – they can afford to attract only the best paying customers. The poor countries take what they can get! So it goes.

      Tel Aviv is working to attract more visitors with its free wifi – Jerusalem gets plenty of visitors without special tech. But there’s plenty of wifi in Jerusalem as well, just not municipal.

  • Hi Leora, Great job navigating tech in a foreign country. You were very smart to get the advice of locals who can guide you the best ways to adapt your tech.

    If you’re traveling overseas, you could turn off international roaming with an iPhone to make sure you don’t get zapped with charges on your cell phone bill.

    Also, make sure to check with your carrier to be sure you can get a sim card in a foreign country. Not all phones are unlocked nor have Sim Card slots. If you get stuck you can often rent phones overseas that give you a local number and let you make local calls.

    I’m so glad you had a great trip, Leora. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • You can also turn it off with an Android phone – I made the mistake of *not* doing so on my previous trip. This time, I left the smartphone behind. I might pick my next Android on how easy it is to unlock and add a new Sim card.

      The company we used for phone rentals also rents Sim cards.

      • You can ask your carrier to unlock your phone if you’re going overseas or you’re near the end of your contract. You’re right, it’s important to pick one that has a sim card. You also want to make sure, if you’re on Sprint or Verizon, that the phone is an international phone. If the phone only works on CDMA networks, you will be able to use the phone in very few countries, even if it is unlocked.

      • I got the feeling Verizon wanted me to use their international plan as opposed to getting a SIM card. By the time I take my next trip (in two years?), the story may be different. I’ll ask again when in the Verizon store. Never too early to gather the information.

  • What great tips for the traveler. I have never been out of the country but I understand how cumbersome it can be to travel with bulky laptops. An iPad is a great solution.

    • Elizabeth, the iPad worked out well for both me and for my son. Who knows, maybe in ten years the tablets will be able to do as much as laptop!

  • As much as you hear about the battle of tablet vs laptop debate, this showcases the versatility of the tablet quite well. Your mini gave you much more freedom while maintaining quite a bit of versatility. I have been considering picking up either a camera to lightning connector cord or card reader so I can add pictures to my ipad without having to work through my pc. That is a great item to have on hand when you are traveling and not able to deal with photos like you could at home.

    • That’s an interesting idea, having a special connector cord for camera to iPad. The iPad still does not have the Photoshop capabilities I have on my laptop, so I prefer to wait to play with the pics on my laptop.

  • Great post. I don’t think I was more than a few lines into your post before I was sending the link to a friend. I wish I could get this kind of review prior to all of my trips. It sounds like you had a great time and the photo at the top of the post, like the one on Google+ are beautiful.

    • Thank you so much, Debra. I will posting some pics from my trip throughout the summer. Hoping next week to post some nature ones with flowers and views.

  • I’ve never traveled internationally with my iPad, but it goes with me whenever we travel here in the U.S. I find it is wonderful for keeping in touch without many hassles.

    • It was so convenient for staying in touch! I even discovered a friend lived five minutes from where I was staying because I could easily check Facebook.

      Hard to imagine travel in the days of Lewis & Clark – they probably didn’t connect with anyone for months at a time.

  • We just came home (to Israel) from a vacation in Spain and Gibraltar. We loved traveling with our Ipad! All of our hotels had free wifi. We invested in an inexpensive, small bluetooth keyboard (bought on Amazon for 30) that we used for writing emails – much easier than tapping with two fingers!

    • It seems to be a good way to travel, bringing these slim iPads.

      Spain and Gibraltar sound quite interesting – rich in Jewish history, even if painful history.

  • Sounds like a wonderful trip, Leora. Have not been to Israel since I was 19 years old. Not sure if they would let me in now with all the stamps in my passport from Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Pakistan and The United Arab Emirats?

    Loved the country and really felt I was in the middle of history. The old town in Jerusalem with the bazaars was my favourite.

    Good choice to bring an Ipad. But part of me is against having to always be connected online. If it’s a holiday, should we be on call 24/7? There are both pros and cons.

    • I’m sure they would ask you a lot more questions than they usually ask us!

      The country is changing in some ways, for better or for worse. More tech. More stores geared toward Israelis. And no sweet old ladies like on my first trip selling great jewelery on the street for only a few shekel.

      I mostly connected at night – a great advantage was I discovered via Facebook a friend lived only a five minute walk from where we were staying, so it was easy to visit him and his family and meet his wonderful young son. Another advantage was in the Tel Aviv Museum – I could read about the exhibits by going online for more information. The Israel Museum did not have that feature.

    • It was a wonderful trip. It helps that I have been there before, so I knew what I wanted to see.

      My next trip will probably be different, especially if I bring my daughter with me. I’d gear it toward what would interest her.

  • Must visitors declare that they are bringing in an iPad or iPhone when they arrive at Ben-Gurion? Will I have to pay a deposit while in Israel and refunded when I leave?

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