We set off on 4th August, leaving our house in South London at 7am. We were fully laden with our fifteen month old Bethany in her buggy, her soon to be four year old brother Nathaniel, our rather heavy ruck sacks, a picnic bag with the day's provisions, a general holdall for passports and important documents, and, most importantly, a games bag, into which we stuffed our iPad Mini with retina display, and an iPad Air. This was going to be one long trip, taking us first to Brixton tube station on the 118 bus, then to St. Pancras International on the London Underground in order to hop on the Eurostar to Paris. After a four hour lay off involving a dash across that city on the Metro, we boarded a train to Brive in the Dordogne region and were picked up around 8pm local time by my father-in-law, who then drove us another hour to a remote holiday house somewhere in the South of France. We know we are lucky and blessed to have these opportunities, but nevertheless such a trip is no small challenge when you have young children to entertain. Hence the games bag. Hence the reliance in IOS devices, not just for the train but for the entire time in France.
This is not to say that we only played iPhone games instead of admiring the French countryside, or that Rovio's still fabulous Cut the Rope could somehow replace the experience of venturing into a massive cave with impressive stalagmites and stalactites. Yet there is a place for IOS devices on holiday. Here is my diary of when and how we used them.
- This article was written on Pages throughout the holiday. It is such a smooth experience since the recent updates, and I find it difficult to justify paying a subscription for Microsoft Office on the iPad, even if some of the good stuff also comes free.
- I took pictures of everyone splashing around in the pool, of a dramatic thunderstorm on the horizon, and of a very odd museum in Souilliac that had a collection of early automated toys, all on my iPhone. Indeed, I rarely used my point and shoot camera, a situation that would have seemed unthinkable even a year ago. Granted, other family members didn't follow suit and I have to admit that some of their pictures looked a little more polished. Yet I had the advantage of convenience, as it takes just a few seconds to grab your phone from your picket and send the iPhone into burst mode, a necessary feature when you have children who won't sit still. There are some pictures that I have that I am certain would not have otherwise have been taken had it not been for my iPhone. This is doubly true for video. The idea of taking a camcorder on holiday, which seemed like a good idea for my honeymoon in 2007, now seems like an anathema now.
- My son and his cousins watched Frozen and sang all the songs, including Let it Go, on the iPad Air, while the adults prepared for dinner. It was a very sweet scene.
-I checked WeatherPro HD and Dark Skies every day for thunderstorm alerts, a necessary activity to plan your day in region prone for stormy weather at that time of the year. To be fair, some family members cast doubt on their accuracy, but I felt they both got the temperature right at least.
-My nephews made an interactive story for fun on the wonderful, and free, Adobe Voice app. I read Dissolution, a historical fiction novel by CJ Samson, about the court of Henry VIII, on iBooks. I didn't get very far though. If I am being honest, I have ceased to read many paper books but have yet to really fall in love with reading books on the iPad, in part because the iPad offers so many other distractions. Such distractions include podcasts, including one from the BBC on the history of the coffee house through the ages, which was accessed via the Downcast app on my iPhone.
- We made a packing list using Apple's own perfectly functional Reminders app, and ticked things off as we threw them into our bags for the journey home. When I needed some timeout from all the family board games, I watched Game of Thrones (finally it has hit the UK iTunes Store) on the iPad Mini with Retina display. The visuals looked stunning on this device.
-I used Apple maps as a SatNav when we hired a scarily big car from a remote airport. I was very impressed by how reliable it was (far better than the overrated Google Maps) in even the most remote parts of the French countryside.
- I used Day One, perhaps the best travel journal app, to store pictures, thoughts and even some song lyrics that came into my head.
- We used all manner of travel tools, from the Bus Mapper app that tells Londoners when the next bus is arriving, to searching the Man in Seat 61 website the provides European rail times and other useful advice.
As with so many areas of my life, these devices serve to enrich an experience, rather than being the experience themselves. They cannot ever replace the wonderful, natural scenery of such a beautiful part of the world. They cannot replicate the social experience of visiting a boulangerie to pick up the freshest smelling bread. Yet they can get you there. They can help you remember through photos and other things, just how much fun we had. Now that I have these devices, I wouldn't want to go on holiday without them, that's for sure.