Sunday, September 18, 2011

Keeping Data Charges Down When Traveling With the iPad

I don't travel as much as I used to. When I was traveling six or nine months out of the year, then having a Blackberry with AT&T was an essential tool. You could get emails on the Blackberry all over the world. The AT&T network is GSM, rather than Verizon's CDMA, so it works in far more countries than Verizon.

It was pretty awesome and relatively inexpensive when I was overseas. I could get emails in the most remote places, like Sorong (eastern Irian Jaya) and off Komodo Island, Indonesia! I saw Eric Cheng do this and went and got myself one. The Blackberry was well-suited for getting emails, but not web browsing, so it was relatively easy to avoid huge data charges.

While I liked the Blackberry, I hated the commitment (I didn't use my Blackberry when I was home). I've been waiting for the last few years for a company that would offer a Blackberry plan with international capability that is around $35 per month (my old rate, but 2-year contract), would work overseas, and could go month-to-month. There's been nothing. Virgin Mobile sells a Blackberry, with a plan that is about $35 per month, but they use the Sprint Network -- which is CDMA and is unlikely to work overseas. T-Mobile is a possibility, but as far as I can tell (and their plans and rates are always changing, despite what the website says, and despite any promises their sales staff in their stores make) the cheapest Blackberry plan is $50 per month (T-Mobile's network is GSM, a good thing, and they do seem to offer prepaid Blackberry plans rather than only long-term commitments). AT&T's Blackberry plans seem to be all expensive and require long-term commitments.

So I am going to try my iPad (version 1) which offers AT&T's 3G network. I've heard that using an iPhone or iPad when traveling internationally can result in huge, surprising data charges. I've done my research and hope that the below might help minimize my data charges.

First, I will strive to use my iPad when overseas ONLY as an email device. I will try not to use the web unless I am using a wifi network.

The biggest problem with getting emails is if someone sends you a large attachment. From my experience with the Blackberry and reading about data charges, I can see that downloading a small photograph of my wife and dogs can cost as much as $20!! Therefore, finding a way to NOT download attachments is important.

Here's my step-by-step solution to this problem. I'm going to try this on my trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, coming up. I'll let this blog know if this works or not.

Summary of email settings when traveling with ipad.

First, having Gmail accounts is important. Gmail accounts will forward emails to other email accounts. All my accounts are Gmail accounts, even those that have my suffix/domain --- these are “Gmail for Apps” email addresses. Setting up an email address that uses a custom domain name like "" and is administered through Google Apps is great, but should be covered elsewhere.

Create a couple of Gmail accounts in addition to the ones you normally use. Let’s call them and Create these accounts on your iPad too.

1. Set your primary email address(es) to forward all emails to .

2. Set to filter incoming emails. Emails with attachments are immediately filtered, sent to the account archive, and therefore not sent to my ipad.

This is done under the Gmail settings menus.

Choose main Filters menu: matches: has: attachment and Do This: Skip Inbox.

Emails with attachments are also forwarded to

3. When traveling and using the AT&T network, check only the email account This email account ONLY shows emails that have no attachments.

In summary, here’s what happens. Any emails with NO attachments are sent to my iPad. Since there are no attachments, I will get only emails that don’t use a lot of data. Any emails with attachments are sent to the second email address that I will check when I have wifi.

On the ipad:

It is possible to turn off email accounts so they won’t check emails when traveling. Turn off your primary email account when traveling. Turn off the email account that is receiving attachments.

When overseas or when data usage is a concern, check only which will show ONLY emails without attachments.

There are certainly lots of other ways to do this. For instance, to check for emails with attachments:

The original forwarding email account will show both emails with and without attachments. I coud search for all emails with attachments using a web browser at the original forwarding email account. I could check’s Archive for emails with attachments only.

There are other things you can do, such as auto-notifications when you are gone, and setting your reply-to address to be your primary email account. You can even tell folks who send you attachments that you are traveling and may not get their email since it had an attachment.

The above is my plan. It has not been tested. I hope that this will help fellow travelers who wish to keep some of their hard-earned dollars from the greedy hands of the cellphone companies, but I must add this cautionary note: Do this yourself at your own risk. I have not tested the above overseas yet and do not know how it will work.

During my research, here’s a question and answer that I came across on the web:

Is there a way not to download attachments in emails in ipad? no, attachments over a certain size are automatically downloaded. Over a certain size, you have to click on the icon to download the attachment. General rule to avoid data charges: Only check using wifi.

Note that in Gmail’s filters, there’s a way to search for emails WITH attachments, but no easy way to search for emails WITHOUT attachments. This is why I had to go through the relatively convoluted process above.

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