If you travel with kids, you know that keeping them entertained en route is one key to a great family vacation. While we have strict rules about “screen time” at home, during flights and long car road trips with kids, we hand over the electronic travel gadgets– and are grateful for the silence! Read on for a list of travel technology we never leave home without, including all the accessories and apps it’s easy to overlook (or leave on the kitchen counter).
4 Travel Gadgets for Kids
1. An iPad or iPod Touch
I resisted buying an iPad for a long time, but now that we travel with one, I really wish I had three — one for each kid (maybe in another life). What makes it an indispensable travel tool? Its ability to be all things to all my kids (and the parents!): on one device, we can download movies to watch in the backseat, play music, listen to audio books as a family, play games, and read books.
We can also map our route, check for nearby restaurants and parks, do some light work from the road. You can buy all the fancy game apps you’d like, but my kids’ favorite travel activity with our iPad is already installed: they spend hours making videos (most of which I delete to save room). Each kid does a daily video log detailing their travel experiences, then they take turns making goofy home movies.
If multiple iPads are not in your budget, as they’re not in mine, consider purchasing an iPod Touch. Essentially, it can do everything an iPad can do, albeit on a smaller screen. Our older two boys love having their iPod Touches while traveling; they’re easy to slide into a pocket, they can take video and photos as we go, and their young eyes don’t mind reading ebooks on that small screen (be sure to lower the screen brightness).
iPad accessories and apps you need: If you travel with an iPad or iPod Touch without 3G or 4G, you’ll definitely want to download a handful of movies on iTunes ahead of time (remember that you can rent titles as well as buy!). Other favorite apps we use on every trip include Tales2Go, a wonderful library of audio books for children, and the free Kindle app, from which the kids can access all their downloaded books. Be sure to have a sturdy case with a nice stand for watching movies, and don’t forget an external speaker if everyone wants to hear the audio book or music!
2. A Portable DVD Player
If you don’t have an iPad, or have very young children who like to watch the same movies from your DVD collection over and over, a portable DVD player for travel is essential. They’re cheap to buy, sturdy, and easy for kids to operate. If you don’t want to cart along a stack of DVDs, consider renting a few at a RedBox kiosk and returning them at another en route. (Download a Redbox location app.) This way you avoid late fees while avoiding purchasing (and packing) a bunch of DVDs.
DVD accessories you need: If more than one child will be viewing a movie (and you don’t want Barney blaring in the front seat), a good set of headphones and a splitter is crucial. By far, KidzGear makes the best child-sized headphones ($39.95), and their product comes with splitter included.
3. Handheld video game device
To be honest, iPod and iPad apps have replaced my kids’ love of their handheld game devices, such as their once-beloved Nintendo DS. And certainly apps are cheaper than Nintendo DS games. That said, young kids have an easier time navigating and manipulating a handheld gaming device than an iPod, and games tend to have more value. We travel with a used Nintendo DS for our seven-year-old; the battery lasts a long time, it can take a beating, and leaving it in a hotel room won’t set us back too far. Look for older models of gaming devices on Craigslist or Ebay.
Video game device accessories you need: Definitely bring a car charger (sometimes these don’t come included) or at very least, a wall-plug charger. And if you don’t want to hear that annoying gaming music for 400 miles, let the KidzGear headphones pull double-duty.
4. Kindle or Nook
I love my Kindle, and if my kids weren’t content to read books on their iPods, they’d have their own as well — especially since they’re so affordable now. (The Kindle starts at just $79.) If you want the kids to have access to their book collection but don’t want them reading on an iPod/iPad screen, an e-reader is definitely worth the investment. Plus, low-tech games like maze puzzles, word searches, and other types of logic are cheap or free in the Kindle store. What’s more, kids can download books for free from their local library.
E-reader accessories you need: A cover is crucial, but otherwise, the appeal of an e-reader is how low-tech it really is. For most trips, you won’t even need to bring along a charger. Do you need to upgrade to a KindleFire or Nook tablet? Not if you already have an iPad. And if you don’t, will a Fire work as a tablet-lite? Yes, as long as you don’t mind being restricted to Amazon products (including apps).
If you prefer to go tech-free
For families who prefer to travel tech-free, or for trips with technology just won’t be an option, kids can still be well-entertained. We love the pre-packaged (in reusable cinch packs) travel kits which include car games, small reusable toys, coloring books, and even the option of hotel and travel safety items. Most come in their own fabric cinch bag. Best for the under age-8 set, consider purchasing a travel kit and keeping it hidden until the ride home, when everyone is extra bored (and probably overtired). We’ve also passed the time with the well-designed travel bingo sets from Knock Knock, which are printed on recycled cardboard and last for multiple trips.
What technology do you bring on the road? What do you leave at home?
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