If your family is anything like mine, a vacation means loading up all the tech gadgets to keep the troops entertained for the long trip ahead.
With spring break right around the corner, and summer vacation on the horizon, here are 6 simple tech tips for travel with kids. They’ve worked for me and my four kids, and hopefully they’ll work for you too.
1. Packing: Chargers, headphones, and splitters, oh my!
It’s not just the phones and tablets and laptops you need to remember to pack when traveling with kids. There are lots of smaller devices that we just can’t live without and really do make traveling with tech a whole lot easier.
For extra juice, I always make sure to have a portable charger (or 2) in my bag, like the Anker Astro2 charger that’s also very reasonably priced. If you’re going to be driving to your destination or renting a car when you get there, a car adapter is always smart to pack as well. Tip: You can also call ahead to your rental car company and request a car with a USB port. I do this so that I don’t have to worry about remembering to bring yet another gadget if I don’t have to.
Headphones and Splitters
You will also want to be sure you’ve got plenty of headphones for kids, along with splitters, like the Belkin Rockstar (just under $15 at our affiliate Amazon , so kids can share gadgets and enjoy the same movie or television show. Or check out the Buddyphones (shown at very top) which we still recommend as great volume-limiting headphones for kids, that also come with a built-in splitter at the base of the cord.
If you want to go cordless, that’s never a bad idea on the road provided you have somewhere to charge. There are even some decent Bluetooth headphones for kids on the market that are worth looking into if you have older kids who use headphones for more than travel.
And a lightweight, affordable Bluetooth speaker can be great for hotel rooms and appropriate outdoor venues, too. We even have recommendations for waterproof Bluetooth speakers which is always a good call with kids.
2. Load up on the apps
As much as we have plenty of unplugged time and games of I Spy or License Plates, tech can be a huge help on long trips.
My kids love to stream movies and watch Youtube, most of our gadgets are WiFi only with no data plans, so they have to skip streaming while on the road. I make sure to load up their gadgets (and mine too) with lots of cool apps for kids, leaning more towards those that are educational but still fun. We all love Geography Drive Arcade (pictured), and my kids are big Toca Boca Blocks and My Play Home fans. Another fun one, especially if you’re on a plane, is Game of Life, which is a great pass-around multiplayer game on iPad.
When it comes to movies and television shows, I may rent and download one or two, depending on how long we’re going away. I’ve always found that renting or sometimes even purchasing shows or a movie can be worth it because the kids can watch it during the travel time itself, as well on the rainy days or afternoons when they need a little downtime. I also make sure that I start downloads in advance of our trip since the download process for rentals can take awhile. (Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.)
And of course, don’t forget e-books, which you can download on your kid’s device via iBooks or the Kindle app. Just make sure to pack the motion sickness bands if your kids get a little nauseated while reading in the car, like mine do.
3. Keep it organized
With all the devices comes so many chargers and cords. I can’t live without those clever items that help keep all cords, earbuds, and cables tangle free on the road (or at least, close to it anyway). The Cocoon Grid-it is so smart for giving everything its place — not just tech, but hand sanitizers, pens, notepads — and they’re affordable, so I’d recommend having one for each traveler.
There are also tons of cord tamers on the market, though I’m personally partial to the cord tacos, which are easy for kids to use.
And I tend to keep everything small and tech related in a pouch of some kind, like this handmade Awesome Stuff pouch in the Cool Mom Picks indie shop. Baggu happens to make terrific lightweight nylon zip bags in lots of sizes. Or check out the brand new pouches at Society 6 which are just out, in tons of styles and sizes. I’m smitten with the jet pack unicorn, myself!
4. Think about TSA regulations
If you’re hitting the air, I am a huge proponent of investing in a TSA-friendly laptop bag, which lets you avoid having to take your computer out of your bag when you go through security. Granted, you might not all be traveling with laptops, but if you are bringing yours, it can really save you a lot of time and hassle to not have to pull it out of your bag and then pack it all up again — especially if you’re wrangling kids at a crowded security checkpoint at the same time.
It’s pretty tough to find a stylish TSA-friendly laptop bag, but I do like this Timbuk2 laptop backpack that’s available in various colors and a messenger bag design as well.
Related: How do I find my lost iPad?
5. Safety and security precautions, just in case
The combo of kids and gadgets means there’s always a chance of dropping, breaking, or (eek) losing something.
I’d definitely suggest getting an extra-protective case for kids’ devices, as cute as the lightweight ones might be. Otterbox makes everything-proof cases, though know that they do add weight to something larger like an iPad. If you’re headed to a warm-weather destination where you expect to be around sand and water, make sure to look into our roundup of the best waterproof cases for mobile phones and for tablets.
As for losses, well that is a little tricker. Parents already juggling so much and it can be hard to keep track of your actual family members, let alone all their tablets and hand-me-down phones. For that reason, consider a tracking device like the popular Tile. And if you have Apple gadgets, you’ll also want to take a moment and set up Find My Phone which is an absolute lifesaver should it become lost or stolen.
6. Charge it!
This probably goes without saying, but make sure you never leave home or a hotel room without fully charged devices. Be sure to set aside the night before your trip to get every device up to full power. Plus, a few of us have learned the hard way that a lost iPhone with no power is likely a forever lost iPhone. And that’s probably the last travel memory you’re hoping to have.