Have you seen them? Those lists of the 49 most essential products that you absolutely positively need before you travel 9 miles from home? And the 29 best apps that are not free that you need to download before you get in your car to go to the supermarket? It seems like no matter where you look someone is trying to sell you some sort of travel tech that is going to make your vacation the easiest and best vacation ever.
Not so fast, I don’t think the newest inflatable kid sized neck pillow that folds down into a bunny origami style is going to make or break your vacation. However, there are a FEW things that do stand the test of time. The way I see it, travel gear falls into one of two categories: travel tech and everything else. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!
Travel Tech is a fast growing industry and kids are a big part of the market. From kid proof tablets to kid friendly travel apps, where does a family on the go even start looking?! For me, it’s a matter of need. I try hard to stay away from the fancy new things and stick to the basics but I eventually find myself checking out the latest and greatest gadgets that seem to always be popping up. So, let’s break down some of the all time best and have a chat about what’s needed and really not something to worry about.
When sifting through the latest headphones, the fanciest suitcases (more on those later) and the best travel toys, I think it can start feeling like you are putting your whole house into your suitcase! We were packing at home once and my daughter unplugged her little Alexa echo. I asked what she was doing and she told me she wanted it so she had music to fall asleep with. I told her to put it back and use her iphone. Seriously. So, how can you pack light and still have the techno world at your fingertips?
I’ve got to say that I am a fan of a good, up to date, Ipad. It’s by far the most multi purpose travel item I pack and does just about everything. Music, TV, online, reading, games, maps, a connection back home. Check. Between my phone and my Ipad, I’m set. I don’t need to travel with a laptop, a camera, or any other piece of technology because I’ve got it all in one place. But an Ipad may not do everything you need for the kiddos in your life.
Let’s face it, sometimes we depend on technology to entertain our kids while we are trying to get things done. And who could blame the harried parents of the world as we try our best to get from one place to another by waiting in lines, negotiating with gate agents, spend hours in a few seats in a plane or car and handle the check in and out processes along the way!
I know that, back in the day, as I traveled with my kids, I always made sure I had a book and a Nintendo DS at the ready, especially when I knew an inevitable 4 hours would be spent on a tour bus! Today, there are so many choices that can promote global understanding. Here are a few classics and a few new finds that help us feel better about ourselves as we remember “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”
Stack The States/ Countries (App, school age and up)
There is something so mesmerizing about Oklahoma teetering on Hawaii or Fiji dotting the top of Chile. Stack them as tall as you can before the tumble down and you need to start again.
Trivia Crack (App, pre-teen and up)
Play against each other in Trivial Pursuit style, some questions make you feel like you are a smarty pants while others will make you question what you are missing.
Kindle Reader (multiple platforms, all ages)
Use that Amazon Prime account and get reading no matter where you are. Easily used offline, Kindle works as an app, on its own reader, or on a regular computer.
Nat Geo Kids (Website and app, Preschool to Preteen)
Animal interest and culture pieces made just for kids let young minds explore for hours. Available both on website and as an app. (Check out the Weird But True app by Nat Geo too!)
Kids World Atlas (App, pre-school and up)
I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again, nothing is better than a map! Kids can explore the world complete with fun facts to enlighten each pin on the digital map.
This little guy is about the size of a golf ball but don’t judge it by its size! Ozobot can do a lot more than you think! This optical code reader uses color to follow directions. It can be coded with just paper and markers or digitally. Loads of fun and applications.
Travel tech that goes past the app…
Apps and games aren’t the only thing out there for the savvy traveler. There are strollers, carriers, foot rests, tray table cloths, inflatable booster seats, travel games, art packs, owl shaped suitcases, suitcases that charge, suitcases that you can ride on, suitcases that you can literally take a ride on. The list goes on and on…. Here’s my opinion on all of it. Stop. If you seriously plan on traveling with your kids, take the time and invest in one quality product that will serve you both at home and away.
You don’t need one stroller at home and another for trips if you take the time to find a lightweight, quality made stroller that fits your specific needs. Why pay $200 for a big one and $150 for a small one when you can get something that works across the board for $250? The same goes for luggage. You can buy a cute doggie backpack with matching roller bag that holds about half of what your child needs and lasts about two years instead of buying one brightly colored roller bag that will last until he or she are a teenager.
Rethinking our needs
In Japan, school children buy one back pack to last them from first grade to eighth grade. It is well made and they care for it. How come we don’t do the same? Why not buy one really nice backpack and have it dry cleaned once a year? Why not use it for school and travel? I’d rather spend my money on artwork while on a trip anyway. In short, the savvy traveler buys for their lifestyle and buys once with quality. Don’t get taken in by all the hype. There’s just no need. (I think I may have just lost every future sponsor I could have!)
So, you’ve got your tablet (and perhaps a separate one for your kids-each), you’ve got a good suitcase, and you are leaving the majority of your house at home. There are a few odds and ends that will make your trip a little better. A quality cover that protects that tablet is a good choice along with a good pair of reasonably priced headphones so you don’t have to listen.
Can I take a minute here?
As a teacher, I deal with headphones literally everyday. I can not begin to tell you how many parents I have to talk to about replacing headphones because they purchased the cheap $5 ones instead of leveling up to a better pair that only has a wire that comes out of one side or actually stays together for more than two uses. Please believe me, there is no worse money spent than having to buy a new set of headphones from an airport vending machine. (There goes another sponsor!) AND earbuds do not work for little kids! They do not know how to use them independently and they hurt their little ears! A reasonably priced pair of over the head headphones (wired or wireless) are the best way to go. Here are a few more products and tips that make travel a little easier.
More Great Picks
Have you seen these? Rothy’s are my new favorite thing. I spend a lot of time on my feet and literally wore orthopedic sneakers for over 20 years because i couldn’t find any other comfortable flats. Hear me now! These flats do not hurt my feet! I can’t think of a better endorsement. Other features include being COMPLETELY MACHINE WASHABLE and coming in four different styles. The global citizen in me also likes that they are made out of recycled bottles. Sizes for girls and women. Available through Rothy’s website.
New to the market and exceptionally made, Bombas may cost more than your average multi pack at the local “We sellitall” store but they are worth every penny in comfort. Sizes come in kids through adults in fun colors and a variety of styles. Available on the Bombas website.
So, I’m going to come right out and say it. I am a bag checker. I am one of the very few left who pay up to go through TSA with my purse. Fact: if I have no bag to shove in the overhead, I can get on the plane last… and sweat free. If I do need a bag, I like the new breed of underseaters that prove to be more functional than first meets the eye. While allowing me to be sweat free, it also serves as a foot rest (no need to buy that sling thing), a great overnighter. There is usually a sleeve that allows the bag to slip on top of your spinner.
I want to leave you with this, I put my money where my mouth is, I use every one of these apps and products while I travel or work with kids as they become global citizens.