Beyond the Calculator
Back in the old days, my family use to pack a small game suitcase that contained a few dice games and some travel versions of classics like Connect 4, Chess, or Trouble. Most of these games were for down time at the motel. We mostly read in the car or played car games like the abc street sign game. The closest thing we had to electronics was when my oldest brother brought a scientific calculator along to do his algebra homework. Oh, how times have changed. Now we would never travel without our favorite gadgets.
The favorite electronic device among the children (and probably the adults) is the iPad. Before leaving, we carefully decide which movies to store on the device and always download a few new free game apps to explore. The screen size is large enough for two kids to share while watching a movie or playing a game. It is also lightweight with no game or dvd cases to worry about. Long battery life, earphone plugs, music, games, movies--what more could you want from one device?
When our children were little we bought Leapster. Though a good product and a fraction of the price of the DS, we found our children quickly outgrew it (we prefer the DS for children 5 and up and for younger siblings who have watched DS play). For a long time we owned two. A little Mario went a long way during our Yellowstone vacation when the kids felt like they had reached their elk enjoyment quota. It also works well on road trips and is fairly compact. The only downside is we constantly have to look for the stylus.
#3--The iPod Touch
Somewhere around 10, our children outgrow the DS and move into the iPod Touch phase. The endless apps expands the device beyond a DS. Many classic games are available for $2 which is much cheaper than the travel versions with a lot less hassle. Many games are free. Our older children are good at finding wifi locations (McDonalds and the motel in particular) to connect with the web (music, Netflix, email). It also doubles as a camera which can save you money if you add the price of a DS with a point-and-click digital camera.
#4--The iPhone (or other Smart Phones)
In the olden days (5 years ago), we actually packed a portable DVD player and bought a new DVD to entertain the kids. Now, we just download a new movie onto the iPhone. The advantage is that you do not want to take an entire iPad into amusement park but you always have your phone with you. We find a tired 3-year-old will watch a movie in a pinch. The trick is to use the iPhone as a rare treat. And for adults, the iPhone provides invaluable apps like the iGuide for Disneyland, GPS, calling road side assistance, email confirmation of your motel reservation, etc.
#5--Audiobook and Music
Maybe it was the way I was raised, but I love hearing a good book read aloud. It passes the time during long road trips--especially road trips that provide such scenery as never ending sagebrush or cornfields. It also brings our family together as we listen to the same book on the car speakers--often a Harry Potter book. For our younger children, music is highly requested and the right songs can make everyone laugh and relax.
Add to your Packing List
Road trips are a time to embrace technology. So let everyone plug in a for awhile and enjoy.