Tame Your Technology for Family Travel

It used to be that vacations were supposed to inspire you to unplug. Now, technology has become part of how we relax and it is integral to making travel easier. It is common to get email and text alerts for flight delays, check for traffic snarls and get walking or driving directions through a map app or GPS unit, and many large airports have a dedicated scanner at security for those traveling with truly paperless tickets that reside on their smartphone.

Everyone in my family has an “iSomething”: My Hubs is kind of an equipment-obsessed techy on his own, so you can only imagine; this travel-blogging Mommy needs to be able to do a little work even while on vacay; our oldest can run those sweet, chubby fingers across an iPhone faster than I can; and her little sister - who just turned two - is well-versed in the ways of the touch screen and even knows how to play her favorite music (“ABCD’s” on replay anyone?). But how do you keep it all from crashing your vacation?

There's an App for That

Making your technology travel well means minimizing the number of devices your family packs. Becoming familiar with new apps can turn one device into many with the click of the “install” button.

Apps we like for travel include:

I also make sure the kids' iPad (and my phone for when I'm in line somewhere with nothing else to entertain them) has their favorite games and shows, and I always add a new surprise or two in there to keep their attention.

Foolproof Plan for Happy Travels with Technology

Travel can make some people nervous and a busy mom can easily forget to charge the iPad or pack the car charger, so I want to share my foolproof plan for how you can go from tangled wires and dead batteries to a happy family with just a little thought and planning.

  • Always remember to charge everything up before you leave home. The night before a trip I stage our technology on the kitchen counter for charging and packing because I’m always afraid that I will forget my charger plugged in next to my bed. Sound familiar?
  • Make sure all of the cords are labeled and corralled (a silver Sharpie shows up great on black and white chargers) so you can match them on the run, and make sure you have enough rubber bands to keep everything manageable in your bag. Hair elastics are good multitaskers for this.
  • Also, make sure everything has its case so you can just toss all the devices in to one big Bag-o-tech for travel.

A "Bag-o-tech" might include:

  • 1 laptop (try for just one unless you and your spouse will end up fighting over it)
  • 2 cell phones (or more if your kids have their own)
  • 2 iPads (or one for each child)
  • 1 camera + battery + battery charger
  • 1 Power Strip (see below)
  • Earphones for kids and adults
  • All cases, chargers and extra memory cards for the camera or video recorder

We assign one person (usually Hubs) to carry all of our technology through security in one bag when we are flying to make sure things go smoothly. This keeps anyone in the family from being flagged for forgetting to throw his cell phone in to be scanned.

Accessorize Your Technology for Success

Cindy Richards of TravelingMom.com gave me this great tip: carry a power strip. She says everyone at the airport will love you for it because there are never enough outlets for everyone. She adds, “Use it as your charging station and you'll only have to find one open plug and significantly reduce the chances  you'll leave a charger behind when you check out.”

Our iPad doubles as “kidertainment,” so we make sure to pack the iGuy when we travel. The iGuy is a super cute, kid-friendly iPad holder that is a lifesaver for keeping expensive technology safe while the kids are using it.

Above all else, remember to pack headphones for your kids. It will save both you and the other passengers from having to listen to endless episodes of your kids' favorite shows. If you have multiple children, splitters are a great way for the kids to share the cartoon goodness without having to buy a second device! Headphones are also necessary for anyone in the family who wants to check out the airplane movie or plug in to the car’s audio/video system. 

Keeping with the Apple family of devices has really streamlined our technology arsenal because they play together so well, making them ideal for our frequent trips. If Apple products aren't your thing, there are a plethora of great Android deices available. Also, Leap Frog makes great educational versions for kids including the My Own Leaptop™ and LeapPads for varying ages, which we also love at my house. You can even download special apps from your laptop to your kids LeapFrog devices and personalize them with your child’s name, age, photo, and more. Feeling as if they have their own devices makes my girls feel very special, indeed.

Using technology to simplify your travels with helpful apps and for entertainment during down times will help you refresh and recharge. Just make sure it doesn't take over your vacation by letting yourself work too much or not enjoying family time because you're texting, emailing and catching up on Facebook and Twitter. And, by all means, please DO turn all your technology off as much as you can. It will all still be there when your vacation is over.

Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.