I hate lamenting how parents these days have it so much easier–I know it makes me sound old. But guys, I traveled with tiny glass jars of baby food, and you guys get these handy dandy foil pouches. AND they’re organic. Ok, I digress
Seriously though, the one gadget that has made the biggest impact in our traveling life and lightened our carry-on bag immensely is the tablet. I kid you not, we used to travel with a portable DVD player, DVDs (natch), at least three books, plus assorted games. Our bag was HEAVY. So while my inner luddite wishes I could somehow keep my kids away from screens forever, realistic me uses tech judiciously. And yes, against the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation, my kids had access to screens well below the age of two.
A tip for traveling with tablets and babies and toddlers: use your non-tech toys and distractions first. Once you bring out the tech, it’s hard to go back to stickers and crayons.
Best Tablets for Tots
My biggest pet peeve with “kiddy” tablets was the batteries. Of course they drain quickly and of course it’s a pain to change them out and of course if you use rechargeable they take forever to charge. We went straight to a “real” tablet, but I sorta really wanted to get my youngest this one since it’s age appropriate (read: not as frustrating) with a camera and over 4 gigs of storage, over 350 fun and educational “apps,” plus–the Kid Connect communication app allows for secure communication between the InnoTab and a parent’s smartphone. For less than $100 I think this is a great option for big toddlers who aren’t quite ready to get their mitts all over mama’s iPad 🙂
One way of managing to protect your precious tech from grubby hands is to get them their own. And this “kiddy” tablet claims to engage kids up until the age of 9. Now my 8-year-old daughter has been completely captivated by Minecraft for the past year, so this particular tablet would not have been a great investment for us, but if I were to do it over again, I certainly would go for this or the InnoTab for when they were smaller, and to be honest I would have been a bit relieved to keep them out of the “real world” apps for as long as possible. The Leappad gets great reviews for being durable, with fun games that are age appropriate, and this particular model comes with 11 apps and a library of over 800 to choose from.
Many view the Google Nexus 7 as a great “grown up” tablet that appropriate for little ones… It’s less expensive than an iPad, a great size for little hands, and the Android os gives access to Google Play for apps, games, and ebooks. This can work great as a shareable tablet since multiple user profiles can be implemented and Google offers restricted profiles so certain apps cannot be accessed by other tablet users. That’s also handy for
lazy totally daunted parents like me who haven’t quite mastered parental controls quite yet.
Should you do it? Should you bite the bullet and just invest in the Grand Poobah of all tablets since you’ll end up buying one anyway? Full disclosure: my kids (now 8 and 5) both have their own iPads. But by rights, they did save for them. All birthday money and allowance went towards their electronic
babysitters devices and we covered the tax. BUT, we’ve learned the hard way that we need to be extra vigilant about enforcing limits. We do waver from time to time, but for the most part that’s another reason why my kids love travel so much–they know on travel days they have unfettered access to their devices, so they can Minecraft and movie to their heart’s content.
Does your kid need their own tablet? Four and under? You can probably get away with “sharing” yours. However, when they’re a bit bigger, their own device means you actually get to use yours UNINTERRUPTED for more than a minute at a time. That might be worth the investment right there 🙂
Best Toddler and Baby Headphones
Once Junior is hooked up with a tablet, we don’t really want to hear all those shows and apps, now–do we? The best baby headphones have volume limiting adjusters to ensure the sound is at a safe and acceptable level–protecting baby’s ears while still maintaining your sanity. Anyone else still singing “I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map. Yay!” from eons ago?
My kids have these headphones. And the oldest pair is approaching seven years old. They still work great although one of the bears has lost his “ears.” We got these when my daughter was 18 months-old, and she was happy to wear them because they were so cute. They seem really comfortable, and I sometimes wear them in a pinch. When the kids were really little, we tested the volume on our own ears to make sure they weren’t too loud. The volume adjuster on the cord really helped to keep things at a safe-sounding level.
These headphones may last a little longer in the looks department, especially if your kids go through that inevitable phase where they don’t want to be associated with anything “baby.” Heaven forbid they be caught wearing baby headphones! These come in a wide range of fun colours, are compatible with all devices, and are certified lead and phthalate-free. They offer high definition sound, noise isolation, are volume limiting, rugged, and foldable for portability. Personally I think they give off a certain “Beats by Dre” vibe, but at like 1/10th the price! Reviews on Amazon are very good.
These are another great choice for a fun-looking but high quality volume limiting headphone for babies and toddlers. They have a lifetime limited warranty, are compatible with all devices, and are lightweight and comfortable for children 2 years-old and older. They come in five fun colours, and feature a built-in volume control knob as well as a “KidzControl” volume limit cable. Looks-wise, these also give off a kind of “Beats by Dre” vibe, but again–1/10th the price PLUS volume limiting protection. There are almost 2000 Amazon reviews for these headphones, mostly praising their durability and comfort.
These headphones are slightly more toy-ish than the Polaroid and the Kidz Gear, but maybe a little less so than the Califone. At any rate, for a very affordable price, your toddler can customize their look with interchangeable plates. The headphones themselves are of decent quality, are compatible with all devices, and have built-in instant mute control. Most of the Amazon reviews are quite favorable, although some question their overall durability and longevity of use.
These quality headphones are designed to be comfortable on smaller heads. They have hypoallergenic ear cushions and an easy built-in volume control knob. They are compatible with all devices, and come with a handy-dandy travel pouch. Your child can customize them with multiple theme stickers. Most of the almost 400 Amazon reviews are quite favourable, with a few complaints about the volume in spite of the volume control knob and some concerns about durability depending on how rough your kids are with their stuff.
Best Travel Accessories for Kids
Now you’ve got the main necessities under control. These “nice to have” accessories help complete your overall toddler tech arsenal–sure to keep your littles entertained and you sane!
Without a doubt, mounting our iPad between our seats is how we survived our 21-hour drive to Florida. And this was the only tablet mount we could find that places the tablet so both backseat passengers can easily watch–which was totally essential for our (then) single tablet household. It is a little pricier than some other headrest mounts. We found it very easy to install and uninstall, and there was never any fear of the iPad falling out. It works for both our iPad mini and my old-school iPad 2.
In addition to the tablet mount, if you’re sharing a device you absolutely need a headphone splitter! This is the one we have–it was totally cheap and has worked perfectly for over five years. It’s a very simple one, but these days there are even more options: headphone splitters with individual volume controls, and super fancy headphone splitters for as many as five outputs in super-cute colours. Our plain Jane splitter has never let us down. We’ve been very grateful to have it on many shared-iPad travel days!
If you’re going to fork over the big bucks to get your kid their own iPad Mini, a few extra dollars is money truly well-spent for this handy and helpful protective case. For kids and travel, this iPad case is as useful as it gets. The handle is good for carrying and the thick foam shell protects from the inevitable bumps and (gasp!) drops. The handle flips back to create a stand that makes this case perfect for airplane use. While older kids may find this case bulky, it will help to keep that very expensive “toy” safe.
Keep kiddo’s tablet, headphones, chargers, splitters, and all related accessories safely together in this neoprene carry bag. It comes in a number of colours and a number of sizes–from 7 – 8 inch to 14 – 15 inches. The water-resistant neoprene also has extra padding to help cushion any impact should the precious tablet be dropped! The front pocket ensures safe keeping for all of your wires and chargers. The zippered closure is handy for small fingers to open and close. It comes in a number of fun colours.
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