How To: Beat Family Vacation Boredom

by  Paul Eisenberg | May 9, 2013
Family roadtrip
Family roadtrip / Epiximages/iStock

Martha Gellhorn, a war correspondent and Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, was also a travel writer who once noted that "my definition of what makes a journey wholly or partially horrible is boredom."

Among the travelers who’d strongly agree with Gellhorn’s words are multitudes of children who grimly realize that their family vacations are riddled with "in-between moments." Sitting in the backseat of a car during heavy beach traffic. Being dragged on what feel like pointless walks through a destination's neighborhoods. Killing time in a hotel room before bed. Moments that won’t be remembered fondly, or at all, because they were boring. Transforming these potentially dull moments into fun ones is an ongoing challenge for family travelers. Here are a few ideas on how to stop vacation boredom before it starts.

Frecklebox Personalized Sketchbooks, $9.95

Over the years I've tried out every kind of travel journal on my children – the traditional diary with the flimsy lock and key, the "inspiring" journal pre-seasoned with sayings, and yes, even the minimalist Moleskine diaries used by Hemingway. But after scribbling on a few pages, the kids invariably lose interest. Given how effortlessly you can personalize products on the Internet these days, you might want to give Frecklebox a look. You can order journals with your child’s name on the cover and, very helpfully, preview the results of the design before you buy. I like the 8.5 x 11-inch personalized sketchbooks, whose blank pages and flexible wire binding make the books accessible for younger kids.

Aha Radio for iPhone and Android, Free

Describing itself as a product that does "for car radio what Tivo did for television," Aha Radio is an app that lets you harvest and sort more than 30,000 audio stations that play music, audiobooks, and other potentially engaging family content in the car. Getting all your car passengers to tune into one station has always been a challenge, but it’s worth a try in this case, as you'll have lots of stations to argue about. But if everyone prefers to tune into their own gadgets, your kids can select from audiobooks and podcasts that are arguably better for their brains than most of the other apps you'll find on their phones.

Taking the Kids NYC Walking Tours app for iPhone, $1.99

While strolling through New York City with kids may not seem like a pursuit that requires a playful app, Taking the Kids NYC spices up walking tours with interactive activities that help elevate what's fun about the sights you're seeing. Particularly clever options are scavenger hunts in Central Park and Times Square that enable you to answer questions throughout the hunt by entering text or taking photos. The app will also let you geo-tag photos of your family and pin them to your walking tour map, which you can then share on Facebook if you like.

Scrabble Travel Edition, $19.99

One way to make a boring in-between moment even more disappointing is to discover that those board games your hotel keeps in its lounge are missing important pieces. So if your kids get as excited as mine do at the idea of playing board games in the hotel lobby, take a minute to pack a game of your own. In our case, the oversize checkers with woven fabric board that we picked up at the beguiling Cracker Barrel general store comes with us wherever we go. Another good bet for killing time productively is the Scrabble Folio Edition with its nifty folding plastic board and snap-in tiles.

What do you do to keep your kids happy on vacation?

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