There are easily hundreds of games and gadgets out there designed to make car travel more fun. And the feeling most of these products evoke is “So what?”
So my first rule when I’m recommending a product is that it must evoke an “Oh, that’s cool” versus a “so what.” Three of my cooler finds were post-worthy last year. My second rule is I don’t let manufacturers know beforehand that I’m reviewing their stuff.
That’s pretty much it for rules. The rest of the review process is unabashedly subjective. But, of course, I hope these gadgets evoke an “oh, that’s cool” from you, too.
iPhone Seat Buddy, $19.99
Shortly after buying my eldest daughter a new protective case for her iPod touch, she asked me for another case. And another. My natural reaction as a parent was, “What’s wrong with the one I just bought you?” Her natural reaction as a child was, "This new case is cooler." Or cuter. Or blue.
I came to realize that many of these cases are in fact as cool as a lot of the apps for the actual device. The fiendishly simple iPhone Seat Buddy case caught my eye because it’s practical – it holsters an iPod or iPod touch and securely suspends it from the back of the driver or passenger-side car seat. Or, you can tuck the straps into an airline tray table that’s in the upright position, useful if there’s not a video screen implanted in the seat back in front of your child.
Crayola Dry-Erase Activity Center, $14.99
On many family trips I’ve stopped off at the hotel business center to print out a few of the hundreds of free coloring pages at Crayola.com. Coupled with crayons, those pages have gotten my kids through many an excruciating wait for restaurant meals. Crayola has set aside a similar cache of free pages designed for its Dry-Erase Activity Center.
I’m often skeptical of any toy that calls itself a center, system, or kit, as that often signals a few flimsy accessories rattling around in a fancy cardboard box. In this case, the center is a lap board with a clear dry-erase surface, behind which you can slip any of the free website activity pages or one of the ones provided in the box. Word games, basic geography and biology lessons, Sudoku, and many more pages are available.
The center also comes with four dry erase markers and an eraser. The company makes a more compact dry-erase travel pack that comes with crayons and reusable dry-erase sheets. That pack is clearly intended for younger kids, but for my mixed-age brood the activity center has been functional from ages 3 and up. And really, you can’t beat the supply of free pages to keep things interesting.
Children’s Travel Journal, $19.95
You don’t need me to extol the benefits of having a child keep a travel diary. The real trick is finding a journal that will somehow hold your child's attention. At home we have remnants of many composition notebooks, pads, and diaries whose first few pages were filled out with the best of intentions, but then the desire to keep writing fizzled before the end of the trip.
The Children's Travel Journal is spiral-bound diary with a clever mix of sweet drawings (by illustrator Adrienne Hartman) and thoughtfully templated pages, encouraging kids to provide info on such subjects as landmarks, memorable restaurants, and the people they meet during their travels. Author Ann Banks also takes the unusual step of including a page for your little one to record travel expenses (Banks has also written a kid’s guide to money and spending), a nice touch on behalf of traveling parents trying to get their children to understand how easily those "just a dollar" roadside souvenirs can wreck a vacation budget.
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