Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Great Travel Apps for Family Vacations

Sitting in the airport on a recent trip, I glanced over at a family nearby. Mom and dad were on their phones, and their three kids were either listening to their iPods, or playing on their iPads. All five were plugged in. I know that I am always one of the few people holding an actual book rather than an iPad or Kindle, and I realize that when a family is waiting in an airport parents will do just about anything to keep the kids happy. But it occurred to me just how quickly technology has changed family vacations.

Time after time my clients call me and tell me their oldest child is graduating high school, and this may be the last family vacation they have together. I hear the pang in their voices, and I get it. Time goes too quickly when you're raising a family. Little Johnny has hockey and Susie has dance (or vice versa, not to be sexist), and you just don't think the coach would appreciate you pulling them out of practice for something as trivial as a family vacation.

Well, it's not trivial. And I'm not just trying to sell you a vacation. Whether you stay in the Presidential Suite at Moon Palace, or drive a few hours to a cabin in the woods, that time you spent together will forever go in their permanent hard drive - in their hearts and minds.

These were my family vacations: camping...REAL camping...up North.  That's me screwing around by the fire and one of my brothers in the background.  It wasn't fancy but they were the best memories ever!

But I'm not naive...with four children of my own, including a three year old that can fully operate every aspect of my iPhone, the notion that all will be "kumbaya" while you spend a week together is probably a fleeting one. You'll probably have to concede a little screen time to your kids while you're gone. But fear not, I have found some apps that should satisfy their electronic craving while still contributing to the greater family good!

Scribble Press
Voted one of Time Magazine's Top 25 Apps for Kids, this teacher favorite will allow your kids to document your family vacation by creating an actual book that they can publish. They can also turn a page into a puzzle, notebook or greeting card! Have your kids jot down ideas and take pictures during the trip, or use the 500 + drawing tools available to them. They can either work on it while you're away, or once you get home, but either way you'll always have a fun reminder of your trip.

My Story-Book Maker for Kids
Similar to the app above, this one may be more suitable for younger kids, as it also allows voice recording to make their stories. If there's one thing little kids love, it's recording and listening to their own voices. :) This app will allow your child to let their imagination run wild - picture visiting a castle with your 'little prince' then having him create a story based on what he saw!

Strip Designer
For the comic junkies, this app allows the older kids to create their own comic strips. Let them know that if they give you a couple hours of quality family time, you'll give them an hour to document it with an awesome family comic strip. Who knows? Maybe you won't be able to resist it yourself once the kids go to bed!

JetLag Genie
If you're traveling anywhere with a significant time change, you are going to want this app - especially with children. Plug in your travel dates and destinations, and you will get a step by step guide on how beat jet lag. The trick is following it. There aren't many kids that I know that would be cool with going to bed when it's still light out, or waking up when it's dark, but trust the app...you'll have a happier child while on your vacation!

UV Safe Timer
An absolute must for fair-skinned children going to a beach destination. You simply create profiles for everyone in your family based on their skin tone ahead of time. Then, when you get down to the pool you enter your destination, SPF, and activity levels. The app does the rest! How many times have you gotten engrossed in a book or conversation and only noticed too late that your child's shoulders are red? Now you will get a reminder to reapply that sunscreen in time. Nice, huh?

Gate Guru
So you really, really wanted to take your kids to Beaches Turks and Caicos but there aren't any non-stop flights available. You're a little nervous about changing planes and how the whole process will go, so what do you do? You download this app and you book the trip. Armed with Gate Guru, you will know important information ahead of time to make the transition go smoothly, such as what gate your connecting flight is out of, how long it will take to get there, what restaurants/eateries are on the way, and if you're desperate, what bribe material is at the next airport ('If you stop poking your sister, and annoying everyone around you, you might have a chance at a Miami Heat t-shirt at the next stop.').

If a U.S. destination is in your future, you're going to want this one. How many times have you gone somewhere with your family and end up eating at McDonald's because you don't know where else to go? With Alfred, you won't have to do that anymore. Just tell him your family's preferences and he'll guide you to some incredible eateries that everyone will enjoy! It takes a little bit of work up front, but totally worth it in the end.

Hopefully these apps will be helpful to you on your next vacation! I'll leave you with a little treat...for those of you that didn't know, Theresa and I are sisters. Here is a pic from the family vault of us in the camper with our dog, Happy. Even when camping, fashion was her priority. We didn't have apps and we didn't fly all over the world, but we sure had fun! I hope you have as much fun wherever you go this year, and someday your kids will laugh at pictures like these.

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