When it comes to family travel, I’m seeing an awful lot of kids these days who are plugged in and zoned out. I see it in airports and restaurants, during extravagant once-in-a-lifetime vacations and on simple road trips the next town over. Whether in the back seat or backyard, the minute the gadgets turn on family bonding time turns off. So, is there a way to balance family tech and travel in a way to inform and engage, rather than just distract and derail?
On a recent vacation to Washington D.C., my 12-year-old daughter, husband and parents tested dozens of apps to see which ones could add the most fun, while also helping bring us closer together.
Our favorite turned out to be a bicycle locator app called Spotcycle (Free; Android, iPhone, BlackBerry). It let us all — even my 65-plus year old parents — put a modern spin on sightseeing while doing something active and fun together. Spotcycle shows you a digital map dotted with bike rental stations. All we had to do was find the closest one, put our credit card in, and rent bicycles for however long we wanted. When we were finished, we just checked the app again for the nearest rental kiosk to figure out where to return the bikes. Spotcycle is currently available for 30 cities in eight countries. The only catch is that there are no helmets — so bring your own helmets, or go slow and be very, very careful.
For parents with younger kids, Mom Maps (Free; Android, iPhone) is a total boredom buster. It uses your phone’s GPS to show you parks, kid-friendly restaurants and play areas near you. It also gives ratings and reviews from other parents, which is like getting a personal tour, even in a place you’ve never been to before. It makes you feel like a local, which as parents know, can totally save your life when your toddler is having a melt down.
Family travel apps really are a dime a dozen these days, so two more rose through the ranks during our recent family test because they helped cut through the clutter. For the tweens, teens and total adventuresome tourists among us who don’t ever want to miss a thing, Trip What (Free; iOS) put all of our favorite food, travel and entertainment apps in one place. It pulled relevant data from Google, Urbanspoon, Yelp, Seatgeek, and others to make sure we didn’t miss a moment. We created an itinerary and got directions to local events, like street fairs and nightlife, complete with details and links to ticket sales.
Another handy app for scoring deals on the go was TripTwit (Free; Android, BlackBerry, iPhone). It let us set email alerts for Twitter deals by destination. The reason this was so helpful was because airlines, hotels, cruise companies and car rentals often post incredible deals to their Twitter followers, but staying plugged into my Twitter feed ate up way too much family time. TripTwit let us get discounts on museums, plays, concerts, and other fun activities on the road.
These apps were focused on active family bonding. I like the idea that tech can help bring families closer together — informing, engaging, and entertaining. With that in mind, what are some of your favorite travel gadgets for fun family travel?