Are we there yet?

Just in time for Pessah travel, a ticket to parental sanity.

Travelling family 521 (photo credit: MCT)
Travelling family 521
(photo credit: MCT)
The most dreaded question in the world for parents generally elicits hysterical anger or bursts of deranged laughter, which is basically the same thing depending on how you look at. We are not programmed to deal with adversity at airport security checkpoints, or when our children scream at us to pull over because their sibling, the family dog or both just threw up all over the backseat of a brand new car. It almost makes you want to stay home, fill the plastic pool, crack open an ice-cold bottle of juice and spend the day laughing at the online rants of either Charlie Sheen or Muammar Gaddafi.
There are, however, a plethora of tech gadgets that are guaranteed to hold your children’s attention for more than 15 minutes and maybe even educate them. The problem is that they will inevitably end up fighting over them and some might even get broken. (Bubble wrap works well if you can’t find an affordable neoprene case that matches the rest of your travel bags.) HEADPHONES are a tough call for children for a myriad of reasons. Most audiologists would probably agree that the in-ear style of headphones that come with the iPod and other MP3 players are inherently bad for developing ears, because children tend to listen at louder levels (to drown out parents for the most part) and because they suffer from average- to-poor sound quality, which makes listeners turn them even higher to get better perceived sound quality.
Headphones are also easily broken or lost, which is also why parents hate them.
In-ear headphones have made huge strides in sound quality in recent years, negating the need to turn them up so high. If you can convince your children to keep them at negligible levels, the Etymotic HF3 inear headphones are the ones to beat – superior sound quality and isolation, and fantastic with the iPhone as a headset.
They are not inexpensive, so your children will need to leave a deposit.
If you plan on flying, the most popular option for the past few years has been the noisecanceling headphone, but very few of the available models offer really good sound quality and hassle-free operation.
Noise canceling headphones sacrifice sound quality for isolation and eat up batteries very quickly.
The last thing you want to worry about is digging through your luggage for a package of batteries as your child goes into meltdown mode. The Denon AH-NC800 noise canceling headphones would be my only recommendation in this category; they are one of the few large headphones that fold well in a bag, sound above average and last on a fresh set of batteries.
If you want to keep things affordable because you know that the headphones are going to be abused or destroyed, the Koss KSC 75 over-the-ear headphones are fantastic in a pinch.
THE TWO hottest products right now are eReaders and Tablets, but a strong argument can be made that little children are not responsible enough to handle such devices in the back of a moving car or on a train. Neither is inexpensive, and do you really want your children buying apps without your knowledge or checking out all of the non-work-related sites you visit? Older children understand the iPad 2, Kindle 3 or nookColor are not toys (which makes them even more dangerous in their educated little fingers), but they also know how to use them better than you ever will. If your children want to surf while you drive, give them a list of sites about your destination. It will not only keep them occupied, but their interest in your planned trip will certainly increase.
They may even discover some interesting site to visit that wasn’t on your radar.
Pre-loaded with a good selection of children’s literature, eReaders will go a lot further than a Tablet. The nook and iBookstore platforms offer beautifully illustrated picture and chapter books; many include the option to listen to the book being read by an actor. After a long day in the air or on the road, children need to unwind with something that reminds them of their routine at home. It makes them feel safe in a strange place.
MEDIA STREAMING may be the final nail in the coffin for DVD/Blu-ray, but that doesn’t deal with the reality that children watch their favorite films and cartoons over and over again. It’s simply too expensive for most parents to pay for repeat viewings through any of the movie streaming services. Physical media for children continue to sell well and the in-car/portable DVD player has become a popular option from many car manufacturers.
The Panasonic DMPB15K portable Blu-ray disc player offers a lot of interesting features – 1080p HD playback, the ability to display images on a SD card from your camera, a HD screen and wireless streaming. Netflix may not yet work here, but there are other apps that will. The DMP-B15K also comes with a mount for the backseat of your car. It’s not cheap, but it offers superior playback and a lot of features.
THE LAST product that should merit your attention (especially if you travel with a multitude of phones, laptops, portable video game systems) is a well-designed charger. Nothing worse than a dead phone battery in the middle of the desert or in some foreign city. The Classic Hybrid from Solio has saved my behind on more than one occasion and it fits in a coat pocket. Unfolded, three solar panels soak in the sun’s rays and will fully charge your device in a number of hours. The great thing about the Classic Hybrid is that it is compatible with more than 3,200 devices.
Parents often joke that they would rather spend a week in prison than travel with their children, but the reality is that with a little planning, there are plenty of gadgets that can make your trip something that the kids will never forget and earn you a few points in the “cool” column.