Wayfinding TravelingMom Jennifer Kaufman remembers so clearly the first flight during which all of her children entertained themselves. She read, she did word puzzles, she may have even napped. Yes, a whole new (wonderful) world opens up when the squirmy toddlers that parents try to keep from diving into the aisle are old enough to read, work electronics on their own, and even carry their own stuff. But where to start with kid-friendly travel accessories?
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Best Travel Accessories for Traveling with School-age Kids and Tweens
First, let me assure you that even your bigger kids would benefit from having snacks, water, gum, coloring books (cooler ones, of course, than their younger siblings will have…), and other things that make travel day with any age just a little more smooth. As far as I’m concerned, those things stay on the list from now until the end of time. But what kind of items might you want to consider specifically for your school-age kiddo?
Kindle Fire Kids Tablet
My oldest kids, 9.5 year-old twins, have just recently saved up for their first electronic devices – iPod Touches. We have lots of rules around them, but I have to admit – on travel day, the amount of screen time skyrockets compared to a normal week. I’m not even a little bit sorry.
Whether you’re buying a device for your kids to use year-round or one that will be used primarily for travel, the Kindle Fire tablet from Amazon is a great bet. The Fire HD Kids Edition allows them to watch movies, play games, and enjoy apps. They are durable and come with a kid-proof protective case, and a nice set of built-in parental controls. The latest editions even have both rear- and front-facing cameras, though those are mostly good for use in apps. I wouldn’t count on them for actually taking photographs of your family’s adventures.
If you do have a budding photographer on your hands, there is no better way to encourage kids to take in details around them that than to let them use a camera of their own. Even after my daughter got her iPod touch, she prefers to take a “real” camera on vacations. I don’t blame her; in this day and age, you can take some really great shots with a reasonably priced point-and-shoot camera.
I was super pleased to find the Nikon COOLPIX W100 (and similar) – even as a Canon shooter. These cameras come in a handful of great colors, and are shockproof, waterproof, and freezeproof. Of course, we’ve never tested their use in sub-freezing temperatures, but I can assure you we’ve proven their durability when it comes to dropping them or swimming with them. Or dropping them while swimming with them.
The Nikon Coolpix W100 isn’t just “fine for kids, too.” It actually has extremely kid-friendly menus, plus cute effects and animation to make their photography even more fun!
Honorable Mention: My tween girls and their friends are very interested in the Fujifilm Instax and Polaroid Snap cameras. They’re really fun to use, and I’ve seen some super cute film options that make me want one. The biggest downside, in my opinion, is the cost of the paper packs. They are definitely a fun option though… and maybe even a little glimpse at what we had to deal with when taking film along on vacations in a pre-digital era!
One thing that took us entirely too long to purchase was kid-sized, kid-friendly headphones. Previously, we’d grab whatever we found – and inevitably they wouldn’t stay in my kids’ ears, they’d be uncomfortable, or they’d end up lost. Whether you choose headphones shaped like cat ears or like the sleekest, most popular adult brands, we’ve had the most success with the padded, over-the-ear varieties for all of our kids.
If your kids don’t have their own tablets or other electronic devices, as mine didn’t for many plane trips and car rides, this is going to be the best $10 (or less) you’ve ever spent on a travel accessory. Headphone splitters have a regular 3.5mm auxiliary cable that plugs into the device’s headphone jack; the other end has any number of ports for headphones. It’s super easy to share a movie or music from one device, especially in close proximity to one another.
Portable USB Charger
Whether or not you have school-age kids, you probably already take a portable charger or two when you travel. If you do have children, you’re just going to want to pack a lot more of them. We always have several fully charged and ready to go; thankfully, they tend to hold a charge for quite some time!
The portable chargers are great for cell phones, iPods, etc; we have also used them to charge camera batteries and anything else that can be plugged in with a USB cable. Many of the models now are super small, and provide more than one full charge!
TravelingMom Tip: A portable charger is no good if it’s not charged itself; bring along a multi-outlet plug for your hotel room. Even as hotels get renovated with more and more outlets, there are almost never enough for all of your devices, photography equipment, and a handful of extra chargers!
Locking Water Bottle
Depending on the age of your children, this may be more or less useful… but it’s not going to hurt! My kids all have water bottles with a small switch on the side that allows them to lock the lid. I’m sure this has saved us many frustrating travel days by avoiding spills inside of bags or on fellow passengers! Plus, having easy access to water while traveling helps combat the inevitable dehydration experienced on a plane.
Child-sized Travel Pillow
If we have to drive on vacation, we usually try to do so overnight so that the kids will sleep a large portion of the travel time. Travel pillows are useful for both road trips and air travel, but some varieties are uncomfortable for kids. My daughters prefer either pillows designed specifically for kids (which come in super fun patterns, too!) or the kind that you can wrap around in multiple ways. The pillow itself is smaller in any one spot, making it more flexible for use by kids and adults alike.
Kids’ Carry-on Luggage
My children were never happier traveling than the first time they got to pull their very own luggage behind them. I think it truly added to their sense of adventure, as well as their independence. What’s not to love when luggage comes in basically every print a kid could ever want – including their favorite characters?!
We are big fans of the Rockland hard-sided spinners, as well as American Tourister’s huge line of Disney suitcases. American Tourister bags – along with another favorite brand, Skip Hop – come in a variety of sizes within the “kids carry-on” category, giving you plenty of great options.
Kids’ Daypack or Backpack
If you don’t need a carry-on for each person in your family – or even if you do, and you use a backpack as a personal item for easy access on the plane – consider having your kids each carry their own backpack. We started this with our kids as young as two, and I think it contributed to their being able to travel so well. They have learned that snacks have to last, lost markers aren’t of any use, and bags need to be kept in our sight, lest we leave them behind.
My kids have carried backpack in multiple sizes from L.L. Bean and Pottery Barn Kids. They were durable for everyday school use, and made great personal/carry-on items as well.
As children get older – and depending on how and where your family travels – you may want to invest in a nicer daypack to carry more. Osprey, Deuter, and other reputable backpacking brands usually make junior sizes, suitable for growing kids. The main benefit to these types of backpacks is that they are extremely durable while being much more lightweight than an ordinary school backpack; as an added bonus, you can find all kinds of cool compartments, bells, and whistles on some!
What else would have made your list for must-have travel accessories for school-age kids or tweens?