Do-it-all travel aid: why an iPad is a godsend while traveling with kids

With Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, the summer travel season is nearly upon us! Whether you have a road trip planned or a flight booked, chances are you have given some thought to what to pack to entertain your kids while on-the-go. Used to be, I’d cart an entire tote bag filled with electronic toys, books, a DVD player, and music on every trip. It’s to my great relief that I’ve since consolidated to a single item…an iPad.
iPad 2
I put off making this family travel investment for quite some time. After all, iPads are expensive. Did we really need one? Didn’t my kids already have enough gadgets? Yes, it is. And yes, they did. But once I made the switch, I’ve never looked back. If you’re still on the fence about this particular purchase, you probably have some questions (and they probably look a lot like this):

1. What can an iPad do that my smart phone can’t? I asked this question of myself many times. After all, my kids already had access to entertainment apps (and myself to travel planning apps) on my iPhone. Was a larger viewing surface really worth the upgrade? My answer: yes. Some things really do need to be seen on the big screen: namely, movies. And Face Time video calls. And Angry Birds. (I never did understand how they saw anything on that phone!)

2. We already have a portable DVD player and a handheld video game device. Why would we need an iPad? In our household, one iPad does the job of five electronics. Instead of packing the DVD player, the Nintendo DS, books for everyone, a stack of DVDs, and an iPod, I slip the iPad in my bag. This alone is a major space saver, but what I hadn’t anticipated was how much additional space I’d save leaving all those various chargers and USB cables at home. I love the iPad’s 10 hour battery life; if we’re not at our destination in ten hours, we’re having a very bad day!

3. If I get an iPad, do I need to upgrade to a 3G model? Adding 3G really ups the price of any new iPad, and after much research, I decided to skip it. So far, I haven’t missed it at all. (It helps that I still have 24/7 access to 3G via my iPhone.) Nearly everywhere we go, we can find free wi-fi, including in airports and many hotels. When we’re without a connection, most entertainment apps still open and play, and movie rentals downloaded to iTunes are available anytime, no connection needed. It’s also possible to use an iPhone 4 as a personal hotspot for your wi-fi only iPad (with decent results).

4. Will I spend a small fortune on new apps? Definitely not. First of all, there’s no need to repurchase any apps already stored in your iTunes account (purchased for an iPhone or iPod). It’s easy to transfer these and size them for your iPad by hitting the ‘2x’ button on the right-hand corner of the screen the first time the app loads. (You may want to upgrade a choice few to their HD iPad versions, however.)

There are also some iPad-specific apps you’ll want to buy: one of our favorites for the younger set is This is My Story (and I’m Sticking to It). The storyboard and illustrations of this interactive app really pop on the iPad screen, and the larger surface makes it easy for my six-year-old to manipulate the virtual ‘stickers’ placed on the screen ‘felt-board style’. We also love Labyrinth 2 in HD, which is great to pass around in the car or on a plane (but be warned: it’s highly addicting!). For trip planning and on the go, I love reading the New York Times and Conde Nast Traveler in beautifully graphic detail.

5. Is 16GB enough space? Will I really use all the pre-installed programs? Yes, and yes. Unless you’re downloading (and storing, not renting) lots of movies and video clips, 16GB is enough for the average user. It’s been more than enough space for our family of five (all of us with different needs). As for preinstalled and/or free apps and programs, we use more of them than we’d thought. My kids love to play with Photo Booth in the car, and I use the free Kindle app to keep track of my ebooks through Amazon. (My Kindle books automatically appear here.) Children’s storybooks are simply fabulous on the iPad, with full-color illustrations in HD, and FaceTime (video chatting) is a rich experience on the iPad (as opposed to on the smaller iPhone screen).

6. Last but not least, are my kids going to break it? If my kids haven’t, yours won’t. The very first day we tried out our iPad, my son dropped it on the floor. Everyone gasped. Turns out, no harm done. We use the iPad 2 Smart Cover, which protects the screen, cleans it, and puts our iPad to sleep when not in use. We’ve brought it in the car, slid it into backpacks, left it out on the kitchen counter in splash range (not on purpose, but still), and it’s survived just fine. Our dog has even licked it (more than once…maybe we did spill on it?).

As you can see, we’re sold: the iPad covers all our travel entertainment bases. For music, we have iTunes and the free Pandora radio app. For video calls, FaceTime. For books, the Kindle and iBooks apps keep track of what everyone’s reading. For movies and TV, we have iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix. I can, without hesitation, recommend an iPad as a travel investment for your family.

And no, Apple hasn’t paid me a penny to say so. I disclose all compensated experiences and complimentary products reviewed at Pit Stops for Kids, and (sadly), our iPad was not one of them. My endorsement is based on our personal purchase.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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