It is summer again and for my family and many others that means time to go on summer vacation! I have always loved traveling and before kids I visited many places around the world. Since having kids my travel is not quite so footloose and fancy free, but we still love to travel as a family. Every year we go on transatlantic flights to visit my family back in the UK and Ireland, and closer to home we also love to go camping and spend days at the pool, beach or lake.
In this article I want to share some of my favorite travel products that make my life easier every time I travel, including products I use in the car, on the plane, camping and at pool, beach or lake.
1. Back up Battery
On long plane journeys and other times when electricity isn’t readily available a good back up battery is essential for keeping everything charged. I find this especially important for keeping the kids iPads charged during our 10 hour plus transatlantic flights and for keeping my phone charged during our camping trips. There are many back up batteries on the market and features I look for include: keeping their charge for long periods when not in use, multiple outlets so I can charge more than 1 device at once, powerful enough that I can use for an iPad when needed and not too bulky or heavy. A good choice is the RazorMax from myCharge it is a 6000mAH battery, with 2 USB ports a combined 2.4A output, and is quite slim and light for it’s output. It is 4.4 in x 2.6 in x 0.5 in and weighs 0.38 lbs. Available from myCharge RRP $69.99
2.External Storage for my iOS Devices
During long car or plane journeys a great way to keep the kids happy and entertained is to bring along their favorite movies and even some ones they’ve never seen before. Movies can quickly fill up your iPad storage so I load them onto an external storage device. For movie watching and streaming my favorite storage device is the SanDisk Connect Media Drive. It streams up to 8hrs, connects to up to 8 devices at once and can stream 5 different movies simultaneously. For me it is a must-have travel accessory for families on the go, and it is very reasonably priced for the amount of extra storage you get. I especially love how you can add even more storage capacity very economically using SD cards. It is available with 32GB or 62GB memory. Available from Amazon.com and other retailers from $69.99 for 32GB version. Read my full review.
3. Car Charger
Another must-have is a way to keep my iPhone and other tech charged whilst on the road and I’ve found the RIBBN car charger from TYLT is a great choice. It delivers 4.8 Amps – making it powerful enough to charge 2 tablets at once. It has a built-in charging cable and a separate USB charging port. I use the lightning version – it has a built-in lightning cable that I use with my iPhone, iPad Mini or iPad Air (a version with a Micro-USB cable is also available.) The charging cable is flat and tough and never gets tangled. I use the 2nd USB charging slot with my own cables to charge a variety of other electronics. Available from TYLT.com for US$49.99
4. Mobile Hot Spot
When I’m away from home I find a mobile hot spot is the best way to ensure I have a reliable internet connection. I have AT&T phone service and find the NETGEAR Unite Hot Spot a great choice as I can add it to my mobile phone service. But if a hot spot is not something you use year around getting one on contract may not be the best option for you. The Around Town from NETGEAR is a great option in this situation as not only does it not require a contract but there is an option to buy data for it that never expires! The Around Town is a 4G LTE mobile hotspot that allows you to securely connect up to 10 devices and its battery lasts up to 10 hours, it uses the Sprint network. It comes with 1GB of data, additional data can be purchased. Available from Amazon and other retailers for US$199.99
For the sake of my sanity I always make sure to pack several pairs of headphones when traveling with the kids. That way each of them can watch their own movies or play their games without me having to listen to them! It also means that I can chill out and relax to my own music in the evenings after they have gone to sleep. A current favorite in our family are the iB37 Color Changing Headphones from iHome. They are adjustable enough that they fit my 8 year-old daughter and yet are comfortable for me to wear too, do a good job of blocking out external noise and sound good. A fun extra (that we don’t use in the car or on the plane) is the color changing option. Coming soon from iHome RRP US$49.99
6. Solar Powered Light
I recently discovered the Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern and it is a great addition to our family camping equipment. It has 10 bright LEDs and requires no batteries as it runs entirely on its own solar panels. It makes a great backpacking light as it weighs only 4 oz and folds to 1 inch thick. It takes a few seconds to inflate to lantern mode or it can be kept folded to use as a flashlight. Available from Amazon, Big 5 and other retailers for US$14.99
7. Wet Electronics Rescue Pouch One product I carry with me when I go to the lake, beach or pool, but hope never to have to use is the Evap Wet Electronics Pouch from Kensington. If your mobile phone accidentally goes for a swim the Evap pouch can be a lifesaver (or at least a phone saver!) It contains a drying agent that is 700% more effective than using rice at removing moisture. You simply remove your phone battery and Sim card, wipe off any surface moisture and place in the pouch between to 2 pouches, seal and wait 24 hours or until the moisture indicator shows it is ready. Available from Kensington.com and other retailers RRP US$14.99.
8. Rugged, Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker
Where ever you go it is fun to be able to listen to music even when you are away from a power source. My favorite “take it anywhere” speaker is the iBN6 Rugged Waterproof Bluetooth Rechargeable Speaker from iHome. It has an IPX7 waterproof rating, which means you can even submerge it in water. It has a rubberized exterior to help it withstand knocks and as it is dust and waterproof it is a great choice for a camping trip or day out at the beach, pool or lake. Its rechargeable battery lasts up to 14 hours and it will even recharge your smartphone too! Just in case you get thirsty it has a carabiner with a built-in bottle opener too. Available from iHome, Amazon and other retailers RRP US$99
9. Added Peace of Mind at the Pool, Beach or Lake
My 3 kids love to play in water, but as a parent I can find it very stressful, especially as I have 1 non-swimmer. A product which helps to give me peace of mind is iSwimband. It does not replace proper adult supervision around water, but is designed to give you an extra early warning system should your non-swimmer fall in the water or your swimmer stay submerged too long. iSwimband is a wearable sensor that works in conjunction with a smartphone app. In can be attached via a wrist strap for non-swimmers (such as toddlers) and a headband/google strap for swimmers. Available from iSwimband.com, Amazon and other retailers RRP $59.99.Read my full review
10. Smartphone Mount for the Car When traveling by car I often use my cellphone as a GPS navigation system, and to do that I need it securely mounted where I can see it without taking my eyes off the road. The Universal Car Mount from Kensington is a great solution for this, and is really flexible, working with different vehicles and phones.It mounts in 2 ways- either via a 12 inch long flexible arm attached to a powerful suction cup, or via a vent clip. The mount works in both portrait and landscape mode, and releases with a touch of a button. I love that it is really easy to adjust and will work with lots of different size smartphones up to and including the iPhone6+. Read my full review. Available from Kensington.com for US $29.99.
Of course you need a great navigation app to go with your smartphone, and my favorite navigation apps are the CoPilot series by ALK Technologies. They are available for US and Canada as well as many other countries, you can read my review of the UK and Ireland version here. I love that they can be used off-line, saving precious data (especially important with international data roaming charges!) They are regularly updated, have clear directions, alternative route options and you can also get live traffic updates.
These are some of my travel “must-haves”, what are yours? I’d love to hear about how you like to spend your summer, and what products you have found most useful on your travels.
Note: Some of the products included in this article were supplied by the companies for review purposes, no other form of compensation was received. Their inclusion was the decision of the author, all opinions stated in the article are those of the author and have been offered honestly.
easy to use protection for my online life which means that items with viruses don’t get downloaded to my computer by mistake. Online backup keeps my photos safe and the app for iOS also secures all of my devices
Easy to use, keeps my computer safe and ensures that hackers can’t get into my computer with a satisfaction guarantee!
How many times have you turned on your laptop or desktop and been casually browsing the web – when you download something only to realize that it was a virus or even worse it crashes your computer? I like many other Moms have a significant digital life which includes using social media, paying my bills online, sharing pictures and news with friends and family via email, online shopping as well as children who use the internet as well. All of those things make me a great target from a hacker’s perspective. With Norton Security there is a dashboard that pops up every time I open up my computer so I can check to see that everything is secure. In the image above, the backup needs to be done, so it does show an “at risk” but once you schedule it everything will show up in the green protected mode.
True story – I had a PC with Norton on it and let it lapse because “I didn’t think it could happen to me”. I was new to high speed internet at the time – using high speed cable and thought that I would be okay just for a month or so until I could renew my protection. Turns out that was a bad mistake. Hackers somehow got inside my computer and I lost many photos on my computer which I had unfortunately not backed up and the worst part was that I had to replace my computer since the hard drive couldn’t be salvaged. I learned my lesson and now, I make sure I have up to date anti-virus software with Norton installed on my computers and devices at all times including my iPhone and my husband’s Android phone. You can protect up to ten devices using one subscription which will cover your smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops all with one login and password.
One of my favorite features for the mobile version is the ability to remotely wipe your device as well as track it – something I can easily do from my desktop computer. I also get a monthly security report which shows all of the things that I was protected from in my online activities which includes protection in scanning downloads, cleaning up of my computer, use of wireless hotspots and more. This report helps me know that my devices are safe and secure no matter where I am.
One other reason I really like Norton Security is the ability to use the automated backup feature which provides online storage for all of my pictures, projects including upcoming blog posts and financial documents like backup copies of my bills are all saved – safe and secure not only on my hard drive but in the cloud. I can use up to 25 gigabytes of storage space as part of my subscription. This peace of mind for me is worth the cost of the software so I know that no matter what my pictures won’t disappear. I also really like that there is a guaranteed protection, which means that if I do download something and Norton scans it and tells me it’s okay but I still get a virus they will fix my computer at no cost. That’s awesome because although I do scan everything I do worry about the “what if” especially after having my computer crash on me.
As a practical note, I generally try to avoid doing important business on my laptop, tablet or smartphone when using a hotspot. I generally will not do online banking or shopping via a hotspot as I don’t want to take a chance that my information won’t be encrypted.
NOTE: A product was supplied by the company for review purposes, no other form of compensation was received, all opinions stated in the review are those of the author and have been offered honestly.
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Magnetic connectors, easy to use, clear directions, explains physics concepts as they build circuits, augmented reality
What we’d love to see…
A few tweaks to app – adding narration and ability to re-do pictures
My daughter really enjoyed using the LightUp Edison Kit and I would highly recommended it as a fun introduction to STEM for children from kindergarten through 3rd grade. The kit is easy to use, has clear directions and the augmented reality adds a fun component by bringing the concept of flowing current to life.
Electronics kits have come a long way since I was a child! I remember using wires with crocodile clips, screw in bulb holders, and regular batteries to make circuits. It was magical seeing your circuit work and the bulb light up, but it was frustrating too as wires often broke, crocodile clips detached and the circuits fell apart.
Fast forward, several years, (we won’t go into how many!) and my daughter is discovering the magic of creating electrical circuits but with a kit light years ahead of anything I had. I recently had the opportunity to test out the Edison Kit from LightUp and she was very excited to be my co-tester.
LightUp make modular electronics kits. The Edison Kit is their starter kit, they also offer a Tesla Kit and just launched the Faraday Kit on Kickstarter this week.
The Edison comes with a collection of modular electronics components and is designed to be used in conjunction with the free LightUp Learning – LightUp app. It comes in a sturdy storage box with magnetic lid closure and slots for each component. This kit includes: a Battery Module (with replaceable watch battery), Red LED Module , Buzzer Module , Light Sensor Module , Momentary Switch Module , 4 Wire Modules and a red USB- mini-USB cable.
The app currently has 6 projects for the Edison Kit – Morse Code Beeper, Nightlight, Dimmer, Conductivity Tester, Light Sensor and Light Beeper with more “coming soon.”
The included projects are designed to be used in order and you need to complete earlier projects to unlock later ones. The projects start simply and get more complex, with new components introduced as you work your way through the projects. For each project the app starts out by showing the child which components they will need. It then goes on to explain basic terms such as input and output blocks, and tells the child about any new components they will be using in the current project. For components which have polarity it explains which way round they need to be for the current to flow. Then it shows what the completed circuit should look like.
The child then makes their own circuit from the assembled parts, all the components are magnetic so they join together easily without the need for clips or connectors. At this stage the augmented reality comes into play – the child uses the iPad to take a picture of their circuit and the app checks each component to see if it is correct. If the circuit has been built correctly the child sees virtual reality current flow through the picture of their circuit, if not they get hints on how to fix it.
My two sons both love electronics and STEM – related toys, games and projects and I want to show my daughter that these can be just as fun and interesting for girls, so I chose her to be my product tester and co-reviewer for the Edison kit. She really enjoyed putting the circuits together to create the different projects and was able to complete them all with no asssistance. I deliberately put one together with components in the wrong order and she was able to show me how to put it together correctly. She liked how the magnetic connectors made it easy to connect the components and how she got to “see” the currently flowing when the project was complete. I really liked how the app and projects naturally introduced physics concepts, and taught her about the various components as she used them. I sat with her when she did the projects so we could talk about what she was doing and what she had created, but she did not need any assistance to complete the projects. All the instructions are written, and have illustrations to accompany them. My daughter just turned 8 and could read the instructions (in fact she insisted that she read them herself), but the kit is also suitable for younger elementary school children so it would be nice to have an option to hear the directions too. This would allow children who are not yet confident readers to complete the projects independently, and benefit from the explanations even if they can’t read them.
Once a project has been completed the child can do that project again but can’t use the camera to check the circuit as it saves the picture of the previously completed project. The only way I could find to circumvent this is to uninstall and re-install the app. I would like to see an update to the app adding a button that lets you remove a saved picture to let you check the circuit again.
My daughter really enjoyed using the LightUp Edison Kit and I would highly recommended it as a fun introduction to STEM for children from kindergarten through 3rd grade, older children might be better with LightUp Tesla or Faraday Kits. The Edison kit is easy to use, has clear directions and the augmented reality adds a fun component by bringing the concept of flowing current to life.
The Edison Kit has an RRP of $49.99, available from Amazon, LightUp.com and other retailers.
LightUp’s newest kit the Faraday has just launched on Kickstarter and adds coding and new features you can read about it here.
For Minecraft fans the GameBand+ is both a fashion statement and a way to take your Minecraft worlds on the go. It is a digital watch, a cool wearable, and a secure way to back up and carry your Minecraft worlds, allowing you to use them on any computer. Highly recommended, my 3 kids give the Gameband + Minecraft an enthusiastic thumbs up!
All of my 3 kids love to play Minecraft so when I heard about the Gameband+Minecraft wearable, I knew it was a product we should review. Not only is it a watch and cool looking wearable, but it also lets you take your Minecraft games with you wherever you go.
My older son, now 11, was the first of the family to start playing Minecraft, but his younger siblings soon joined him. They started out using the Minecraft Pocket Edition on the family iPads, but soon graduated to playing the full game on the Mac. My younger son has Autism, and Minecraft has been great for him socially- it gives him common ground to talk to his equally Minecraft-crazy classmates at school. With the family Minecraft-obsession I knew I would have some willing testers for the Gameband!
The Gameband comes in 2 sizes -small (6.2″) or large (7.3″), there is a printable on the Gameband website to help you pick the right size. I ordered the small and it was a perfect fit for my 11 year-old, and my 7 year-old twins could also wear it although it was a little looser on them. It is quite sturdy and feels well-made, the display is activated by pressing a red button on the side of the band and pressing it repeatedly.
To use the Gameband you plug it into your computer via USB and launch the Gameband app (you do need to have already purchased a Minecraft license). When you quit your game it is backed up to your Gameband, and if you are online it is also automatically backed up via the cloud to Gameband’s secure online servers, giving you the peace of mind of a double backup. Next time you want to play just plug your Gameband in to any Mac, PC or Linux computer and you can carry on playing in your worlds, just where you left off.
We tested out the Gameband during a recent family visit to Ireland and I loved the fact that the kids could play without being online, and they loved having access to their own worlds despite not playing on their usual computer. Gameband comes pre-loaded with a bunch of extra content including maps from SethBling, Dragnoz, and Hypixel; my 11 year old especially enjoyed exploring all the new worlds, whilst the younger kids loved having their own worlds with them whilst we travelled.
The Gameband itself it designed to be personalized, it come with the Pixel Furnace app installed, which lets you create your own animations for your band. You can have text scrolling across, animated pictures or any design you can visualize. The app lets you draw your own pixel animations frame by frame and you can also go to the Pixel Furnace Community where you can share your animations of download Gifs created and shared by others. A nice feature is that once you set up new animations you can preview them on a virtual band before actually updating your band. The one addition I would like to see is the ability to have longer text- we tried to add “Happy Easter”, but it was too long so we had to settle for “Easter :-)”
For Minecraft fans the Gameband is both a fashion statement and a secure way of backing up your Minecraft worlds and taking them with you wherever you go. As well as the physical backup on the Gameband there is also a backup via the cloud to the Gameband servers so if you ever lose or damage your Gameband you can still recover your worlds. It is very easy to use, the ability to customize the display is a nice touch and it is simple enough that you can change it daily. It can also display the date and time, doubling as a digital watch as well as a cool wearable.
My kids all gave the Gameband+ Minecraft an enthusiastic thumbs up! I would recommend it as a great gift idea for Minecraft fans who are tweens, teens or adults. Younger Minecraft fans will also enjoy it although the band may be a bit big for some under 10’s.
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