I try not to be the parent who hands my kid a tablet the second we turn the car ignition on or buckle our airplane seatbelts.
Even in a small seat there are more ways to entertain yourself than with videos and computer games.
But the older tween traveler gets the more she gravitates toward electronics for entertainment.
Luckily, there are all kinds of apps and gadgets that are creative, educating and engaging. And I’m all for taking advantage of tech that encourges doing and making, especially when we travel.
Here are some of my favorite tech toys and gadgets for taking in the car, on a plane or to a beach house. They’re organized by age, so you can find the best gift options for the tots, kids and teens in your life.
Gift Guide: Portable Gadgets For Every Age Kid
Table of contents
Gifts For Preschoolers
*Leapfrog My Pal plush toys I spent most of my daughter’s preschool years avoiding talking toys. But Violet and Scout are genuinely cuddly and they talk and sing enough to entertain kids without driving parents crazy.
Amazon Fire: The gadget that seems most popular with our readers these days is the Amazon Fire HD 10 kids edition.
It comes with a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited’s games, apps, books, Audible books, and content from PBS, Disney and Nickelodeon.
It also comes with a bright colored protective case, a dashboard you control from your phone, screen-time limits and a two-year guarantee against breakage.
I like this PBS KIDS Playtime Pad+ because it’s a good size and has games, videos and song with your kids favorte PBS characters. It has parental controls, too. And a durable case with easy-to-grip handles..
• Once you’ve invested in portable electronics for your kids you want to protect those tables and phones safe. Try one of these two Pusheen cases, the larger cat for tablets or the smaller chopper plush case for phones and mp3 players. (age: 6+)
Gifts For School-Age Kids
Your child can make the picture frame and then put a photo of your trip in it. Or she can decorate the journal and then write about how boring much fun the family road trip has been.
• Crafty music lovers will have fun decorating these Alex Bling headphones and then listening to their favorite pop songs on them.
It keeps them busy and you don’t have to hear any more Taylor Swift!
• Coco Color Stylus I normally don’t like using tablets for drawing and coloring—there’s so much to gain from kids using real paper and drawing tools.
But this stylus looks versatile and cool for older kids who want to experiment with simple graphic design. It’s certainly mess-free and compact for traveling. Use it with a free Android or Apple app.
• Seedling Design Out Loud! Cardboard Speakers Heading to a beach house or resort? Music-loving kids can color these speakers with crayons, pencils or markets along the way and then book a music player or phone to them when you arrive.
The only caveat: you might have to listen to your kids’ music.
• If your kids are interested in movie-making and animation, consider any of the many Stikbots Zing makes for use with its stop-motion movie-making app for phones and iPads.
The small figures are posable and have suction cup hands and feet to hold action poses. You can start with a few basic action figures and add on, pets, safari animals, monsters, dinosaurs and props.
The best thing part is that they are small enough that an airplane tray-table can be your kids movie set (you might want to leave the green screen home though).
Gifts For Tweens
Polaroid-type cameras are the reto-accessory every middle schooler wants these days. The Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 comes in seven bright colors like lime green and cobalt blue.
• Lil Gadgets makes wireless bluetooth headphones just for kids and at a reasonable price.
Designed for both comfort and durability, they come in six colors and have built in volume limit and noise reduction. They come with a USB charging cable and a cable to attach to an ipod or phone if the battery runs out on a long trip.
If your tween is angling for a tablet or phone primarily to play games, skip the monthly mobile fee and buy a handheld game device like th Nintendo Switch Lite.
It comes in four colors and plays any Nintendo Switch game that is handheld compatible, including Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers.
It’s compact for tucking into a backpack pocket, but a hard-shell case to protect it might be a good add-on.
• Outdoorsy tweens will like this Brand 44 pocketsize Geomate. Turn it on when you’re camping or hiking and it will direct you to geocached “treasure” nearby.
The loop lets you attach it to a belt loop or backpack for safekeeping. And a separate USB connector uploads the latest caches from geocaching.com.
Parents can lead the way with younger kids or let tweens navigate for the family.
Read more: Geocaching with kids
• Yet another IllumiCraft Kit for travel. Tweens who like hands-on making will like wiring this MP3-player dock and then providing a soundtrack for your vacation.
Popsockets make great stocking stuffers for kids, tweens and teems who are getting a iphone, mini-tablet or e-reader.
They attach to the back of the phone and pop out to provide a more secure grip when kids are using their device out in public. They also act as a stand if you’re watching videos or sitting reading.
Gifts For Teens
• If you think your teen won’t lose them, buying the latest bluetooth airpods from Apple could make you the coolest mom or dad on the block.
These come with a case that can recharge a few times over, which is really handy for travel. A phone case with a pocket on the back for these babies would be ideal. I’m keeping my eye out.
Your kids can keep up with the most popular songs and albums with Amazon digital music best sellers and most-downloaded.
• Kudrone This palm-sized nano drone that can take up to 4,000 photos, shoot video and take panoramic shots. With a price well under $200 and smartphone-based controls it’s an affordable, entry drone for older kids who want to experiment with getting awesome aerial shots of your next family destination
• Ricoh Theta SC Spherical Digital Camera Creative photographers and filmmakers will love this slim camera that shoots videos and surround panoramas, allowing kids to create simple VR media. It comes in four colors! For travel, consider the waterproof case, too
The teen who travels needs his or her own portable charger. I like this one from WOBON because it has a lot of juice and there are no loose pieces to loose.
Plug it directly into an outlet to charge it up and use one of 3 attached wires to charge Samsung and Apple devices as well as some cameras and games. It also has a USB port in case you need an extra wire.
Here are more cell phone accessories Amazon shoppers find useful.
• For the tween or teen getting a new phone this holiday season, consider this phone case by Speck.
Its best feature is a pocket on back for money, a debit card, a train pass or other flat items your adult might want to keep handy without carrying a purse or backpack.
It also has a cushioning layer inside a hard shell to protect the phone well.