Summer's almost here and that means families across the country are gearing up for summer vacations. But whether your family's traveling across country or across the Atlantic, those with small children know how difficult it can be to get the kids from point A to point B without a meltdown. "Today" tech editor Corey Greenberg just returned from taking his family abroad and he has some helpful gadgets to smooth the ride wherever you're going this summer.
What are some tips for making family trips easier on everyone?
Travel, especially air travel, is hard enough when you're flying alone or as a couple. Add a couple of toddlers to the mix and the headaches start before you even get to the airport. However, there are some great products on the market designed specifically to help parents herd their little ones through the airport and onto the plane without breaking a sweat, or the bank.
Designed by a flight attendant and mom, the Ride On Carry On is an add-on child's seat that turns any roller suitcase into a temporary stroller. It kind of looks like a kid-sized folding patio chair, and it hooks quite securely over the handle of your rolling Tumi or other brand of luggage to support a child from eight months to five years old, or up to forty pounds. Now (cue heavenly chorus of "Ahhhhhh!") you can leave your stroller at home when you go to the airport -- once you get on the plane, Ride On Carry On comes off your luggage in seconds and folds for stowing away. It's such a no-brainer product, I'm kicking myself I didn't discover this product sooner! Best news of all, they're only $75 for a pair. www.rideoncarryon.com
If you must take a stroller on your trip, Kelty, the great backpack company, makes a great stroller called the Convertible that turns into a backpack/child carrier for when you want to Kanga your Roo on your back and huff it on two feet. We encountered many a steep medieval hill town on our trip that would've been a lot easier to traverse if the kids had been on our backs instead of in a stroller — with the Kelty Convertible, you can have it both ways. $159 www.kelty.com
What about when you get to the hotel?
Any parent with a baby knows how iffy the "cribs" are at most hotels, if they even have one in the first place — and who knows what kind of bladder control issues that hotel crib has endured over the years? My advice? Bring your own. And the best and smallest travel crib is Graco's Travel Lite Crib. It weighs less than twenty lbs. so you can easily carry it with you, and it folds up so small in its very own travel bag you can easily stow it in the overhead. $69 www.gracobaby.com
If you've got a DVD player at home, you know that putting on an ol' chestnut like Cinder Elmo or Elmopalooza or pretty much any Elmo DVD, even ones in which he only does a brief walk-on is one of the best ways to keep small children entertained and occupied (i.e. not jumping up and down on the hotel bed and shrieking at frequencies only certain dogs and Mia Farrow can hear). But most portable DVD players, while travelers' godsends when used with headphones, have pretty miserable internal speakers that sound tinny, weak, and can't fill a room with decent movie sound. That's where Panasonic's DVD-LX9 comes in — it's not just Panasonic's top-of-the-line portable DVD player, but it also comes with a really good-sounding pair of external speakers that plug into the LX9 and can fill even the largest hotel or guest room with enough sound to make you forget you're not at home. $1,000 www.panasonic.com
We all love bringing our digital cameras and cell phones on vacation — what are some tips for getting the most out of our high-tech gadgets abroad?
If you're traveling overseas like we just did, you should definitely look at your current cell phone service provider's web site and find out whether your phone will work in the country you're visiting. Most providers offer optional international calling plans, but your phone needs to be a GSM-band phone, and your provider needs to handle the transition to the other country's network once you get off the plane. Not all of them score so well in this regard, but after our recent trip to Europe I can heartily recommend T-Mobile — my T-Mobile Blackberry Phone registered with the local network in Europe transparently, and my calls back to family in the US sounded so clear that everyone was convinced we hadn't left America yet. The new T-Mobile Blackberry Phone has a color screen, and lets you send and receive all your email on in 51 countries, in addition to providing phone service in over 130 countries. And the best thing of all was, I never had to dial any extra country calling codes to call back to the States — I just dialed numbers from my phonebook and they went through just like I was back in my office. T-Mobile 7230 Color Blackberry Phone $349, always-on email plans start at $40/mo., voice plans start at $20. www.t-mobile.com
The latest compact high-resolution digital cameras are great to take on vacation, but it pays to plan ahead when you travel with a digital camera. Because digital cameras take memory cards instead of film, you won't be able to simply duck into any drugstore and buy new film as you go — you need to make sure you have a big enough memory card to hold all the pictures you plan to shoot on your trip. Today's high-resolution digital cameras like Gateway's $300 5-megapixel DC-T50 will eat up the usual 64MB memory card before you've even hit the beach, and then what are you going to do? If you're shooting high-res pix, you should get a nice, fat memory card before you leave on your trip. Lexar Media has a whole new range of high-capacity memory cards in the most popular formats today's cameras take — Compact Flash, SD, and Memory Stick. A 1-gigabyte memory card may sound like ridiculous overkill, but if you've got one of the new 5 or 6-megapixel cameras and you've got kids, you're going to shoot hundreds of photos over the course of your trip, and even a 512K card will run out of room before you're ready to come home. Trust me, I took a high-res camera and a big fat memory card on our trip and my peace of mind as I took hundreds of photos of our kids was worth every penny. www.lexarmedia.com
If you're bringing your Apple iPod portable music player on your trip and you haven't completely filled its internal hard drive with your favorite music, Belkin has a clever alternative to the high cost of a gargantuan memory card. The new Belkin Digital Camera Link is an iPod-sized gadget that, when plugged between an iPod and your digital camera's USB port, turns your iPod into a loading zone for digital photos. Empty all your pix into your iPod and you're ready to go take an entire memory card's worth again, and again, and again. It's not quite as convenient as having a humongous memory card in your camera, but at only $80, it's a lot cheaper, and now you have a good excuse to bring your iPod on your trip. $80 www.belkin.com
Corey Greenberg is the tech editor for "Today." To learn more you can visit his Web site at: