Sanity-Saving Gadgets for Long Road Trips

Four cool thingies that can entertain for hours, whether your kids are babies or college students

By Jacqueline Emigh

Sooner or later, it'll be time for your family to hit the road--perhaps to go over the river and through the woods this holiday season. Your kids may get excited about seeing old friends or going to new places... but how will you keep them happily occupied in the back seat hour after long hour?

Most everyone (except perhaps for the babies) will bring their own smartphones and tablets along. Sharing multiplayer computer games together can be fun for quite some time. But how about leaving the ordinary, humdrum day-to-day screens out of the picture once in a while in favor of some other kinds of tech toys and gadgets?

Some Gadgets Simply Won't Work

Not that many gadgets are especially friendly to car travel, as great as these gizmos might be otherwise. Robots and drones need more room to move. VR viewers like Google Cardboard require head motions that might not be that easy to carry out in a crowded back seat. (And VR combined with car motion is probably a recipe for car sickness anyway.)

Some other gadgets are too big for travel, or contain too many pieces. An LED-lit
"electronic chess board" with a computerized referee and learning mode sounds interesting to play--but one bump and all of the pieces will go flying. Many other gadgets are one-trick ponies just about guaranteed to bore your kids in under an hour.

Car-Friendly Gadgets to the Rescue

But here are four gadgets that can work quite well while your car is whizzing down the highway. Each is easy to pack. There's sure to be a gadget in this group that will hold the attention of your kid for hours on end, whether she's a baby or a college student.

Bop It! Micro Series Game

The Bop It! gadget first saw the light of day back in 1996. Perhaps you even played with one as a child. Now produced by Hasbro, the game has gone through practically innumerable incarnations over the past 20 years.

Then as now, the basic idea is to respond to gadget-spoken commands like "bop it," "pull it," and "twist it" by performing actions with the built-in components. Players pick up one point for each successfully completed action, and the game
moves fast.

A new edition of the classic game adds novel new commands like "whip it," "saw it," and "golf it," but some of these would also be hard to conduct in the back seat without accidentally bumping a sibling.

But the recently released Bop It! Micro Series Game is tailor-made for mobile environments like moving vehicles. Geared to ages eight and up, it's much smaller than its cousins, and we hear that it's easier to play. Kids can use this gadget by themselves to sharpen their reflexes, or "pass it" among sibs for tournament-style, action-packed play.

Cubemaster Rubik’s Revolution Mini Games Handheld Electronic Game Light Up Cube

Rubik's Revolution also recalls earlier times, because it's about the same size and
shape as the original, pocketable Rubik's cube. Game play is totally different, however.

You won't find any separate, moveable subcubes like the ones in the original. Instead, there are six faces to the cube, each in a different color. The nine blocks on each face are fixed in place, but each face also includes a recessed LED-lit button colored to match the stickers on the squares.

You get six-games-in-one with this gadget, with each game corresponding to a colos on the faces. Each game involves pressing the buttons when they light up or when you're told to do so by the gadget's built-in recorded voice. Only one of the six games, "Multi-Player Madness," requires two players or more.

So this is a Rubik's cube for the 21st century. A volume control for the spoken voice might be nice, because gameplay can be noisy. But kids can contentedly while away the hours honing their problem-solving skills by trying to master each of the six games.

Think & Learn Spell & Speak Sea Turtle

When does a toy become a gadget? When it's interactive? When it contains electronics? Who says a gadget can't be adorable?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, preschoolers in the car will love playing with Fisher-Price's Sea Turtle, a thingie designed to help kids make stronger connections to first reading words by seeing, hearing, spelling, and rhyming them. The three- to six-year-old users can also view pictures to help them identify the words.

By pulling the turtle's tail, you child can move between any of three modes: Letters & Words, Rhyme Time, and Games.

While playing and learning, kids can interact with an LCD screen, the turtle's two toggle fins, buttons on the turtle's back, and letters and words on the turtle's shell.

Laugh & Learn Storybook Rhymes

Also from Fisher Price, Storybook Rhymes is a book/gadget for the 6- to 36-month-old set. Babies can listen to and sing along with six familiar nursery rhymes -- like "One, Two Buckle My Shoe"and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"--while strengthening their fine motor skills by turning the pages.

By pressing three big light-up buttons on the side, your baby can learn about ABC’s, 123’s, and shapes and numbers.

A top handle on the baby gadget makes it easy to take along wherever you and the child happen to travel