This is expected to the one of the busiest summer travel seasons ever. An estimated eight in ten vacationers kicked off summer with a road trip Memorial Day weekend. With a whole lot of traveling ahead, there are countless opportunities to use tech to make your life a little bit better.
Here's a stack of family summer travel tech tools and tips to help you get the most out of your next vacation:
1. Don't get caught roaming
If you're going cross-country or even doing a bit of globetrotting, you could find yourself racking up hundreds of dollars in smartphone roaming charges. You used to have to worry about roaming for your cellular calls, but in the age of smartphones it's all about data roaming. This can be even worse, especially if you have a Facebook or Twitter addiction.
To avoid sticker shock, seek out a carrier that doesn't pile on roaming charges. When it comes to national carriers, T-Mobile's looking like your best bet right now. The company's Simple Choice plan includes international roaming for no extra charge, covering over 120 countries. Text and data are included for no additional fee, with calls in all corners of the globe coming in at 20 cents per minute — but, let's be honest, if you can text or email for extra charge, how often will you really be calling?
The best part is T-Mobile doesn't require a contract, so if you have a big trip coming up, you can start a plan to supplement your other, pricier carrier's plan while you're out exploring the world and save a few bucks along the way.
2. Back up battery!
Your summer travel plans are hopefully full of sandy beaches, cool drinks, nightly campfires, and lots and lots of relaxing. Your phone, on the other hand, will still be working 24/7 to keep you connected, and its battery never takes a vacation, so make sure it has the extra juice it needs to do its job by equipping a Mophie battery pack case.
Unlike some backup batteries, Mophie's packs don't add a whole bunch of bulk to your sleek phone, and while it makes your gadget a little bit bigger than it is when naked, it won't feel like a brick. Mophie makes battery backup cases for just about every iPhone model, along with Samsung's Galaxy phones, with prices starting at $79.95.
There's also the Juno Jumpr, which we showed off in the video portion of this story. It's a handheld high-capacity battery pack that powers up your phone or tablet, and can even jump start a dead car battery. It comes with its own small jumper cables and everything, so you can just toss it in your glovebox and always have backup power when you need it. The Juno Jumpr is priced at $89.99.
3. Tech on the beach
Tech and water don't mix, but there's all kinds of new gadgets that you don't have to worry about keeping dry. Sony's newest Xperia smartphones and tablets play well with water, which means you can take them for a swim or even shoot video underwater. Sony's high-tech handsets vary in price depending on model and your carrier.
If you want some tunes to accompany the sound of waves rolling in, Scosche's boomBottle is perfectly at home both on dry land or wading in the surf. You wouldn't want to take it diving, but its weatherproof design means that rain or splashes from out-of-control pool parties are just fine. These beats will cost you $129.99.
Simply want to envelope your smartphone in an ultra-protective case? With a $79.99 LifeProof Fre case you can drop your phone into 10 feet of water and leave it there overnight. Pull it out the next morning, and it'll work perfectly, as if it had never gone out for that midnight swim. If you're worried about dropping your phone into the ocean depths or leaving it on the bottom of a lake, simply add on the LifeJacket. Yes, LifeProof has created an external flotation device for smartphones, starting at $39.99.
SnowLizard also has you covered. Literally. SLXtreme iPhone cases are extremely durable, waterproof, and even include a built-in solar charger that will let you take advantage of the bright summer sun. Starting at $129.99.
4. Backseat bickering
An upset baby can seriously ruin a car trip, and nothing makes little ones more whiny than being totally miserable in a too-hot car seat that pulls, pinches, grabs, and just generally makes them crazy. Evenflo's new Platinum series seats are designed to keep baby happy for as long as humanly possible. They feature heat distribution technology that keeps the tiny passenger at an optimal temperature, which means less crying and more miles with smiles. These soothing seats start at $149.99.
By the way, in the video for this story, I did something really stupid with this car seat. I put the baby in backward. The doll we were using is small, and I buckled it into the seat facing forward. The seat should have been turned the other way for an "infant." Doh!
Keeping older children entertained is an entirely different story, as they're not usually content to simply stare out the window. The new PlayStation Vita is perfect for this (if Mom and Dad don't steal it …). It's slimmer, lighter, thinner, and more comfortable to hold than the original Vita to better give kids a real gaming experience within the palm of their hand. There are a ton of great bundles, like getting the new Vita with Borderlands 2, and you can even download full games directly to the system, which means boredom goes bye-bye. Systems start at $199.
If your kids aren't gamers, snag Griffin's CinemaSeat, snap in your iPad, and let them watch hit movies for as long as they want. It's easy to install and includes pockets to store important bits like headphones and charging cables. It'll cost you $39.99
5. Keeps tabs on everything, and everyone
Hitting the sky with all your valuables in a suitcase can be scary, but Trakdot's luggage tracking system can put your mind at ease. Not only will it send you a text message or email to let you know that your bags safely made it to the same destination as you, but it can even spot your gear anywhere in the world, if it happens to take an unexpected detour. For $49.99, it's affordable assurance.
Misplaced luggage is one thing, but losing track of your kids in a hectic airport or tourist trap can be downright terrifying. FiLIP is a wrist-worn smart locator that functions as both a phone and a personal guardian to keep tabs on your children. The gadget can make two-way calls to and from five pre-programmed numbers, and will keep your family in touch at all times. The FiLIP itself is $199, with unlimited voice and location data for just $10 per month through AT&T.
Whether you're planning on spending a quiet weekend at the campground, a wild week on the beach, or even an intercontinental trip to see the sights, these tech tools will make your trip less stressful, more organized, and of course, a ton of fun. What travel gadget is a must-pack for you? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.