iParenting: Top vacation apps

We had a terrific opportunity to vacation on the Florida Space Coast a few weeks back. Now that we’re home and settling back into our routines, I’m reflecting on the trip. I have to tell you, it was the best vacation we have taken with the kids yet. Part of that had to do with the location and attractions. How can you go wrong when you’re on Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center is 30 minutes away? The space geeks in our family bought our “astronaut ice cream” and freeze dried strawberries and geared up for an awesome trip. It was all topped off by viewing the last launch of the shuttle Atlantis. That experience was made all the more phenomenal because it was a surprise. When we were planning the trip, we had no idea a launch was scheduled. How sweet is that?

So clearly, the venue was a winner. What else made the trip a smashing success? My Blackberry! just kidding – wrong blog! You guessed it, once again, the iParent is saved by her iPhone. The last time we went on vacation was shortly after I got my handset, and it offered some help, but now that I am a more experienced user, boy, I can’t imagine how we ever vacationed (especially with the kids) without this thing! Well actually, I can. I remember vacations with my parents and sister in the early ’80s, riding in the “way back” of the family’s beat-up, beloved 1977 dark red “Olds” Cutlass station wagon – oh yeah baby! No AC, stale cheetoes, fights with my sister, and very few potty breaks because we “were almost there.” Gee, I wish my dad could have traded his crumpled Mobile Station map for a GPS – but then I would have to trade all those memories of hearing my mom say, “Ken, this doesn’t look right, are you sure..?” “Who’s driving, Carol? Let me drive, OK?” Oh brother, it’d be a long time before another bathroom break…

This baby brings back memories... smell the cheetoes...

Fast forward to 2010, with GPS and iPhones, and here are Amanda’s Top family vacation apps:

(links launch iTunes)

Around Me (FREE) – This one has got to be my most favorite free app EVER! No need to ever wonder where that next bathroom, restaurant, ATM, or hospital is. I definitely use it at home, but I completely rely on it when we’re on vacation.

Maps – or any GPS of your choice – MotionX GPS Drive ($0.99) or Tom Tom, USA ($49.99) to name a couple of voice guided choices – don’t leave home without it. Some are pricey, some not, but it’s worth it. A friend gave me a great tip that’s a time saver. Put all the addresses to the places you’re going to visit before you leave home and when you get there, they will be in your history, read to pull up with ease.

GateGuru (FREE) – This is great when you’re stuck in a terminal and need some help finding a decent meal, book, or chewing gum. It’s an absolute must when traveling with kids. Running around an airport by yourself trying to find a suitable place to eat is bad enough, but with little ones in tow, it can be mind-blowingly stressful. This will help keep bellies full, and mom and dad on time for the flight.

TripTracker Pro ($0.99) – Track flights and delays with this useful app. It’s indispensable if you need to catch connecting flights. You also get the weather, hotel, and car info with this one. It’s well worth the $0.99.

National Parks Companion ($0.99) – The national parks are a great way to see some of the U.S.’s most beautiful land. There’s bound to be a park, monument, or historic site within a drive of wherever you’re staying, and this a great way to expose the kiddos to our National Treasures. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of some cool wildlife. This app lists 500+ parks, monuments, battlefields or historic sites in US and the territories. It provides descriptions, fees, photos, contact info and GPS coordinates that links with Maps.

Pocket First Aid and CPR from the American Heart Association ($3.99). Last, but not least, have the peace of mind of being prepared in case of emergency. As a nurse, I may not need an app like this, but my husband – as most parents – could one day. I hope not, but it’s good to know this is handy if it’s ever needed. This app has the basics of adult, child and infant CPR, choking rescue, and bandaging basics.

Another tip: don’t forget to check your area attractions for specific apps, too. Many places — like Disney — have apps devoted just to them which can enrich the whole experience. For our vacation, I looked up NASA, and sure enough, there is a free NASA app with launch and mission information. Looking through that app added a whole new dimension to our trip and meat for discussion at the dinner table at night!

So, unlike my family vacations as a kid in the early 80’s, I have Around Me for potty and snack breaks. I have serveral apps that help me maintain control at (almost) all times. Life is good. I am the master of my own vacation destiny, and now my children are at my mercy! I love this circle of life. And although (thanks to GPS) they don’t have to put up with their mom and dad’s petty fights about taking a left or right at Albequerque, my kids still have the occasional fight themselves. I wish there was an app for that.

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