Summer travel season is quickly approaching, a time I both love and loathe. Love for the adventures, the destinations, the fun times. Loathe for the time with three kids under six in the car for hours. on. end. But over the past few years, we’ve picked up a few things to ease the travel process. With that in mind, here are 5 gadgets and gear that are making our travels – and hopefully yours – a little saner.

1) A Multi-Purpose Entertainment Device || LeapPad ($99 at LeapFrog) -  We haven’t ventured into iPads for the kids yet, but with the LeapPad by Leapfrog everyone from my 5-year-old to my 21-month-old can play games, draw, watch videos, read books and generally be entertained (and usually educated too!) I love that the LeapPad has individual log-ins so each kid can save their progress and play games at their specific level. It’s compact, versatile and expandable (you can buy additional games, books and activities to download). And despite my previous misgivings about the battery length noted in my initial review, that seems to have been an issue with the brand of batteries we had than the LeapPad.

2) A Stuff Holder || Deluxe Snack & Play Travel Tray ($19.95 at One Step Ahead) – Our longest car trips are often taken in our VW 1987 Westfalia which provides a vast floor space for my three kids to drop their water bottles, snacks, pens, books, you name it. This travel tray from One Step Ahead has saved me from an endless refrain of “Mo-om, can you get that?” It has a firm foam surface to make it easier for my kids to color or write in their journals, and 4 pockets to hold all the stuff they normally drop on the  floor. The tray attaches around the child with a waist strap, folds flat for storage and collapses on impact. It keep them happy in their seats and allows me to actually sit in mine.

3) A Non-Spill Snack Holder || Munchkin Snack Catchers ($7.99 for 2 at Amazon) – While two of my kids are old enough to generally make a successful delivery of food from hand to mouth, being in the car is a whole other situation. From random road bumps to sudden side scratches, snacks frequently find their way to the back of car seats and bottom of the floor. With these snack holders from Munchkins though, my kids can mindlessly munch on cereal, fruit or nuts without my fear of it getting inadvertently dumped.

4) A Spillproof Water Bottle || Camelbak Spill-Proof Water Bottle ($9 and up at Camelbak) – After going through a number of water bottles that claimed to be spill-proof, I’ve finally found one that has lived up to it’s name – Camelbak. We have this version from Target that has a narrower base to ensure it fits in a variety of cup holder sizes. A different color for each kid limits arguments and germ-spreading, and the loop on the top makes it easy to hold and for my carabiner-loving husband, easy to attach to things. Even my 21-month-old has mastered the bite and sip method. And not a spill to date.

5) A Kid-Friendly, Space-Saving Pair of Headphones || Foldable Headphones ($4.99 at Amazon) I couldn’t find a link for the exact pair we have, but these are pretty close. Cheap (kids are tough on stuff), space-saving (they fold up into quarters) and effective, these headphones means my kids can enjoy their game/video/book without my husband and I having to, uhhh, enjoy it too. The kid headphones pair nicely with the This American Life app for you. Riveting tales and brilliant storytelling make the time fly and the headphones for the kids ensure they won’t hear any less-than-kid-friendly parts.

And yes, our trips do have lots of family conversation, I Spy, Alphabet game and sing-a-longs. Just not 8 hours of it.

What is your favorite gadget for making long trips easier?

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Kate Bayless is a freelance writer and editor with bylines in Parents, American Baby, Parenting, Babble and Momtrends. Visit her at @katebayless or  www.katebayless.com.

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