Have you ever had the pleasure of driving seven hours to Cornwall while your little
demon spawns sweet cherubs scream blue murder and hit each other hug and quietly work on their homework?
Yeah, epic holiday journeys don’t mix well with most kids’ attention spans. Just ask any parent about their drive up to the Lake District and their eyes will glaze over, as the haunting memories rear their ugly heads once again.
But fortunately there’s need to resort to ‘I spy’ or threats of naughty steps with these boredom-killing toys, accessories and apps…
Leapfrog Epic (£95)
Kids love tablets, and while you could just let them loose on your iPad, we’d recommend a child-focused tab such as the LeapFrog Epic.
For starters, you’ll feel much more comfortable leaving them alone with it. The Epic runs Android but it comes with a kid-friendly and fully customisable LeapFrog skin, safe browsing and curated app store – no more cries of “Daddy! I just pressed the button and now it says I have to pay some money! Help!”
LeapFrog’s own apps are pricey, but they are also educational without appearing to be so, which means there's more chance of your child actually playing them and less chance of them just spending hours on Angry Birds.
Amazon Fire 7 (£50)
If your kids are of an age where you’d get a ‘look’ for suggesting the Leapfrog Epic, but you still don’t want to hand over several hundred quid’s worth of Apple kit when your little darlings are squabbling in the back seat, try the Fire 7.
As we noted in our review, the screen isn’t great, and Amazon’s Appstore can’t hold a candle to Google Play. But there are still loads of games to keep tiny people quiet. Moreover, it’s 50 quid. It’d almost be rude not to buy one. Or even one for each child, so you can enjoy the blissful sound of tyres on tarmac rather than incessant screaming.
Nintendo 2DS (£75)
Long-time Stuff readers may recall we weren’t thrilled by the 2DS when it first appeared, and even the 2DS XL didn’t warm our happy place. But prices have since tumbled, and these consoles remain rugged, kid-friendly handhelds – and a much better idea than taking the brand-new Switch in the car, and then discovering days later it was probably abandoned at a random services on the M1.
Also, with the earlier consoles now being a bit old-hat, you can pick up piles of superb games for a song on eBay. (Thinking about it, you can also pick up great older Nintendo handhelds on eBay, too. If your kids aren’t too fussed about the latest and greatest just for a car trip, you can often bag a DS Lite and a pile of cartridges for 20 quid.)
Casio SA-46 (£40)
For the musically inclined members of your family, you could probably install an app on a tablet, and have them create the next chart-troubler while you’re bombing along the motorway. But music’s much more fun with real instruments.
The Casio SA–46 has 32 mini keys that are perfect for tiny fingers, and includes 100 sounds and 50 rhythms. It’s battery powered, very portable, and as an added bonus you can always have the kids busk for their lunch if they surprisingly turn out to be the next Pet Shop Boys.
Onanoff Buddyphones Inflight (£21)
Most headphones are easily lost or broken, and not that kid-friendly. BuddyPhones, though, are strong and bendy, and come with stickers for your little tyke to personalise their pair (or the long-suffering cat).
We like the flat cable (less chance of it getting tangled or eaten), but the best bit is adjustable volume. You can protect your child’s ears with 75dB, or temporarily boost the volume to 85 or 94 while on a plane.
ATTOL mini binoculars (£36)
Make staring out of the window a lot more interesting by welding a pair of these beauties to your child’s noggin. These binoculars not only look like a giant yellow bug (which is amazing unless you are the most miserable person alive), but they’re properly rugged, lightweight, and have rubber eye caps to ensure they don’t mug your child’s face.
Best of all, they’re not rubbish – and, frankly, a lot of binoculars for kids are. But these have adjustable focus and 8x magnification – more than enough for peering into the distance during a journey or transforming a tiny bug on a tree into a terrifying giant monster.
Fisher-Price Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo (£40)
This deranged sort-of-rabbit feels like the creation of engineers who spent a bit too much time clubbing in the ’90s.
When a foot button is pressed, the creature explodes into song, encouraging its toddler friend to move to the beat.
Thanks to its built-in mic, there’s also a mode to record a phrase that’s then ‘remixed’ into a song. All the while, a grid of tummy lights dazzle you in a bewitching manner. All hail hypnobunny!
VTech Kidizoom Action Cam (£50)
You probably won’t want to arm a kid with your GoPro, so the Kidizoom Action Cam is the next best thing.
The waterproof case enables the camera to be used underwater, and protects it when it inevitably has an unfortunate meeting with a concrete floor.
The Kidizoom can also be mounted on a bike or helmet for the kind of action movies that will later fill parents with horror. Budding creative types can eke out further joy by messing around with timelapse and video effects.
View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack (£23)
As far back as 1966, generations enjoyed (then swiftly discarded) their View-Master stereoscopic toys, with inserted discs that moved with a ‘klunk’ that was more satisfying than the actual content.
Today’s version is a take on Google Cardboard. With a phone shoved inside, reels and an app combine to provide augmented reality interfaces. These boast 360° views, peppered with interactive components and mini-games.
Top Trumps Dinosaurs (£4)
We’re veering away from tech for this entry, because: dinosaurs. Top Trumps have been around since the 1960s, and dinosaur sets have always remained popular with kids. Plus: if you’re on a budget, a four-quid deck of cards is a smart way to have everyone pass a few hours.
As ever, you’re trying to use cunning to grab all the cards from your opponents by way of better stats. Got a Tyrannosaurus rex? ‘Killer rating’ is a good bet. A massive sauropod? ‘Height’ or ‘weight’. One of those rubbish chicken-sized dinosaurs that gets the lowest billing in every Jurassic Park? Oh, bad luck.
Tetris Dual (£25)
For a generation of kids, Tetris was the travel game. You could have glued the cartridge into a million Game Boys and their owners would barely have noticed. Even today, Alexey Pajitnov’s block-dropper appeals, and now it exists in board game form. No, really.
This head-to-head game borrows from Connect Four, and has two opponents aiming to place pieces next to those of the same colour, or completing full rows. Leaving holes loses points. Little LED screens tot everything up, presumably while your tiny minion helpfully chirps that this is “even more rubbish than the Tetris on your old console”, making you feel very old indeed.
Cat Nap Cushion (£15)
During long journeys, even the most stubborn child is going to conk out, collapsing in a heap in the most unsuitable place. Help direct their nap locations by arming them with this cushion.
This plush item can be worn over a hand, elbow or forearm, and works well on a floor, table or bed. Firebox helpfully notes that they “look a bit like Toothless from the How To Train Your Dragon movies”, if that’s your kid’s thing.
We rather like the pink one, with its evil eyes warding off anything that might interrupt its owner’s 40 winks.