Whether you’re traveling north, south, east, or west this holiday season, I think you’ll find this list of WiFi-free apps to be an extremely helpful timesaver. For some, travel can take countless hours, so after the bags and snacks are packed, don’t forget about activities for the car or airplane. Some of the essentials in my family are Relationshapes, Heads Up!, and a digital library of our favorite movies. Safe travels, and don’t forget your headphones. – Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh Regional Manager at Common Sense Media. Common Sense has the largest, most trusted library of independent, age-based, and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, and books. Jennifer’s passion is to help families make smart media choices. You can find her on Twitter @Jehehalt.
Must-have apps for family travel
Traveling with kids is always an adventure. And anything longer than a trip across town requires some strategic planning to keep kids entertained, civil, and — ideally — learning along the way. In the mix of homework, books, music, and of course actually talking, apps can be super helpful when you’re trapped in a car or a plane. Whether you want to listen as a group, have the kids play together, or let them get their thinking caps on, check out these apps and our other travel lists to find what works best for your family.
Tales Untold, 4+. These short audio stories are in perfect bite-sized bits to get you from one rest stop to the next. With fiction and nonfiction, there’s something for everyone, including a magical adventure story, a mystery-based series, and a fact-based nonfiction series, among others. The first episode in each series is free, but you’ll have to pay for the rest. Also check out Pinna – Audio for Kids.
Leela Kids – Best Audio Content for 3-15 Yr Olds, 7+. Instead of providing original content, this app curates the best podcasts and audio content for kids, so you don’t have to do the legwork. You can choose topics based on your kid’s age and the categories that interest them most, like Animals, Music, and Space. Leela Kids is free and the quality of the content varies. But you can always switch to something else without worrying about the price. Also check out This American Life.
RelationShapes, 3+. RelationShapes (get it?) allows for more than one finger to match shapes and solve puzzles at the same time. So if you have two kids playing on the same device, they can practice playing cooperatively and helping each other. Not only do kids match and construct shapes into pictures — a bit like Tangrams — they can make original creations as well. Parents can also set up multiple profiles if kids want to take turns playing instead of working together. Also check out Duel 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade Math Games for Kids.
Heads Up!, 7+. This classic guessing game is still one of the best co-play apps around. The person who’s “it” holds the phone or tablet at forehead level with the mystery word facing out, and the other player gives hints. After each correct answer, the player tilts the device to get the next answer on the screen. Kids can easily play while seated, but it’s better for the car versus the plane or bus because it can get rambunctious. Also check out Trivia Crack.
Off-the-Grid Good Times
Monument Valley 2, 8+. This mind-bending adventure through a surreal landscape tests your spatial sense. And its soothing, sensory environment is ideal for those who like problem-solving without pressure (who needs more of that when you’re traveling?). Once it’s downloaded you can play offline, and there are lots of levels to keep kids occupied. Though it’s not really a co-play game, kids can help each other figure things out if there’s one device to share. Also check out Zoombinis.
The Room, 11+. This creepy puzzle-based app has an involved story and lots of mystery. As kids solve complicated and beautiful puzzles, they move along in the story — and to the next puzzle. Once you pay and download, you no longer need to be connected to play. If your kid loves it and wants more, you can invest in parts two and three of the series as well. Also check out Lifeline.
Busy Shapes & Colors, 2+. This great problem-solving app has kids sorting colors and shapes while solving simple puzzles (it can also be played offline). The difficulty increases as kids progress, which will help beat back boredom. If there’s an older sibling in a generous spirit, it’s also an opportunity for some gentle guidance and instruction. Also check out Artie’s Magic Pencil.
codeSpark Academy, 5+. codeSpark introduces the basic concepts of logic and looping in a fun game, and it’s great for kids who aren’t reading yet. Parents can include up to three profiles, so siblings can all use the app on their own. It’s free to download, but if you subscribe, kids can get new content every month. Also check out The Robot Factory by Tinybop and Thinkrolls: Kings & Queens.
Weirdwood Manor, 8+. Half book and half game, Weirdwood Manor reads like a digital book but with lots of interactivity and puzzles to solve. And the atmosphere is mysterious and eerie without being too scary. Kids can try the first chapter to see if it’s a hit, then parents can purchase one chapter at a time or the whole collection at once. Also check out Device 6.