Taking the whole family on vacation or to visit relatives during winter or spring break can be tons of fun, but it can also be a challenge. With a long haul ahead, the kids will be brimming with energy, excitement and curiosity. They’ll need stimulation to keep them occupied during lengthy car trips and airport layovers.

Technology to the rescue! Tablet computers, smartphones and notebooks keep active minds occupied during the longest journeys.

If don’t you fancy handing your iPhone over to a three-year-old, there are other gadgets that can help the hours fly by, too. Good old MP3 players, digital cameras, eReaders and handheld game consoles can all do a great job and are quite affordable. Here are five technology tricks that’ll make traveling fun and hassle-free for everyone.

  • Download a favorite movie. Kids have a favorite movie they can agree on? To help the hours (quietly) fly by, download their favorite movie or a few episodes from VUDU onto your tablet and mount it to the passenger seat headrest. A couple of pairs of inexpensive over-ear headphones and your littles are set for the whole trip.
  • Take a DVD or two. Even if you don’t own a tablet or laptop, you can still keep kids happy on a long drive or flight. Portable DVD players are very cost-effective, and a movie from your collection will keep the little ones occupied for a couple of hours.
  • Engage with the environment. You don’t want the kids to have their heads down the whole time they’re traveling. Instead, encourage them to take pictures, shoot short video clips and create photo journals or blogs of their experiences. You can also play games that help them spot and record the things they see.
  • Stay connected with walkie-talkies. Now that we have mobile phones, we forget how awesome walkie-talkies are! They’re perfect for vacation. You can keep in touch with the kids at rest stops, in their hotel room, while camping or on a hike. They’re lots of fun and, best of all, no call charges!
  • Keep the surprises coming. A great way to battle the boredom of long-haul trips is to keep some secrets up your sleeves. When fatigue sets in and tempers fray, you can unveil a game, movie or eBook that you had previously kept quiet.
  • Turn navigation into a game. With GPS and location services built into most tablets and smartphones, the kids can see on a map exactly where they are on long drives. With access to the Internet, they can even find out about their surroundings as they whiz past the window.

Kid-friendly tablets. By now we know that curious little fingers love swiping and tapping apps, games and videos. You may not be ready to give your children their own smartphones, but tablets—especially ones made just for kids from companies like Leapfrog, Vtech and the Sprout Channel Cubby—are available below the $99 mark. More robust tablets are available from Nabi, Kurio and the XO feature dual modes that let kids and parents enjoy the tablet equally.

Finally, here’s a bonus tip (and perhaps the most important): Wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing, pack your patience and an extra smile. After all, you’re on vacation!