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November 19, 2010

Traveling With Your Kids? How to Turn Your Notebook into a Multi-Media Device, Worth Hours of Entertainment

‘Tis the season for travel and as a parent this means you often dread long hours in the car or on a plane, anticipating the inevitable moment when your children start to wine, cry or pick fights with each other out of sheer boredom. Everywhere I go I take my PC and while it comes in handy for checking email and looking for the perfect kid-friendly restaurant in a new town, I most often use it to entertain my kids on long trips, which helps me and my husband stay sane. For those of you about to pack for your next trip, here are some great options for turning your notebook into an entertainment device for your kids:

Windows Media Center – I consistently travel with a staple of DVDs of popular TV shows and movies, which I have ready to pop into my PC at a moment’s notice. Even in my car, where we aren’t lucky enough to have a built in DVD player, I’m prepared to hand my PC over to my 3 year old to hold and share with her sister. Media Center is so easy to use; it will automatically open the minute you pop in your DVD. It also gives you access to all your music, photo or video library content. And if you have built in Wi-Fi on your PC or you’re traveling on a flight with internet access, then I recommend logging into your Netflix account in Media Center to stream content directly onto your PC and access your favorite movies and shows. We have a series of Dora the Explorer shows in our “Instant Queue” on Netflix, which has been a lifesaver.

Zune – For those who have a Zune or simply use the Zune software, this is another great platform for accessing and playing music, videos and movies on your PC. I store thousands of songs on my Zune player, including a collection of music just for my kids – and of course, don’t forget their headphones or earbuds for your trip! Zune content includes new movies and popular TV shows, along with music videos. I typically pick a few shows or movies to rent ahead of any trip, even sans kids.

PC Games – in a recent post I wrote about great online and PC games for the whole family. You can view my top picks for fun and educational games, which include Zuma, Zoo Tycoon and Bookworm Adventures and are sure to provide hours of activity for your kids and will keep them from finding their own means of entertainment, which for my 3 year old often includes enthusiastically kicking the seat in front of her. This of course is most embarrassing when flying – my apologies to 22B on our Hawaiian flight last April!

Now that your kids are set for your next trip, don’t forget about loading movies and games for the adults. Additionally, your PC is also a great way to stay in touch while you’re on vacation. I typically take out my notebook after the kids go to bed to upload pics and use Windows Live Photo Gallery to quickly edit, tag and post our favorite trip photos and videos to Facebook and/or SkyDrive, which allows our family and friends to stay updated on, and commonly entertained by, our adventures. And if you haven’t used it yet, HD video chat in Windows Live Messenger is phenomenal! Messenger has been a great way for my kids to communicate directly with their grandparents while we’re traveling to far off places, allowing them to share interesting and very animated stories in real time.