5 Techno-Tips for a Simpler Summer

In case you’re wondering, I survived my 20 year high school reunion last month. The next thing I have to survive, however, is equally daunting when you have 3 kids: Summer. True, we’ve got our usual awesome vacay to Colorado planned. But before that, I—like most of you—am forced to juggle the camps and the swim team and the playdates for about 2 months. As any parent knows, that can be a bit overwhelming. Sooo…in the spirit of de-stressing as much as possible, I thought I’d share five fun ways you can use technology to simplify your travels, camps, and family adventures. Enjoy!
  1. Ultra Translator. For the speech-capable iPhone 4S and the new iPad, this app puts the awesome power of the Babel Fish in your pocket. (Don’t know what the Babel Fish is? Go download The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on your Kindle. Talk about fun summer reading!)
  Featuring written translation functionality for dozens of languages, as well as vocalized translation for eighteen popular languages, Ultra Translator will help you and your kids gain confidence in foreign lands. Simply set the languages you’re translating from and to (i.e., English to French). Then press the microphone button (available on iPhone 4S only) to say what you’re looking to translate. It’s immediately written into the app. Hit the “Translate” button, and you’ll be able to read the result written on the screen in the other language and press a button to hear the result spoken out loud. You’ll never feel lost asking for the bathroom in Swedish again. This app by Scintilla costs $1.99 and is available on iTunes.  
  1. Groupon. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you plan to travel this summer, sign up now for Groupon (and other coupon sites) wherever your destination may be. You could catch some incredible deals at restaurants, hotels, theaters, and theme parks—not to mention pet sitters, airfares, car rentals, and more. You can store multiple cities in your Groupon profile, and turn them on and off at will. Plus you can put Groupon on your smart phone and have mobile access to your coupons from wherever you go. Sign up at www.groupon.com.
  1. AppleTV. If you don’t have one of these, seriously, I’m not sure how you survive. We have—literally—five of them in our family. This is a ridiculously easy-to-install-and-operate device. You simply plug one cord in to your TV and another to an outlet, and voila! You have the power of iTunes on your TV, along with instant access to on-demand movie rentals and purchases, both through iTunes AND Netflix.
  The best part? It’s tiny and portable—so you can take it with you when you travel! All you need is WiFi and a modern enough TV to plug into (some old-school motels or condo rentals might not have the right HDMI input socket, so double-check what’s available), and you can bring all your movie and music access to whatever TV you have on hand. Seriously useful on road trips when you have three tired kids in a hotel room who want to watch a movie after a long day in the car (and you don’t want to pay $18 for it). AppleTV retails at $99 and is available at the Apple Store, Best Buy, or online wherever Apple products are sold.  
  1. GPS Drive. No nav system in your rental car? No problem. This handy app from Motion X gives you easy-to-read GPS navigation functionality—and more—right on your iPhone or data-plan-activated iPad. The basic app includes full direction and multi-route capabilities based on the latest NAVTEQ maps, plus live traffic updates, social sharing (i.e., tell your Facebook friends where you are), iPod integration (so you can still easily listen to music while using the app), and 30 free days of turn-by-turn voice prompt control.
  If you want to continue using voice prompts, just pay a low annual fee after your trial period expires. And for another small fee, you can add your choice of a variety of HD-quality voice characters, so you never have to settle for some annoying robot chick. GPS Drive by Motion X is available for $0.99 from iTunes. Under a current promotion, you can purchase a year of voice navigation prompts for just $9.99. Download it from the App Store, and don’t forget one of these nifty dashboard stands that let you prop your phone up for simple and safe hands-free viewing.  
  1. iCloud Calendar. You can actually use a number of calendar programs, including Google, to share your family’s calendars, but we like iCloud in my house. When you’ve got multiple kids, multiple camps, and many summer obligations, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you go to www.icloud.com, you can log in to your Apple account (sorry, I’m only speaking to the iPhone users again…sorry, but it’s what we use!), and view your iCloud calendar. (Don’t use iCloud yet? Learn about how to set it up here.)
  If you sync your iPhone to iCloud, you should see your phone’s calendar on your computer. It automatically updates when you add an event from your phone (and vice versa). Next to your calendar’s name on the left, click the little icon that looks like a volume button. That will enable you to share your calendar with other iCloud users. Type in their email addresses, and you’re good to go. Crazy easy. Now your husband can have straightforward access to where everyone is supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there, and you can keep tabs on when he’s planning his next golf outing. If your older children have phones and calendars of their own, it’s also a great way to keep tabs on their plans when they forget to tell you what the weekend holds. Got other summer tips and tricks to share? Post them in the comments below!