Some tools and methods for finding out about your surroundings.
Search the phrase "things to do in [place, state]", then when you get the results, click "More Things To Do." that will provide you with a lot of options.
This is a super powerful feature of Google Maps that is not immediately obvious, but you can click on the images on the bottom right of the map to show additional options, hovering over the images will put a line to where the photo was posted. This can be really helpful in figuring out interesting things around you.
I just found this resource - it allows you to find locations to see waterfalls, describes the access, and also lists places you can swim with a good bit of detail.
Quick summary of how we keep a consistent data signal to work, research, and entertain ourselves.
Cell Data Overview:
The mobile internet resource center is a great place to start for understanding how all of this stuff works, but here's a quick rundown:
Cell service varies depending on location, and population.
If you're in a small place, with a lot of people...the cell service will be too bogged down to be useful, even if you get a good signal. When we were in Glacier National Park, we had 4 bars on Verizon, but no good signal.
Boosting works, but is finicky.
A lot of people talk about cell boosters. I had one, but I struggled to get it to work for me. You have to point your antenna at the nearest tower (which means you have to know where the tower is, which I struggled with. Also, the antenna was uni-directional, and if the cell tower was a mile away, even a slight variation would be off. It's also difficult to test consistently. Lastly, if there are rocks / trees in the way, it still won't work well. And for us, we weren't anywhere for long enough to justify the work to get the booster setup, so I abandoned it in favor of traveling a few miles to get a signal.
One last thing before I talk about our current setup: "Unlimited" doesn't really mean Unlimited.
Unlimited means throttled usually. There is a window of priority service (meaning as everyone is queuing up for getting data when they access their phone, you get priority until you hit your cap). After you hit your cap, you get lowered in the priority queue.
Our current solution: 2 Service Providers, Verizon and AT&T.
- 2 iPhones - 22gb / month priority on tethering.
These are links to the things we use, and recommend to others.
Our Movie Projector
Perfect for movie nights. It usually attracts attention, and sometimes a crowd. If you want to do something fun for the neighbors, this is a big hit. This one is Standard Def, and not high-end, so if you want to get spendy...keep browsing Amazon.
If you want a reliable way to have a huge screen, but don't want to lug around something heavy...this is a geat solution. It folds up into small pieces like a tent and doesn't take up much space at all. I usually keep this in the same bag as the projector. Warning: Not good for windy days.
Our States Map
Of all the ones we saw on amazon, we liked this one the best. It's colorful, has neat illustrations of what is special in each state, and is CLEAR, which is nice if you have an off-white camper.
The Magic White Box
It's ACTUALLY called the RAVPower FileHub Plus, but that's less special. It's perfect for road trips when you know you won't have cell signal, or don't want to burn through your data, but your kids want to watch movies. This device creates a wifi network and allows you to stream movies from a thumb drive to your tablets. The app works on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire. It's magic.
Here are some useful sites and organizations we appreciate and recommend.
Our Book & Podcast List
What we read and listen to as a family.
The Family Dinner Project
The Family Dinner Project is a growing movement of food, fun and conversation about things that matter.
Printable Road Trip Games
I found this list of printable games for road trips. I thought I would post it here because this is a cool resource for traveling families like ours.
Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is a great place to check movie reviews to see what other parents and children have to say. It's also a great place to get recommendations for kids apps and movies.
350+ Aquariums and Zoos for the price of 1 (Reciprocity Passes)
We found this really awesome pass that gives us free or reduced admission to 300 aquariums and zoos around the country. We had to share.
Your public library probably participates and gives you access to this, but Hoopla is an ebook, audiobook, and video repository with tons of great content. We use it a lot for audiobooks when we're in the car, and ebooks for our older kids. We also have found some great titles available. All for free!
Screentime Device Monitoring [Android Devices]
Screentime is a device monitoring software that enables you to control what your kids have access to on smartphomes and tablets. We have android tablets for the girls so they can watch videos, read books, and play games. But those devices are internet enabled, which means the kids can access things that could be harmful to them. Screentime enables me to lock down their apps, control the amount of time they spend on apps, and sends me reports of what they did on their devices. This provides so much peace of mind. Well worth the money.
AllTrails (website and app)
We use this tool every week to find good hikes nearby. 2 things to take note of: 1. moderate can mean hard, so shoot for "easy" if you have little ones. Keep in mind that AllTrails might find hikes inside of state parks etc, so pay attention to make sure you won't have to pay entrance fees etc (usually worth it though).
Joseph is a nerd. Before deciding to become a programmer, he was studying to be an engineer. We love all things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in our house.
Hopscotch is an app that teaches kids the fundamental rules of programming. We'll probably do some videos on this in the future, but with Hopscotch, kids can learn to build their own interactive games using real programming principles. I highly Recommend this for parents who want to introduce their kids to programming.
Tinkercad (3d Modeling)
Tinkercad is an excellent tool for kids to get hands-on experience with a 3d-modeling software. Tinkercad is browser-based application, so it doesn't require a specific operating system (though it does require an internet connection).
We love playing games together as a family. Here are some of our favorite games to play.
Hannah got this for her birthday last year, and we really enjoy playing it. The goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes as they whiz by. It's complicated to explain, but easy to play.
This game is the brainchild of Matthew Inman, who creates a web-comic called The Oatmeal. Note: This is one of Joseph's favorite games.
How it works: This is a last-man-standing game. You don't want to draw the exploding kitten. All other cards are used to help you avoid drawing the exploding kitten. During each players turn, they must draw, so the game gets more exciting as more cards are drawn from the deck and the probability of the exploding kitten is higher.
Watch Ya Mouth
This hilarious mouthguard game provides tons of fun for the entire family. You put the mouthguard in and try to say nonsense phrases and others on your team have to guess. Everyone looks ridiculous, which makes it more difficult to keep a straight face when guessing.
This game is best for the older kids, but it's also super fun. In Carcassonne, you draw tiles to assemble a game board that consists of roads, cities, fields, and monasteries. You get points for joining roads and building cities. Block your opponents, or team up with them to pool your resources. This is an extremely simple game and even young kids do well with it.
HedBanz / Heads Up (iPhone app)
We love this game 'cause even our 4 year old can play it. The way this game works is that each player wears a headband that has an image of what they're supposed to be. They can't see it, but everyone else can. Each player takes turns guessing what they are while the rest of the players try to describe it to them. Heads Up (the iPhone app is great to break out for restaurants and long-waits).
Is there anything better than being snowed in and having a perfect excuse to sit around and do a puzzle, with no obligations whatsoever? Oh...yes, a fire in the fireplace is certainly a bonus. Especially cool if you have a Puzzle Mat.
We got this over Christmas break and have used it constantly. Shuffling cards is something that the kids can't do, and I grow tired of constantly doing it, so we bought this handy card shuffler. If you haven't thought about doing it, you might want to.
We love camping and RVing, these resources are some we use while planning trips.
Campendium is a website that provides a source for campground reviews. It's especially useful, since people post what their cell phone reception was at the campground, which can often be problematic.
We use Harvest Hosts when we're breaking up a long trip, or just want to have an enjoyable experience on the weekends. Harvest Hosts is an index of vineyards, wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms and museums who allow overnight free parking. Which means you don't have to pay to stay overnight. More interestingly though, is that it's FUN to visit new places and stay there overnight. Highly Recommended!
I LOVE this app. I actually have TWO licenses for it so Meg and I can plan our trip most effectively (the interface only allows one person to be logged in at a time, and it makes sense when you understand how it works). It's what you get if you overlay Allstays onto google maps. We use it to plan our trips, and I recommend at least trying it out.
Google Maps (obviously)
It's so helpful to be able to see what your route is going to be, then plan your stays based on how close they are to your current mapping.
I love that we live in a world where people make videos of everything (including when they camp, or visit popular sights). To research a specific area, we often use Youtube to see if it's a good fit.
Hinson High Five
Videos we've made that are helpful and informative.
In today's video, we're bringing you a new segment we're calling “Hinson High Five!”. In these videos, we'll share 5 things we have learned or find valuable.
We have a lot of things planned for this series and can't wait to share them with you!
Oh yeah, and our 5 month update is coming…you wouldn't believe how hard it's been to sit down and record that video! Stay tuned, I promise it's coming soon!