Parents @ Play: Cool products for summer road trips

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJuly 17, 2014 

Despite all the rosy news one hears these days about sinking unemployment numbers and a rising economy, plenty of people are still having financial issues. As a result, a lot of families are taking their vacations a little closer to home. This week, we review a few cool items that will make any family road/camping trip a success.

Reese Explore Car Top Carrier (Reese Brands)

Once you've decided where to go, it's time to start packing up the car. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to bring way, way too much, which leaves barely enough room in the car for the people. One great solution is this roof-top carrier from Reese. It's made of lightweight-but-durable nylon that will keep your belongings clean and dry regardless of the weather, and is a lot easier to attach to your car's side rails or cross bars than many of its competitors. Best of all, it's expandable (going from 12 to 16 cubic feet of storage), which is a big help if you're trying to carry awkwardly shaped items. Retails for about $65 at http://www.walmart.com/ .

Dragons Adventure World Explorer (DreamWorks)

Keeping the kids entertained on a long drive can be a challenge. Ideally, you'll have a mix of tech and no-tech options. When it's tech's turn, Dragons Adventure is perfect. It's inspired by the How to Train Your Dragon movies and set on the Isle of Berk. As you might expect from DreamWorks, it's beautifully designed and quite interactive. There are quests - light signal beacons move a sheep from one place to another - but Dragons Adventure has a few twists that make it truly unique. In at-home mode, players (who can be either Hiccup or Astrid) fly around the world, rescuing dragons from evildoers. But the real fun starts when you go on the move. The app uses HERE maps to bring the roads you're driving on into the game in real time, so players will see familiar landmarks as they fly their dragons. It also uses info from The Weather Channel to change the weather conditions in the game, and data from Foursquare to determine how many Vikings appear along the route. Another neat feature: If you plug in your starting point and destination before you start, the game will wind down as you reach your destination. Free for Microsoft Windows phones and tablets.

Conifer 5+ (Mountainsmith)

Once you get there, you've got to sleep somewhere, right? You can't do better than the Conifer 5+. To say it's roomy doesn't do it justice. The tent itself has 83.5 sq. feet of floor space, lots of interior pockets, and a ceiling height of 6 feet2 inches, so there's plenty of room for two adults, three kids, and a dog or two. There's also a "porch," which adds another 30 square feet for storing luggage or just hanging out. It's quick and easy to set up, but best with two people - especially if it's windy. Directions are printed right on the stuff sack, so they're hard to lose. Prices range from $285 to $360. http://mountainmith.com/

Washdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)

After a long road trip, you're going to want to wash that car. But today, when everyone's concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what's an environmentally savvy parent with a filthy vehicle to do? All you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops . It's non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. It's completely non-toxic - no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia - so when you're done you can use what's left in the bucket to water your garden. $10.95-$22.00. http://washdrops.com/

(Armin Brott and Samantha Feuss are the Parents@Play team. Email them at reviews@parentsatplay.com .)

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