USB Charging Cords and Devices for Traveling Kids

We live on the road.

We used to live in rentals with flights between.

One thing that is common between the two lifestyles is that we have 4 kids who are children of the technological age. We used to fight screen time but then I realized they do not get as much screentime as I did when a kid and with things like PokemonGo (not available here in Mexico) there is proof that video gaming can be good for you. -- yes there are other proofs as well, such as most developers I know either were good gamers or are good video gamers.

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That and the more Location Independent Families (Digital Nomad Families or Traveling Families) we meet the more we realize that we're not the only ones who have more devices than we have people in our household.

We can argue the benefits or harms of it, but I'll take a lifestyle of exploration with downtime on an ipad over no exploration and sitting in front of the cable tv.

Even some of the most radical unschoolers we know have i-devices for their kids.

However, with a traveling lifestyle mixed with kids of various young ages there are dozens of physical problems that arise. The biggest? Broken cords. Bad chargers, and just too much weight/stuff to charge these devices with.
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So what follows is both a breakdown of the Devices, Cords and Chargers, we travel with--created especially for those who struggle with some of these same issues!

Devices

The 4 phones and 3 laptops we travel with are not the kids' devices and are used instead for work, internet connectivity and backup purposes so I will not include them in this discussion. However, for the kids we have iPads and Cases. One for each of the kids plus Becky has one as well.

iPads

Apple iPad mini MD531LL/A (16GB, Wi-Fi Only, White / Silver)

We bought these iPads while we were in Thailand. FYI if you're ever in Thailand buy your tech there, they take the import taxes off if you leave within a certain number of days (30 I think) and so it adds about 10-15 extra minutes at the airport but it's well worth it as the total purchase price for the devices end up being less than in the US. We bought 4 16gb White Wifi only ipad minis. We regretted it as soon as we bought them. In every other device I always buy as much storage as possible to extend the life of the device. However when I bought these ipads (4 at the same time!) I didn't want to buy the biggest. 2 years later we're constantly having to tell the kids to delete stuff off of their ipads because they cannot fit more. The video content and images we've had to delete alone is sad. Becky's iPad was bought in the US before we left and she has the 64GB model. Should have gotten the same for the kids.

 

iPad cases

LifeProof Nuud  2305-02  Waterproof Case for iPad Mini Retina - Retail Packaging - White / Grey - (for iPad Mini 1 and 2 Only)

We also bought these cases at the same time. We've seen how hard our kids can be on devices etc. So we knew we needed drop protection AND waterproof. But also we didn't want to cover the screen because there is no happiness from a kid who looses every game because the screen didn't sense their finger in the right place. The awesomeness of an Apple idevice comes from it's screen. Why cover it up? The Lifeproof Nuud ipad mini cases were not only the best in the market they were also available in the malls in Bangkok. Perfect, no extra shipping!

 

Two years later the kids have some minimal scratching on their screens but nothing to complain about. The cases aren't water proof anymore as the kids have picked at the insulation around the opening for the charging cord. However they have dropped them many times and there's no damage to them. In fact while I'm writing this they're all happily taking a break playing on them right now. Any devices/case that last two years with this kind of beating are great in my opinion.

Charging Cords

For any parent, I assume, making the statement that the Apple provided cables for charging apple devices are just crap, shouldn't come as a surprise. What does come as a surprise is how many cables we have burned through since buying these devices. We have 5 ipads and 3 phones that all charge on Lightning Cables. Total of 8 devices. There's always a device that needs charging, so we need 8 working at all times. However the rate at which we were throwing cables out (1-2 a month) I finally broke down and bought some braided, longer cables. We still have these cables today (a year later) and they are fantastic. No matter what the reviews on Amazon say these have worked wonders for us.

We're not going to link to or talk about the hundreds of cables that don't last the test of time.

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First off, these super short cords. I bought these to complement one of our chargers below. What I underestimated was that we'd plug in the iPads at night and not need to plugin while playing. I figured they'd be like my phone (typical days I just plug it in at night... or so I convinced myself as I forgot that I plugin while I'm working too) So while these cables appeal to my minimalist-backpacker style they are not practical. I still use these, but mostly for connecting to the emergency batteries/solar chargers we have for our devices. I also carry one in my backpack incase I forget to bring one with me and I'm stuck at a coffee shop with my laptop and a dying phone, plugging in via these tiny cables are a handy way to over come this. They still work, but the kids never have used them. They wouldn't last a month with the kids' usage.

Mizco International 6FT. Braided Fabric Cable Apple Lighting USB Cable TT-FC6-IP5

We call these the orange cords. I know, really creative! The 6 feet of cord alone is super helpful. And the braided nature of the cord has kept it running for a long time. I've never seen cables last this long through as much beating as they get. Yes I still have to tell the kids to take the cord out of their mouth, stop bending them in half and all kinds of things I never thought I'd say to kids :) One thing to note is this cable fits into all of our cases except Becky's lifeproof nuud case on her iphone. So these work for the lifeproof nuud cases on the ipads, just not on the iphone case.

 

GE USB to Lightning Sync Charge Cable, 9-Feet - Retail Packaging - Black

At the same time as buying the Orange cords we also bought these 9 foot silver cables. They were cheaper and are starting to show some wear and tear but seriously the 9ft reach has come in handy so many times as the kids want to be located away from the charging outlet. I'd buy these again if we needed to but nothing are wrong with them. Unlike the Orange cables this does fit in all of our cases. Unfortunately the 9ft aren't available on Amazon anymore, however the 6ft are

GE USB Lightning Cable - 6 Feet (1.8 Meters) - Apple Certified - 8 Pin to USB - Retail Packaging - Black - 97531

We haven't had to purchase more cables since purchasing the Orange and Silver cables above. However if we did it again we'd buy these cables. Anker has become my favorite charger accessory company for good reasons (read below) and their cables are fantastic and come highly recommended. I mean shoot anything with Kevlar in it should be better! But check out the reviews, 616 reviews with a perfect 5 star? PLUS they charge faster, AND they're 6 ft long. I might just need to buy these just in case ;)

Charging Devices

With so many USB ports needed I've been amazed that so few companies are adequately helping us in this area. I mean sure Apple gives us a block or a cube with every device purchase. But they aren't effecient when you're dealing with 5 ipads to charge, that'd take up 5 plugs in a house/hotel or 5 of a 6 plug power strip... no thanks! With 1,800+ watts coming into that outlet and only 12 watts going into the ipad it doesn't make sense for us to carry a cube for every device.

Again, we've gone around the block on these devices and as much as you can call me an apple fanboy you can now call me an Anker fanboy.

The reason is that in order for an ipad to charge quickly you need 12 watts (2 amps) on the USB port. So if you plug in your iPad to an older USB port (only 1 amp, 5-6 watts) you'll take twice as long to charge the iPad, also if you're running video while charging from one of these ports you'll actually loose ground and your battery will continue to drain while you're plugged in.

Anker comes to the rescue with their iq technology, basically the charge knows how many watts the device wants and supplies that. This works even better with the Anker cables listed above.

anker charging device

The brick. This is the newer updated version of which we carry with us. at 40 watts it can adequately power 4 ipads. I love this device because it's simple. No wires, no parts, nothing, just plug it in and plug in a cable to it and viola you have the right charge! We used this combined with a travel adapter set so we could plugin in any house when we were traveling around. (adding a travel power strip to a travel adapter works wonders... here's the one we love and use) Compare this brick to this other 5-port brick and wire. It has the same wattage but an extra port. It won't charge 5 ipads, but will do great with 3 ipads and two phones. I really don't like the extra weight and space the "rattail" plug takes up. I get it if you're going to have this on a desk, but for traveling it's no good.

The other two devices I'd look at are these 60watt devices from Anker. Since they're 60watt they can charge 6 ipads at a time, which is what would pull me to the black device as it has the right power for all 6 ports. However having 10 fully powered ports would be awesome too, so the white one has my attention. I have not yet bought either of these as I'd like to see a ten port with 100 watts. That's a lot of heat going through that device and we only have 5 ipads so it wouldn't matter for us, but they day will come when I want all 9 of our idevices (plus the kindle, jambox, and our router/mifi devices) plugged in at the same time.

Car Chargers

Since we now live in an RV wired to be off grid running things through 120 volts just to step it down to 5 volts doesn't make any sense. So we're also very set up to run everything off of 12 volts (think car adapters, or the old cigarette lighter sockets) The nice part is that this connection is universal worldwide. All cars that have a cigarette lighter or accessory adapter are able to handle the following chargers.

Car Charger, Anker 9.6A / 48W 4-Port USB Car Charger with PowerIQ Technology for iPhone 6s / 6 / 6 plus, iPad Air 2, Samsung Galaxy S6 /Edge / Plus, Note, Nexus, HTC, Motorola, Nokia and More
 

The car adapter version of the brick. This one is rated at 48 watts so yes you guessed it, this is perfect for 4 ipads (or anything else USB as it can adjust). I love the compact nature of this car charger. Combined with a 6ft or 9ft cable we can plugin to the front of the van (our van actually has a rear plug too!) and the kids can all sit in their seats while their ipads are fully charging.

I'll admit, I didn't think I'd like this charging device but thanks to Anker's skills I have fallen in love with it. My reasons for not liking it are the rat tail, it's not compact. However with 5 ports and 50 full watts we're able to have all ipads plugged in and even get an extra 3 feet from the plugin. While they claim this cable is durable it's no where near the quality of the braided USB/lightning cords we use for the iPads. However the kids are a long ways from this cable (6=9 feet) so it's been protected so far.

I hope this helps others out there. What devices do you recommend? What cables have stood the test of kids and time for you as a family? I'd love to make this list bigger and longer. This is only a fraction of our devices. I could talk about our laptops and chargers, our USB ports/car accessory ports that we had to wire into our RV and more. Just hit us up in the comments below to let me know what you're interested in.

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Paul Kortman

Dad of 4, husband, blogger, digital marketer, follower of Jesus. I podcast at nomadtogether.com and own connexdigitalmarketing.com We're on this crazy journey to travel the world as a lifestyle. Looking for help in how to live as a digital nomad family? Join this Facebook Group!

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9 Comments

  1. jan

    I just try to be careful as an adult and STILL have to replace cords! These products are good to know about before I leave the US again! Thanks.

    Reply
    • Paul Kortman

      Happy to help Jan! — You’re a kid at heart, that’s your excuse ;)

      Reply
  2. Tim Czarkowski

    I have a ten foot braided cables and love them. I tend to use my phone all the time while charging. I have a tablet but just tend to always use my phone, it does have an almost six inch screen and has more ram and a faster processer(I get a new phone every six months or so, family plan, only one who cares about phones :) So it’s nice to have the reach on the cable. They’ve also lasted longer than other cables I’ve used.

    I only buy android though, I like the choice you’re provided and the ability to customize your phone but everyone has their preference ;) I have a laptop but almost never use it these days, and I work completely remotely. In fact I didn’t bring it on our ten week southeast Asia loop. I have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and a otg cable. The ability to work like that I’m sure varies depending on what you do for work and how you do it but you can get a lot accomplished with that setup.

    No kids yet so I can’t comment on that but I usually go wild and run without a case but I’ve got one on now.

    We enjoyed Baja so much I think the mainland is next on it hit list. Hopefully we can meet up again :)

    Reply
    • Paul Kortman

      Looking forward to connecting up with you guys again on the mainland. We’ll be here through April of 2017 (according to our current thinking).

      And yes it all depends on the work you need to if you can do it from a laptop/tablet/phone. I find I’m way more productive on a laptop than an ipad/bluetooth keyboard. It’s the whole multitasking thing.

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    Great and informative article thanks!

    We are two with 2 MacBooks, 2 iPads, iPhone, kindle, GoPro, camera, mifi, external wifi drive and various external batteries!!

    We try to stay offgrid in our motorhome which has solar power but no inverter.

    I use external power packs – 1 X ankle and 2 X RAV (small and large) plus 12v from the dash cig lighter and via 12v adaptor attached to the leisure battery. Neither work particularly well for the iPad mini retina 32gb.

    I dislike the ankar unit as it’s heavy and doesn’t automatically stop when a device is charged. I much prefer the RAV Power Walkers.

    On hookup we use a 4gang plug with the original Apple plugs. I really like the multiple USB hub you have tho!

    How dyou manage with deliveries when travelling? I can only order from amazon UK which then charges a lot of money to deliver to locations outside of the U.K.

    We are on a very tight budget!

    Thanks for the article, it’s very good.

    Sarah

    Reply
    • Paul Kortman

      Sarah,
      The fun part about most of these devices (except the ipads!) is that they charge off of 12 volts just fine. And infact charging them from a 12volt or one of your battery packs is more efficient use of electricity. The adapters that plug into 110volt are actually stepping the electricity down which creates heat and heat is electricity loss. So I am super pumped to hear about someone else doing as best they can to use electricity wisely!

      You should really look into one of the Anker car charger plus and wire a car charging outlet to your battery (or if your MH has it built in use that) — this ensures that 12 watts are being delivered to the ipads. MAkes for a great charge. As for the battery packs the only solution is to get different battery packs that support the 12 watt output via USB. Anker will typically advertise this as their “iq” ports.

      As for the shipment stuff, there are a couple of solutions,
      1. connect with friends flying towards you. — you can post this on Craigslist (etc) to see if someone would be willing to carry the product with them.
      2. Mailbox services, we have two, one in Mexico where we are currently and one in the US. We can receive packages in the US from Amazon and have them ship it to Mexico and we can go pick it up when we get to the mailbox. Yes we have to pay a customs and a shipping fee, but if you make a single order and amazon puts it all in one it can work quite well.
      3. Buy local. I never thought about it, but there is a really large city within a couple hour drive from us, I was amazed at how much stuff I could find there without paying the import and shipping fee. I still have yet to find the Anker adapters in the stores there, but cords and battery packs (even Anker) are available there. Try Cellphone and computer stores as they love to sell these accessories.

      Reply
      • Sarah

        Thanks Paul, some things to consider for sure.

        Sarah

        Reply
  4. Mark Sterling

    Instead of buying power bricks to convert the power to USB, you can also get whole new receptacles that have them pre-installed. I got this USB charger outlet because it had a lot of good reviews, but there are also other kinds on the market. These are great for my home because now, my kids can’t lose the power bricks….Unless they somehow manage to lose the whole outlet :p

    https://www.amazon.com/TOPGREENER-TU2154A-Charger-Receptacle-Screwless/dp/B00IAZIU5Y/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1475257536&sr=8-3&keywords=USB+charger+outlet

    Reply
    • Paul Kortman

      Yeah those are really enticing Mark, But only for those living in a stick and brick house. We /could/ add those to our RV (which we live in permanently) but we’re trying to use 12 volt as much as possible, thus why I recommended the “car adapter” charger/brick. For the 110volt brick we have to carry those for when we rent a house etc. Since we’re location independent we cannot actually go messing with other people’s receptacles. :)

      However if I were living in a stick & brick house I’d jump on those because they make so much sense!

      Reply

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