Look around on your next vacation, and you’ll notice something striking: From kids to parents and working professionals, nearly everybody’s got their head buried in an iPad or cell phone screen. Given the rise of smartphones, apps, tablet PCs and mobile devices, technology has become intrinsically linked with today’s travel experience. Happily for families, here’s why it’s the best thing to happen to cross-country voyages since noise-canceling headphones… and how to squeeze more fun out of it than your average in-flight magazine.

Tap the Power of Connected Video Game Systems: Bored with crossword puzzles? Try handheld gaming systems like the Nintendo DS/3DS and PlayStation Vita, which offer family-friendly titles for all ages—and, in many cases, connected multiplayer experiences. Providing an easy way to soothe the savage sprout, all further present fun opportunities to bond with kids that help hours breeze by on extended journeys.

Download Apps, Songs and Videos: Like tablet PCs, Android and Apple cell phones provide access to the world’s greatest entertainment superstore: Online marketplaces featuring thousands of downloadable apps, music and TV shows/films. Better yet, from free albums to cost-free cartoons, pro bono offerings abound. Letting kids rock out to Ke$ha’s latest smash or screen Scooby Doo at 30,000 feet, the wise parent packs plenty of high-tech amusements along before departing.

Enjoy eBooks and Digital Publications: Even if you don’t own a Sony Reader, Kindle, Nook or iPad, dozens of devices—including your smartphone—let you enjoy eBooks and digital magazines on-demand. Moreover, thousands of free volumes can be downloaded online or virtually borrowed from your local library, and popular periodicals purchased via high-tech channels. Crichton, Grisham—heck, even Charles Dickens… considering catching up on a little reading next time you hit the beach.

Share Experiences via Social Networks: Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and popular blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger can all be accessed from mobile devices. Programs like Qik, Tango and FaceTime also let you casually videoconference or stream film clips from distant locales. Letting you quickly setup online diaries and/or share experiences with relatives remotely, the next time you travel, consider virtually inviting the entire clan along.

Use Geotagging and Location-Based Uploads: Many digital cameras now offer geo-tagging—the ability to tag photos with locations and/or trip info and share snapshots and maps of your travels with friends and family online. Like services such as FourSquare, Facebook Places and GoWalla, which let you check into places and broadcast current locations and adventures, all let friends and family follow along with your adventures.

High-tech parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the author of The Modern Parent’s Guide book series (free to download at and and host of video show “Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids.” A popular keynote speaker, he frequently appears as an on-air technology expert for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.