Survive your trip to grandma's house with your Android phone and these apps

grandmother with phone

Stave off the boring conversation, questionable food, and terrible Christmas movies with this assortment of Android apps and gear.


As much as you’ve tried to push it out of your mind, the annual Christmas journey to grandma’s house is almost here. Get ready for a couple of cozy days drinking instant coffee on the shag carpet while binge watching classic Christmas movies from the fifties.

We’ve all been there. And yes, unfortunately, just zoning out watching videos or listening to music won’t be an option. There’s likely to be a firm ban on headphones, and of course the family homestead over the hill and through the woods is probably devoid of decent Wi-Fi. Prepare to enter 1987.

This calls for some serious strategy. You need the right games, apps, and accessories that won’t draw the ire of your hard-to-please relatives. But it can be done, and we’re here to show you how.

Bring some accessories

The first order of business is to bring the right gear. Throw a Chromecast, your tablet and Google Cardboard in your bag. The Chromecast (with some help from your tablet) will let you stream any TV shows or movies stored on your phone (remember you’re heading to The Land That Internet Forgot) and can play some pretty cool games.

alien invaders

Blasting aliens is always an excellent family-bonding activity.

Even though Cardboard is fairly new, there are a lot of VR-ready apps that will give you one more reason to avoid everybody during your forced vacation. Use the Street View app to take a trip to Machu Picchu. Or better yet, send your overactive cousin there by slapping the goggles on his face. Should he get really excited by walking through the streets of New York and run straight through the sliding glass door, well, you can’t be held responsible.

If you don’t have a Cardboard headset of your own, there are plenty of cheap viewers to be had. Bringing one will make you the cool uncle with all the sweet gear, even though the grandparents will be convinced you’re in communication with aliens.

Win the kids over with cool games

Some of the children you may encounter on this adventure are probably annoying (will Billy ever learn there’s such a thing as clean socks?). But if you can get the kids on your side with some awesome mobile games, everyone will be happier and grandma won’t keep asking you if you’re on “Spacebook” again. 

Start with something in the holiday spirit: Google Santa Tracker. It’s super kid friendly, as the games involve elves flying on jetpacks and tossing snowballs at one another. There’s also a memory game, so you can convince any authority figures that it’s “educational.”

Even better, slap your phone inside a set of Cardboard goggles and the snowball fight becomes virtual.

santa tracker google cardboard

Bring the snowball fight closer to you by playing Google Santa Tracker in a Cardboard viewer.

If the crew is out of elementary school, then perhaps you can introduce them to the world of Hearthstone for some frustratingly addictive card games. Try out Fallout Shelter, as you’ll find a lot of fun lies buried in the game’s underground vault. Or if it’s arcade you’re after go for Crossy Road or the new Pac-Man 256. They’re all practically endless, so by the time you’re finished playing, the ambrosia salad and overcooked turkey just might be gone.

Get everybody involved

If your family is the overbearing type that won’t leave you alone, then you might need to beat them at their own game. Challenge them to a round of Spaceteam. It’s a quick-moving, multiplayer game for anywhere from two to eight people. It’s also cross-platform so even those family members with their iPhone 5s can join in.


Spaceteam is a great way to get everyone to show their gaming skills.

This is why you brought the Chromecast. There are lots of TV-friendly games that allow everyone to play, such as Big Web Quiz, Scrabble Blitz, or my personal favorite, Alien Invaders

A word of caution: if grandma has no Wi-Fi, you’ll need to create your own network. Since the Chromecast requires a Wi-Fi connection, you’ll supply it with your phone. Then your tablet can be the casting device.

Everyone can still hang out together on the couch, without forcing you to endure another sappy, relationship-focused Christmas film. 

The ‘I’m working’ excuse

There’s another method that’s usually foolproof when it comes to getting others to leave you alone: I’m working.

Yes, you’ll probably have to tell grandpa again that the Internet isn’t turned off for Christmas. Or answer the question, “You’re doing work on your telephone?”

jotterpad night mode Google Play Store

The night mode and minimalist interface make Jotterpad a great writing companion.

Either way, you can get some real or imagined work knocked out with a number of apps. You’re probably familiar with Google’s productivity suite and Microsoft’s Office apps. But if you want to break from the mold, there are some new choices worth checking out.

For a clutter-free writing environment, give iA Writer a go.  It wipes away the interface and lets you focus on writing, which is great if you think your family’s weirdness will someday make a hit reality show. JotterPad is another good alternative. It also has a night mode if you want to tap away while Love Actually or some other holiday disaster is on the screen. 

Play the ‘nostalgia’ card

If all else fails, gather everyone around your smartphone and fire up the digital version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The app has the original dialogue from the 1965 animation, along with interactive games and the soundtrack for a family sing-along.

how grinch stole christmas android Google Play Store

Storytime is always a great way to make the children happy.

Or you could always make the annual trek to Whoville with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The interactive, digital book is ideal for the smaller set, who can tap the pictures and follow along with highlighted narration.

No matter your path, this toolkit should help you get through the most annoying wonderful time of the year. With all these cool games and techy tricks, you’ll be the hero. The only hazard here is that you’ll be sure to get invited back next year.

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