I am forever on the lookout for gifts that are practical and needed but also fun. That's a hard combo to find. I have strong feelings about toys that are played with a few times and then forgotten. We travel a great deal, and the kids are always looking ahead to their next trip, so I often focus my gifts on something they can use on their next adventure. Here are a few ideas that have worked out really well for us in the past.
1. A Kindle Fire
At under a $100 and a huge amount of storage space (up to 256mb if you buy an additional micro SD card) this is a great buy for downloading movies, songs, books, and TV shows to watch offline. I have one myself that I use mostly on planes. Anything you buy on Amazon can be downloaded and if you are a Prime member, you can borrow shows, movies, and songs for 48 hours. All you need to do is reconnect with WiFi once to get another 48 hours of rental. The prime songs turned out to be one of my favorite things. I downloaded lots of kids songs to my nephew's Kindle, all free, and a few hundred to mine as well. See Amy's great blog on all the features of the Kindle Fire and why she likes it better than an iPad.
2. A good backpack for traveling
A school backpack is just that, designed for school. And they are huge. Anybody traveling with a kid knows if you provide an extra square inch of packing space, they will fill it. Usually with junk. A good traveling backpack is smaller and more thoughtfully designed, with pockets for tablets and water bottles.
I love the Kavu as a carry-on bag and around town. It has just enough pockets and is big enough to hold what you really need but not anymore. See my blog post Ode to the Kavu for the full rundown on why I love this bag.
The only drawback to the Kavu is that it is hard to convince a boy to carry one. If that is your issue or you just want something a bit bigger than the Kavu, try the Osprey Koby bag. At $50 or less, it is a great price for a great bag. We have a discontinued, older version that is going on 5 years and too many countries to count.
Besides being big enough to hold a change of clothes, tablet, snacks, water bottle, and some books, it has a mesh front pocket that's perfect for stashing a jacket, hat, or gloves for quick access. It is also comfortable enough for an adult to carry, which you know you will end up doing sooner or later. Probably sooner.
3. An insulated water bottle
I bought an insulated water bottle for myself a year ago and was impressed with its ability to keep cold cold and warm warm. I ended up with a Mira brand water bottle after much research and pricing on Amazon. It has transported everything from coffee to white wine and done the job well. The kids wanted one of their own so now we are the proud owners of 6 Mira water bottles.
I like them because they aren't too heavy, really do keep water cold, are easy to clean, come in lots of colors so everyone can do something different, and they have great customer service. When one kid busted the bottom cap off of hers, I contacted Mira and they sent a replacement within a week, no questions asked. The bottles are now standard accompaniment on planes and long car trips and we haven't looked back.
4. A Kindle gift card
Books have been a necessary part of travel since the first printing press started churning them out. I remember timing my reading before a big trip so that I could finish one book before I left and be ready to start the next just in time for takeoff. Because, of course, you didn't want to lug more books than you had to.
Kids nowadays have it a bit easier. They just download it to their electronic device and can carry a library with them at all times. They still have to buy the book however, so a gift card can come in handy if they have already spent all their pocket money and really, really want the next volume of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
If you have taken a car trip with more than one child then you know everybody will want to do their own thing on their own electronic device and there is zero chance they will be tolerant of someone else's noise. Good headphones are your friend here. They are also your friend when the hotel turns out to have major construction going on next door starting at 6am. Or when the people above your rental apartment are having a never- ending party.
Earbuds are great but smaller kids have trouble keeping them in and they have a special ability to disappear when you need them most. Actual headphones, especially noise-canceling ones, are worth the extra money and space in a kid's carry-on bag. I like these because they fold, come in cool colors, and are not expensive.
6. A Portable Charger
A few years ago, only trekkers through the hinterlands of the globe really needed to worry about bringing a portable charger. Then again, my old flip phone held a charge for days. Nowadays the battery drain struggle is real. A portable charger has become a veritable necessity for anyone taking a long trip, and I urge you to to consider putting a spare charger in every kid's backpack.
It may just be a life saver if plans go wrong and you desperately need the distraction of Sofia the First while you figure out flights or find a new hotel. And kids enjoy having some degree of autonomy to solve problems themselves, even if it is just plugging their Kindle Fire into a battery pack. But that's one less thing they will pester you for and that's enough in and of itself.
There are a multitude of options out there, but I like anything Anker makes. I have been using their chargers for years and have never had a problem with any of the models I own. My oldest one still charges fine although it has been used a couple of hundred times. For kids, I would pick the Anker PowerCore 1000mAh. It will charge an iPad mini full from scratch and is about the size of a pack of playing cards.
7. A Scratch- off World Map
This is such a fun way to keep track of all the states and countries your child has visited, as well as teach a little geography along the way. The first time I saw this map, I wanted one for myself because the kids had so much fun scratching off countries and their matching flags. Hopefully it will inspire them to keep traveling until they manage to scratch them all off one day. And a gift that keeps them traveling is the best gift money can buy in my book.
Happy Holidays to everyone, and I hope your travels next year are the best you have ever had!