By Eileen Ogintz
Thanks, Mr. Bean.
If not for my pink flowered rubber boots from L.L. Bean (a far cry from the first hunting shoes Leon L. Bean sold in Maine in 1912), I would have had awfully wet feet the week I spent kayaking around Glacier Bay in Alaska last summer.
I'm equally enamored of my quick-dry shorts from Horny Toad that I wore every day sailing in Tahiti and my SmartWool socks that keep my toes toasty while skiing. And then, of course, there is my electronic book (I use a Kindle) so I'm never stuck without a mystery no matter how long my flight is delayed.
You probably have your travel faves too—things that keep your kids amused and you comfortable no matter how stressful your travels are with your family. Jamie Pearson, the creator of Travel Savvy Mom, loves cashmere sweaters for travel "because they are so warm, nice looking, and wrinkle-free." Guidebook writer Pauline Frommer opts for big fuzzy socks to keep her feet warm on cold planes—"the kind you find at street fairs," she says. Family Travel Forum's Kyle McCarthy pines for "a netbook with a good keyboard I can write on without running to a masseuse."
I just got a down sweater from Mountain Hardwear that crumples into its own stuff sack about the size of a fist—and it's something I won't leave home without this winter.
That got me thinking. Instead of rushing around trying to find the perfect gift for my favorite family travelers, I'm going to get them what I find most helpful to have with me when I'm traveling with my gang. According to a new survey from TripAdvisor.com, 38 percent of travelers hope to receive a travel-related gift this December.
Maybe it's an audio book for the gang to listen to on that holiday road trip. The vast majority of us will be driving, after all—maybe Harry Potter or the Twilight saga? We laughed our way through long road trips listening to Judy Blume books, too. Or provide a gift certificate to download audio books from a website like audible.com.
Maybe it's something to make the trip easier for new parents. Frommer, the mom of two young children, suggests a stroller with a detachable car seat like the Sit-N-Stroll (hear that grandma?). Put together a grab bag of wrapped, inexpensive toys for that long road trip home.
If you have a fanatic young reader in the gang whose duffels are always overweight because of all the books stuffed into it, consider the Sony Reader Pocket Edition—maybe in pink or silver—that not only gives access to any ebook, including a million free ones, but also enables you to borrow books from your local library. At $199, you might be saving on books—and trees. You can also find the Readers at major retailers like Costco and Target. Then you can steer your little bibliophile to BooksOnBoard, a reseller of eBooks.
Travel gifts don't have to be expensive, though. Buy the kids reusable water bottles and stick $5 inside for them to buy stickers on future trips. You'll be helping them travel greener, as well as creating an instant souvenir. Or get those coffee fanatics on your list a $19.95 GSI Personal Java Press Coffee Maker from REI.
Maybe you want to do good while you're giving. For every pair of comfy rubber sandals you buy from GreenSoul Shoes (they're just $45), the company will give a pair away to an underprivileged child in the community where the sandals are made. Buy a soft toy for your favorite traveling baby from IKEA (prices start at $1.49) and IKEA will make a donation to UNICEF or Save the Children. Last year $6 million was donated. You can also go to GoodSearch, enter the cause you want to support, and link back to where you want to shop. A donation will be made at no cost to you!
If your favorite family travelers are planning a trip to a place they've never been, buy the parents a guidebook. Both Frommer's and Fodor's have a series of family destination guides to everywhere from New York City, Florida, and Washington, D.C., to Tuscany and Umbria. Get the kids a book set in that region too. There are also plenty of kids' guidebooks, including Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids and my own Kids' Guides to New York City and Cruising Alaska. Buy your budding naturalistsGet Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future.
If you are the kind of family traveler who always has what you need in a first-aid kit, put one together for the family heading out on their first "big" trip. Also check GivingPreparedness for emergency supply kits for the car. And if you know a mom nervous about letting her tweens and teens go off on their own on a ski slope, buy her some new $9.95 Xtreme Sports IDs—wristbands that enable emergency personnel to access a person's name, emergency contact info, and medical info via the Internet.
Anything to make the trip more affordable always helps too. If you've got snow sports lovers in the bunch, send them a gift card for Liftopia, which they can use for discounted lift tickets, equipment, and rentals at resorts across the country. You can save as much as a third of the price. If you know parents desperate for a weekend getaway, send them a gift card from BedandBreakfast.com, the largest online B&B directory and reservation network. Plus, you can save 15 percent on $100 gift cards until December 17. Just enter promo code "BIG15GIFT" at checkout. Promise to babysit the kids while they're gone.
Hope all you elves out there are listening. Happy holidays.