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.
I'm equally enamored of my quick-dry shorts from Horny Toad that I wore every day sailing in Tahiti and my Smart Wool socks that keep my toes toasty while skiing. And then, of course, there is my electronic book (I use a Nook) 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 with your family. Jamie Pearson, the creator of www.travelsavvymom.com, 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 net-book with a good keyboard I can write on without running to a masseuse."
Eileen's pink rainboots
I take my "down sweater" from Mountain Hard Wear that crumples into its own stuff sack about the size of a fist -- everywhere.
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.
Maybe it's an audio book (www.listeninglibrary.com) for the gang to listen to on that holiday road trip. (The vast majority of us will be driving, after all.)
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 she brings, consider a Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, which have come down significantly in price.
Travel gifts don't have to be expensive, though. Buy the kids reusable water bottles and stick $5 inside for them to use to buy stickers from wherever they're going. You'll be helping them travel greener, as well as creating an instant souvenir. Or get those coffee fanatics on your list a $24.95 GSI Personal Java Press Coffee Maker from www.rei.com.
Maybe you want to do good while you're giving. For every pair of comfy rubber sandals you buy from www.greensoulshoes.org (they're just $45) the company will give a pair away to an underprivileged child in the community where the sandals are made. You can also go to www.goodsearch.com, 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 Foder'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" which will soon be available as EBooks'
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 www.givingpreparedness.com for emergency supply kits for the car.)
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 www.liftopia.com, 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 www.bedandbreakfast.com, the largest online B&B directory and reservation network. (Promise to babysit the kids while they're gone.
Hope all you elves out there are listening. .
Eileen Ogintz interviews families and experts around the world for her widely syndicated column Taking the Kids ™ and is the creator of www.takingthekids.com She's written seven family travel books, most recently The Kid's Guide; NYC and The Kid's Guide: Cruising Alaska. For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com.