This week, the Fodor’s 2011 Holiday Gift Guide helps you shop for Families on the Move. Check back each week for new gift recommendations that will please every traveler on your list. So far we’ve also revealed top gifts for The Jetsetter, the Global Nomad, and The Gadgeteer.
Family travel, in theory, gives family members a chance to kick back, relax, and bond with one another. But in practice, juggling luggage and logistics can quickly detour the pack from its rejuvenating path. The trick to avoiding travel meltdown—whether cruising at 30,000 feet or along the Interstate in the family station wagon—is getting the kids active, engaged, and comfortable. To that end, we've wrangled a flock of the most essential, multitasking travel gifts to entertain and soothe children at all stages—and, by extension, the gift of peace and quiet to harried caregivers.
1. LeapPad Computer Tablet
What It Is: Various bundles of this computer tablet for kids (from $159.99) include a case, batteries, and headphones—and every package features at least two game cartridges and a $20 credit in the LeapFrog App Center. So right out of the box, your 4- to 9-year-old can enjoy entertaining and learning-minded games, apps, and eBooks. LeapPad also inspires creativity through games that teach writing, animation, and drawing.
The Kicker: Every LeapPad has a built-in camera and video recorder—perfect for preserving memories of your vacation.
Where to Buy: LeapFrog.com
2.BlanKids Buddy Backpack
What It Is: You multitask, so why shouldn't your travel gear? These cushy characters ($19.99) quickly change from handy backpack to travel pillow to snuggly blanket. With three animals to choose from—red ladybug, black-and-white panda, and brown monkey—there’s sure to be a plush buddy that’s right for the tiny travelers in your life.
The Kicker: The backpack has an outer pocket for small items, plus a removable water-repellent inner bag that gets set aside when converting to a blanket.
Where to Buy: BlanKidBuddy.com
3. Sand-Free Beach Blanket
What It Is: The problem with most beach blankets is that sand gets stuck in the fibers, causing scratchy irritations that irk even the most tolerant child. This clever outdoor blanket (from $44.99) minimizes sand, dirt, and dust by letting it fall right through the technologically advanced material, which was originally developed for military use in sandy environments. It's a great ground cover that’s got you covered, whether you’re relaxing at the beach or picnicking at a pebbly park.
The Kicker: When it's time to clean this rug, you can just hose it down.
Where to Buy: CGear
4. Woogie 2 iPhone Case
What It Is: This fuzzy, floppy, five-legged friend ($19.99) is the most lovable, huggable iPhone case you're likely to find. Woogie features a flexible, see-through plastic barrier. So this plush protector provides a source of entertainment for the kids, plus peace of mind for you that the iPhone won’t meet a sudden death if it plummets onto the floor.
The Kicker: You can plug earphones into the iPhone as it sits inside the Velcro enclosure to give fellow passengers on your flight (or in your car) a quiet ride.
Where to Buy: Griffin Technology
5. Kidizoom Plus Digital Camera
What It Is: Available in various colors, this cool digital camera ($59.96) features rubberized side grips and dual eyepieces. The Kidizoom also comes with three games on it and can record videos. But the most fun is adding Groucho glasses, bunny ears, and other silly graphics, borders, and effects to photos right on the playback screen.
The Kicker: It has enough built-in memory for up to 1,000 photos, and connects to a Mac or PC when it's time to print or share your little shutterbug's creations.
Where to Buy: Walmart
6. Best-selling Audio Books
What It Is: These titles (from $12) offer hours of literary enjoyment for their age-targeted audiences, but can also be appreciated by the whole family. Many of Random House’s audio books are read by celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, and Joan Cusack. Even better, since they're on CDs, they can be played around the house, as well as in the car and on the go. We recommend The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, by Dr. Seuss, for ages 6-8; The Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, for ages 9-11; and Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini, for teenagers.
The Kicker: You can get a better sense of the content and personality of these books by downloading and listening to audio snippets.
Where to Buy: Random House
7. Trunki Ride-On Suitcase
What It Is: These rugged and colorful ride-on suitcases ($39.99) put the "fun" in "functional." With neat inner straps and secret compartments, they're not only great for storage, but make those seemingly endless inter-terminal walks feel that much shorter. Best of all, if the kiddos get tired of scooting, they can grab Trunki’s strap and proudly pull it along.
The Kicker: Buy now to save $10 on Trunki at Brookstone by applying the '25yes' promo code in your shopping cart.
Where to Buy: Brookstone
Written by Scott Tharler
Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is a father who loves to travel and an expert in gadgets and gambling, as well. He’s written hundreds of mobile and wireless tips for Sony and PC World, and four books. You can find his daily gadget blog on Discovery News and weekly gadget advice column in Boston’s MetroWest Daily News.
Photo Credits: courtesy 1. LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.; 2. Cabeau, Inc.; 3. CGear sand-free; 4. Griffin Technology; 5. VTech Electronics North America, LLC; 6. Random House, Inc.; 7. Brookstone