Holiday gift guide: Family travel picks

Nov 22, 2019

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Amid the flurry of holiday preparations and parties, you may be thinking about the children on your Christmas or Hanukkah gift lists. Here at TPG, we love these cool gifts for your kids (and you) that you can slip under the tree and pack on your next family vacation.

When you travel with a family, you don’t just need more stuff — you need the right stuff. These are our favorite holiday presents that go the extra mile.

Related: How to maximize holiday shopping

Crayola Color Wonder Mess-Free Markers 

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Mess-free markers should be under your tree. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

The best gift and travel tools don’t have to be expensive. These mess-free markers are perfect for travel as they don’t leave a mark on anything other than the special paper that’s sold with the set (so there’s no risk of your toddler drawing on a $100 million plane). Use them in flight, on the train, in the car or at the restaurant. Pro tip: These sets are less than $10, so pick up several because you’ll be surprised how popular they are once your little artist starts coloring.

To buy:

Safe for airplane use - no mess (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Safe for airplane use — no mess. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet (Amazon)

OK, here’s the thing: Unless you always fly JetBlue with seatback screens at every seat, you may eventually need to bring your own online entertainment device. Truthfully, iPads are king in my house, but they are also quite expensive. If you aren’t ready to have your kids graduate to a device worth hundreds of dollars, such as an iPad, a good compromise might be the Fire HD8 Kids Edition Tablet that comes with a sturdy kid-proof case (pick your color); a year of FreeTime Unlimited (apps, games, videos and content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon and Disney); and a more palatable price tag than you’ll find from Apple. There’s also a two-year, risk-free guarantee in case it breaks, so no worries about tossing it in your kid’s travel backpack.

If you or your kids are familiar with the iPad, this device can seem a little tough to navigate, but kids have a knack for figuring things out. If you don’t need all of the kid features, you can also opt for a regular Fire and get a case for traveling.

To buy:

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Amazon Fire tablet. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Away Kids Carry-On

The earlier you get your kids to take charge of their own bags, the better. No one wants to serve as the family pack mule for longer than absolutely necessary. The Away Kids Carry-On is kid-sized — perfect from about 3 years old until the age of 9 or 10. You can certainly use the kids carry-on into adulthood, but by the time your child is approaching middle school, getting the regular Away Carry-On is likely fine.

The kids’ version has a handy charging battery to keep those travel devices up and running (see above), and it comes in eight colors. It also has a 100-day, money-back guarantee and a lifetime warranty against breakage.

To buy:

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Kids love having their own travel bag. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Related: TPG review of the Kids’ Away Carry-On

Anker Powercore portable charger

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Travel families usually pack lots of devices. Whether you’re heading out on a road trip or camping trip or you are seated on an aircraft without power outlets (ahem, Southwest), you need backup power solutions. For the family that shares, this charging device has the ability to power up an iPhone multiple times and even a MacBook a few times.

To buy:

Kids Headphones Bluetooth Wireless

Kid-friendly headphones. (Photo courtesy of Woice.)

If you’ve had it with cords, swap your kid’s old headphones for a bluetooth pair. These headphones comes in bright, fun colors and easily pair with Bluetooth-friendly devices with about six hours of battery life. You can also use them with a traditional audio jack without relying on a battery. The headphones have a maximum volume of 85 dB and fold up to fit in your kid’s travel bag. If you really don’t want or need Bluetooth functionality, here’s a different pair of affordable, kid-friendly headphones.

To buy:

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
These headphones are portable — just throw them in your child’s backpack. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Everywhere USA Scratch-Off Map 

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Kids can track where they’ve visited with this scratch-off map. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Travel is educational even if you don’t look at a map, but it can be extra fun (and yes, educational) to work a map into the experience. This U.S. map lets your kids scratch off where they have been to track their travel adventures and maybe accidentally pick up a smattering of geography along the way.

To buy:

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
This product is fun for kids and helps them learn where each U.S. state is located. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Boogie Board Play n’ Trace

My kids really enjoy the Play n’ Trace. (Photo courtesy of Boogie Board.)

You need one of these in your life. This pen- and marker-free drawing board is a bit bulky for travel, but once we went somewhere with Grandma and she had one, I realized it’s definitely worth the space since it’s noise-free, mess-free and the kids fully dig it. Keeping track of the drawing stick is a bit of a pain, but the Play ‘n Trace is a plane- and restaurant-friendly tool that you’ll never want to leave at home.

To buy:

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

eBags packing cubes

Packing cubes are God’s gift to families with multiple kids. Charlie gets green, Cassie gets pink and Carter gets blue. Load the kids’ clothes into their color-coded packing cubes and toss all the cubes into a bag. You can use the different-sized bags for various types of clothing. Other families like to mix all the clothes together and use a cube for each day of the trip so everyone’s clothes for Saturday are in the blue bag, Sunday is the green bag, etc. Seriously, buy some. They are life-changing.

To buy:

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Each kid gets packing cubes in a different color. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

RFID-blocking multipassport holder

(Photo courtesy of Zero Grid.)

I don’t care if you have Clear, Global Entry, NEXUS, TSA PreCheck and a magic wand: Getting the whole family and everyone’s documents through immigration is stressful — especially with little children — and parents have the honor of managing all the forms and passports. Get something that helps you keep all the passports together. On a recent international trip, this little holder was perfect for all four of our passports, a pen and the forms and we even tucked in some “emergency cash” and a credit card.

To buy:

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Colugo Stroller

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

When you have to bring a stroller on your travels, there’s usually a tradeoff. It can be compact enough to fit in the overhead bin or it can be spacious enough to have storage. It can have a variety of features or it may require a degree from Ikea to make it collapse. We are (thank goodness) past the stroller phase 99% of the time, but if I were in the market for a travel stroller, this Colugo would be at the top of my list.

Colugo is relatively lightweight, collapses into an overhead bin size (17 inches x 24 inches x 10 inches) and has underseat storage. It comes in a variety of colors and there’s an optional infant kit, making it pretty customizable to your specific needs. The stroller can even be used and collapsed with one hand and has a sunshade that actually blocks the sun.

Now, if you want to go off-roading or have the biggest and comfiest stroller for your older toddlers and preschoolers, this might not be it, but for airport runs, sidewalks and trips to visit the family, this looks pretty great.

To buy:

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More Things to Know
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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