Since getting back from our summer road trip, I’ve been making a list of travel “essentials” or rather, handy things that would make travel with kids a whole lot smoother. So, in case you’re struggling to find presents for friends who are going travelling or a unique travel gift for kids this Christmas, here is my list of the best travel gifts for family and friends.
Although the recipients might look at you rather quizzically when they unwrap some of these ideas I’ve suggested, I’d like to think they’ll thank you in the long run. I’ve included road trip gift ideas for those difficult-to-buy-for grown ups as well as travel gifts for children. There’s also plenty of present ideas for people who like camping, I hope you find some inspiration. And if there’s something which you think I should add to this list of travel gift ideas, please let me know in the comments at the end.
Unique travel gift ideas for grown ups
Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I’m somewhat behind the times when it comes to technology. So it’s thanks to my sister in law that I own a Bluetooth speaker. I’ll admit (I hope she’s not reading this) that we didn’t use it straight away. However, it came into its own this summer when we were staying on campsites and spending our evenings outdoors.
We have a turquoise Sony SRS-XB21 which looks good (that’s the most important thing, right?) and works fine too. Apparently it’s also waterproof but I’m reluctant to test this out.
Victorinox Nail Clip 580
Anyone who has tried to remove a giant splinter from a small child’s hand half way up a mountain with some useless plastic tweezers from their first aid kit will welcome unwrapping this gift. We had two first aid kits with us on our summer holiday and neither had metal tweezers capable of removing a splinter.
The Victorinox Nail Clip 580, apart from having a rather self important sounding name, is small and includes scissors, blade and toothpick as well as the tweezers and “pedicure” related functions.
Last Christmas, because I had run out of present ideas, I bought everyone in my family a Stojo coffee cup. I’m not sure if they’re lying to me when they say they use them, but I use mine so I like to think I’ve made a very microscopically positive difference to the world.
There are lots of reusable cups on the market but I like Stojo because it’s collapsible so it doesn’t take up much space in my bag. I try really hard to remember to bring my cup with me when we go out for the day. Although more and more cafes are offering compostable cups, it’s still better to cut down on the amount of stuff we chuck in the bin so these are a great gift.
Portable phone charger
If you drain the battery on your phone rather quicker than you might like, this is the gift for you (or for anyone in the same predicament). We used our Anker Astro charger quite a bit this summer when we were out for the day taking lots of photos. It’s small and relatively light and comes with a fabric case and a USB cable.
Unique travel gift ideas for children
We took various card games away with us on our road trip around Europe this summer. Without doubt, the most popular were the Top Trumps. They were played in the car, on the campsites, in restaurants, everywhere. Such a useful way to pass the time. Our kids loved the racing cars and footballer sets and we also have a much-loved Top Plops set, a very educational addition to our playing card collection.
I find our atlas really useful. It’s great to pore over with my boys when they have geography homework: there are flags to copy and it’s a useful resource for learning about rivers, oceans and continents.
I love the Usborne lift the flap picture atlas, it’s perfect for little ones. Older children will enjoy the Collins Junior Atlas which includes the flags as well as detailing each country’s ecological footprint, a very relevant feature right now.
Now, I’m going to be honest here: we no longer use our Trunkis. I found they were useful up until the age when our children began to weave through the airport crowds at alarming speeds pretending they were in racing cars.
However, before you reach that stage of family travel life, the Trunki is a useful travel accessory for toddlers who don’t want to walk and for parents who cannot carry the toddler due to the amount of luggage they’re already dealing with.
Crocodile Creek Europe discover jigsaw puzzle
I love the look of this 100 piece Europe jigsaw from Crocodile Creek. It’s sufficiently detailed to include islands such as Crete and Malta. It comes with 21 little figures of landmarks or people which children can match to the relevant country. There’s also a mini guide book for children to read about the traditions and customs of each country.
Now, this might seem like a really boring present for some children but my kids have both asked for zipped hiking trousers following a trip to the Alps with another family whose children wore them. Father Christmas will be more than happy to indulge this kind of fashion envy.
Hiking trousers which can unzip to become shorts are such a versatile piece of travel clothing: two items of clothing in one. Regatta have zip off trousers for children as young as three which is useful if, like me, you have very small children.
Recycled ferry boat and cars bath toys
We’ve been through our fair share of bath toys and this set of two cars and a ferry from Green Toys is definitely the most durable. My kids have had this set for years and it is still in use today. It’s robust and made from 100% recycled plastic. I won’t attempt to take an appealing shot of my children playing with these in the bath so you’ll just have to click on the link to see an image of this brilliant toy.
Unique travel gift ideas for the whole family
Before I bought these, I really did think people were making a lot of fuss about nothing. Why would you want to pay for bags which you’re just going to put into your existing bags? I used to pack clothes into see-through plastic bags, to make things easier to find but after these eventually fell apart I decided to take the plunge and buy some packing cubes this year.
We took our packing cubes all round Europe this summer and found them invaluable for locating clothing buried deep in the boot of the car. I am usually too lazy to unpack clothes and put them into drawers and wardrobes on holiday but now that I have packing cubes, I can hand each family member their cubes and they can toss them into a drawer: unpacking complete!
There are tons of packing cubes on the market, some of which are really cheap. However, I bought the PRO Packing Cubes as they got consistently good reviews and I wanted some which would last. We put them through their paces this summer and they are still going strong. The set comes in different colours so it’s easy to tell which cube belongs to which family member. Incidentally, packing cubes should really be called packing cuboids as they’re not square but I guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it.
A family tent
This isn’t a cheap present, I’ll admit, but think of it as an investment in your mental well-being. Once you’ve bought a tent, camping is a great way of holidaying on the cheap and although it has its pitfalls, I do think camping is the most relaxing way to holiday with children. My kids always sleep well in our tent and they seem to get on together better, two things which are crucial for an enjoyable break for all of us. If you find the right campsite, parents can sit back and relax with a cuppa / beer / good book and the kids can be outdoors from the moment they wake until the second they fall asleep. Heaven.
If you’re unsure which tent to go for, I’d recommend avoiding the really cheap ones as they’re more likely to fall apart after a few uses. We camp with a group of three other families each year and we all independently of each other bought a Vango family tent. Our Vango comfortably sleeps our family of four but you could easily squeeze plenty more in. There are two bedrooms plus a good sized porch area should the weather force you inside for meals and playtime.
The design changes every few years but the basic concept hasn’t. It’s pretty quick and easy to put up and it’s spacious. We’ve had ours for about five years and so far the only thing which has broken is the zip on the bag (due to our inept packing). The current model which looks most similar to ours is the Vango Odyssey Family Tunnel Tent.
However much people like me try to dress up their travels as being sustainable or ethical, there’s no escaping the fact that going on holiday is bad for the environment. So I’m always on the look out for ways to allay my guilt and using shampoo soap bars instead of shampoo out of a plastic bottle is my latest attempt.
I’ve tried shampoo bars before and found the results a bit unpleasant but I’m determined to stick at it this time. I’m currently using Friendly soap’s Lavender and Geranium shampoo bar to wash my locks. I’ve been told that the effects of using shampoo bars (waxy feeling hair) will pass… I’ll come back to this post in due course with an update.
Essential for the those nocturnal trips to the toilet block plus a host of other activities whilst camping, head torches are a great present for children and adults. We use wind up head torches at the moment but when these come to the end of their lives, I’ll be getting head torches with a rechargeable battery pack so that I don’t have to spend so much time winding them up (although if anyone knows of a good wind up head torch, do let me know).
The Petzl Actik Core head torch, whilst not cheap, is lightweight and can be charged using a USB cable (it also takes batteries should you need these as back up).
Microfibre travel towels
Microfibre travel towels are a particularly brilliant travel gift idea. As I looked around the campsites and beaches we visited this summer, I realised we were a bit slow on the uptake with this particular travel item. Travel towels have changed a lot since my backpacking days, no longer are they the size of a handkerchief (although I’d forgive you for thinking they are from the images below, trust me they’re now huge).
Microfibre towels come in a variety of sizes and really do dry you. Not only are they handy for family holidays when space in luggage or the car is at a premium, but they’re also useful for kids who might be going off on independent adventures: with Scout groups or school trips. I’m buying Dock and Bay towels for my family this Christmas, the company is UK based and it was created by travellers.
Now that my kids are a bit older, we’ve been out on the water a few times on paddle boards and kayaks. I’m always slightly paranoid that I’m going to drop my phone in the sea so I’ll be asking Father Christmas for a dry bag this year. It won’t save my phone if I drop it mid-photograph but it will give me a certain amount of peace of mind the next time I fall off a paddle board.
Period pants are not cheap which makes them a particularly brilliant and unique gift idea. And let’s not be awkward or squeamish about periods, we need to be more open about our monthly cycle.
Sanitary products have come a long way in my period life time but attitudes are still rather slow to catch up. Period pants are a brilliant invention for menstruating women of all ages. For young teens at the start of their period journey, these pants are reassuring and a great back up for those unpredictable days. For older women, the pants are invaluable for those predictably heavy days. You can use them on their own or in conjunction with your usual sanitary protection.
Flux Undies offer a variety of styles and absorbencies and they even do a range of detachable pants should you need to slip them off without removing your trousers / skirt / tights. So, buy this gift for your daughter, or your niece, or your wife, or your goddaughter or simply for yourself.
Hanging wash bag
Before having kids, I could pop all my toiletries into one small bag but now there’s a whole load of other stuff to cart around: that magic bottle of pink liquid for ill kiddos, plasters, inhaler (which we haven’t needed for years but I dare not leave out) and so forth. Wash bags which hang are particularly useful if you’re staying somewhere a bit grotty and you don’t want anything coming into contact with the floor…
I really like the style of the Noome hanging wash bag. It’s a great option if you enjoy camping or if you holiday in places with small bathrooms. Noome have designed wash bags in various colours so you should find a shade to keep all family members happy.
Is there a unique travel gift which you would love to receive under the Christmas tree? Let me know in the comments below.
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And if all that talk of camping has you digging your tent out of the attic, here are some reviews of our favourite camping trips: