The Gadling young family travel gift guide

If you are traveling with a baby over the holidays, visiting with children on your next trip, or just hoping to convince a new parent that you don’t have to hand in your passport once the new addition arrives, we’ve compiled a gift guide for families traveling with babies. Traveling light is the best advice you can follow when traveling with a baby (even without a baby, it’s just good sense) but there are some gear and gadgets that make the road a little smoother for family travel.

family travel gift guideBoba baby wrap (formerly Sleepy Wrap)
One of my favorite purchases so far in Turkey is the Cybex first.go baby carrier, unique due to the horizontal infant insert used up until 3-4 months. The lie-flat insert allowed me to set the baby on a flat surface without worrying she’d roll over (with constant supervision, of course), perfect for traveling. Everywhere I went with it, we got comments and questions. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the US, but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend it. My other favorite carrier is the Sleepy Wrap (now called Boba), suitable from birth without any special insert, up to 18 months. It’s very easy to pack in a handbag or tie around yourself without having lots of straps to get tangled in. Since it’s all fabric, it works well for airports and metal detectors, and unlike other wraps, the stretch means you don’t have to retie it after taking the baby out. Choosing a carrier is different for everyone, a good comparison chart is here.family travel gift guide
M Coat convertible winter coat
Leave it to the Canadians to make a winter coat that can stretch (pun intended) to accomodate a pregnant belly, a baby carrier, and then return to normal, while keeping you both warm and stylish. While not cheap (it retails for about $366 US), it’s a good investment that will work for many winter trips, and potentially, many babies. Filled with Canadian down and available in a wide array of colors, it would suit any pregnant or babywearing traveler.

family travel gift guideTraveling Toddler car seat strap
For the first year or so, most car seats can fit onto a stroller, creating an easy travel system. For older babies and toddlers, having a gadget that makes a car seat “wheelable” frees up a hand and makes airport transit easier. This strap essentially attaches your car seat to your rollaboard, creating a sort of hybrid stroller-suitcase. Now you probably won’t want to carry your suitcase on the street throughout your trip, but at under $15, it’s any easy way to get through layovers until you reach your destination. If you want a car seat that can do double duty and then some, our Heather Poole recommends the Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a convertible stroller-car seat-booster-plane seat. It’s certified for babies and children 5-40 pounds, but as it doesn’t lie flat, may be more appropriate for babies over 6 months.

family travel gift guideKushies easy fold baby bed
Most so-called travel beds for babies are about as easy to pack as a pair of skis, more suited for road trips to Grandma’s house than increasingly-restricted airline baggage. Not every hotel has baby cribs available and sometimes you want something that works outdoors as well to take along to a park, beach, or on a day trip. The most useful travel product I’ve bought since my daughter arrived was the Samsonite (now Koo-di) pop-up travel cot; it’s light, folds up like a tent, and takes up less room than a shoebox in my suitcase. The Samsonite cot is not sold in the US, but Kushies Baby makes a similar product for the American market. Their folding baby bed weighs only a few pounds and can be collapsed into your suitcase. It also has mosquito netting and UV-protected fabric for outdoors, and loops for hanging baby toys.

family travel gift guidePuj and Prince Lionheart bathtubs
With a steady set of hands and some washcloths for padding, small babies can be bathed in most hotel or kitchen sinks, or even taken into the shower (beware of slipperiness!). For more support, new babies can lie in the Puj baby tub, a flat piece of soft foam that fits in nearly any sink to cradle your baby. Children who can sit up unassisted can play in the foldable Prince Lionheart FlexiBath, which can also serve as a small kiddy pool. While both products fold flat for storage, they may be too cumbersome and take up too much room in a suitcase for airplane travel, and thus may be better for car trips.

family travel gift guideLamaze stroller toys
The best travel toys are small, attach to a stroller or bag so they don’t get lost in transit, and don’t make any annoying sounds to bother fellow passengers (or the parents). Spiral activity toys can keep a baby busy in their stroller, crib, or in an airplane seat with no batteries required. Rattles that attach to a baby’s wrist or foot take up little space and are hard to lose. Lamaze makes a variety of cute toys that can attach to a handle and appeal to both a baby’s and parent’s visual sensibilities. We’re partial to this Tiny Love bunny rabbit who can dangle from her car seat, makes a nice wind chime sound, and can fit in a pocket as well (we call him Suleyman since he’s from Turkey but I’ve seen them for sale all over the world).

family travel gift guideThis is…books by Miroslav Šašek
Get your child excited about visiting a new city, or just add a travel memento to your library. Originally published in the 1950s and ’60s and reissued in the last few years, these are wonderful children’s books visiting over a dozen cities worldwide (plus a little trip to the moon) as Czech author Miroslav Šašek originally captured them. Fun for children and adults to read and compare the cities in the books to how they’ve changed. Going to Europe? The Madeline books are French favorites, Paddington is essential London reading, and Eloise is a great companion for Paris and Moscow. For more wonderful children’s book ideas published this year, check out Brain Pickings’ Best Illustrated Books of 2011.


family travel gift guideSnuggle Pod footmuff

In a perfect world, we’d always travel with children in the summer while days are long, you can sit at outdoor cafes, and pack fewer layers. Adding a warm footmuff to a stroller makes winter travel more bearable for a small child or baby. While not the cheapest gift, the Snuggle Pod adapts to any stroller up to age 3, and can be used in warmer weather with the top panel removed, or as a playmat when unfolded. It’s also made of Australian sheepskin, which is safe for babies when shorn short and used on a stroller (babies older than 1 year old can sleep directly on a lambskin, younger babies can lie on one for playtime or with a sheet cover for sleeping). A more budget-friendly option is the JJ Cole Bundleme with shearling lining.

Have any favorite gear or gadgets to add to our family travel gift guide? Tell us about your favorites in the comments and happy shopping!

One for the Road: Uncommon Traveler

My mom is a children’s librarian and often introduces me to great travel titles for kids. The other day I was helping hang posters at her elementary school library when I spotted this book displayed on a top shelf: Uncommon Traveler is the true story of Mary Kingsley, born in England in 1862. Her father was a family physician who traveled the world caring for his wealth patrons, while Mary led a busy, sheltered life at home tending to her ill mother. But at the age of 30, both parents deceased, Mary was free to travel, and headed to West Africa.

The book has beautiful illustrations of Mary crossing dangerous ravines, battling an eight-foot croc and trekking with her guides through the forest towards the Remboue River (near what is now Gabon.) She took two journeys to West Africa, in 1893 and 1894, and developed a close relationship with members of the Fang tribe during her visits. She died during her third trip to the continent, while in South Africa as a volunteer nurse. Author and illustrator Don Brown has done a wonderful job capturing her bravery and spirit. Do you know of other children’s books that tell the stories of great women travelers?

One for the Road – This is Hong Kong

This is…only one of several Miroslav Sasek books from his famous series to be reissued in recent years. In 2007, This is Hong Kong and This is Rome were re-released, updated with facts about the cities that are correct for modern day. And over the past few years, the same has been done for the Paris, London, Edinburgh, New York and Venice titles. The Czech author and illustrator is best known for his colorful stories about these great cities of the world, and it is nice to see the collection being shared with a new generation of young readers.

Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s, M. Sasek created 18 titles in this award winning series, although he only planned to do three at first. One of these books might be a nice gift for a child getting ready to embark on a city trip for the firs time, or as a fun coffee table book for someone living on one of these places. Although the books were originally intended for children, these travel classics can be enjoyed by wanderers both big and small. Folks who want to learn more about Sasek and the “This is” series can start here, and check out the corresponding films that were also created.

One for the Road (04/18/07)

A new children’s book adventure series called Incredible Journeys debuts this month from independent publisher Kid’s Fun Press. Although I’m a little leery of a children’s book with the word “criminal” in the title, these imaginative books simply serve as playful teaching tools to engage children’s sense of wonder about the world.

The Criminal in the Caymans and Treasure in Tahiti were written by Connie Lee Berry, a flight attendant for a major airline and school system volunteer who says her chats with children fascinated by other cultures and continents inspired her to create these fast-paced adventures filled with geography fun facts.

In these short books (geared for educators to use in the classroom), Max and Sam emerge as a modern day Hardy Boys duo — globetrotting guys who find themselves in mysterious situations far from home. Smart young fellas, they’ve managed to land on lush tropical islands for their first two travel escapades, in which they must solve a 100-year old mystery and capture a dangerous lawbreaker, all while learning about the lands they travel through. Informative fact sheets at the beginning and end of the story reveal key statistics about the locale, including population, language, currency and other geographic trivia.

If you’ve got an inquiring young explorer in your life, consider introducing this new series the next time you venture to the library or bookstore. You’ll be doing your part to instill a strong sense of place and spirit of discovery in a curious young mind. Additional titles in this chapter-book series for ages 7-9 will be released in October: Adventure in Africa and Pirates in Paradise. Maybe Sam and Max will meet up with an equally adventurous female traveling pair in one of these forthcoming titles?