Gifts From Slovenia And Italy

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

When a trip is over, it’s always nice to open your suitcase and have a little bit of it still with you. I enjoy bringing gifts back to my wife and son so they can share my experiences. While on a recent trip to Slovenia and Italy, I kept an eye out for things they might like.

My trip started at a book festival in Gorizia, Italy. In between the book stalls of Italian publishers and the big tents where authors gave talks, I noticed several West African guys going around with backpacks full of used books for sale. They admitted they didn’t have work papers but they were still out pounding the pavement in the rain. This bit of entrepreneurship didn’t occur to the 12 percent of Italians who are unemployed. Or perhaps they couldn’t be bothered. The difference between people from the Third World and the First was never clearer.

One guy had a book on African cooking. Since my wife reads Italian and wants to learn how to cook African cuisine, I had found my first gift. I also picked up a couple of Italian cooking magazines in Venice. Selfish gifts? Oh yes. I’m looking forward to seeing some of these recipes on the dinner table!

In the unselfish gift category I got some Slovenian honey for my honey-loving honey. It’s a great choice as a gift because it tastes different in every region. I also brought back a bottle of Slovenian wine, another taste that varies from region to region.

Also popping out of my suitcase was a T-shirt for the kid. He loves it because there’s a “dragon” on it (actually it’s a griffin). A couple of refrigerator magnets made their way home too. You can never have too many refrigerator magnets, because you can never receive too many postcards and you need refrigerator magnets to hold them all.

Looking for more gift ideas? Check out our posts on gifts from Estonia and gifts from Japan and Greece. And drop by the comments section to share what you like to bring home!

Gifts From Estonia

gifts from Estonia
When you ditch your wife and kid for a week to go off to Estonia in the middle of the winter, you better bring some cool stuff back. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find interesting gifts from Estonia. I managed to get a variety of low-cost presents that gave them a taste of what the country is like.

And I mean “taste” literally. As you can see, I mostly brought back food. Estonian cuisine has its own distinct twist. One thing that really stands out is that the Estonians like to confuse their taste buds. That bottle on the left is Vana Tallinn, a rum-based drink mixed with various contrasting flavors to creature a sweet, syrupy drink with a taste I’ve never experienced before. That honey is mixed with pollen, the chocolate is mixed with locally gathered berries and that cheese is some of the smokiest I’ve ever had.

Two gifts were specifically for my kid. One is a book called “The Retribution of Jack Frost,” which includes two Estonian folk tales of the familiar theme of the poor stranger being refused help by a rich person and aided by a poor one. Guess who gets punished and who gets rewarded at the end! I didn’t see much of a choice in English-language titles, but he liked this one and the drawings really catch the Estonian countryside in winter.

He also wanted a cup with a castle on it, so here it is, complete with a picture of Toompea Castle and Pikk Hermann Tower in Tallinn’s medieval Old Town.

Last but not least is an odd wooden refrigerator magnet I found in a retro vinyl shop. Some weird Tom Waits-like figure dancing with crows. It isn’t actually from Estonia but rather handmade by a Lithuanian artist. Hey, you can never have enough refrigerator magnets.

Not going to Estonia? Check out what ended up in our home from Japan and Greece.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Last Minute Gifts For Your Cruise Traveler

Last minute gift

Last minute gift time is upon us and those waiting until the last minute to buy are looking for ideas – quickly. Well, here you go.

Onboard Credit – cash to spend on the ship – is always a welcome gift if your cruise traveler already has a cruise booked. You’ll need to find out their booking number, the name of the ship and the date it sails to make the order via most major cruise lines.

Internet time and other bon voyage gifts are available and can be bought right now with that same booking number/ship/sailing date information. Packages will vary from line to line but most offer them to be purchased in advance as they do bottles of wine, chocolate covered strawberries or other gifts.

These don’t have to cost much either. Bon Voyage Cakes from Carnival Cruise Lines start at $7.95. Royal Caribbean has a handy insulated water bottle holder for $13. Cruise lines also have thoughtful gift packages for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and weddings that offer great value and make for a memorable sailing.Lunch with your travel agent can be one of the best ever gifts. Many agree that a good travel agent on their side when planning travel is a smart move. But finding a good agent can be a challenge for those that do not have one.

Getting to know a trusted travel professional can reap your traveler benefits now and come back to credit your gift-giving prowess years into the future. On this lunch, go along yourself and get the conversation started by recalling trips your good agent has helped with in the past.

A good book is always a pleasure to receive as a gift. Make it a book about maritime history and your die-hard cruise traveler will thank you sincerely. “Cunard Line: A Fleet History” by Peter Newell might work.

Too cruise-oriented? Your cruise traveler who likes to read at sea will appreciate a best seller or two … or seven. Many read a book or so each day of their cruise vacation that appropriately allows such time. Current, relevant travel writings by someone who has been to the same places your cruise traveler has booked will result in knowledge gained. Guidebooks may or may not have similar success.

Travelers with tablets and smartphones will like a gift card from their favorite book supplier. Still, there’s something about sitting on the deck of a cruise ship as it plies the ocean with an actual book in your actual hands that actually, physically turn the pages.

Need more ideas? Check this CNN Travel Gift Guide video:


[Image credit- Flickr user Lamp-tramp]

Gadling Gift Guide: Family Travel With A Lap Child Under 2

After many trips around the world with a baby (we’ll board our 40th flight next week to Brazil), I’ve seen all manner of products labeled for travel. Many of them are too bulky, heavy or otherwise impractical when you are already dealing with a squirmy child, diaper bag, carry-on, and stroller, but I’ve discovered a few things that can make travel easier and collected many of them on Pinterest. Last year, I recommended some favorite gear and toys for young families, and this year, I’ve divided it by stage. From newborn to toddler, many gifts will work well beyond the early years and if you are traveling this season with an infant or small child, check out our tips for holiday travel with a baby.

For newbies (both parents and newborns):

Gift guide - travel bassinetQuickSmart 3-in-1 travel bassinet
Babies sleep a lot of the time in the beginning, and while they are still very portable and can’t sit up alone, they are often happy to snooze in a stroller or car seat. But when traveling, however, you are often faced with the problem of what to do with the baby without a stroller, such as in the airport or out at a restaurant. Enter this handy diaper bag that can unfold into a changing station or bassinet. You might want to stash a small reusable bag to store any objects in the diaper bag while unfolded.

gift guide Flye Baby seat
FlyeBaby hammock seat
Your flight isn’t long enough for a baby bassinet, you can’t afford a separate seat, and the plane is full. This is the perfect time to pull out this brilliant hammock-like seat, which can attach to your tray table and holds a baby up to 25 pounds, though babies able to sit up unassisted might not like being restrained. You’ll still have to switch off for mealtime, unless you want to eat your $8 in-flight sandwich off baby’s tummy. You can also use the FlyeBaby as a portable high chair, but we like the more squashable Tot Seat below.For babies six months to one year:

Gift guide - Tot Seat high chairTot Seat portable high chair
Most babies start on solid food by six months, when they can sit up and may even have some teeth to explore nibbles. Instead of toting around a huge booster seat or limiting yourself to “family” restaurants with high chairs, try this ultra streamlined “seat” that can be tied onto virtually any chair with a back, can be tossed into a washing machine for cleaning, and best of all, easily fits into a purse or diaper bag. It’s one of my favorite bits of gear, and with good reason, it’s ingenious and indispensable.

gift guide - Sophie giraffeSophie the giraffe teether
All over the world, kids and parents know Sophie. She was born in France and has looked the same for over fifty years. Sophie is perfect for teething babies (her soft rubber body is heaven for tender gums) to toddler age, but will be rediscovered and enjoyed when it comes time to play with dolls and stuffed animals. The classic Sophie teether toy can make a great stocking stuffer, but generous gift givers might also check out the Sophie play house.

For crawlers and early walkers (one year and up):

gift guide - Sidekick carrier and bagSidekick Diaper Bag and Carrier
Another cool combo product from the makers of the Travelmate car seat/wheelie bag gear, the Sidekick can be used as a hip carrier, shoulder or waist-strap diaper bag, or both. It’s good for when you want the option of carrying the baby occasionally but without extra gear, though the weight distribution might make this uncomfortable for a long day out. It’s also sleek and un-girly enough that either parent should feel comfortable about wearing as a bag or carrier.

gift guide - Bobux shoesBobux soft-soled shoes
Although everyone loves giving them as gifts, new babies really don’t need shoes. Babies taking their first steps might want a little more protection without too much structure, which is when these soft-soled shoes are perfect. Even as a confident walker, we still pack these for flying days, since they are light enough to be comfortable for a nap on the plane (and not bother the parent holding her), but give some traction and coverage for any airport explorations.

For older toddlers:

gift guide - Boba Air carrierBoba Air
For the first year and a half, the Boba wrap has been my go-to carrier and I included it in last year’s gift guide. As babies get heavier and more independent, parents will use carriers less and less, but they still come in handy in situations when you can’t use a stroller but need to keep your child contained. The Boba Air is a good option to keep stashed in a bag for when you need it. About half the weight (and price) of an Ergo, it can be folded into its own pouch when not in use, and worn as a front or back carrier.

gift guide - Leapfrog LeapPadLeapfrog LeapPad
I like to limit my daughter’s travel toys to things small and inexpensive, like a cosmetics bag with travel-sized toiletries, a deck of cards, or a metal pencil case filled with magnets, all available at a 99-cent store. But for really long-haul flights, you want to break out the big guns, and the Leap Pad learning tablets from Leapfrog are a good investment. Technically, they are for kids age 3 and up, but these days, as babies are able to operate iPhones practically out of the womb, toddlers can still find it entertaining. Yes, there are also plenty of educational apps and kid-friendly accessories for tablets, but if you’d rather keep your iPad to yourself and free from little fingers, this $79 (for the original LeapPad 1 shown here) device is a worth putting on your Santa list. Remember to keep volume low on flights, even though the sound beats that of a screaming child, it can still be an annoyance to other passengers until your child is ready for earphones.

For dreamers:

gift guide - map blanketSoft Cities blanket
Can’t travel this year or want to instill a love of maps early? Get a customized blanket with any map of your choosing. Enter your home address, or perhaps that of a dream destination, and you can add multiple “I am here” or “I was here” markers within a two-mile radius. Available in several color schemes for girls and boys, as well as a watercolor design, the blankets can be customized in different ways to create real works of art. It’s a bit late for this Christmas, but could be ordered for a 2013 trip!

gift guide - phonetic alphabet poster
Phonetic Alphabet poster

Know a frequent flier expecting a lap child? Future aviators and air traffic controllers will need to learn their Alpha Bravo Charlies early. It’s a cute way to show a little travel nerdery in your nursery without a too-obvious airplane theme or being oversimplified for kids. Other travel decor ideas might include airport codes, luggage tags or chalkboard maps.

[Photo credits: QuickSmartGo.com, FlyeBaby.com, Meg Nesterov, GoGoBabyz.com, BobuxUSA.com, BobaFamily.com, Leapfrog.com, SoftCities.net, AllPosters.com]

Gifts For Travelers: Consider The Person, Place And Travel Trends

gifts for travelersWhen it comes to gifts for travelers, there are a lot of choices. Leisure travelers, those who commonly associate travel with fun, vacation time and new places have their needs. Business travelers are a different story, often looking at their frequent trips to the same place as work and a hotel room their office. Adventure travelers and others have their own priorities as well. Each has different needs. Knowing what they put a high value on can help us pick the perfect gift. To find out, we checked a number of published packing lists for a variety of travelers.

Universally common and high-priority advice includes packing a passport, travel documents like visa’s, hotel and flight confirmations, boarding passes and a list of critical phone numbers. Basics like appropriate clothing, personal care products, smartphone apps and money round out the list. Nothing really shocking there but that’s the point of a packing list, to jog our memory so we don’t forget something critical.

All of the above considered, a document organizer might be a good idea for a less-than-organized traveler on your gift list. Victorinox, the Swiss army people, has a Travel Organizer that features: a large stash pocket and full-length zippered pocket to store tickets, a passport and most sizes of currency; a zippered pocket for coins; dedicated card slots; and a micromesh ID slot ($32).

But say your traveler already has something like that or is the type of person that you know will not use it. If they have not traveled in a while, they may not know about the current trend to travel light. OneBag, a website dedicated to “the art and science of traveling light” has some ideas.”There’s no question: over-packing tops the list of biggest travel mistakes,” says OneBag on its website, which promises, “going pretty much anywhere, for business or leisure, for an indefinite length of time, with no more than a single carry-on-sized bag.”

Benefits of traveling light include increased personal security with just one bag; that’s less to lose due to theft, damage or misrouting. Traveling light means no checked bags and a more stress- and hassle-free way to go.

So maybe “things” are not what we should focus on for the traveler on our list. That leaves gift cards, arranging for an appropriate gift to be waiting for them at their destination and well wishes.

Just in time for the holidays, Carnival Cruise Lines has launched its first-ever gift card program, a pre-paid card that can be used as payment toward a “Fun Ship” vacation or a variety of shipboard purchases. Celebrity Cruises (with a double your gift card offer) and other cruise lines have a similar program, as do airlines, car rental companies and major hotel chains like Marriott, Best Western and others.

A gift card from TravelSmith or REI Adventure products would take the pressure off of gifting, allowing the traveler to pick what they want or need. A better gift card would be for places your traveler might visit on a planned itinerary or serve as incentive to book that trip-of-a-lifetime.

Someone traveling to Disney World in Florida, for example, might appreciate a McDonalds gift card. That may sound like a dumb gift but just outside the gates of Disney World where dining can be expensive, is a McDonalds and the largest McDonalds in the world is not far. Oh, all of the sudden “dumb” is “thoughtful” and absolutely used, rather than set aside with other well-intentioned gifts.

Need some other gift ideas? Check this video from US Airways:


OneBag offers some other guidelines that can steer us in the right direction too, focusing on three areas that can lead to some great gift suggestions:

  • Packing List Usage, abandoning the folly of lugging around too much stuff;
  • Weight Reduction, finding travel-friendly versions of the stuff you do carry; and
  • Bag Optimization, understanding what to look for in efficient & effective luggage.

[Photo credit- Flickr user tikigod]