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 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!

Feliz Navidad: More Christmas traditions from Spain

Christmas, christmas, Navidad, navidad, Spain, MadridMerry Christmas from Madrid! Last year I covered some of the big Spanish Christmas traditions. This year I’d like to talk on a more personal level about how I and my in-laws celebrate. I’m married to a Spaniard. A Castilian to be precise, as regional identity is important here. Living in Madrid we have a very Castilian Christmas. My five-year-old son is pretty much Castilian too, although he’s got a Canadian dad and speaks English as fluently as his public school English teacher.

Being a good little Spanish kid, he’s written out his letter to the Three Kings about what he wants: The Lego Tech crane, a parking garage for his cars, “everything about Real Madrid” (the city football team), and “La Casa de los Gormitis”. The Gormitis don’t seem to have made it across the Atlantic but they’re the big thing for European boys right now. It’s a cartoon where children have a secret base under their parents’ house and turn into monsters to fight the bad monsters in the fantasy world of the Gormitis. Yeah, it hits all the buttons.

Of course the Three Kings came to visit his school, but my son wasn’t fooled. He immediately recognized that the African king Baltasar was played by his English teacher, a black guy from London. Reminds me of that Jesse James story I wrote about earlier today. Since the Kings don’t show up at our home to put gifts in our shoes until January 6, we still haven’t done our shopping. It always feels like the Spanish Christmas gives you more time to shop, even though it’s still exactly a year between gift-giving.

The season is in full swing, however. Everyone has been buying tickets for El Gordo, the national lottery. Personally I think gambling is a stupid waste of money, but I’ll be checking out the numbers this year because my optometrist gave me two tickets! This is a common way for businesses to reward regular customers.

This week my family set up two Bethlehem scenes. My mother-in-law has an old one of lead figures that goes on a side table in the dining room. It has the Kings, buildings, stream, bridge, the manger, and lots of villagers. Over it all Herod looks down from his castle with a rather grumpy expression. This diorama is far bigger and more elaborate than the diminutive Christmas tree we put in the hall. We also have a Playmobil Bethlehem scene (called Los Clicks in Spanish) that my son sets up in his room.

Last night we chowed down on lombarda (red cabbage with pine nuts), langostinos (king prawns), and heaps of nuts, candies, polvorones, and turrón. Polvorón is my favorite. These are crumbly little shortbreads made with flour, nuts, sugar, and milk. Like with Oreos, there’s more than one way to eat them. Some people just bite down and let the whole thing crumble in a tasty, dusty mess. Others squeeze them into a compact bit of tidy sweetness. I’m more of a crumbler than a squeezer. Turrón is an Arabic confection made of almonds, sugar, honey, and egg white. Other ingredients such as chocolate are added to create an endless variety of flavors.

Just before dinner we heard King Juan Carlos I’s annual Christmas Eve speech. Keeping with tradition, my family completely ignored him, even though they made sure the TV was on. I watched it more for the sake of this article than to actually hear what he had to say. Sitting in his palace with a Nativity scene to one side and a photo of Spain’s victorious football team to the other, El Rey talked about the economic crisis, the threat of terrorism, and the drug problem. Pretty much the same issues as last year. There was also a Christmas message from Spanish soldiers serving in overseas operations such as the Indian Ocean, Antarctica, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.

Got to run. Soon my 99 year-old neighbor will show up. She’s become my son’s de facto great-grandmother. It’s nice to see someone born in 1911 interacting with someone born in 2005. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law is cooking up a giant Christmas lunch. Yeah, I lucked out in the mother-in-law department.

Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys – Chinatown, Singapore

Remember “The Island of Misfit Toys” from the legendary holiday TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer“? It’s where imperfect and rejected toys came to life. Well, I have found this real-life island. It’s Singapore — Chinatown, to be exact.

Some find it strange that Singapore has a Chinatown, since so much of the culture is influenced by the Chinese anyway. It turns out that the Singapore government is very supportive of its unique ethnic areas; including Chinatown, Little India, and Holland Village (where there is a windmill and no Dutch people). Chinatown is to the Chinese influence in Singapore what Euro-Disney is to American influences in Europe. It’s wacky and kitschy and ultimately a lot of fun — but not really based in reality.

Chinatowns across the world always seem to have an variety of crazy, kind of scary toys, and Singapore’s was no exception. In fact, I found such an assortment that I had no choice but to photograph and videotape them. In case you’ve been hurting for nightmares, check out the video above and the gallery below for your fix of Misfit Toys.

This trip was paid for by the Singapore Board of Tourism, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.

Scan-It: Airport security toy for kids

I get frustrated about airport security, lots of people do — what’s new? But maybe that’s just because some of us grew up in a different era without today’s strict regulations; I remember a time when family members followed you to the gate to wave goodbye, you left your shoes on and bottles of water from home were not thrown into the trash. But today things have changed, and traveling children are exposed to post-9/11 security measures at a young age. To help them better understand the complexities of airport security, what better way than an educational game?

Scan-It, made by Operation Checkpoint, is a toy airport metal detector, meant to get kids used to the idea of security in airports and other public spaces. The toy is intended to provide “healthy fun with education and awareness,” which includes wooshing items through security to find hidden metal. Nothing like a toy to make you feel like a TSA agent. If only I had a Scan-It when I was little…

Via Boing Boing

Big in Japan: Fuzzy breasts are big in Japan

With the Christmas shopping season right around the corner, everyone is starting to wonder what this year’s must have toy will be.

Like past greats such as the Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle me Elmo and Nintendo Wii, it takes a truly special toy to drive yearning kids and their ever-pleasing parents into a consumer frenzy.

Care to guess what the hottest toy in Japan is likely to be this holiday season?

(Hint: no, it’s not a robot. We’re talking about something that is cute, cuddly and slightly pornographic in the kinderwhore fashion.)

Give up? I give you Funwari Milk-chan (??????????????????????), the latest, greatest Japanese craze.

Now, although the verdict is still out on just what exactly this thing is, my initial guess is that it’s some sort of fuzzy breast-shaped plush toy.

What do you exactly do with it? I have no idea.

(And no, to the best of my knowledge it’s not intended to be used as a sex toy).

What makes this fuzzy breast so strange however is that the toy manufacture, JUN Planning, has created an elaborate back story in the hope of justifying its existence.

Allow me to explain:

Once upon a time, there was a place known as Milk Village, which was created by the ancient volcanic eruption of Mt. Milk. The residents of Milk Village, which are known as Milk-chans, speak the Milk language, live in Milk houses and raise little Milk babies.

Are you with me so far? Don’t worry if you’re confused – so am I!

Milk Village is marked by four distinct seasons, which the Milk-chans love to celebrate in the Japanese fashion. In the spring, they eat rice dumplings and watch the cherry blossoms. In the summer, they eat rice dumplings and go to the Milk beach. In the fall, they eat rice dumplings and watch the leaves change. In the winter, they eat rice dumplings and live in milk caves.

Are you with me so far? I’m not sure if I understand myself at this point!

Apparently, each of the Milk-chans has a unique personality and history.

Funwari Milk-chan (center) is relaxed and playful, though she dreams of one day being a larger breast. Can Milk-chan (top left) is the party girl in the group, which is why she decided to be naughty and have an American boyfriend.

Ganguro Milk-chan (bottom left) has a pierced nipple, loves partying, dancing and taking pictures with her friends. Peach Milk-chan (top right) loves fashion, and is something of a snob in Milk Village. Milko-chan (bottom right) is still a baby, but a baby genius at that.

A Milk-chan sell for about 1,000 yen or about US$9, which means that I fully intend to collect the full set, even though I have no idea what you’re supposed to do with them!

Special thanks to my friend Michele for always keeping an eye out for the latest and craziest Japanese trends!

** Photos were taken from **