Gift Guide for Families that Love Travel

Do you have a family adventure on the horizon? Or do you have friends who are preparing to explore a new corner of the globe for a week or a year or more?

Here are sure-fire gift giving ideas for families who value travel.

I’ve scoured websites and twitter feeds and blogs and my own memories of particularly cherished gifts to bring you novel suggestions to make your gift-giving an absolute joy!

Note: Amazon links have affiliate codes such that Amazon kicks me a few pennies with purchase, but this changes nothing on your end. Non-Amazon links are straight links.


Gift Guide 2019 for Traveling Families

Santa In Venice, Italy

  1. Small Family Games

Most families have received a travel Scrabble or Monopoly at some point in their history. Personally, I find those boring with pieces easily lost. Traveling families want games they can play at a small table in a piazza or the floor of an airport during yet another delay. The best games have staying power—parents and children want to play them again and again. Bonus points for games that are richly satisfying in design, art, or tactile sensations.  

Easily played with two to six players, Bananagrams is the most beloved game in our repertoire. My three kids are very different, and they all love Bananagrams. Plus, the banana-shaped pouch is a cinch to toss into a bag.

Bangkok, Thailand

Scrabble is to Bananagrams as chess is to Hive. Insect themed, this game is small (and the attractive heavy pieces come in a pleasant string pouch), has no board, and can be played on any surface in any kind of weather. Each insect has a different ability, place them to surround your opponent’s queen bee. I recommend the linked the pocket version, which is smaller and includes two variations.

Spello, Italy

We also love beautiful decks of cards (see this site for some unique decks of cards that will appeal to all kinds of players from graphic designers to typography nerds to nostalgists) and will often take a deck or two along with a book with card game ideas.  Whenever we go to Italy, we bring our scopa deck because there’s nothing better than enjoying an Aperol spritz while playing the same game the old men are playing. Talk about a conversation starter. Of course, perennially popular UNO (and its variations such as Rage and our personal fave, Skipbo) are easy wins to pack. We also love card games made by Gamewright, like Rat-a-Tat-Cat (Siena and I once played this on the entire train trip to New York City, on the pull-down trays) or Sleeping Queens. Fluxx is also a crowd pleaser, not the least because there are variants to suit almost every interest (Monty Python, pirates, Doctor Who, etc).

2. Travel Reading

Reading is a fantastic way to dream about new destinations and gear up for upcoming travels.

The Road Taken: How to Dream, Plan, and Live Your Family Adventure Abroad is an excellent read, as well a thoughtful guide to help families create the experience of a lifetime, and I’m not just saying that because I know the author (wink!).

The book is newly out, but reviews are glowing—even people without children are enjoying stories of families making sand angles in Egypt and getting stranded in Iran hours before visas expire and learning Spanish while their kids cross-country ski. One reader said, “Who knew there was a practical guide to making magic?”

If you know someone whose love of travel veers into the philosophical, they may enjoy The Art of Travel, which my travel book club got a lot out of.  Plus, some versions of the book have a vintage-vibe cover, adding to the charm of pulling it out on a train headed to new vistas.

Gubbio, Italy

In terms of books to take on the road, I recommend TripFiction for finding books set in wherever the family in question is heading. Despite the name, the website also provides recommendations for non-fiction titles.

As much as I love print books, an e-reader is vital for longer trips. Not only does the slim device allow a reader to store a library stack worth of books, but electronic books are usually cheaper and sometimes free. I stock up my books before heading out by signing up for BookBub and Reading Deals, which promote free and heavily discounted books. I can envision a going-away party for a family where friends pool their funds together to purchase each family member a device, stocked with books from these sites. Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are all worthy options for e-readers, and often on sale for Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday.

Magazine subscriptions are fun for families that are homebound but like windows of escape or a way of adding places to their family bucket list (and who doesn’t love fun mail?). National Geographic Traveler and Twist Travel are two exceptional options. 

Speaking of subscriptions, families with pre-readers may love sharing their love of travel with Little Passports. Hands on activities expose young children to the animals and natural wonders to be found all over the globe.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

3. Headphones

Let’s face it, we can’t get away from the fact that we live in a digital world. Headphones are required. Even if you don’t have gaming systems or ipads for your kids, the ability to put on an audiobook for your child can be a blessing on a flight where the in-seat entertainment system doesn’t work. Also, think of this, travel means transitions which can monkey with sleep. Getting a recording of a guided relaxation for kids can work wonders when a child is jittery and restless.

Bangkok, Thailand

You can get headphones for each member of the family (maybe even in a travel organizer), as no matter how many headphones a family has, they can always use more.  If you have a young child on your list, consider adorable cozyphones that sit like a hat, but cuter.

Headphone splitters are excellent for allowing more than one person to listen in at a time (without jamming heads together). It’s the kind of thing families don’t even know exists or that they need it until the 100th fight about who gets to watch Frozen.

4. Atlases and Maps

We spend absurd amounts of time poring over atlases, tracing driving routes we’ll never take, or pondering atolls we’ll never swim in. A big map mounted on foam core is perfect for little (or big) hands to plunge in different color thumbtack to indicate where families have been, or where they’re going (if you want a more budget option, buy a world map, and mount it yourself on foam core as we did).

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Scratch-off maps are popular, but frankly, I don’t get it. Some countries are tiny, and children aren’t known to be nimble with a penny. It seems like when you rub off the shellac for the Netherlands, you are quite likely to additionally reflect a trip to Belgium (which, for the record, I suggest). But I may be alone in that concern, so do check them out.

When a family feels at home in a faraway city, a puzzle of a map of that spot is a delightful gift. Families who feel at home on the ocean may particularly appreciate a Pangea contour map of a beloved place.

Paris, France

5. The Practical Stuff

Practical items can feel too utilitarian to be good gifts, but some are so perfect, they seem like frivolous treats. Wetbags are one example. Families can with shove them full of dirty clothing to make an impromptu pillow, store wet things until they can dry them, store half-eaten snacks they don’t want gumming the works, rock collections, used diapers or fresh diapers they don’t want getting wet on the sailboat, cables.

Essentially, wetbags are like packing cubes but more versatile. Get your traveling family a set! Vary the size and shape, or throw in a couple of snack bags.

Bento-box type snackboxes are perfect for families with a lot of flights, train, or driving in their future. Ill-fed children are crabby children, and these fun containers allow parents to prepare for trips with their children’s unique eating needs in mind. Plus, no leaking, and the ones I link to are great for little hands.

dogsledding in Quebec

Collapsible silicone water bottles are an unsung treasure. Because they bend, you can fill them at water fountains with bare trickles of water emanating just two inches above the surface, and they collapse into nothing so they store like a dream.

They are freezable, so they can even double as an ice pack! Make sure you get ones that are leak-proof, like the ones I link to.

Passport agents routinely compliment us on our documents, which have stickers with all of our names on the back for easy finding. You can do the same, but if you are looking for a fun gift, consider different passport protectors for each member of the family, which have the added benefit of keeping those precious documents safe.

Luang Prabang, Laos

6. See the World More Clearly

These are pricier gifts, but they do have definite WOW value. Binoculars are fantastic for spotting details. Pick the price point based on how likely they are to be dropped by little hands. Even second-rate ones can please a child.

In an age when most adults use their phones for a camera, it’s nice to include children in the work of capturing travel moments. How about a camera of their own? Accessories can spice up the process.

Drones are an exciting way to capture the landscape, and satisfy kids (and parents!) who have an urge to feel like they themselves are piloting an aircraft. It’s on my list for my 11-year-this year, now that they are less expensive and more portable.

For a real thrill, consider a Go Pro camera for hands-free recording of experiences in all field conditions. They are durable and a fabulous accompaniment to an adventurous life.

Quebec Citu

7. Travel Wrap for Her

I slip a travel wrap of some kind into my purse no matter where I’m going. They are extremely versatile and I’ve raised my eyes skyward to thank the travel gods for reminding me to pack mine on numerous occasions.

Also known as a pashmina or sarong (if you need more search terms), travel wraps can serve as a scarf (pictured here), a towel for spontaneous dips, a pillow for impromptu naps, a blanket or shawl when the air turns brisk, a cleaning cloth in a pinch, a swaddler for a restless baby, a sling to carry things or small people or wounded limbs, or a shoulder or knee covering when entering a place of worship.

Note, they come in different weights from light to heavy. Whichever you choose, make sure it is large enough to be useful in all occasions.

8. Flight Aids

For families with a long-haul flight in their future, or families planning a trip that includes much plane travel, why not make those flights more pleasant? A sleep mask, ear plugs, an excellent travel pillow or the more modern variation, or other comfort aids (for travelers who aren’t limited by storage space) will never make an overnight flight downright pleasant, but will take the edge off.

Lavender, remember, is soothing, if you want to throw in something lavender-scented.

Or go less homeopathic, and get this carry-on cocktail kit. Don’t you want your loved ones to raise a glass in your honor at 35,000 feet?


9. Travel Journal

Travel journals are an incredible way to create an indelible memory. You can purchase a pre-made travel journal like this one that becomes a scrapbook or one with scratch-off capabilities. Or you can get a blank book (I suggest something with a built-in pocket and also spiral-bound, or at least with the capability of lying flat, as travel journals are a wonderful activity at a restaurant table). Along with that blank book, include a glue stick, little (flight compliant) scissors, and colored pencils or markers.

10. Global Flavors

For families that relish exploring the food-ways of people all over the world, Universal Yums is a fantastic option. Sign up your favorite global foodies and once a month, they’ll get a box full of snacks from a different corner of the world. What a great way to keep present the notion that the world is a wide place!

What are your ideas for gifts to honor the wanderlust in parents and children?