Once again, the holidays are upon us. Mailboxes are over brimming with holiday catalogs and in-boxes are jammed with travel gift ideas. As in past years, there are too many choices. And, as in past years, bad ones outnumber the good. Therefore, our family travel gift guide committee (me) has sprung into action, weeding through the many gadget, apparel, and accessory offerings out there so you don't have to.
Here now are my favorite products, almost all of them new for 2012. And if they’re not, they simply deserve to be recommended once again.
SeaLife Mini II Underwater Digital Camera ($169): If you think bringing a decent digital camera to the pool or beach is somewhat risky, hand said camera to a child, at which point it becomes very risky. So your choices are either to travel with a cheapo camera or manage your risk by buying one made for aquatic use and abuse. The SeaLife Mini II Underwater Digital Camera is a nice example of the latter. Its rubber “armor” permits it to survive up to a six-foot drop to concrete (take that, pool deck) and the camera is also waterproof to 130 feet. And not incidentally, it’s easy to shoot decent underwater photos with this thing.
Starpower LED Keychain Flashlight ($7.50): Motels, vacation house rentals, and RVs don’t have a tremendous amount in common, except when you’re returning to one of them at night to find that it’s somewhat difficult to see the keyhole in the dark. That’s when it hits you that you should equip yourself and everyone in your brood with a flashlight that’s portable and reliable; the Starpower LED Keychain Flashlight is both. Plus, it doesn’t use AA or AAA batteries that often cause flashlights to flicker and die at the worst possible moment; instead, the flashlight takes four alkaline button batteries that yield 100,000 hours of shine time.
Mindware’s Interior Design Light Box ($49.95): serves as an all-purpose lap desk but is also a light table. And it comes with interior design-themed stencils (as well as markers) so your future HDTV Design Star can craft infinite combinations of rooms. It’s a good choice for long car and plane rides.
Art Nouveau Animal Designs Coloring Book ($3.99): While packing coloring books or stacks of coloring pages you can print off the Internet for free is always a good idea, I’m finding that my kids, ranging in age from 6 to 13, all enjoy the challenge of coloring highly intricate coloring pages. The Art Nouveau Animal Designs Coloring Book, whose title pretty much tells you what you'll be coloring, is among such books that are the equivalent of a laborious paint-by-numbers project – but that’s a good thing, especially since it’s quite time consuming and you can use markers in lieu of paint.
Angry Birds Hooded Blanket ($28.94): There was a time that I found it too cumbersome to let my kids travel with favorite blankets, but then I loosened up when I considered that airplane blankets can be skimpy as well as scarce. I also figured that if I bought them all cute hooded blankets, those might satisfy their requirement of packing a cumbersome stuffed animal. The Angry Birds Hooded Blanket turns out to be just the ticket. The blankets are cute and still current, plus I like the idea of the kids wearing the comfy hood when resting their heads on rental car and airplane upholstery that may not have been rigorously sanitized.
Kurgo Stowe Hammock ($100): Unless you and your canine have been living under a rock, then you’ve both probably noticed that your favorite retailers have begun offering higher-end pet accessories that pack appeal for both of you. One such item is the Kurgo Stowe Hammock that can serve either as a backseat hammock, should your dog roll that way, as a flat seat cover. And if Fido tolerates having a human grown-up or baby riding with him, the cover has openings that permit the use of seat belts and child seats.
Patagonia Poco Mas 15L Kids' Backpack ($49): If you have a young student in your midst, then you are aware of how cripplingly heavy their backpacks can get. While it sometimes seems they have organic chemistry textbooks tucked back there, the problem is simply too many accumulated small things in a large bag. The Patagonia Poco Mas 15L Kids' Backpack is only 15 liters in volume (hence the name) and weighs about 15 ounces when empty. It will only hold a few folders, a small book or two, and your child’s lunch, but ultimately, that’s all a kid that age should be carrying. The bag is also useful as your child’s personal daypack on a family vacation. If you’re unsure of which backpack in the line is appropriate, Patagonia customer service can help.
Orvis Quilted Leather Touch Tech Gloves ($59): These accessories for women come in tasteful colors and provide the important benefit of allowing ladies to effectively use gadget touch screens without having to remove the gloves.
Glacier Glove’s Hybrid Angler Gloves ($39.99): A relatively stylish option for men, the peek-a-book thumb and index finger openings are designed for fishermen who wish to re-bait hooks without exposing all their fingers to the cold. As it happens, the gloves are also very handy all-purpose cold weather gloves. The openings allow the wearer to expose his thumb and index finger so that he may text, extract items from his pockets, etc.
Scottevest Transformer Jacket ($160): For that dad who wants to pack a jacket for chilly vacation mornings and evenings but also wants to bring a vest for when it warms up during the day, the Scottevest Transformer Jacket is both of those garments. The jacket has sleeves that detach and reattach to the vest thanks to some well-positioned magnets. And given how detachable sleeves (like their cousins, detachable pant legs) have a way of disappearing, one of the 20-pockets in the jacket is shrewdly dedicated to holding the them.
Check out all of our other 2012 travel gift guides for the holidays.