Perfect Travel Gifts & Tips for Young Adventurists & Travelers

Traveling isn’t easy. There are frequent hiccups and unexpected delays that can lead to headaches and frustration. Over the years, we have learned a lot. We have become more savvy about what we need pack to assure we are comfortable and more flexible in how we pack to avoid potential catastrophes.

Today, I share a list of travel gifts for young adventurists and travelers – things you will find make travel with kids easier and more enjoyable.

Perfect Travel Gifts & Tips for Young Adventurists & Travelers

This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a commission when products are purchased. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Travel Gifts for Young Adventurists

We absolutely love to travel. Until recently, my hubby’s high pressure job necessitated that he decompress every six months. Even so, it would take him nearly a week before he could relax enough to enjoy himself while on vacation. While his work doesn’t permit us to world school on a full-time basis, we have become accustomed to traveling regularly for 2-3 week holidays at least once a year.

Build Excitement Prior Departure

Over the years, we have surprised the kids with a trip to Disneyland, slowly built anticipation for Florida with clue envelopes, and done all the planning ourselves. What we have found works best for us, however, is that everyone is involved in the planning.

When the kids were younger, we subscribed to a monthly travel adventure from Little Passports. It was a fun way to spark interest in travel and engage them in a great learning activity. They loved following along with Sam and Sofia, marking their new location on the world map and “stamp their passport book”.

Now that they are older, they take a more vested interest in our travel destinations. We generally discuss our next excursion concurrently while on vacation. This helps to make the long flight hours and delays more endurable.

Once we’ve settled on a destination, we are each expected to research the attractions and activities we would most like to take part. We make a list and share our ideas at a family meeting.

Not only does this help to build their excitement, they learn a lot about geography and budgeting as they help to plan our excursions and are more invested upon our arrival.

Perfect Travel Gifts for Young Adventurists & TravelersTravel Gifts & Tips for Packing

When we first traveled abroad to Scandinavia, our luggage was delayed and we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark with just one suitcase. The kids had their clothing but hubby and I had only our carry-on bags. Fortunately, our bags arrived the next day but we certainly learned a lot in regards to packing on that first trip.

We now split our things between our four suitcases – a few days of clothing in each suitcase. We use Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep everything nicely organized and to take the stress out of packing for these extended holidays

Hubby and I have two large garment folders each. Each one holds several days of clothes. The kids use the medium cubes and the small cubes are perfect catch alls for outlet adapters, chargers, batteries, our first aid kit, etc.

What I love best about the packing cubes is that they come in a variety of colors. We can easily identify whose cube is whose. Eagle Creek now has a lighter weight fabric and a wider range of color options in their new line of Specter Cubes.

One quick and inexpensive way to distinguish your luggage from another traveler is to use tassels or pom poms on the luggage handle. Alternatively, luggage belts work well to secure the contents in case a zipper breaks in transport.  

I love the green color of our Eagle Creek luggage (pictured above), making it more visible on the luggage carousel in baggage claim. Though we have not yet invested in new suitcases for the kids, when we do, I know it will be Eagle Creek. They stand behind their lifetime guarantee. When the zipper on one of our green suitcases broke, we simple dropped it off at an Eagle Creek retailer, and they repaired it and shipped it back to us FREE of charge! How’s that for customer service!?

Another product we love are the colorful daypacks and gear by Cotopaxi. Lightweight and versatile, the daypacks are perfect for carry-on luggage as they fit under the seat nicely and have ample space for a change of clothing, your shaving kit or vanity bag, a jacket, and a few incidentals to keep you busy en route.

Use this link for a $20 Cotopaxi discount

Cotopaxi is making a difference in the global community, creating innovative outdoor products that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure. Their products are guaranteed to last 61 years. If there’s a problem with your product, they’ll gladly exchange it, get you a replacement, or repair it. I love a company that stands behind their products!

Lastly, we have a set of TSA-approved luggage locks to secure our baggage – comforting when we have late departures and need to store our luggage with the hotel prior to our departure. The TSA logo on these special locks alerts inspectors that they can unlock the luggage without cutting the lock or damaging the bag.

We have had our locks for several years. The resettable 3-dial combination is easy to set and alleviates the stress of having to carry another set of keys.

Travel Gifts & Tips for the Departure

To keep the kids busy en route, we generally bring along the iPad and their Mandarin schoolwork. Often they are expected to journal about their trip in Chinese. They also bring along a puzzle book and a paperback book or two that they will discard along the way when they finish with it.Fun Travel Gifts for Young Travelers

My son is now twelve years old. Unlike his sister, he is not an avid reader so it is rare to catch him reading quietly. He has always been fascinated with airplanes however, and will generally content himself with watching the planes take-off and land while at the airport. Once we are underway, he makes quick friends with the stewards for soda refills as we watches the inflight movie.

One thing we’ve found that works well for him is to carry a Lego mini-fig or two in his carry-on. His grandmother also gifted him with a small digital camera a year ago and he uses it to digitally journal his trip from the perspective of his mini-fig. It is so fun to watch him as he carefully poses his pocket size toy and carefully words captions and anecdotes in his journal.The Puzzling Impact of Erno Rubik @EvaVarga.netMy son has recently developed an interest in speed cubing. He thereby carries a puzzle with him everywhere. Even if your child is not a speed cuber, learning the algorithms to solve even the original Rubik’s Cube 3x3x3 takes time. It’s thereby the perfect activity for teens to occupy themselves during long flights and car drives.

Tips for Improving Your Experiences Upon Arrival

As I eluded to earlier, teens have a more vested interest in the trip when they have been given the chance to help plan the destination and the excursions you take part in upon arrival. This was never more evident than during our recent trip to the East Coast.

Our advance research and planning paid off. While in New York, we purchased a CityPASS as the majority of the sights we wanted to see were included. We thereby saved money on admission fees and avoided long lines at the ticketing window. It was well worth our time.

My daughter loves to visit art museums while my son enjoys air and space museums. We thereby did our best to alternate visits so everyone was happy. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t always have to do everything together.

National Portrait Gallery: Must See Art Museums Around the World @EvaVarga.netIn Washington DC, the boys spent an afternoon at the International Spy Museum while Geneva and I took our time at the Smithsonian American Art Museum which were conveniently located next to each other. We were able to take our time to explore the exhibits without feeling rushed by those who were less interested. 

Even with an itinerary and well-thought out plans, things do not always go as planned. When things go awry, we have learned it is critical to sit down each evening and reflect on what did go well in addition to that which fell apart. We also discuss what we each could have done to make the day better.

These vacation debriefs, as we have come to call them, are easy to implement and have opened valuable dialogue. We learn more about one another’s expectations and how we can improve our communication skills when we are in stressful situations.

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Looking for more gift ideas? Hop over to the iHomeschool Network linkup for many more Christmas Gift Guides.

Family Travel Hacks: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

As a family we love to travel. For the past few years, we have enjoyed a road trip in the spring and a holiday abroad in the fall. Most recently, we spent two weeks in New England exploring our nation’s history and many of the iconic landmarks.

Over the years, our style of travel has evolved. Yes, much of this is due to the fact that the kids are getting older and we no longer have to worry about diaper bags, strollers, and carseats. There have also been many minor changes that we have made along the way that have made a huge difference in how we get along and how smoothly things come together.

Arguments & Frustrations

We’ve all heard family travel horror stories. You likely have a few tales of woe and angst to share yourself. Who doesn’t? Noting spoils a vacation day faster than arguments and spats about little things that we often have no control over.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netA Day in Manhattan

We enjoyed good weather on most of our days – many were overcast but only one day brought rainfall. We were in Manhattan on this wet Monday and our plan for the day was to spend the morning at the Natural History Museum and then walk through Central Park to the Guggenheim where we would spend the afternoon.

We had pre-purchased tickets via CityPASS and as it was a Monday, we envisioned exploring the museums at our leisure. We often travel in September when most children are in school and have thereby become accustomed to this luxury. My daughter, the budding artist, had been particularly looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim Museum as she had previously visited Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice.

The rain, as it turned out, changed the plans of many other in the city that day. We arrived at the steps of the Natural History Museum before they opened and very quickly, as the rain intensified, the crowd on the steps grew. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened and we funneled into the galleries. We soon came to realize, however, that with so many people it was difficult to really see the exhibits at a comfortable pace.

We saw what we could and then headed over to the Guggenheim. A special event closed off much of Central Park and thus we were forced to circle around the perimeter – extending our walk much farther than anticipated. When we reached Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building, we were soaked. Frustrations rose – we were all very hungry – and tempers began to flare. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat from a street vendor and proceeded indoors.

Huge crowds were here as well and to make it worse, the spiral gallery was closed due to changing exhibits. We were thereby confined to one temporary exhibit, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise.  We even opted to skip Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet as there was a two hour wait.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netWhat are Vacation Debriefs? 

One of the most effective tools we use to improve how well we connect with one another is the family debrief. When we are home, this generally is a short conversation at the dinner table whereupon we each share what we are grateful for and give kudos to another for their support and our inspiration.

Daily Vacation Debriefs

When we are traveling, our debrief is more in-depth. In addition to expressing our gratitude, we also discuss a series of questions. Here’s a peak into our responses over dinner that evening in Manhattan.

What did you like most about the day?

  • Unanimous agreement: Natural History Museum

What did you like the least about the day?

  • Jeffrey: The crowds
  • Geneva: The crowds – I wanted to sketch the wooly mammoth skeleton at the Natural History Museum but I couldn’t.
  • Eva: The crowds
  • Patrick: The Guggenheim – I was disappointed. There wasn’t much to see and the temporary exhibit we did see was just too weird for my taste.

What could we have done together to make it a better day?

  • Jeffrey: I wish we had brought snacks
  • Geneva: We should have checked the museum websites
  • Eva: We could have communicated better
  • Patrick: Let’s try an impromptu huddles next time things go awry rather than plowing forward with our plan. We may want to make a change.

Holiday Wrap-up

In addition to our daily debrief in the evening, we also wrap-up our family holiday with a more extensive debrief. This conversation typically takes place during our flight layover.

  • What’s the highlight of trip?
  • What’s most surprising about the trip?
  • If you were to recommend this trip to others, what words of advice would you offer?
  • Where would you most like to go next? 

Strengthening Family Bonds

We have all come to look forward to these family debriefs. My daughter says,

“They really help us to connect better with one another. We learn what things make each of us frustrated. We help each other find strategies to overcome these frustrations and we learn to let things go. We can then focus on the fun and better enjoy the experience.”

Looking Forward

This post is part of a series entitled Family Travel Hacks whereby I will be sharing tips and tricks we have learned over the years for successful family travel. You’ll find ideas for:

  • trip planning
  • packing
  • airports
  • car rentals
  • improving communication

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy.

Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms

Having lived in the Redding for the past four years (in the midst of a severe drought), we are delighted to be back on the Oregon coast. We’re smack dab in the middle of peak storm season and it is fun to catch the fury of the Pacific as the waves and wind crash into the shoreline.Great Spots to Watch Oregon's Winter Storms @WellTraveledFamily.net

On the Oregon Coast south of Depoe Bay, there is a rocky outcropping called Cape Foulweather. It was named by Captain James Cook as he searched for a passage to the Atlantic Ocean. Though his quest was not successful, winter storms on the Oregon Coast can be most certainly be foul. It is a perfect place to watch Oregon’s Winter Storms.

A little storm science

Peak winter storm season typically runs from November through March. While it doesn’t tend to get cold enough to snow here thanks to the warming influence of the Pacific, our mild winter weather is punctuated by spectacular storms featuring high winds and heavy rain that roll in from the ocean.

In the winter, the eastward-flowing atmospheric river of air known as the jet stream intensifies and moves south, pushing rain-bearing weather systems along with it. These storms form over the ocean, typically where warm and cold air masses collide.

Beginning this week, meteorologists have predicted a train of winter storms approaching our coastline. Varying in intensity and location, the storms will hit every one to three days with waves of drenching rain, heavy mountain snow and gusty winds.

Where to watch

Perfect high spots from which to view spectacular surf include Rocky Creek Scenic Viewpoint near Depoe Bay, the viewpoint at the lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, multiple spots at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area south of Yachats, and Shore Acres State Park near Charleston.

  1. Seaside
  2. Ocean Front Cabins near Tillamook Bay (503) 842-6081
  3. Tyee Lodge in Newport (541) 265-8953
  4. Coos Bay
  5. Sunset Oceanfront Lodge in Bandon (541) 347-2453

If you choose to experience the full wrath of a winter storm, safety should be your first concern. Some storms are simply too dangerous for beach walks, so be sure to heed all safety warnings issued by the authorities. If you do venture out, stay up high out of the reach of sneaky storm waves. They can always reach further up the beach than you think and sneaker waves can be deadly.

If you prefer to watch frothy waves and horizontal rain as you sip hot chocolate by a wood fire, then snuggle up comfortably – here are our top picks for places to watch these storms in Oregon.

After the storm

One of the great bonuses of coastal storms is the exceptional beachcombing that can often be done after the storm has subsided. All kinds of fascinating debris is more likely to be found after a storm, including glass Japanese fishing floats, tsunami debris left over from the 2011 tsunami, and interesting biological specimens wrenched from the depths of the ocean.

I once found cigar-shaped egg cases on the beach near Depoe Bay. I brought them to the lab at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and was able to watch the embryos of Pacific Squid develop.

Storm-watching season has just begun. Make your reservations now to catch an Oregon Coast storm from a cozy cabin or waterfront lodge.

Don’t forget your rain gear! ?

Summer Staycation: Northern California

We presently call Northern California home, or more affectionately NorCal.  It is the northern portion of the state and includes the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, two metropolitan areas. In far northern California lies the Shasta Cascade region, a wonderland of outdoor recreation – surely providing staycation opportunities for all interests. 

The Shasta Cascade region, covering 25% of California, offers everything from glistening lakes and world-class rivers to scenic drives and backcountry roads.  It is the perfect escape from the fast pace of city life providing something for everyone to discover and enjoy whether it be great recreation, adventure or pure relaxation.  norcal staycation

Snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes, prairie swaths of forest, volcanic landscapes; the Shasta Cascade region provides scenic vistas within just a few hours drive – ensuring the journey is half the adventure. Choose from a number of great opportunities in this diverse region to create a staycation of your choice 0r follow the suggested itinerary of the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association.  

Check out some of the fun NorCal excursions you can enjoy:

Discover the culture of the Coastal Native Americans, explore the Redwoods, and Pacific ocean beaches at Patrick’s Point State Park near Trinidad.

Lassen Volcanic National Park will amaze you with the variety of remarkable hydrothermal features.

With 27 miles of hiking trails, Castle Crags State Park will keep you busy all weekend.

Though the historic sailing ships, Lady Washington & Hawaiian Chieftain, call Gray’s Harbor home, they are often docked in San Francisco.

At Lucero Olive Oil, you can get a peak behind the scenes at one of the state’s most lucrative agricultural resources.

We never leave the bay area without visiting San Francisco Chinatown, one of our favorite places to do a little shopping and enjoy a delicious meal.

We enjoy the tour at Shasta Dam so much, we’ve done it three times!  As one of the largest concrete dams in the world, it is a must see!

For more NorCal field trips, check out my post 10 Free California Field Trips.

Free California Fieldtrips

 Other fun activities you may enjoy throughout the summer

no matter where you live include:

  1. Go to a movie.  Invite the neighbors for a block party, projecting the movie onto a rented screen or sheet hung between trees.
  2. Go antique shopping.  Seek out unique, locally owned antique and second-hand stores. You never know what treasures you might discover.
  3. Charter a boat & go fishing.  Go fishing with a guided fishing charter.
  4. Volunteer. Volunteer as a family at a local homeless shelter or work with the park service to improve trails.
  5. See a ball game.  The country is dotted with major and minor league baseball teams; get some sun, have a hotdog, and relax.
  6. Host a potluck or barbecue.  Have the extended family over for a reunion or host a block party.  Ask everyone to bring something and share.

For more staycation ideas, visit the iHomeschool Network’s Summer Staycation Link-up.

SummerStaycation

Building Anticipation for Florida

In the fall of 2012, we surprised the kids one morning with the announcement that we were going to Disneyland.  As we live in Northern California, we woke them early (about 4 am, if I recall) and explained that their bags were already packed.  Their response was not of delight and enthusiasm, but rather a subdued, “Really? Can’t we got to Yosemite instead?”  

My daughter has never been interested in princesses.  When we brought the kids to Disneyland the first time in 2007, she had just turned five and my son was only 2 1/2. She had no interest in a princess make-over or the pretty dress-up costumes and she was too young to enjoy most of the rides.  My son barely remembers the trip.  Though they enjoy Disney films, their favorite movies at that time were Samurai Jack and The Polar Express.  In the end, we had a great time but the kids weren’t all that interested.

disney07
As they were significantly older and taller the second time, we expected to have a much different experience in 2012.  We were not disappointed.  They were able to ride all the rides, they lacked only courage.  My daughter loved Space Mountain and went on it 4 times in succession, stopping only when her belly betrayed her.  My son, on the other hand, was not keen on any of the roller coasters.

We did our best to encourage him but assured him he wouldn’t be forced to go. We would get in line as a family and when we got to the front of the line, we asked him one last time, “Do you want to ride or do you want to wait here?”  He would begrudgingly choose to ride but made it clear that he wasn’t happy about it.  When the ride was over, he would proclaim, “That was fun!”

We went through this every time we approached a new ride.  Not surprisingly, he loved every ride he went on and thanked us later for encouraging him to push past his fear.  Neither of the kids went on Screamin’ – we knew it would have been too much.

In the months and years that have followed, the kids have talked fondly about their experience at Disneyland and have inquired when we might go again.  When my husband suggested to me privately that we go to Disney World and the Florida Keys for our spring vacation several months ago, I knew I wanted to try to surprise the kids once again.  This time, however, I knew we had to do something different to build the anticipation.

disney12

I came up with a secret reveal countdown.  Beginning on the first day of April, I hung on the wall 22 envelopes.  Contained within each was a picture or message giving them a little hint of what was to come (I didn’t actually put anything in the envelope until moments before they were given permission to open it in case they peaked).

  1. Image of a suitcase with text, “It’s no April Fools, we’re going on a family trip!”
  2. Image of an airplane
  3. A map of the continental US
  4. An orange
  5. A picture of a Seminole Indian
  6. A picture of a barking tree frog with a QR code to the Youtube video
  7. A picture of Juan Ponce de Leon
  8. An alligator picture
  9. Image of a mangrove forest
  10. A picture of a manatee
  11. A picture of a horse conch
  12. A new fly for my daughter’s fly rod
  13. Beach sand
  14. The date “3 March 1845”
  15. A quote by Ernest Hemingway
  16. A picture of a space shuttle
  17. The 5 flags of Florida
  18. Universal Studios logo
  19. A picture of our hotel at DisneyWorld
  20. A picture of the monorail
  21. The package we received from Disney with their tickets and the USB drive video
  22. Our itinerary with their new trip journals

Our trip was incredible!  I’ll be sharing highlights over the next few weeks.