Gifts Archives - Eva Varga

September 15, 2017

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.


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

December 9, 2015

Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling that things. Giving an experience, or even one’s time, as a holiday gift, in the place of things that people may not really want, is becoming more and more popular.

The anticipation leading up to a trip, event, or experience even has the potential to provide happiness itself, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving! Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Experiences are also a uniting factor. You are more likely to bond with someone who enjoys the same hobby/activity or has traveled to the same places that you have than with someone who has a similar possession.

Gift Experiences

Giving an experience means that your recipient won’t have something else to clutter their home, and it means that they get to do something that is fun and meaningful for them. Today I share ideas for giving experiences instead of gifts.

Field Trips

So many kids crave their parents’ time and attention, so knowing that you set aside the stuff that they usually see you doing in order to be with them means a lot. Even if you can’t afford to go anywhere exciting, your kids will enjoy spending the day with you one-on-one.

If your kids are in school, give a day off “field trip” somewhere exciting. Take them to a museum, an amusement park, or go for a hike. Top it off with a meal at a favorite restaurant.

Give an annual pass to something they’ll enjoy returning to, like the zoo, the aquarium, or a hands-on science museum. If you plan to visit these places multiple times in a year anyway, these passes usually pay for themselves in 2-4 visits.

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens @EvaVarga.netPassion is something that is cultivated. Consider tickets to a concert for kids who are taking lessons. Last year, we gifted each of the kids with a concert for their birthday – The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling. For Christmas, Geneva extended the memory of this experience by giving her brother an autographed copy of The Piano Guys’ new cd.

If your children have never seen a live stage production, this could be the year for it. Some of the best shows from Broadway, such as “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” hit the road each year for shows around the United States. Visit your local performing arts center to see what they have planned for 2015, or check out such sites as Broadway Across America to see what might be coming to a town near you.

If you have a sports fan in your life give them tickets to a professional or semi-professional sporting event in your area. Better yet, get tickets for all of you and enjoy the day together.

If you know someone on your list who is planning a trip, see if you can’t buy a special experience for them while they’re there. Vayable is a website that specializes in offering unique experiences to travelers by connecting them with locals who offer tours or lessons that might be hard to find otherwise. You can also contact the local travel bureau in your recipient’s destination and see what they suggest.

Classes & Curriculum

Give the gift of learning and pick up a new skill as family. Sign up the whole group for cooking or art classes or horseback riding lessons. If you live close to water, look into scuba or sailing lessons for the group. Maybe your kids are budding photographers and would love a class in photography.

My daughter has been marveling at a variety of art glass we have seen at local craft sales and festivals. In her stocking this year she will find a gift certificate for a glass blowing class at Oregon Coast Glassworks.

Another option are online classes. These are great because the lessons are taught via video recording and access never expires. Here are few that we have used in the past and have thoroughly enjoyed:


Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop


Pay for Their Hobby

If they love camping, gift them a campsite rental. If they love running, pay for their entry into a local race. The possibilities are endless on this one.


Truly a gift that keeps on giving. If possible with your kids ages, volunteer at a local food pantry or charity and give your kids (and yourself) the gift of helping others! Here are a variety of Volunteer Ideas for Kids.

Give to Charity

We designate a percentage of our income each year to a charity of choice and expect our children to do the same. Two years ago, my son raised nearly $100 that he donated to the Nystagmus Network.

Subscription Gifts

Subscription gifts are fun because an educational experience is delivered each month to your door. What I love about these is the variety – you’ll surely find a service that is suited for everyone on your list, whether they enjoy arts and crafts, cooking, science, or learning about other cultures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

50% off

The 4-Gift Rule

It can be easy to lose sight of your budget – especially when considering experience gifts. Whether you’re on a budget or just trying to discourage materialism in your family this holiday season, you might want to consider the four gift rule this Christmas.

The 4 gift rule has been circling the Internet the past few years. The idea is that you buy your children no more than four gifts for Christmas, and they fall under these categories:

Something they want, Something they need, Something to wear, Something to read

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens @EvaVarga.netThe “Want”: Despite my preference for experiences, we do get one gift for each child that is strictly something they want. Often these end up being educational gifts like fischertechnik, a Rubix Cube, or craft supplies.

The “Need”: Since family experiences are so important for us, we consider these gifts a need so we prioritize and budget for them. Often these revolve around our family vacations.

The “Wear”: For holidays we give each of the kids one clothing item they need like a new coat or hiking boots. This may also be something fun, like dress up clothes, if they don’t need any new clothing.

The “Read”: I have a weakness for books. We go to the library every week and love used book sales. There is something to be said about owning copies of your favorite titles, however. For Christmas, I always gift them with a book – perhaps the next book in the Percy Jackson series (my daughter LOVES them) or a hardback edition of a book they had checked out from the library and just loved. I also try to purchase books that encourage their passions.

Have you tried to give experiences instead of gifts in the past? What other suggestions would you add to this list?

November 26, 20132

The Christmas season is fast approaching and I know many of you are scratching your heads trying to come up with creative gift ideas that will surprise and delight that special someone. If you are like us, you also want a gift that is educational and perhaps inspirational, not one that will likely end up in the rubbish months later.  Today, I share with you 10 awesome science gifts that will surely inspire your science minded loved ones.

This post contains affiliate links.

10 Awesome Gifts for a Young Scientist

Gifts for a Young Scientist

Groovy Lab in a Box

One of the most exciting popular gifts available today is a subscription to an activity kit. One of my favorites is Groovy Lab in a Box – a monthly box overflowing with science experiments for you and your child to explore together. Recommended for ages 8+, older students may find success in doing the activities independently.

Every month, Groovy Lab in a Box sends a 20+ page lab notebook and everything required to complete the STEM-based experiments inside. Each box is just $26.95, less for longer subscription options.

For the Chemist

Crystal Growing Kit

The 4M Crystal Growing Experimental Kit is a lot of fun and a wonderful introduction to the study of crystals. The steps are simple and all you need is boiling water. Everything else is provided in the kit. Be careful to follow the instructions carefully and crystals start growing immediately and are full size in just 7-10 days.

Salt Water Monster Truck

We received the Salt Water Fuel Cell Monster Truck in our #NYE01 box from Quarterly.  My kids were excited to give it a go and enjoyed taking it out for a spin our driveway.  The kit is well designed and easy to assemble. I think this would be a fun project for any child with an interest in science and engineering.

For the Engineer

Build it Yourself RobotiKits

Another gem that arrived in #NYE01 was a Solar Powered Grasshopper Kit, also by OwiKit. The parts are very small and the enclosed instructions are graphics based – a child versed in Lego should not have difficulty putting it together.  The grasshopper is a build-it-yourself educational solar hobby kit specifically suited for the first time science experimenters.  Kids with little or no experience can explore the potential of solar power – opening a world of possibilities. I’ll write a more detailed review soon – again, we’ll be pulling these out in the next few days while visiting family.  Best of all, this cute little critter is only $7 – the perfect stocking stuffer!

Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Kit

Many homeschoolers are familiar with Snap Circuits.  Are you aware that an Alternative Energy Kit is also available?  Since the previous two kits are all about alternative fuels – this is a great kit for kids with some prior experience with circuits and alliterative fuels. Like other Snap Circuits kits, the parts are all clearly labeled and easy to snap into place. This green kit includes an FM radio, voltmeter, and a fan/windmill, which are all favorites.

For the Naturalist

Keeping a Nature Journal

Nature journaling is a major component of our homeschool science curriculum.  My kids love recording their observations using a variety of art media (colored pencil, chalk pastels, watercolor, pen and ink, etc.).  Much of our inspiration for tying new techniques comes from the book, Keeping a Nature Journal.  Clare Walker Leslie and co-author Charles E. Roth offer easy techniques, exercises, and prompts for all ages. This is not a drawing technique book but inspiration.  If the child’s goal is to draw nature and record what she sees/experiences, this is a book she’ll treasure and refer to often.

Monocular Pocket Spotting Scope

Lastly, it is difficult to journal a bird you observe when it is so far away you can’t see details.  For the budding naturalist, consider a monocular pocket spotting scope. The Bushnell Monocular Scope has a rugged, waterproof design that is perfect for kids. The 9 X 32 mm size is compact, lightweight, clear and easily handled. It’s great for birdwatching and fits easily in your young naturalist’s pocket.

Cell Phone Macro Lens

Another idea for nature lovers is a macro lens designed to clip onto a cell phone. We have several of these on hand at the marine learning center where I volunteer and the visitors have a great time using them as they engage with the live exhibits. For under $15, you’ll want to put one in everyone’s stocking.

For the Computer Programmer


Piper is by far my favorite gift for kids interested in computers and computer programming. It is a complete DIY kit that provides young children with the chance to not only build their first computer but also learn about electronics along the way. Best of all, the kit grows with them. Included is the popular Raspberry Pi computer that budding makers can use in a variety of other projects. They are limited only by their own imagination.

Creation Crate

Creation CrateAnother exciting subscription box is Creation Crate, designed to help you learn about electronics. Surprisingly, this box isn’t just for kids – it’s suitable for anyone age 12+ who wants to learn or enhance their electronics and coding skills. The subscription costs $29.99 per month, and you’ll get to learn how to build simple electronics project without any experience required. It’s fun and definitely educational!

They are giving away a 12-month subscription, enter today. Subscribe and get 10% off your first box.


I hope you’ve found inspiration for your young scientist.  If you have other ideas – please leave a link and comment below.  🙂