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Sometimes finding the perfect gift for a tween is a long, winding journey. But looking for the right Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas gifts can be easy when you have kids with a love of travel. If you're searching for great gift ideas for fun travel gifts for your older kids this holiday season, you've come to the right place. We've got the best travel gifts to make your next family vacation tons of fun.
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On a recent trip, I saw some kids running around in the dark with headlamps. "Are headlamps something you guys would want? Would they be a cool gift for kids your age?" I asked my 10-year-old and my 12-year-old. I was worried that maybe it was a gift for younger children.
To my surprise, they were like, "Who wouldn't want a headlamp?" And they have a good point. Headlamps are great for outdoor adventures like camping, spelunking, and night hikes. But they're great for other types of travel as well – a headlamp is the ultimate fun way to have a focused reading light while in the car or on a plane for long journeys.
I like Energizer's LED Headlamps because they come with several brightness and width settings, plus red and green modes for dim lighting while stargazing or looking for wildlife. The Energizer headlamps come in rechargeable and battery-powered versions. If your kiddo is picky about fashion choices, then consider the Foxelli LED Headlamp, which comes in a variety of colors. Or an LED beanie hat is a great gift idea that is both hilarious and practical (and will probably make your kid feel a bit like a Minion).
I am mystified by water bottle culture, but a good quality water bottle is now a trendy thing. Someone recently gave my boys Yeti Ramblers, and they love those things and take them to school each day. For tweens with social media savvy, Hydro Flask is a popular brand, and I've found that they weigh a bit less than the Ramblers. Both of these choices are insulated metal bottles, which means they can store hot chocolate or coffee just as well as water. But if you are flying somewhere (or are going to a top-security location that doesn't allow metal, like the U.S. Capitol), then you'll need to leave the metal at home. In that case, try a Nalgene Sustain bottle, which is made from 50% recycled material.
Do you know an artistic soul who loves to write or draw? Get them an ultra-nice journal to document their travel experiences. Pair it with a travel pack of colored pencils or nice pens. (Side note: Travel journals also are good places to play endless games of tic-tac-toe during long train rides.)
If your kid doesn't have their own smartphone, a digital camera is a great option for capturing their favorite vacation memories. We gave cameras to our boys before a trip to Europe a few years ago, and they got some of the best photos of the whole trip! It was a great way to inspire them to keep their eyes open for unique sights and to appreciate their surroundings.
For kids who already have cameras on their phones, consider an instant camera, like the Kodak Mini Shot 2 Retro. I love instant cameras for trips to see family or vacations with friends. Your tween can snap their favorite vacation views and then put them on their bedroom wall at home. Or they can take a picture with grandparents and then leave that photo for the grandparents to treasure. (This is an essential gift for tween girls or even those of us who are still tween girls on the inside.)
Also, a waterproof camera is a must for tween adventurers (you don't want that iPhone going into the pool/ocean/lake!). Get a GoPro so they can document their amazing skiing or swimming skills. And for the preteen who is developing a serious interest in photography, consider a Nikon Coolpix Camera that can upload photos instantly via a smartphone.
My kids like to haul around all sorts of supplies everywhere they go. (I have no idea where they got that, but I have hand sanitizer, sunscreen, extra batteries, and hair clips in my purse if you need anything.) Instead of making your kids empty their school backpacks, get them a travel bag that's rugged enough for hikes in national parks and small enough for city outings. I love the look of the Venture Pal Backpack, which can be folded small enough to fit into a carry-on suitcase and then taken out when you reach your destination. Kavu Sling Bags are small and light but can carry anything you need for a day out.
I'm not a fan of fanny/hip packs, but I have to admit I've seen people who are cooler than me sling them across their backs and make them look awesome. If your tween is up for a belt bag, then try this Herschel Seventeen Hip Pack.
If you don't want to shell out tons of money for AirPods for your offspring (or if you want to make sure they don't get lost on a trip), consider gifting them some cheaper earbuds. Earbuds with noise-canceling features, such as these Soundcore by Anker Wireless Earbuds, will let your tween hear their music and movies over airplane engines and road noise without turning the volume to 11. Plus, earbuds that are good at noise isolation can serve as earplugs to help with sleeping during overnight flights and car rides.
For long flights, consider wired headphones that will work with the in-flight entertainment system. While airlines provide cheap headphones, having ones with quality noise-canceling will provide a much better experience. Consider over-the-ear headphones for extra comfort, like these Sony headphones that fold flat for easy stashing.
Tech Travel Cases
I asked a car full of preteen boys what they considered essential for travel, and they said a Nintendo Switch (sigh). A Switch actually is great for travel, as long as you have a good case to protect it. The RDS Nintendo Switch Travel Case allows easy access to the Switch without requiring you to take everything out of the case first, making it a compact way to store and protect games and accessories.
If you're headed to the beach or snow skiing, consider updating your tween's phone case to a waterproof one. The LifeProof FRE cases for iPhones are water- and snow-proof, so your tween (and their phone) will be ready for any adventure.
Be sure to keep all that tech charged with an extra power bank. Go for high-tech and convenience with a solar-powered one that offers wireless charging, and your tween will be prepared even if they forget all their charging cables.
I'm definitely not recommending you give your teen a giant Frommer's guide filled with 500 hotel lists for the south of France. If you have a special destination coming up, find an exciting guide full of photos and unknown locations for them to explore. Younger kids will like the illustrations and funny stories in Lonely Planet's City Trails books. For older kids, I recommend books from Eyewitness Travel or Insight Guides. Both of these series offer a "grown-up" feel with color pictures scattered among details about a location's history and culture. Tweens love having a say in what happens, and travel books and guides will give them a chance to show you what looks interesting to them.
If your family travel mostly consists of outdoor adventures, then a packable hammock is a great option. It's pretty much like giving a preteen their own room when camping. Instead of running to their room and slamming the door, they can just bundle up in the hammock when they need a bit of alone time. Most packable hammocks are made of nylon, but I would recommend a cotton hammock for areas that are hot or humid. Pair hammocks with travel pillows and your tweens will be set for a hammock campout.
Don't Miss! Perfect Holiday Gifts for Family Travelers
If you need ideas for small gifts, look for travel games and card games that can be played on the go, like Uno, Sushi Go, or these awesome magnetic mini versions of your favorite board games. Or find crazy luggage tags for a practical travel gift that still shows your tween's personality. Lip balm is another good gift for travelers because airplane flights and ski trips often mean dry, chapped lips (I know some dudes who like Sun Bum's yummy flavors, and Hurraw's tinted balm definitely has a devoted fan following.) If you know your kid's favorite emoji, animal, or national park, give them vinyl stickers in fun designs for customizing water bottles and laptops.
A Special Trip
Of course, one of the best gifts we can give our kids is travel. While unique travel gifts are fun to wrap, the opportunity to experience new places and cultures is a privilege that will impact our kids for the rest of their lives. So, in addition to all the wrapped presents they open on the big day, plan a special trip to take your kiddo and the whole family somewhere new and make memories for a lifetime.
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