Christmas Gift Ideas For Travelling Children


I’ve been there, I’m still there actually. How on earth do you buy Christmas presents for children who live out of backpacks?

Maybe you know a family who loves to travel or a family like us who will be setting off soon. It’s really hard, but here are a few ideas to get you going. Mostly these are practical gifts that will be lasting and useful.

We had some travel games, they haven’t stood the test of time and took up valuable space in our packs, we don’t have them any more.

We have a few toys with us, bits and pieces of Lego, toy cars, Monsoonos and Backugan, they rarely see daylight. The toys below are the ones that my kids actually use.

This post contains affiliate links, if you click through from them I make a few cents towards replacing my stupid camera. Affiliate links don’t cost you anything extra, the money comes from the affiliated company, in this case Amazon.


In our family Uno is the ultimate travel Card Game. It’s always in my day pack for quite moments in airports and bus stops. It’s great for all ages and it’s how little Boo originally learnt his numbers. Big thumbs up for UNO!

Pen Knife

What boy ( and often, girl, I love mine) doesn’t want a pen knife?  If you’re going to get one,why not get an iconic Swiss Army knife? Victorinox Swiss Army Super Tinker Pocket Knife. We have 3 Swiss Army knives with us, my husband says both of his are essential and, of course, mine is.

 Packing Cubes

Older kids, probably girls, might dig packing cubes. I have a set and they’re great. I bought a set of three eBags Packing Cubes in small, medium and large. The small one takes all of our electrical leads and chargers. I love that it’s tough enough to cope with all the pointy metal bits. The small sizes would also be great for younger kids’ toys. The medium one takes all of my tops and shirts and the large one holds a load of spare winter clothes and gear.

Rubik’s Twist or Snake

  We have two of these with us and they’ve seen a lot of use, click the image to buy one on Amazon.

Kindle Paperwhite

If you know a child who loves books a Kindle is essential travel gear. I preloaded ours with kids’ books before we left, picture story books for little Boo (6), reading books for D (8), it has seen a lot of use, particularly on buses and trains. We have a Kindle Paperwhite it’s easier on the children’s eyes than other reading devices, (I love being able to enlarge the text for my elderly eyes too), the battery life is amazing, it’s small, light and easy to carry.
There are book exchange shops in most backpacker towns but the range of children’s books is always tiny and it’s not a cheap option. We wouldn’t travel without at least one Kindle, ideally more.

Neoprene Kindle Case for Paperwhite

I love my Pink Neoprene Kindle Case , it keeps my Kindle safe in my day-pack. D, now 9 has long since taken controll of my Kindle, so I guess it’s his pink Kindle case now. Maybe I should have bought blue instead.

Cool Kids’ Case for Kindle Fire

I’ve just spotted these cool and funky Kindle cases for the Kindle Fire. They’re supposed to be super tough and the colours are great.

Head Torch

Kids love playing with head torches, sometimes they use them for reading, other times playing outside in the dark, they’re very handy for power cuts too. You could get them a sensible one, or you could get them a super cool LEGO Darth Vader Head Lamp. I want one.

We Loved This Book!

Well-meaning friends and family bought the kids all sorts of bits and pieces before we left. The only one that made it into our pack was this one Explore!: The most dangerous journeys of all time because it was a truely exceptional book. It covered a lot of educational bases and was great fun to read. Even if the book doesn’t travel it’s a great preparation for and introduction to our amazing and exciting world. If you stop by Haad Salad villas you will find ours there, it was too heavy after Chef’s surgery, or you could just buy your own!

Cameras Rule.

My kids love to take photos. If I could afford to buy them a camera each I’d make sure it was tough and waterproof. Taking photos in the water is excellent fun. I’d choose an Olympus TG-820 12MP Shock/Water/Freeze-Proof Camera. But given my track record with cameras maybe you shouldn’t listen to me!


Was that any help? I hope so. This is the second Christmas that I’ve had this headache. Shall I tell you what I’ve bought the kids?

Boo (7) is having Doctor Who Monopoly, D is having a Bop It! Smash game and a new watch, and some other little things. I thought that as we’d be at Grandma’s house we could play like crazy and then safely leave them behind while we set off with our packs once more. I’m so looking forward to Christmas this year, hope you are too!

world travel family trans polo
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  1. I prefer to skip the objects entirely and go for non-tangible gifts. My twenty-four suggestions (plus a bonus suggestion) are not purely aimed at kids, but there’s a few there to suit all ages. We find we really get the most value out of experiences and activities – and I daresay most travel-hungry families are of a similar mindset.

    That said, we might look into the camera (but I’ll be choosing that carefully so it meets our exact needs – when you’re travelling light things need to be just right and not something hastily bought and foisted onto the unsuspecting!)
    Bronwyn Joy recently posted..Twenty-Four Gift Ideas (Plus A Bonus Idea) for Travellers, Expats, Minimalists, and all other Human BeingsMy Profile

    • My kids would be terribly upset if they didn’t have something to open and play with on Christmas morning Bronwyn. I couldn’t do that to them, poor little materially deprived creatures that they are!

      • It hasn’t been a problem – someone always can’t bear it and gets them something. ;)

        But in reality I think that’s what needs changing! I’ve found people are reluctant not to have that thing to open at first and then after you buy them a few experience gifts they realise they actually like it and they start changing over. But they need the practice first.

        I admit it’s a cultural shift, but I feel we need to take better stock of what’s actually valuable when it comes to gift-giving. Note that not everything on the list is completely intangible (there’s a short category under “consumable”, which I think is much more proportionate).
        Bronwyn Joy recently posted..Medellin, Las Lajas Sanctuary and the Amazon RiverMy Profile

  2. Sarah Robinson says:

    Thanks Alyson, a headache for us at the moment, as we head off just after Christmas, and the kids had birthdays not long ago – just after we’d told everyone we were going travelling for a year!
    My two definitely want something to open, I couldn’t do no physical presents either.

    For their birthdays they mostly got Kindle vouchers from family and friends. My parents had already promised them a Kindle each for Christmas. My boys are huge readers, so they will soon work their way through the kindle vouchers.
    Unos coming with us, (as are these card games – Phase 10, Loot, and someone bought one of mine a card game version of battleships, which is good – and much easier than fiddling with little pegs) and a couple of packs of cards as we love card games.
    My boys have stockings from Father Christmas, so I’m on the look out for little things that they can take – a torch, a compass, little notebook etc.
    They were talking about a waterproof camera, so I’ll look at the one you mentioned, thank you.

    • I love the Olympus tough, it’s not a bad price, either. My boys had things like carabiners (?sp) in their stockings, the head torches, a little bag for toys and a wallet. We use the caibiners all the time. A few body shop toiletries, they love smelly things, a new toothbrush, just lots of bits and pieces. Plus single use things, so I’ve just bought a fingerprint kit, for instance, it’ll be used, enjoyed and finished with and then I can chuck it out. Somebody bought us travel Monopoly and travel scrabble, but they’re so little and fiddly we just couldn’t be bothered. I usually find that if you Google you can find all the ebooks you’ll ever need for free, so I don’t bother with things like vouchers. I’m getting a new camera and a new watch, both bought on ebay because it’s so much cheaper, even that anything we saw on the ground in Thailand.

  3. We’re having the same conundrum at the moment with our girls. Its going to be strange enough being away at Christmas without not having presents to open. But we can hardly lift our backpacks as it is so we’ve been wracking our brains. So far we’ve got them:

    * penknives
    * little torches
    * sporks
    * some new card games (pirate fluxx, falling and gloom… All neat, small games. You can read about them all on
    * iPod shuffles
    * lego Harry Potter key rings
    * some girly hair things

    Plus of course some virtual presents. Ebooks for their Kindles,some extras for our favourite iPad board games and some audiobooks.

    • Fergus, you have triplets, how fantastic! Yep, we got mini music player things too, but ours only cost $2 each on ebay and do the same thing just fine. ( don’t tell the kids!) Headphones and double jack things so they can listen together, to music, audio books or a movie, was a winner too ( again ebay) and combination padlocks, they love those! All stuff that you actually use, but still cool enough to make them smile on Christmas morning.

  4. We have had even more fun since moving on from UNO and now playing SKIP BO.
    So just a thought from me if you’re after another really good card game. It has more strategy and more to think about. You can play it backwards and forwards and someone recently was telling me they play it with only odd numbers and then only even numbers. It requires a lot more concentration and is so much more exciting for the adults to join in if (like me) you start to get sick of UNO.

    There is another game called SETS. This really gives your brain a work out. You have to match colour, number, shape and shading all the same or all different to gain a set.

    We always travel with a very small pack of about 6 different sets of cards. We also have a memory game called RAT-A-TAT-CAT and we have a great set of cards for learning how to tell the time (matching up digital clock, with clock face with 24hr clock with written word time).

    We also have a set of animal cards with so much information to learn and of course we have the everyday playing cards. We also have a magician set to learn magic tricks.

    So much easier to carry cards than board games and the travel games I find are so flimsy and fiddly.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents worth and another suggestion is no gifts, just entry fees to special places as you travel. Or some new clothes.

    Merry Xmas

    • Hi Kym! I’ll have to get that Skip Bo game for Christmas, I’m onto Amazon right now. The magic tricks set is a good idea, we’re still carrying around the magic trick that the guy on the Khao San Rd. taught us, just string and a plastic bangle. It comes out now and again and the string doubles for cat’s cradle, which D thinks is also a magic trick, bless him :)

    • Just about everything with the word “travel” in the name is a waste of money, in my experience. Clothes, toys, games, generally. But not travel towels, they rock!

  5. Tamara says:

    Thanks for the list! We love many of the same essentials :). I want to check out the book you recommend.

    I’ve had a few Olympus p&s cameras, and two water/tough cameras. I think the next one we buy will be a different brand. They get the job done, and I LOVE having something the kids can use without me worrying about breakage. The photo quality in lower or indoor light isn’t that good. And the seals need to be replaced (if you’re using it in beaches, in my experience) once a year. It’s costly and almost makes the camera “disposable.” That said- if live anyone who bought me one :). Amazon has some affordable floating wrist straps that I’d recommend if you have space. An ocean wave or river rapid can easily take a camera from you or the kids.

    Packing cubes: I am currently obsessed with the ones you linked <3. We use smalls and slims for my 6 and 9 y/I clothes, medium for mine, large for my husband's man-clothes. They are on my gift giving list this year too! :)

    Merry Christmas :)

  6. Kari Matthews says:

    Hi Alyson! Thanks for the post! We are finally on the countdown – leaving December 28th! A few of your items reassure what we were thinking (who doesn’t love UNO) and gave me some new ideas as well for great Christmas presents this year! Haven’t seen the packing cubes before and love them!
    Keep the posts coming!!! Their fantastic!

    Cheers – Kari

  7. Here is our post from last Christmas in Bali on the road.

    I didn’t put in there what the gifts in the sacks were but my 10 year old loved lego men..I collected a bunch of the little packets. He loved opening each one. It kept him busy for hours. After we carried them in ziplock bag with ten lego men … it was a huge gift but took very little room. My daughter loved flavored chapstick, fluffy socks for plane rides, and an iTunes gift card.
    Anne Helmers recently posted..Down side of travelling: Top 5 worst things about my RTWMy Profile

  8. Packing cubes are so useful, especially for all the cables and adaptors. Kindle too, downloaded free classics by Austen and Dickens that I read on long bus journeys in SE Asia. And adaptor wraps were my way to check we had unplugged and packed every adaptor before we left accomodation.

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