Image: Mad Gab
Courtesy Mattel
MAD GAB from Mattel lets you team up to solve silly word puzzles.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 12/15/2010 9:32:48 AM ET 2010-12-15T14:32:48

Where is that elf when you need her?

You still have to shop for a pile of gifts that won't bust the budget for on-the-go families — including your own — and Black Friday and Cyber Monday are long gone.

If you were super-organized, you might have squirreled away "surprises" from your last family vacation — those souvenirs the kids wanted but you nixed — and can now present with appropriate fanfare. I wasn't that organized this year and my kids wouldn't let me buy even one more ornament for the tree. ("Enough already!" They said in Hawaii and Colorado.) But I've got a fallback plan: A photo book for each of them comprised of vacation shots taken over the years. (Hopefully, my picks won't embarrass them too much.)

Still too much work for this stressful season? Think about what makes you and your gang happy and cozy when you travel and purchase some of those things for your favorite travelers. Maybe it's a book for the kids about where you're going. Arcadia Publishing, www.arcadiapublishing.com/arcadiakids, has just launched a new series of short (48-page) paperbacks about U.S. cities ($9.95). "Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know" offers all kinds of cool information kids need to know when visiting popular travel destinations, including Orlando, Houston and Dallas.

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Since I can't stand to be without something to read at an airport, on a beach or on a train or ship, I prefer e-books. With an e-book, I don't have to tote bulky travel guides and I can share titles across multiple Kindles in my family, as long as we have the same account. Give one to your favorite traveler and include a guide for the place they are going next, or select a novel set in that locale. Include a children's book set in wherever the traveling kids are going to visit. (Your local children's librarian can steer you in the right direction.)

Barnes & Noble has just introduced NOOKcolor (www.NOOKcolor.com) — the first full-color Touchscreen Reader's Tablet ($249) — and NOOK kids, which will offer a growing collection of nearly 12,000 children's picture and chapter books in enhanced digital format, allowing kids to interact with words and pictures and even have some of the words read to them. (A cheaper NOOK version is also available starting at $149.)

Barnes & Noble also offers a read-in-store feature that lets you read Nookbooks for free, as well as LendMe books, which allows you to read books from your B&N library on your iPad, smartphone, PC and Mac. Google has also just opened a new bookstore for E-books, which you can read on your iPad, Android phone or laptop. (Google E-books, however, currently can't be read on Kindle.)

Not to be outdone, Amazon's latest Kindle (www.kindle.com) is 21 percent smaller, though with the same 6-inch display, 17 percent lighter, double the storage capacity and it offers free out-of-copyright books and a battery life lasting up to a month. You can also read your Kindle on your other devices. Kindle (Wi-Fi) is a great choice — just $139 — if you already have a high-speed Internet connection and wireless router set up and do not need the more expensive 3G ($189), which enables you to download books anytime, anywhere, while on the go without having to find a Wi-Fi hotspot.

If you know someone who frets when they are out of cell range from their kids on vacation —say on a cruise ship, campground or on top of a ski slope — give them the Motorola MB140R Two-Way Radios (just $34.99/pair). They fit in a pocket and have a range of up to 10 miles. (You can buy them at www.amazon.com or www.rei.com.)

You know how upset tweens and teens get if their iPods or smartphones run out of juice —especially when they are stuck in the car for hours with the family. They'll thank you for the Energizer Energi To Go (www.energizerpowerpacks.com/us/) — rechargeable lithium polymer power packs designed to charge everything from phones to MP3 players, digital cameras, netbooks and laptops. Prices start at $69.99. One version, $24.99, attaches to your key ring and allows you to charge and talk at the same time. Another bet is FuelTank from Call Pod (www.callpod.com), with prices starting at $49.95. FuelTank, weighing in at just four ounces, lets you charge two portable electronic devices without the use of an outlet.

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Maybe your wish for the holiday season is for your family to get unplugged on vacation. Tempt them with To Go! Games from Mattel (www.mattel.com) like UNO Spin that includes special travel icons and MAD GAB that lets you team up to solve silly word puzzles. (Both games are under $10.) My gang always takes along playing cards and travel Scrabble; my sister's family is partial to the Mexican Train dominos game. (Do you have a favorite travel game? If so, e-mail it to me at Eileen@takingthekids.com.)

If someone you know can never find their suitcase on the airport carousel, give them some brightly colored luggage tags or a new lightweight suitcase like those from Lands' End's (www.landsend.com) Flight Wise collection. The cases come in a variety of colors, including canyon orange and chili pepper.

Check out Burton Snowboards Wheelie Flight Deck (www.burton.com). It meets airline carry-on rules yet has a volume-enhancing CRAM stretch zipper zone, removable laptop case and comes in bright, easy-to-spot plaids and designs.

And if you've been that person in line (like me) frantically taking shoes out of your suitcase so that you won't be overweight, get them a travel scale/alarm clock from LL Bean (www.llbean.com) for just $29.95.

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The right gear can make or break a trip. For those contemplating a long flight or car ride, get the Total Pillow (www.totalpillow.com, $19.99) that twists into a variety of shapes and is filled with tension-easing microbeads. The kids can use it for a headrest, floor pillow or seat cushion.

Buy your outdoors lovers some cushy socks that will keep their feet toasty and dry. I'm partial to my lightweight down jacket from Mountain Hardwear (www.mountainhardwear.com) that crumples into a ball and fits into its own stuff sack, doubling as an airplane pillow. (You can find other versions from Marmot and Patagonia, among others.)

But there is one thing that will never fail to please the travelers you love: The promise of a trip to come.

Are you listening, elf?

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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