Give Kids the Gift of Travel at Christmas and All Year

As expats in Europe, trying to live by the mantra of “collect moments not things” isn’t always easy. You can imagine all of the fun and unique keepsakes that we stumble upon during our various European excursions. The biggest challenge is keeping our three young children on board with this mentality. For every birthday and gift-giving holiday (for us, it’s Christmas), my family focuses on giving experiences instead of things. Here is why and how to give kids the gift of travel at Christmas and all year.

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Give kids the gift of travel instead of toys

Travel before things

My husband and I started this travel-before-things trend way back when we were just dating. One year we went to a spa in Arizona for my birthday and another year we visited Toronto for the first time on his big day. And then the kids came along. In my heart I knew that we wanted to instill this same value of experiences over stuff with them but they are kids, after all, and shiny new toys can cast a magical spell on their young hearts.

As parents, Christmas is especially challenging because we want to experience that special feeling of seeing our kids rip open brightly wrapped gifts and watch the joy on their faces. But we also want to be financially (and ecologically) responsible. Plus, we just don’t have the space for a bunch of toys in our temporary home. We don’t want to have to ship all of this stuff, stuff, stuff when it comes time for us to move again.

When to schedule your holiday trip

If you want to replace wrapped things with a family vacation, traveling over Christmas, the birthday or other holiday is ideal. My husband and I kept debating whether we should give a trip to Disneyland Paris as our children’s Christmas gift this year. The problem is that our Disney trip will not commence until February. Focusing on a future event is a difficult concept for young children to comprehend since they live so much in the present moment. If possible, schedule your travel adventure to take place over the actual holiday to make the trade-off seem like treat rather than a disappointment.

Kauai Christmas tree ornament
Travel-themed ornaments remind us of past family vacations

If your travel will take place at some point in the future rather than over the holiday itself, the key is to give small gifts that are directly linked to your upcoming trip. We will be giving our boys small suitcases they can tote themselves, a Disney movie or two, travel toothbrushes, coloring travel journals and passport wallets. Other ideas include swimsuits or beach toys for a tropical vacation, animal-shaped hats and mittens for a ski trip, or kids’ books about your next travel destination.

Giving a family present of a large wall map on which you can plot out your next trip helps build anticipation and teaches geography at the same time! What better gift to give than the knowledge that the world is theirs to explore?

I also recommend purchasing a few destination-themed Christmas ornaments during your travels throughout the year and give those as holiday gifts. Each year your family will reminisce about past vacations and relive the memories together.

Unwrapping is half the fun

We want our three boys to have a few fun things to open, but this year we will not give any big gifts. Instead, we found little, inexpensive things from our adopted hometown of Tillburg, Netherlands and our other travels to wrap. This way, they still get to see a tree surrounded by presents and experience the joy and wonder of opening their treats.

Keep it simple

Giving kids the gift of travel doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. A vacation to a nearby road trip destination or a short family weekend getaway can create lifelong memories that will stay with your children long after the toys have been donated or packed away.

Give children the gift of seeing the world
Give children the gift of seeing the world

Give the gift of dreaming

When you give the gift of travel, you open up a world of adventure to your children. You open their minds to the largeness of the world and the possibilities that surround them. Focusing on travel rather than on toys encourages kids to dream. Ask your children which countries they want to explore someday. Do they want to visit somewhere warm with oceans? What do they think it would be like to go on an African safari? How cold do they think it is in Antarctica? The best gift we parents can give our children is the inspiration to experience life rather than accumulate things…at Christmas and the rest of the year too!

Do you prefer to give your kids the gift of travel or regular holiday gifts? Why? Let us know in the comments below!

All photos by Farrah Ritter.

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  1. I love this! We used to travel over the holidays, partly because I have not lived close to family in years so we would either visit family somewhere or go some place fun. Now, with an almost 4yo, we haven’t traveled over the holidays as much and it Drives.Me.Crazy!!! I love your ideas on giving the gift of travel – if not a trip then items related to the next trip! I’m going to buy a Belize guide book for my husband and I for our next trip… we too don’t exchange gifts. For my daughter, she gets so much from our families that she really never needs anything from Santa! Instead, I try to make it about what new and fun activities or day trips we can do. This year Santa is bringing her a $25 sled – something she’s never done but I know will enjoy. Fun for all! Thanks for all the tips!

    1. YES! The family seems to take care of many of the gifts- so it’s really not much of anything worthwhile for us to add to that. We got a sled too- here’s hoping for some snow 🙂

  2. We started traveling over the holidays a number of years ago and each year we cut back even more on buying presents. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts at all and our girls get stockings and typically get two presents from us – something to wear and something to read. They get more presents than they need from extended family but I have no control over them! Our holiday trip is a surprise for the girls so what I do is wrap up clues to our destination. They unwrap the clues and try to figure out where we are heading for the rest of the holidays. Unwrapping the clues honestly causes more excitement than anything else under the tree!

  3. Thank you both! It’s funny- it is so easy this time of year to just get overwhelmed with everything, and pull the trigger on an impulse purchase. We almost did that last night with a play kitchen and it would have gone against everything we set out to do. It’s even harder when a well intentioned relative sends money instead of paying to ship something. What do you do? We’re still focused on our efforts this year and plan to continue the trend. It’s something all kids would appreciate in the long run! Now if only I can get to Kauai for Christmas some day….

  4. Farrah – Every year I say that we are going to skip the presents and travel for Christmas instead, but it never happens. I keep waiting for my extended family to get on board and join us. I think next year, I just may need to take my family of 4 on a Christmas trip and tell the aunties, uncles, and grandparents that we are skipping gifts and there is no need to send us anything. One of these years I will make it happen. Your post has re-inspired me!

  5. All I can say is I love this. Now, I write that after I stayed up until 1 a.m. ordering presents online for my son for Christmas. I do think the magic of unwrapping presents is very real and fun for children. But take the kids places. Give them maps. Have fun with them learning about the maps. We bought our 7-year-old son a camera this year. He loves using my phone to take pictures on our trips. It’s time he takes this discovery to a new level.