I'm not filling any stockings this year or piling presents under the tree. No presents for Hanukah either. (We celebrate both holidays in our house.) And my gang couldn't be happier. That's because we're taking everyone on a much-anticipated sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands right after New Year's, repeating a trip several years ago in which we chartered a boat from Moorings that was one of our best ever.
There is an extra plus to this trip-as-gift concept: With the kids scattered around the country and beyond (one daughter has spent the fall studying in Thailand) we haven't all been together in one place for months. Stay tuned to see how we survive on the cramped quarters of a sailboat!
I've spent many holidays in far-flung places with my husband and kids -- skiing in Colorado and Vermont, camping on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, snowshoeing in Yellowstone National Park, snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean (mine are an active bunch). I used to bring the filled stockings along -- one year the chocolate Santas melted! We've posed for pictures with Santa on the slopes and on the beach and opened gifts I've brought and shopped for in more places than I can recall. (Easier in the days before airline weight limits on luggage.)
But now that the kids are bigger, I've opted for the trip-as-gift philosophy. The memories, I promise, will last a lot longer than the latest video game or sweater. The best part -- besides not running around looking for the perfect gift that turns out to be not so perfect -- is that your trip can be next month or a year from now.
According to Travelzoo, there are plenty of deals to be had for 2012. With several airlines, including Delta and JetBlue increasing flights to Costa Rica, hotels are promoting deals to encourage travelers.
A bonus: your U.S. dollar will stretch here. Japan and Thailand, reeling from natural disasters, are trying to lure travelers with five-star hotel deals up to 50 percent off. Looking for a multigenerational option? Consider a Mediterranean cruise. Not only will you save money (you pay upfront in U.S. dollars) and avoid the hassle and stress of navigating from city to city but you'll also find plenty of activities and food choices on board for everyone.
Travelzoo reports that Norwegian Cruise Line , Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean are sending a record number of ships to Europe in 2012, which means increased competition and more deals for you. Closer to home, Orlando (www.visitorlando.com) continues to offer a lot of bang for your buck because there are so many hotels that cater to all ages.
Bring your preschoolers to the new LEGOLAND (see what I said when the largest LEGOLAND in the world opened last fall, where a water park is scheduled to open in time for summer. I'm planning to take some high school seniors to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
Think outside the box. Got nature lovers 12 and older? The nonprofit Yellowstone Association Institute is offering Lamar Valley Wolf Weeks in March. (Think heading out into the night to listen for wolf howls!) The wolves were only reintroduced to the park in 1995/1996. Get up close to gray whales and their babies on a Baja gray whale camp trip, www.seakayakadventures.com. Give a trip to one child to celebrate a special birthday. Take your fashionistas and theater lovers to New York. You can afford to see how the 1 percent travels -- if you book two nights between Jan. 2 and the end of February, getting the third night free, at 20 of the city's most upscale hotels.
A bonus: A Key to Madison Avenue card with offers on everything from shopping to spas to restaurants to VIP services. The younger girls on your list will love a visit to an American Girl Place -- there are now 11 around the country. Your doll can have tea with you using tiny cups and plates. If there's a foodie on your gift list, take them to California in January during Restaurant Month when all across the state there are special deals, gourmet menus, celebrity chef dinners and more.
Take your favorite little leaguer to Arizonaor Florida for Spring Training. Sounds great, I know, but somehow you feel like you need a gift to put under the tree or beside the Menorah. That's an easy fix. If you're going to Spring Training, wrap a box of new baseballs and markers for autographs.
Give your American Girl lovers an activity book like "Take the Challenge!" which they can use along the way. If you're planning a hiking or camping trip, give my favorite travel accessory -- a lightweight down jacket that rolls up so compactly it can double as an airplane pillow. (My wilderness-loving daughter gave the new Nitrous jacket from Mountain Hardwear a thumbs up; Patagonia also has a good selection of active outerwear. New socks for hiking or snow sports are always appreciated. Socks from SmartWool, www.smartwool.com, wick moisture and don't smell!
Opt for a book or a movie for the kids set in the place you plan to visit. Your children's librarian can help. If you're feeling really generous, buy them a NOOK or Kindle -- prices start at under $100 this season -- that you can stock with city and nature guides for where you are headed. As for me, I'm thinking about gift-wrapped sunscreen. Happy holidays and happy travels in 2012.
(c) 2011 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to LA is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando and coming in December, Chicago.