How Many? How much? When?
After "are we there yet?" the next questions, and unfortunately ones that last the entire vacation, have to do with souvenirs.
And it doesn't matter if your kids are five or 15. They all want to know:
How many souvenirs can I get?
How much can I spend?
When can we shop? (Possibly the most asked question from older kids.)
Just as you should plan your itinerary and have a "what if" talk if the kids (or you) get lost, you need to have a souvenir strategy before the trip even starts. You don't want to bust the vacation budget on something like a $40 sweatshirt, or a toy that will be forgotten the next day.
Talk to the kids about a spending limit for souvenirs; some families save lose change in a jar all year exclusively for this purpose!
Are you going to buy a "family souvenir" to remind everyone of the trip?
Do the kids have birthday money, babysitting money or allowance they have been saving?
Do the kids want one big souvenir or several smaller things. Are you going to spring for one thing, say a hoodie or a princess dress, or will all souvenirs come from the kids' own money?
If clothing is on the wish list, shirts, caps, sweatshirts, consider hitting a nearby outlet mall or local megastore. (I've scored great souvenirs and gifts at Costco in Hawaii, for example.)
Resist impulse buys! If you are only going to be at a certain place one day, make time at the end of the day to shop, or if you are vacationing somewhere like the beach for a week, designate an afternoon toward the end of the trip for souvenirs.
I know that can be tough when there is a souvenir store at the end of each theme park attraction. But if the kids are planning on getting a T-shirt, buy just one with their favorite character on it. If there is a new attraction they want to remember, their first big coaster, perhaps, buy one gift that commemorates that.
The last two years, I've interviewed scores of kids around the country for my Kids’ City Guide series that offers a kid's perspective and you might be surprised at what some of them have to say about souvenir picks.
"No one can leave Chicago unless they have taken lots of pictures as a souvenir," said Natalia, 10, who lives in the Chicago area. "I think overall that is the best souvenir -- better than toys."
"A picture of the ocean!" added Jesus, who is from Los Angeles.
And then, suggests Gabe, from San Diego: "Get a picture frame as a souvenir and you can put a picture from your trip in it!"
Souvenirs, of course, are best when they help us remember an experience.
"The best souvenir I got in Colorado was fool's gold, after I got to pan for gold," said Anna, 9, from Chicago.
A children's book set in the region you are visiting is always a good bet. I always used to buy each of my kids silly Christmas ornaments when we traveled -- a Santa surfing in Hawaii, a canoe from Minnesota, a Beefeater from London, until my kids protested that we had too many.
It doesn't have to be expensive either -- or cost anything. "You shouldn't leave San Diego without a seashell from the beach," said Chloe, 9, visiting from Scottsdale, Arizona.
"A Japanese umbrella from Little Tokyo in LA," said Shaelynn, 10 from San Diego.
"Cool postcards from around the city," said Marcus, from LA.
"Get something as a souvenir that you'll use every day that will remind you of the trip, like a key chain," suggested Alexia, 14, San Diego.
Starting a collection is a great way to direct the kids' shopping and keep the costs down. Stickers to slap on a water bottle, for example, or patches for a school backpack.
"I get magnets as souvenirs wherever I go and put them on the magnetic wall in my room." -- Cori, 10, Wellesley, Mass.
"I like to get key chains. I have a key chain collection and I keep them on a big ring in my room." -- Emma, 10, Newton, Mass.
"Trading pins is my favorite thing to do at Disney World," said Caroline, 10, who lives in Orlando. She added that looking at her pins gives her something to do while waiting in line.
Xavier, 11, from Maryland, has a collection of souvenir necklaces from the Smithsonian museums. "You can get them at all the Smithsonian museums," he said.
And if not a collection, try to find something that is unique to where they are visiting.
"If you bring LEGO mini-figures to LEGOLAND you can exchange them and you can build your own LEGO character to take home," said Alexander, 7, Phoenix, Arizona.
Get a cable car toy to take home!" Laylani, 12, said, or "a mini Golden Gate Bridge as a souvenir," said Alex, 10. They live in San Francisco.
Or something sports related. "A Dodgers (baseball team) bobblehead," suggested Rogelio, 16, Los Angeles. "A mini-bat from Padres Stadium," said Hannah, 11, of San Diego. Cubs or White Sox gear in Chicago; or anything Red Sox in Boston.
One year in France, when my daughter Mel was about six, she insisted on getting a kind of umbrella hat from a street vender. It didn't cost much and she danced around Versailles all day with it on her head, thoroughly embarrassing her older sister.
"It will be great when it rains at home," she declared.
The hat, of course, was trashed before we even came home. But I still smile at that memory. And those are the best souvenirs.