School's out. Over the next two months seemingly endless hours of car and airplane time will be logged by families. To make the best of life at close quarters, give a few of these sidelines a test spin around the neighborhood.
Where are we? UniversalMap, of Williamston, Mich., makes it fun to find out. A huge selection of high-quality U.S. road atlases; state, regional and city maps; world and international maps; wall classroom and business maps; notebook and deskpad maps for students; plus globes and jigsaw puzzles makes it veritably impossible to get lost. To keep the mininavigators happily distracted en route, UniversalMap also offers a terrific series of kids' travel activities. The Little Passenger Kids' Interstate Road Atlases include state maps with major cities and interstates plus a related game or puzzle; the Travel Activity Map is laminated and comes with its own water-based pen so its games-road-side scavenger hunt, vacation report card, word search, hangman, and memory teaser can be reused. Other activity books feature mazes, word searches, connect-the-dots pictures, decoder puzzles and coloring pages; specialized books concentrate on mazes, crosswords and word searches for all 50 states. Sticker-book U.S. and world atlases, plus marvelous decks of state-geography, national-park or world playing cards round out the choices for well-traveled tykes. Call (800) 359-6277, fax (407) 324-0627, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.universalmap.com.
For slightly older backseat drivers, the folks at Magnetic Poetry in Minneapolis, Minn., have created a kids' version of the popular Magnetic Poetry board game. Also handy for stuffing into travel totes, the Backpack Series of minimagnetic folios with magnetic play pieces feature wee-sized versions of classic games such as checkers, chess, backgammon, dominoes, tic-tac-toe and more, as well as educational sets, photo fun and good old poetry. Call (800) 370-7697, fax (612) 638-1079, www.magneticpoetry.com.
The sophisticated gamester on the move shouldn't be without the sleek travel sets from Natico Originals Inc., in New York City. Their ultracompact magnetic chess, checkers and backgammon combinations in matte silver cases are ideal for the design-conscious traveler. Natico's array of desk accoutrements can't be beat, either, and ranges from svelte to funky. Especially fanciful are their colorful Flexi-cal roll-up calculators and iMac-styled mini desk/alarm clocks. Call (800) 628-4261, fax (212) 779-8931, www.natico.com.
One of the challenges of traveling is finding a place to stash your personal stuff. For the female teen or 'tween, Mele of Utica, N.Y., offers new two lines that excel at organizational flair. Made from denim and styled with jeans-like pockets and topstitching, the jewel roll, jewelry pouch, travel tote and keepsake box protect the (literally) little things in life; with the matching address book, CD holder, binder, photo album and diary you can also take care of business. Fashioned like miniature retro aluminum suitcases, another series of jewelry and cosmetic cases watches over a girl's best friend with Deco-like panache. Call (800) 635-6353, fax (315) 733-3183, e-mail email@example.com, www.melejewelrybox.com.
Faber-Castell, Cleveland, Ohio, manufactures fabulous art supplies for artists on the go, of all ages. Especially geared for the younger set, the Deluxe "Fun" 50-Piece Coloring Kit crams jumbo crayons, colored pencils and fine line markers along with a thick pad of coloring paper into an adorable red-and-clear plastic backpack. The Watercolor Art Kit includes eight watercolor pencils, 12 watercolor crayons, two watercolor brushes, a watercolor paper pad and sandpaper for special effects, plus fully illustrated instructions on techniques, all in a compact red portfolio bag ready for takeoff. The Metallic Art Kit contains shimmering metallic colored pencils, metallic crayons, dark and light colored paper and a "black velvet" sheet, in addition to instructions for sparkling craft projects, packaged in a red portfolio. Call (216) 589-4800, fax (216) 589-1298, www.faber-castellusa.com.
In between creative urges, seat-belted companions can entertain themselves and others with many of the adorable plush products from Wild Republic, part of K&M International Inc., in Twinsburg, Ohio. From Audubon Backyard Birds to wildlife CuddleKins, Snuggle Buddies, colorful hand puppets and personality-plus plush hats. Plush animal backpacks with moveable heads, bookmarks and key chains add to the fun. For those who want something a little more human, Wild Republic adds action figures to the fray for the first time, with its new series of ecological adventurers. Paired with the company's animal replicas, you could get quite a habitat going, no matter where you are. Call (800) 800-9678, fax (330) 425-3777, www.wildrepublic.com.
To record your adventures for friends back home, use your new handcrafted wooden animal ASPCA Love Pen from Exotic Treasures Inc., in New York City. A percentage of all sales from these charming, refillable pens, —available in cat, dog, barnyard, safari and pony pals, covering much of the animal kingdom—goes to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Back on your home desktop, your pens (pencils and scissors, too) can stay out of trouble in their own animal-shaped, handcrafted organizers, in seven different animal designs. Call (212) 966-7434, fax (212) 226-5817, www.lovepens.com.