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15 Last-Minute Gifts for Any Traveler

by Jason Wire Dec 23, 2011
You can do a lot better than another crappy world map.

For the hip-but-not-hipster traveler

Luggage from Herschel Supply Co.: I used to travel exclusively with my big green Nike duffle bag. While it was great for shoving in pillows at the last minute out the door, I was always the guy on the plane who looked like his suitcase was also his gymbag which was also his briefcase.

If you know someone like me who enjoys traveling with a bit of style but you don’t want to spring for a pricey bag or suitcase, Herschel Supply Co.’s popping bright colors, vintage-chic aesthetic, and simple design are an amazingly affordable gift that’s sure to please even the pickiest of travel tastes.

Ethnotek Bags: I’m going to be honest: I’m not the biggest fan of the business model that allows people to by “authentic artisanal crafts from indigenous folks who need your money.” But these bags at Ethnotek really started to change my mind.

Basically, picture an extremely functional, quality-constructed backpack that perfectly encapsulates the mentality of “I look good, but I also have a conscience.” The bags feature hand-woven prints and textures from different indigenous communities around the world, making it really easy to switch between styles if you get tired of one particular pattern. If you didn’t know the story behind these, you’d think they came from a pricey boutique luggage store. And while they’re not exactly bottom-of-the-bargain-barrel, they’re one of the most eye-catching and philanthropic ways to carry your stuff.

The Roll-Up Leather Travel Charger: Just the word “charger” makes me feel a little anxious sometimes. Do I have it? Is it tangled? Is it suited to the proper international outlet? What about adapters? No more questions. Check out Restoration Hardware’s very svelte and simple roll-up travel charger that neatly organizes all your electronic power-majigs into a little leather burrito of joy.

For the person who doesn’t know they’re a traveler…yet

The Passport Starter Kit: I know too many people who don’t have a passport. I don’t understand it. Suppose you need to get the hell outta Dodge and make a break for Venezuela. Are you really going to let a passport fee, some paperwork, and a few weeks waiting time get in the way of your escape route?

Persuade your passportless friend to step his or her game up by preparing a passport starter kit: all the forms are available to print online, and you can fill out their information to the best of their knowledge, wrap it up, and give it to them as a nudge and gift-in-one. To go one step further, you can find a wide range of cool-looking passport cases at Flight 001. And if that doesn’t fill their wanderlust meter, couple it with a copy of Matador’s new book, No Foreign Lands.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Yeah, I know, plenty of the “well-traveled” and “purist” travel bloggers hold a slight grudge against Bourdain’s carefully-marketed “bad boy of travel” persona. But dammit if he doesn’t do a great job stirring up some jetsetting instincts in even the most homebody-inclined couch potatoes. My dad, who is 55 and rarely leaves the county, much less the country, loves this show and I think it might just be the key to getting him outside his borders. My favorite episodes: Istanbul and Singapore.

A bunch of foreign currency: Money never goes out of style. But giving your parents $100 is just tacky. Therefore, cash in and give them the gift of money they can’t use…until they head to the country of your choosing. It’s also always interesting to see the differences among international currencies: in the Solomon Islands, for instance, huge stone disks called Rai Stones are still used as a form of payment. It’s unlikely, though, that your local bank will have that for immediate exchange.

For the traveler who’s been everywhere

Beer in Space: Okay, I’m not suggesting you go out and spend $95,000 to send your friend into space to drink a pint of Space Beer (unless that friend happens to be me…). However, it’s a good tip-off to those folks in your life who can’t help but mention that time they backpacked in French Guyana every time the word “guy” comes up.

The Compendium Monstrum: Unless your border stamp-collecting friend carries cloves of garlic on them at all times and makes regular trips to central Romania, it’s unlikely they’ve ever thrown themselves into the world of vampires, werewolves, and other such sharp-toothed critters that they’ll find in the Compendium Monstrum. In addition to providing plenty of pseudo-historical details on said critters, it offers plenty of thorough advice on traveling within Transylvania itself…and it appears written in an old-school ink quill. Sweet.

No Foreign Lands: A Meditation on How We Travel: I know it may look like I’m shamelessly plugging our sexy new book, No Foreign Lands. And I am. But, this really is the perfect gift for someone who values the deeper aspects of travel–the inner journey–that occur both inside and outside of trips to foreign lands. It combines the collective insight of the Matador community–perhaps the most enthusiastically well-traveled ground in the world–in a single book. Alright, you get it. Now get it!

For the most important traveler in your life: yourself.

Klipsch Image S4 In-Ear Headphones: I’m being honest when I say that the best $70 I’ve ever spent was on these headphones. And I did it twice (after forgetting my first pair in the back of a Moroccan city bus). For less than one-third of the cost of a pricey pair of Bose QuietComforts, you get a pair of earphones that will fit any ear so well, you’ll forget they’re inches from your brain. See, look, they’re in my ears right now, and I completely forgot about ’em. The audio quality is astounding, and they’re as compact and morning run-friendly as it gets. Don’t waste this gift on someone else–get yourself a pair. Seriously.

Transit Maps of the World: This book is exactly what it claims to be: a handsome addition to your coffee table that beautifully displays a huge range of public transportation maps from around the world and throughout history. No matter where you travel, transportation plays a key role, and the subway and railroad and highway maps we encounter are often as much of a tool for us as they are an artifact drawing us back to that state of navigation.

Tablet Plus Membership: I’m skeptical of–if not outright opposed to–paying $195 for any type of membership to anything. But if you plan on staying in five or more hotels in the next year in any major destination, the Tablet Plus membership really does offer something pretty great.

Basically, Tablet is a really slick source of very high quality hotels that range from the relatively cheap (~$80/night) to the furthest ends of luxury. As well, every time you make a booking, you get $10 in credit. But if you happen to be enrolled in their Plus Program, they’ll automatically upgrade your room (where available) every time you book. So although you don’t need the upgrade to water view with an extra pillow menu and a few extra free cocktails, it’s an easy way to treat your future self.

For the traveler who loves adult beverages

BenderBound Hidden Flasks: Behind every great adventure, there is a book waiting to be written. And inside of that book: a large, glass flask of booze. Presenting the BenderBound line of discreet, library-friendly liquor cabinets. Whether it’s a copy of Gray’s Anatomy or some dense economics texts, no one will suspect that the massive tome protruding from your seatback pocket is actually a bottle of 1800.

Whiskeys from Around the World: If you know someone who enjoys a taste of the amber muse, Master of Malt offers rare whiskeys from South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, and even India. They also sell a 50 year-old Speyside that burns brighter than your Uncle Leroy’s white lighntnin’.

The Bootlegger Airplane Bottle Ankle-Concealer: The only thing better than drinking in public is doing it in far more covertly than necessary. The Bootlegger Ankle-Concealer provides said unnecessary covertness, and allows for a variety of drinking options. I’d recommend stuffing it with a medley of minis plus an aspirin.

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