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17 Practical Gift Ideas for the Traveler in Your Life

by Matt Hershberger Nov 24, 2017

It’s almost the holiday season, and if you’ve got a traveler on your Christmas list, you’re about to face a bit of a dilemma: shopping for people who “value experiences over things” is a pain in the ass. It’s not impossible, though — we’ve got a few ideas for you.

1. Miles

Your truly hardcore travelers have been scouring blogs like The Points Guy or Nomadic Matt for ages now, and are trying to figure out ways to turn their everyday expenses into a free flight down the road. You’ll have to figure out what points program they’re using — some have restrictions on what you can transfer — but this is a cheap gift that will be much appreciated.

2. Travel insurance

This is a perfect gift if you’re the parent of a traveler. Travel insurance makes sure that if, god forbid, something happens while abroad, you don’t get smacked with tens of thousands in medical feels or an evacuation bill. It can also cover travel delays, trip cancellation, baggage loss, etc. As the parent of a traveler, you’re probably gonna be the one footing this bill if your kid runs out of money. So it’s really a gift for everyone involved. Consider getting an annual plan — they are surprisingly affordable. Check out Allianz, AIG’s Travel Guard, or visit Squaremouth to go comparison shopping.

3. An e-reader

Travelers spend a lot of time sitting and waiting, and books are bulky and heavy. E-readers are a pretty great solution to these problems. Even if they’re the type of people who say, “I love the smell of a book, though,” it’s worth it — I used to be that guy and I changed my mind almost immediately when I realized how much lighter my backpack was and how many more books I was able to bring. Kindle Paperwhite is the best for reading in the dark or the glare of the sun.

4. A Yeti mug

I hate shilling for a single brand, but holy shit, Yeti mugs are fantastic. They keep drinks cold or hot forever. And that makes a difference when you’re in an airport or on a bus for 12 hours. They tend to be pretty expensive — BroBible did a breakdown of cheaper alternatives — but a lot of travelers swear by them.

5. A waterproof phone case

It sucks losing a phone in the middle of the trip. It sucks even more if it’s because you dropped it in a toilet. Waterproof cases are worth it.

6. Universal power adapters

Especially for international travelers: it sucks having to find a new adapter everywhere you go. Lifehacker did a good breakdown of the five best.

7. Noise-canceling headphones

For planes and noisy hostels — these are 100% worth the investment. The big Bose headphones have the best sound quality, but it’s difficult to sleep with them on. Consider going for the noise-canceling earbuds.

8. A notebook

A lot can happen during a trip, and a lot of travelers like to process their thoughts and feelings with a travel journal. Moleskines are the gold standard, but there are other cool ones out there — rainproof notebooks, journals with prompts, journals with map, etc. The key here is to not buy a bulky journal. Those leather-bound ones look really cool but do not fit easily into pockets. I prefer thicker paper, too — something that won’t disintegrate at the first touch of water. Unruled is also a good idea, as it leaves space for doodles.

9. A Nalgene

Don’t waste time trying to find a water bottle that has just enough ounces to get through TSA. Just get a solid liter Nalgene bottle, preferably with a travel straw. Your traveler can dump the water before going through security and then refill on the other side. Throw in a carabiner if you want to make it super useful.

10. A Dropbox account

If you lose your phone or camera while you’re traveling and you don’t have your photos backed up, you’re screwed. But you’re also not going to want to carry around a bunch of thumb drives or external hard drives while you travel. Dropbox is an economical choice for saving large files to a cloud so you know you won’t be totally screwed if your camera gets stolen or if your computer goes in the drink.

11. GoPro

GoPros are the gold standard of action cameras. It doesn’t hurt to throw in a selfie stick or a helmet mount with it.

12. A travel pillow

Be very careful here — most travel pillows are useless, and they tend to be bulky. Some companies, though, are starting to create pillows that are lightweight and super comfy. Expert Vagabond suggests the Cabeau Evolution travel pillow. TRTL pillows are also pretty popular.

13. A headphone splitter

More of a stocking stuffer than anything else, but a headphone splitter is a godsend if you’re a traveling couple. It’s impossible to hear a movie on a laptop over the sound of a jet engine, so the “one earbud for each of us” approach really doesn’t work.

14. Packing cubes

Packing cubes are basically baggage organizers that will keep your traveler from having to pull out everything they’ve packed every time they get somewhere.

15. Airbnb gift cards

Airbnb is increasingly becoming the accommodations choice for serious travelers. A gift card could be used anywhere in the world.

16. Language courses

If someone’s going on an extended trip abroad, language courses would be a great present. They’d assure that, on the first few days at least, your traveler wouldn’t be totally lost at sea. Pro-tip: many public libraries offer free or discounted versions of Rosetta Stone. Considering how expensive this is, it’s 100% worth it to take advantage of that.

17. Cash disguised as experiences

I know: people hate giving money as a gift. But it’s really the highest premium for travelers, because you don’t know what you’re going to be spending on until you get there. So if you want to keep it from feeling too soulless or sleazy, present the gift as going towards a specific thing that your traveler wants to do. “I’ll pay for your cage-diving in South Africa.” “I’ll cover your meal at Husk in Charleston.” “I’ll take care of that Kruger Park Safari.” At the end of the day, you’re still just wiring them cash once they’ve got the bill, but at least you feel like you’re giving them an experience, not a thing.

What not to get

The name of the game for most travelers is space and convenience. So you don’t want to get them anything bulky or unnecessary. A lot of sites will tell you about 10 million gadgets that travelers should have — most of them are unnecessary. A multitool is awesome, for example, but if your traveler is flying and is trying to go 100% carry-on, it’s going to get confiscated at TSA. No one needs their own luggage scale — in a pinch you can just use a bathroom scale — and a travel iron is unnecessary, as most accommodations have irons and ironing boards available.

The things that are worth getting are:

  • Essential
  • Reusable
  • Compact
  • Experience-oriented

The things that are not worth getting are:

  • Bulky
  • Not useful
  • Overly specialized
  • Easily found in other places

There are a lot of cool post-travel gifts out there, too — scratch maps are pretty awesome, as are cork globes, or scrapbooks. Anything that helps catalog or remember the experience is worth getting.

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