In these parts, when winter is in full swing, the trees are coated with ice, blizzards seem like a weekly occurrence and it’s so cold that you don’t even want to stick your nose outside, many folks try to escape for a spot of sun and warmth. Be it a weekend or a week, this is often when New Englanders leave New England to explore other parts of the world. Not that we don’t like our winters - we definitely do - but, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Winter escapes aside, a lot of people travel regularly for work - be it within the United States or further afield - and, others, are simply inveterate travelers, keen to wander the globe at every opportunity. Some travel frequently in short bursts - others, less often (but no less enthusiastically!) for longer periods of time. If you know someone who falls into any of these categories, a travel appropriate present may hit the mark next time a gifting occasion rolls around. We’ve rounded up some of our all-time favorite travel gifts, ranging from small (but handy!) tokens, to more substantial items. We’ve also tried to offer a solid mix of the practical and pampering in the hopes that one or more of the following will be a match for your prospective recipient:
A CORD ORGANIZER: In this day and age, most of us find ourselves traveling with multiple cords - be it for our phones, cameras, computers, music devices - you name it. And, let’s not even get started on the sorry state of our various earbud cords (oh, why Apple, do you need to have your own special earbud jack?). A cord roll is a great way to keep various wires, cables and strands of technology organized in compact, easy to access fashion. As to where to source one? We did a little bit of online digging and came across a leather version at Brouk & Co. that is both reasonably priced and available in a goodly range of colors. Skooba Design’s roll-up cable kit is another option - small and lightweight, it also comes with a couple of cord-corralling ties. And, if roll-ups don’t appeal, check out Bagsmart’s cable organizers which come in a range of sizes and offers features like compartments for backup batteries and memory cards.
PASSPORT WALLET: A passport wallet is been one of the handiest travel accessories we have ever been gifted. We know exactly where our passport is stowed, along with our frequent flyer cards, our immunization booklet, our dive log and, while we’re in transit, our boarding pass. The wallet we were gifted back in the day is no longer available, but we like the looks of Pacsafe’s LX250 travel wallet, available from Amazon.com, L.L. Bean and Zappos, among others. If you’re on a tighter budget, you may wish to check out Zoppen’s tri-fold travel wallet, made of PU leather and available in a wide range of colors. Conversely if you are looking to seriously splash out, Smythson’s selection of gorgeous, handcrafted travel wallets may well be worth a browse.
LUGGAGE TAGS: Instead of relying on those flimsy little paper tags provided by the various airlines, treat your traveler to a nice set of stylish, personalized luggage tags. In addition to attaching the appropriate “return to sender” information, nice tags also serve as yet another distinguishing marker when collecting luggage from the baggage carousel. Stumped for sources? You may wish to have a look at Orvis’ engraved brass tags, leather tags from Etsy vendor OxAndPine, or Talonport’s stainless steel privacy tags. For a classic look, check out these accessibly priced tags by Leatherology or, for a luxe version, Smythson’s leather tags.
BAG STRAP AND TRAVEL LOCKS: These are the last two things we attach to our luggage - a bag strap to keep everything together (and to help make our bag easily identifiable) and TSA-approved travel locks so our bags are as secure as possible. Chances are, veteran travelers likely already have one or both of these items, so we’d generally recommend these as great gifts for the less experienced or brand new world wanderer. That said, our locks have a habit of wandering off every now and again, so they do occasionally need to be replaced…. As to sources? We’re very happy with our yellow Elastraap luggage strap - it’s strong, easily adjustable and brightly colored, ticking all of our boxes. For TSA-approved locks, we like the sound of Tarriss’ flexible cable locks with the added feature of a “SearchAlert” to let you know if your bag was opened in transit. Personally though, we’re currently using 4-dial locks from desired tools for the bit of extra security offered by having a fourth dial. Caveat emptor: make sure you order from a reliable supplier as several commenters seem to be reporting counterfeit (and non-TSA-approved!) locks being sold by third party vendors.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S KNAPSACK: If your favorite traveler also happens to be a passionate photographer, you may wish to consider giving them a dedicated kit bag or knapsack. Personally, we love our Manfrotto backpack because it manages to compactly organize our camera, lenses, and all our various accessories, such as filters, backup batteries, chargers, and such. There is also a discreetly placed compartment to insert one’s laptop in case you want to manage your library and/or edit while in transit. We tend to get a little nervous about our laptop being subjected to bumps and bangs, so especially like the fact that the compartment is well padded, and that it’s positioned right up against the wearer’s back, so you are conscious of where your laptop is at all times. As well, the laptop pocket is discreetly placed so it doesn’t scream “I’m carrying electronics.” Lastly, we’ll note that the pack’s side pockets are super for easily toting an external hard drive and/or locking in a portable tripod. Much as we love our Manfrotto pack, however, we realize everybody has slightly different needs and/or preferences when it comes to luggage. For that reason, other packs/bags that you may wish to check out, depending on your recipient’s needs and the amount of equipment they tend to take when they travel are: Domke’s F-2 original canvas shoulder bag, Billingham Hadley’s canvas and leather pro shoulder bag, or Think Tank Photo’s messenger style photo bag.
SQUASHABLE HAT: Is your recipient headed somewhere sunny? Do they easily burn? Susceptible to skin cancer? Then, like as not, they should be wearing a hat when they are out exploring. The only problem is that many broad-brimmed hats are not exactly travel friendly. Enter Wallaroo’s lightweight, packable hats. Choose from several ladies’ styles, such as: the Scrunchie, the Sydney, or the Victoria. For men, you may wish to check out the Blake, or the Jasper.
COLLAPSIBLE BAG: If your recipient likes to shop while traveling, chances are they may need a little extra packing space when they return home. Or, maybe when they travel, they like to base themselves in one place, taking the occasional overnight trip to explore the surrounding areas, making an overnight bag a handy accessory. It sounds a little odd to pack a bag within your bags, but actually, as we have discovered, having one or more extra bags along can come in surprisingly handly. That said, one typically doesn’t want to give over much luggage real estate to extra bags. For that reason, collapsible bags can make for a great gift. We love Longchamp’s signature nylon Le Pliage bags in this context. The large Le Pliage tote comfortably fits a laptop, or a tablet and a change of clothes (or even two) for overnighting - or, to tuck in all those souvenirs you didn’t plan to buy. For ladies (and we’re speaking from personal experience here), the small tote is fantastic as a backup purse - or, perhaps as your only purse if the lady in question tends to use her hand luggage allowance to tote camera equipment and work materials but would later like the flexibility to be able to downsize purse-wise once she arrives at her destination. For a lightweight daypack, you may wish to have a look at Hexin’s water resistant nylon backpack. And, in the larger bag/duffel category, check out The North Face’s Flyweight duffel, or Eagle Creek’s Cargo Hauler duffel.
THE PERFECT TRAVEL DRESS: This one’s for the lady traveler in your life. Say she needs to go to a wedding, an engagement party, or family reunion - or, even if she just wants to be able to dress up a bit in the evening to go out for dinner. Well, there’s often a lot of bother involved with transporting event-appropriate clothing while making sure you do not turn up looking like a wrinkled mess. Sure, if she’s staying with relatives, she might be able to borrow an iron - and, a lot of hotels have in-room irons too. But, what if it’s a B&B, or a motel without ironing facilities? Or, frankly, what if she just doesn’t want to have to worry about any of that? Well, we recommend checking out Rachel Pally dresses and jumpsuits. They are made of a soft, modal jersey material that is not only comfortable but (and here’s the kicker!) travels exceptional well. Simply shake your Pally garments out and hang them up on arrival and by the time you need to wear them, they are ready to go! Styles range from casual, to formal - we’ve have worn a sweeping Grecian-style full length dress to a wedding, or more casual styles for dinner by the beach.
TINY TOILETRIES: For the road warrior, and especially for one that prefers not to check luggage, small toiletries are a must. It seems that more and more companies are making their products in travel-friendly sizes and, if you are gifting to a regular traveler, restocking their supply of tiny toiletries will typically be welcome. New travelers too will likely appreciate a little help in this department. We recommend securing a clear travel toiletry bag and tucking in an array of products - be they your recipient’s staple toiletries in miniature form, or a selection of luxury products they might not otherwise purchase for a bit of on the road pampering. Word to the wise: cologne and/or perfume samples often work brilliantly in travel toiletry packs.
TRAVEL JOURNAL: Setting off on your first big adventure is thrilling and so exciting that, in retrospect, it may seem as though it flew by at lightning speed. A good way to capture that experience though, to preserve it for a lifetime, is to keep a travel journal. Of course, this requires a bit of a commitment, but we were encouraged to do it on our first big trip and have endeavored (mostly successfully) to maintain the tradition ever since. The journal itself doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy - in fact, small, compact and lightweight are virtues here, but we do recommend making sure you select something with acid-free paper as it will go the distance in terms of years much better. Journal-wise, we’re partial to Moleskine notebooks, but would also flag Rhodia journals and Michael Roger “decomposition” books as great options that are worth checking out. Levenger’s Italian leather Diario Mio with marble-edged paper is a bit more pricey but would not look out of place in an epic film, the kind of film that’s set a century or two ago, and then goes on to win Oscars for gorgeous costume design and lush cinematography. In a similar vein is this refillable leather journal at a slightly more affordable price point (but without the marbleized paper).
EARPLUGS AND/OR EARBUDS: Good quality earplugs and/or earbuds are great on a day-to-day basis, but can be especially invaluable when traveling. We carry a set of each when we’re on the road and can’t tell you the number of times that they’ve helped us maintain our calm while waiting in the airport where they decided they needed to jackhammer the concrete floor, or while flying on a tiny airplane with a child throwing an extended tantrum two rows behind us. For earplugs, you may wish to check out HEAROS High Fidelity reusable and washable ear plugs, or HEAROS Ultimate Softness foam plugs. For earbuds, if you’re looking for something wireless, you may wish to check out COWIN’s HE8D noise cancelling bluetooth earbuds. For more traditional (i.e. non-wireless) earbuds, Samsung’s noise cancelling Advanced ANC earphones might be worth a look or, a tad pricier, Bose’s QuietComfort 20 noise cancelling in-ear headphones.
TRAVEL WALLET: A travel wallet can take many forms - it can be the kind you strap around your waist for safety purposes, it can be a compact canvas affair that you don’t mind submitting to the potential dings and travails of backpacking or, if you travel to one country regularly, it could be a nice wallet that you simply use to keep all your currency and cards for that country in one place, simply swapping wallets in and out when you arrive in your destination, rather than mingling currency and cards in a single wallet. If you are looking to gift security, we recommend checking out Eagle Creek’s money belt which looks awfully like the excellent money belt we purchased a number of years ago for a backpacking trip. For a durable canvas affair, we have a trusty Eagle Creek wallet (taken on the same backpacking trip) that has been a real trooper - unfortunately, they no longer seem to make that particular model which secured closed with velcro and had a little zippered coin purse. This 8-compartment trifold wallet, however, looks quite similar and as though it would be up for some global trekking. And, as for an affordable but attractive ladies’ wallet that we can swap in for our day-to-day wallet, we’re very happy with our red Mundi Rio leather checkbook cover wallet. We don’t have the same personal experience to fall back on for a man’s wallet, but think that this bifold looks like a good option. Bonus: it has a removable ID cover which means it’s adaptable for a night out when one wants to carry just the bare minimum.
ADAPTERS AND CONVERTERS: No, these are not exactly a headliner gift, but they are eminently useful, especially with all the devices and batteries folks often need to charge these days - from phones, to camera packs. We have a workhorse TravelSmart converter set that came in a pouch with a slew of plugs, allowing it to work in most countries. This TravelSmart Conair set seems to be the most recent incarnation of what we purchased. If you envision needing to charge multiple devices at once, we would draw your attention to BESTEK’s multi-port converter. We’ve been quite happy with its performance so far - the only caveat we’d mention is that the cooling fan does emit a bit of a buzzing noise, just in case you usually need to charge overnight, you’re a sensitive sleeper and/or can’t put the charger in another room. We tend to use it to charge things like back-up camera batteries while we’re out and about during the day, or just pottering around our hotel room. Overnight, we’ll then use our single plug converter or an adapter, for example, to charge our phone or a music device. That way, we’re able to reliably bulk charge and have a good night’s sleep. For adapters, we have picked ours up individually as needed over the years. For gifting though, Ceptics (a company that specializes in adapters), has worldwide travel sets available with universal inputs - for example a 5-piece set, or a 12-piece set. A last word to the wise: if you’re shopping around for a converter and/or adapter, be sure to check if a three prong insert will likely be needed. For some reason, a fair number of the converters and adapters we looked at only accommodate two prongs which is odd as nowadays many things sold in the US have that third grounding, safety prong.
AIRMAIL STATIONERY: Call us old-fashioned, but we still like to send postcards and letters when we travel. Perhaps your recipient is a little bit old-fashioned too? If so, it’s sometimes still possible to pick up some Crane & Co. (now sadly discontinued) airmail stationery on eBay. For shorter notes, Mr. Bodington’s telegram postcards offer a lovely nod to travelers of yore. We also love Basildon Bond’s pads off airmail paper and the matching envelopes. As a UK company, their products are readily available there at the likes of Ryman - but, if you’re US-based, eBay and Amazon.com are your friends when it comes to sourcing their airmail paper and envelopes (available in blue or white). And, last but not least, if you’re based in Australia, you may wish to check out the Japanese Paper ‘Airmail’ writing pad (and envelopes) sold by Milligram - they look awfully nice!
PACKING CUBES: Know someone who both loves to travel and loves when everything is organized? Help them stay organized while in transit. Not unsurprisingly given their name, Pro Packing Cubes specializes in packing cubes, offering a range of sets - we happen to like the looks of this six-piece set in a rainbow of colors - but they offer several color options and bag combinations. Note: personally, we like mixing up colors in a situation like this as it’s faster to ID a bag by its unique color.
LAUNDRY BAGS: It may seem like a simple thing, but how do you compartmentalize dirty laundry while traveling? Snag a plastic shoe shine bag from the hotel room you are staying in? Isolate it in one part of your luggage? If you’d like to give someone an easy way to manage their laundry while traveling, may we suggest a couple of drawstring bags? We use (and have gifted) Augbunny cotton canvas laundry bags - as a pair they can be used to separate whites and colors, or one can be used as a laundry bag and the other can be used to corral (possibly dirty) shoes in one’s luggage. Really, there are a whole range of potential uses.
WINE PROTECTION: Know a wandering wine lover? Chances are, they often tote back a bottle or two as a holiday remembrance. If so, and they are still relying on wadded up clothes to cushion their purchases in transit, consider gifting them a set of WineDiapers, a Winehug - or both. WineDiapers are resealable padded bags that have an absorbent lining, designed to soak up liquids if breakage occurs. Winehugs are reusable, self-inflating insulators that protect bottles from breakage. Either gift gives your recipient a transport alternative to the “wrap with clothing” plan.
PHONE PROTECTION: Is your gift recipient an active person? Are they likely to be visiting a beach during their wanderings? If so, you may wish to consider giving them a FRiEQ waterproof phone case - that way, they can splash about in the water and take photos without worrying about their device. It’s also great for parents taking children to the beach - they can take pics to their hearts’ content without having to rescue their phone from any sandy and/or wet little hands that may be reaching for it.
AUDIO ENTERTAINMENT: Traveling these days often involves a lot of time spent waiting - whether it’s to board your flight or your train, waiting out a weather delay, sitting on the tarmac, or at the baggage carousel. Wherever it may be, help your favorite traveler make the most of this downtime by helping to load up his/her devices with some great material that will help pass the time by either entertaining, teaching - or both! Digital gift cards can be great here, whether it’s for the iTunes store, Amazon’s digital downloads, or another service preferred by your recipient. Audiobooks are aces for traveling - we also love poetry collections. Beautiful words read by talented folks can be alternately soporific (when you want to doze off on the plane), or simply relaxing when you need to find some calm in the midst of airport chaos. In fact, when we’re traveling is just about the only time that we binge out on poetry. That said, it’s also a treat to be able to load up a top notch TV series on the iPad for offline viewing, or to purchase a language app, allowing for vocab practice in those 5 or 10 minute intervals where you’re twiddling your thumbs in a line somewhere (we ❤️ the Drops app). Alternately, when your recipient returns home, they may well have been exposed to some fantastic new music in the course of their travels and be looking to splash out on some new singles or albums to remind them of a great trip. End note: if you’d like to gift some zen-y, chill out music to help your recipient maintain their calm while in transit, check out our post from several months back for a slew of relaxing albums.
UNLOCKED MOBILE PHONE: International roaming plans are often exorbitantly expensive and, I suspect, most of us either keep our smartphones in airplane mode when out of the country, or at least turn off our data, relying solely on WiFi. If your recipient is going to be traveling in one country for a sustained period of time, or even if they go in short bursts but go quite regularly, they may find an unlocked phone to be the perfect companion, namely a phone that can be used with a local SIM card. That way, they can stay connected without the crazy expense of roaming. Since phone tech changes quite rapidly, we’re not going to recommend specific models, but Amazon.com actually has a pretty good shopfront for unlocked phones, answering questions about compatibility and what you need to look for, depending on where the phone is going to be used.
LOUNGE ACCESS: If your recipient regularly travels through major airports but does not typically have access to any lounges, consider pampering them with lounge access. You don’t have to travel business or first class to get into lounges these days - access can be secured through Priority Pass or, if your gift recipient tends to fly one airline almost exclusively, they may offer a program to purchase lounge access separately.
ARRIVING IN STYLE: Know someone who is heading off on a big trip? Maybe your parents are celebrating a big anniversary and are heading back to where they honeymooned? Or, a sibling is headed overseas for the first time ever? There’s nothing quite like arriving somewhere after a long journey and being immediately whisked out of the airport to your final destination. So, whether it is offering to pick them up when they get back - or, hiring a car service and/or meet-and-greet service to help them out, the gift of transport is both useful and, often, much appreciated, especially after a long flight.
A final note: as we were researching various travel products, a lot of them mention that they are RFID-blocking. Curious about what exactly that was all about, we did a little digging and came across a 2017 article on NPR’s website by Lauren Silverman entitled, “There Are Plenty of RFID-Blocking Products, But Do You Need Them?” The upshot of the article is “probably not” and, based on the points Ms. Silverman’s makes, we think that seems like a logical conclusion. That said, we wanted to provide a link for folks to be able to have a read themselves if they wanted, and perhaps use it as a starting point for their own research on the matter.
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