What are the best travel gifts in 2020 that can be enjoyed on trips half-way around the world, as well as on adventures closer to home? What about holiday presents for the traveler in your life who wants to travel more sustainably and reduce their environmental footprint? And finally, what about unique holiday gifts that support local communities, artisans and small businesses? These are not only beautiful, but they have a unique story to tell as well. This 2020 Ultimate Traveler Gift Guide has all this and more.
After over thirteen years of traveling around the world to over 100 countries we've learned a few things about travel gear – what works well and what really doesn't and gets left behind. If you're looking to buy travel gifts for a traveler in your life (or perhaps for yourself), look no further.
This Best Gifts Guide 2020 Edition has you covered for eco-conscious gifts, practical gear for hiking and outdoor adventures and even travel-inspired gifts to support local artists and communities.
2020 Update: Travel is still not safe or responsible for many of us right now, and for the foreseeable future, given the pandemic and different travel restrictions. So, we've updated this year’s guide with gifts that can also be used for local travel or trips close to home (e.g., we've been using them on local bike rides and hikes in Berlin), as well as on grand adventures across the world. We've also highlighted some gifts from local artists and communities that might remind you of previous trips, as well as inspire you for future trips, all while supporting local businesses and creators.
Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. Some are not. If you click through on an affiliate link, we'll get a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting us in sharing stories from around the world!
Update: This post was originally published on November 30, 2016 and updated on December 13, 2020.
Here are a few practical gift and gear ideas for eco-conscious and sustainable travelers who want to reduce their environmental footprint when they travel. Many of these gifts speak to trying to eliminate single-use plastic and other waste as much as possible.
During the lockdown in 2020 (that will continue for some time 2021) we've combined several of these items — e.g., reusable cutlery, water bottle, reusable cup — to create a sort of “picnic set” that we always keep in our day pack for when we go for a bike ride or long walk at home. They are all light and small items so we don't really notice the weight or bulk, and it means that we are always ready for an impromptu picnic or take out snack, meal or drink along the way while trying to minimize the plastic waste. So, consider gifting a zero-waste picnic kit by grouping some of the items below together.
Insulated Water Bottle (aka, light thermos)
We were gifted a couple of these half liter / 17 oz insulated water bottles a couple of years ago and find them incredibly useful, especially now in 2020, as they work as a sleek thermos to keep your tea, coffee or spiced wine warm. Now that it's winter, we fill them with hot tea and take them with us for walks outside with friends so that we can stay warm while we enjoy a socially distant and safe meeting. The water bottles have a sleek design so you can fit them easily into a purse or day pack. And, it really does keep hot liquids steaming for hours.
Refillable Water Bottle
We highly recommend traveling with a refillable water bottle to reduce plastic bottle waste when you travel, whether you're headed into the mountains or walking across cities. I like this style of CamelBak water bottle as I can attach it easily to a pack or strap with a carabiner (we recommend a carabiner with a simple lock) to secure it. Once you start using a refillable water bottle it becomes second nature to always have one with you.
If you are going to be traveling to a place that doesn't have easy access to filtered and drinkable water then consider getting this Grayl Ultralight water bottle that has a filter built right into it so that it automatically purifies and cleans the water.
Reusable Coffee Cup
It was a road trip in the United States a few years ago that made us realize how much trash we generated from coffee cups when we travel. We love these reusable coffee cups as they are made from bamboo and are colorful, light and easy to carry with you. They fit easily in a purse or small day pack. Not to mention, you won't have to worry about a disposable paper coffee cup leaking on you again. Some cafes even offer a discount these days if you bring your own coffee cup with you.
We added a set of reusable travel cutlery to our standard travel gear a few years ago as we try to reduce the amount of plastic utensils we use when we travel (and at home). We like this wheat straw kit one because it is super light to carry and has a plastic case to keep everything together (we put a rubber band around the case). It's small enough to throw into your purse or small day pack so you can always have it with you in case you get take-out food when on a walk or picnic. We found that the case comes in quite handy for when you have take-out sushi and you want a container to mix your wasabi with soy sauce. Add a reusable straw to make your kit complete!
Bee's Wrap (to avoid plastic wrap)
This reusable beeswax covered wrap is a new addition to our kitchen and picnic kit. It allows you to wrap sandwiches or leftovers or other items without the need for single-use plastic wrap. It's quite versatile and cleans quite well, too.
Refillable Shampoo and Toiletry Travel Bottles
Skip the small plastic toiletry bottles at hotels and bring your own favorite shampoos, creams and other toiletries in these nifty refillable travel bottles. Your hair and skin will be thankful, and it will avoid all that plastic bottle waste. They are TSA-approved, meaning that you can take them on board with you in your carry on luggage anywhere in the world.
Travel Gifts for Outdoor Adventurers
These gift ideas are for the outdoor adventurer who enjoys immersing him or herself into nature with long hikes or treks, but wants to be comfortable and have versatile gear. We've been using the items recommended below for years and have taken them on some pretty serious hikes and multi-day treks. In addition, we've been using much of this hiking and outdoor gear in 2020 at home as we've used this time to explore more of Berlin's green spaces — its forests, lakes, rivers and canals — by bicycle (over 1,000 miles) and foot.
Clothing Arts Travel Pants
We've been wearing Clothing Arts travel pants for over eight years on different hikes and multi-day treks. We've really put them to the test — Camino de Santiago in Spain (960km/600 miles), Peaks of the Balkans trek (200km), gorilla trekking in Uganda, Alay Mountains treks Kyrgyzstan, and many more outdoor adventures. They still are in good shape even after all of this use and when you are on a multi-day trek you don't need to worry about them showing dirt or holding smells. We really like all the pockets and zippers available that keep our valuables (e.g., smartphone, wallet, passport, keys) safe and secure whether we're on a mountain trail, bike ride or a city street.
We upgraded our trekking backpacks to walk the Camino de Santiago (960 km/600 miles) several years ago and the only regret was that we didn't do it earlier. Having a high quality and light hiking backpack makes such a difference to your comfort and enjoyment — whether you are going on a multi-day trek or taking a day hike around a nearby lake.
Travel-Friendly Collapsible Walking Sticks
We highly recommended taking walking sticks on most hikes, especially when you know you'll have steep downhill sections. We also find that walking sticks are good for any type of long-distance walking to keep balance and pace. We found this set of travel-friendly collapsible walking sticks that are light, easy to pack, and quick to put together when you're on the trail. Quite reasonably priced, too.
Smartwool Hiking Socks
I've tried all different kind of hiking socks, including some inexpensive knock-offs, and Smartwool hiking socks are by far my favorite. I give a lot of credit to these socks for the fact that I did not get any blisters when walking six hundred miles along the Camino de Santiago. They not only provide good support and cushion, but the wool blend keeps you warm when it's cold and also is somehow rather light and breathable when it's warm. They may seem like expensive socks at first, but they are worth it as they will last years even with extensive use and wear and tear.
With a set of pliers, several knives, multiple types of screwdrivers and a bottle opener, our Leatherman Multi-Tool has gotten us out of many situations — e.g., fixing windshield wipers and lights on a car in the middle of the night in Kyrgyzstan, trying to replace a broken bicycle chain in Berlin, etc. It is also essential for picnics and make-shift eating on the road (you know, when you have a ripe avocado on a bus in Uganda that you want to eat). Pair this with a spork or camping silverware and you'll really be all set for picnics. Note: Be sure not to leave this in your carry-on bag if you are flying. We've learned this lesson the hard way.
Sports Mask for Outdoor Activities
Although the great outdoors offers an opportunity to escape the crowds, there are times when you might find yourself close to other people on the trail or in shared spaces like restaurants or bathrooms where you should wear a face mask. This is where the comfortable, easy-to-breathe Under Armour sports mask comes in handy as you can still enjoy outdoor activities and hiking with it on.
REI Gift Certificate
If you're not sure what to get the outdoor traveler or hiker in your life, a gift certificate for REI or Amazon is a great idea. This will allow freedom to choose what he or she needs for the next adventure…whether it's going to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro or going on safari in Botswana or discovering new trails in a nearby park. The possibilities are endless…
Holiday Gifts that Support Local Creators and Communities
Although it's always been important to buy local and support small businesses, it's even more so this year in order to help them survive and replace some of the income that would have come from having visitors or regular operations. The following are gift ideas that have a connection to travel and exploration. Perhaps they are from or about a place you've been already or they represent a place you've always been interested in and want to visit. Note: We are friends with or have worked with the following creators or organizations, so we think they are pretty great and hope you do, too.
Unique Hand-Drawn Maps Inspired by Food
If you know someone who has a love of travel, food, maps, typography and design then look further than Legal Nomads' collection of gifts. Everything in her online shop — posters, tote bags, t-shirts, and more — inspire both wanderlust and a desire to taste all the foods mentioned on the map. There's even a special section of gifts for celiacs. Perhaps we're biased as Jodi is a friend of ours, but we think her shop combines the best of many worlds.
Stunning Fine Art Prints that Support Local Causes
There's nothing like a beautiful travel or nature photograph on your wall to inspire you to explore and respect this big, beautiful, diverse world of ours. And, when you know that the money for this photograph actually supports local NGOs and community organizations connected to the destination in the photograph then it's like a double gift. That is what our friend and incredible photographer, Kirsten Alana, has created with Raising for Change where photographers and artists have come together to sell their art while the proceeds go to trusted community, environmental, social justice and other NGOs. This is a great gift idea all year round, not just for the holidays.
Planeterra's Project Shop to Support Local Community Organizations
We've worked with the Planeterra Foundation for over eight years and have visited around 15 of their project partners around the world, from Brazil to Madagascar. These are local community organizations and social enterprises who are often working with and supporting marginalized communities and addressing difficult socio-economic and environmental challenges. Many of these organizations have been left without a source of income for most of 2020 as tourism stopped completely for most of them which is why Planeterra has been fundraising for them throughout the year with the COVID-19 Fund. Some of the local organizations that create handicrafts or other unique products — like Nyamirambo Women's Center that we visited in Kigali, Rwanda or Essencia Andina that we visited in Peru — have created online shops so you can still purchase their beautiful, handmade products and support the local work of the organization.