After over ten years of traveling around the world we've learned a few things about travel gear – what works well and what really doesn't and gets left behind. To help you choose the best travel gifts (you know, the ones that will actually get used), we've put together some of our favorite and most practical travel gear in this Ultimate Traveler Gift Guide.
If you're looking to buy travel gifts for an outdoor, adventurous, green or curious traveler in your life (or perhaps you are gearing up yourself), look no further. Our goal with these travel gift recommendations is to equip you to travel well, as well as with organization and flexibility.
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Update: This post was originally published on November 30, 2016 and updated on November 2, 2018.
Travel Gifts for Adventurers and Hikers
Trekking Pants: Clothing Arts Adventure Travel Pants
We've been wearing these travel pants (his and hers) for over five years and have really put them to the test — Camino de Santiago in Spain (960km/600 miles), Peaks of the Balkans trek (200km), gorilla trekking in Uganda, Jyrgalan trek in Kyrgyzstan, and many more outdoor adventures. And, they still are in good shape even after all of this use. 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 or a city street.
We upgraded our trekking backpacks to walk the Camino de Santiago (960 km/600 miles). In preparation, we researched extensively and tested several backpacks at outdoor stores. The ones we chose — the Osprey Packs Exos 38 Backpack and Deuter ACT Trail Pro 32 SL Backpack — exceeded our expectations for being light, functional and comfortable. If you're planning a long trek or walk, take a good look at these packs. They are that good.
Recommended women's hiking backpack: Deuter ACT Trail Pro 32 SL Backpack
Recommended men's hiking backpack: Osprey Packs Exos 38 Backpack
Whether you plan to go out kayaking, traveling by zodiac boat in Antarctica, or hiking during unpredictable weather, the peace of mind that a dry sack brings is well worth the additional weight and bulk. We often use a big dry sack for our DSLR camera and lenses, while a small one is useful for keeping smartphones and other valuables dry and secure.
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.
Leatherman Sidekick Multitool
With a set of pliers, several knives, multiple types of screwdrivers and a bottle opener, our Leatherman Multitool 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. 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.
This simple and inexpensive Energizer headlamp lights the way and keeps your hands free. This is especially important when navigating a bathroom or trying to make your way to an outhouse, which is a most unfortunate place to trip in the dark. If you're camping, headlamps are absolutely essential.
If you're not sure what to get the adventure traveler 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.
Travel Gifts for Green Travelers
Here are a few practical gift and gear ideas for eco-conscious or green travelers who want to reduce their environmental footprint when they travel. Many of these gifts speak to trying to eliminate single-use plastic as much as possible.
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 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. For trips to remote areas without easy access to clean water, consider pairing this with a Steripen to clean water using ultraviolet technology. You can also use the the Tap app to find water refill stations around the world.
Reusable Travel Silverware and Straw
This is a new addition to our standard travel gear as we try to reduce the amount of plastic utensils we use when we travel (or at home). There are many options for portable cutlery kits (like this from metal or this from bamboo), but we like this one because it is super light to carry and has a plastic case. 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!
Bamboo Reusable Coffee Cup
These reusable coffee cups are made from bamboo and are colorful, light and easy to carry with you. 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.
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.
Food Map Tote Bags
Avoid using plastic bags at the grocery store and look stylish with these Legal Nomads Food Map Tote Bags. Perfect for your friends who are environmentally conscious and big foodie travelers. You can take your pick of food maps from Italy, Mexico, Japan, Portugal, Vietnam or Thailand. These bags are sturdy and strong so you can also use them to carry things if you run out of space in your luggage.
Practical Travel Gifts and Luggage
Here's the gear that we've been using for years and years. In fact, some of these items have been with us for ten years and we're still using it.
Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled Luggage
Although we still have backpacks, we find ourselves using our wheeled luggage more frequently these days. These Eagle Creek bags are sturdy (the wheels even survive our cobblestoned street in Berlin), have strong zippers, fit in a ton (perhaps too much) stuff, and look good. Dan uses the 32-inch bag while I use the 26-inch one. There is also a carry-on version at 20-inches that I am currently eying. These aren't the cheapest of bags, but they do last. We've put them through a lot of wear and tear and they are still in good shape.
ECBC Lance Executive Daypack (28 L)
We are always looking for laptop bags that are comfortable enough to be used as a daypack. One of the things we liked about this Lance Executive Daypack is that the structure and organization of it allows you to pack in a lot of stuff — including a laptop and all its accessories — into a pretty small-sized bag. It's compact. Additionally, it has a wide waist strap to make it more comfortable for long urban walks. If you're traveling by air, the laptop compartment can unzip to go flat on the x-ray conveyer belt so that you don't have to take your laptop out separately (TSA approved). Disclosure: This was provided to us for testing.
These Eagle Creek packing cubes help keep us sane and organized on the road. We use different packing cubes of different colors for specific items — one for underwear and socks, another for clothing, while another holds all of our technical gear. This means we always know where exactly to go in our bag to find exactly what we need. Whenever people ask for packing advice, packing cubes are always at the top of the list.
Mack's Silicone Earplugs
Although earplugs might not be the sexiest gift to give someone, we've long been advocates for earplugs as a good night's sleep on the road is golden, like a gift. Recently, we switched to these silicone earplugs for the Camino de Santiago and have never looked back. Whether you are sleeping in a crowded albergue or in a hotel on a loud city street, these silicone earplugs can create quiet in the midst of a snoring dormitory or urban noise storm. A good night's sleep is so worth the expenses and effort of carrying earplugs.
Gluten-Free Restaurant Cards
These gluten-free cards developed by our friend, Jodi Ettenberg, are the perfect gift for friends or family who have celiac disease or a gluten allergy. As an avid traveler and foodie with celiac disease, she knows firsthand how challenging it can be to communicate “gluten free” in different languages in a way that restaurants truly understand. Her gluten free restaurant cards currently cover a variety of countries, from Italy to Mexico. You can find the full collection here.
Travel Gifts of Tours and Experiences
Although we've shared lots of recommended gear and stuff to give to travelers above, often the best gift you can give someone is that of an experience. Studies show that experiences provide more satisfaction and happiness than stuff. Here are a few of the tours and travel service providers we recommend and use ourselves.
G Adventures Small Group Tours
Know someone who is interesting on traveling somewhere, but doesn't want to go alone or would prefer to go with a small group and expert guide? Then consider gifting them a G Adventures tour to where they are dreaming of visiting. We've been on over ten different G Adventures tours over the years, from unusual destinations like Iran and Ethiopia to the more traditional Australia and Japan. We recommend G Adventures tours because their local guides are great, there's a variety of tour styles (from backpacking to more luxury), and there is always independent time in the schedule so you have flexibility for optional activities or to explore on your own.
G Adventure tours always use local accommodation providers and restaurants so as to keep as much money local. In addition, their Planeterra Foundation uses a social enterprise model with tourism to sustainably support local NGOs and organizations around the world.
Context Walking Tours
Context Travel offers walking tours that are more like walking seminars. The groups are intimate with a maximum of six people and are led by a docent, usually a PhD or expert in a field relevant to the destination. We've taken several Context tours —
in Cartagena, Colombia and in Berlin, a city we thought we knew well but realized on the tours how much more we had to learn. Additionally, we worked with Context to develop a Deep Travel tour in Berlin called Cooking Across Borders.
Contextual storytelling makes a difference in the world of travel experience by deepening and changing our relationship with the places we visit. If you use this link you'll get 10% off any Context tours.
Visit.org offers day or multi-day tours around the world with a certain percentage of the tour fees going back into the community. Whether you're interested in street art tours in Bogota or a foodie tour in Lima, Peru, these tours offer travelers an opportunity connect with local organizations doing community work.
FLYTE: Give the Gift of International Education to Youth
We've seen firsthand the life-changing power of travel, especially for young people. So if you're wondering what to get the traveler who cares and has it all already, give the gift of travel to disadvantaged youth in the United States. The reality is that there are a lot of youth who don’t have access to international travel opportunities and this is something that FLYTE, an NGO started by Nomadic Matt is working to change. Each year they sponsor international education trips for American high school students in disadvantaged communities. Already they have sent more than 50 students on four transformative trips to Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Each one of them returns with their own unique story about how their journey changed their life. This year they’re going to empower another group of students by sending Envision Academy to Colombia! And, this is only the beginning.
So, consider giving the gift of travel on behalf of the traveler in your life by contributing to FLYTE. This contribution will help sponsor a group of students on their first international trip and changing how they see themselves, the world, and their place in the world. Donate now and get involved!
Gifts for the Traveling Reader
In the last years I've tried to incorporate more reading into my life, whether it's connected to a place we were about to visit or just a recommended fiction or non-fiction book. There are studies that show that reading fiction can help develop empathy and as a writer it's important to keep one's brain fresh by reading different styles. So, here are a few recommended books and other gifts for the traveling reader in your life.
For years when we were fully nomadic I would read Kindle books on my iPhone. This past year, however, I purchased a Kindle Paperwhite and I love it. I wish I had been smart enough to get it earlier. Not only is it super light and compact (it fits perfectly in my small purse I carry everywhere), but the battery power lasts forever. The readability is great, and because it uses front light (vs back light) and it doesn't use blue light, it won't tire your eyes or keep you up at night like many other devices. Also recommended is one of these snazzy covers to protect the screen.
Ultimate Journeys for Two
We admit we're a bit biased here as we are one of the contributors to Ultimate Journeys for Two, together with the main writers Mike and Anne from HoneyTrek. It's beautifully designed with tons of great inspiration, as well as practical advice, for traveling couples. This would be a great gift if you know a couple who always talks about wanting to travel but not knowing where to go. Or, if perhaps your partner needs a nudge to head out on the next adventure. You certainly will not come away with this book without a long travel wish list…
Lonely Planet Destination Guides and Gift Books
Although some say that guidebooks are dead in the face of blogs (like ours) and online websites, we still enjoy using Lonely Planet destination guides for dreaming, planning and execution purposes. We have a growing collection on our bookshelf in Berlin from trips past and trips we plan to take in the future. In fact, even when we've been on tours we've taken guidebooks with us to provide us with additional background information, as well as maps and recommendations to complement the standard tour offerings.
And while Lonely Planet is best known for its guidebooks, we also recently discovered during a trip to their office in London that they have a wide range of thematic and coffee table type books. So, if you have a family member or friend who loves street food, beers of the world, bike rides, street art or a whole range of other topics, there's probably a Lonely Planet book to inspire wanderlust on that topic.
Recommended Books for Avid Travelers
Cutting for Stone: Whether you're planning to visit Ethiopia or not, this novel by Abraham Verghese is well worth reading. The story is mostly in Ethiopia and begins during Italian occupation and goes through the revolutionary period into modern Ethiopia.
Poisonwood Bible: When I'm asked for book recommendations, Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is usually the first that comes to mind. Also set in Africa, although this time in Belgian Congo during colonialist times, the writing in this book is fantastic. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, which makes for a really engaging and unusual read.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: I picked up a used copy of this book recently and found John Berendt's novel about Savannah, Georgia almost impossible to put down. Dan and I both loved the character development, and the treatment of Savannah, with all its quirks and mystery, is fantastic.
The Glass Palace: I wish I had read this before traveling to Burma (Myanmar) as Amitav Ghosh's novel takes the reader through an incredible story that begins on the cusp of British rule in Burma (1885), continues through to World War II and into the present. This book provides so much historical, cultural and economic context.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: This macro-history of the world by Jared Diamond is one of our favorite non-fiction books. It helped us understand how geographical, environmental and cultural factors from hundreds to thousands of years ago impacted and created what we see today. Worth reading several times, actually.
The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light: Our friends, Erin and Simon, of Never Ending Voyage are the masters of carry-on travel. They have been traveling and working around the world for six years with only carry-on bags. And, they do carry laptops and other photography/technical gear. Yes, it's as impressive as it sounds. This book is a practical brain dump of all that they do to be able to do this. We're still learning.
Travel Gifts Meet Good Design
Legal Nomads, Inspired by Food: Prints, T-Shirts, Tote Bags
If you know someone who has a love of travel, food, typography and design then check out this collection of food art for a unique gift. Currently the countries represented for prints, t-shirts and tote bags include: Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Our friend, Jodi, who is the food-lover and traveler behind this collection has been adding more and more countries. So if you don't see your desired country there yet, be sure to check back in the future.