“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Ok, but what else do you want for Christmas?”
“But if I had to give you something.”
“In that case….hmmm….hold on a minute….let me think, let me think….”
(Long Pondering Pause)
(Another Long Pondering Pause)
“I know! –
It’s a time-honored conversation between parents and travelers the world over.
Every gift gifting season it’s the same. You tell them you want money and instead you get a luggage tag reading I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.
You can’t fault their reasoning. It is the thought that counts after all. And money? Well, it isn’t really a thought. It’s a lazy payoff. An impersonal gift even the most understanding mother has trouble giving. So we (the travelers who carry airline-approved backpacks that never need to be checked) wind up with 5 identical luggage tags.
What parents see as a cute $9.99 stocking stuffer in the “impulse buy” line at TJ Maxx, we see as one night in a hostel in Antigua de Guatemala. Or a week’s worth of meals in Vietnam.
It would be easy to argue the case for money for another 4000 words – but lets’s face it – no matter how persuasive our side of the debate may be, they will continue to always give us travelers a physical gift. So to save you (and of course myself) a litany of scratch-off maps, passport holders, travel stub diaries, carry-on cocktail kits, and wall art touting some uber-corny saying like the world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page or not all who wonder are lost, I’ve compiled a list of gifts for travelers that aren’t completely cheesy. For those parents/relatives/friends/partners/coworkers who wish to gift something apart from straight up dolla dolla bills.
Below are 15 ideas for each type of traveler. Unique gifts that will be appreciated, used and won’t earn you an oh-that’s-so-cheeseball eye roll.
1. Article 22 :: Peacebomb
For the Hippie Wanderer
Or for those who have a lover affair with Southeast Asia.
The country of Laos was one of the most heavily bombed places during the Vietnam War and Article 22’s Peacebomb collection supports 12 local artisan communities by helping them to convert these horrific weapons into beautiful jewelry. Each sale directly benefits those Laotian families and also helps to clear fields of unexploded bombs throughout the country. I first fell in love with their pieces while strolling the Union Square Christmas Market in NYC with my mom 2 years ago.
2. Hand-drawn Maps Inspired by Food by Jodi Ettenberg
For the Foodie
Regular readers know I have a rule against writing about that of which I do not know. Well, this policy extends to the gifts I’ve selected for this post. I have a personal connection to the art prints above as I deeply admire (and have met with) their creator, Jodi Ettenberg. Jodi catalogues her love of food and culture on her blog Legal Nomads and has a true gift in her ability to evoke a response through her passionate, longform narrative storytelling. In a world of “Top 10 Listicles” and soulless travel blogging, she’s been an inspiration to me and challenges me to improve my own writing.
I love supporting my fellow writers so when I found out about the country-specific, hand-drawn food maps she creates, I jumped at the chance to purchase a couple. Whenever I glimpse them hanging in my kitchen I can almost taste my favorite Portuguese petiscos or I’m transported back to my favorite trattoria in Italy. You can read more about her food maps and purchase them here.
3. A One-Year Pass to All of America’s National Parks
For the Lover of Nature
Did you know that there are over 2000 federal recreation sites in the US alone? And you can have access to all of them (along with their daily-use amenities) for an entire year at the low annual fee of $80. Visit 3 parks in 12 months and the pass pays for itself. It allows free entry to popular places like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, and South Dakota’s Badlands. The annual pass also extends past national parks to cover the entrance fees of national wildlife refuges and national forests.
Insider’s tip – Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the most underrated US parks and is my personal favorite. Make sure to visit before the masses find out and overcrowd the place.
4. Sseko Interchangeable Accent Sandals
For the Stylista
Travel shoes are quite possibly the worst invention ever. We’ve seen all kinds. The foldable ballet flat. The hideous (yet insanely popular) Chacos. Comfortable Toms that slip and slide on worn cobblestone streets. We’ve even seen Crocs come out with a design referred to as the “Sexi Flip.”
But everyone needs a stylish pair for those long (and not so long) journeys. As a semi-nomadic traveler, my biggest issue is finding room to pack stylish shoes. Enter Sseko. Sseko designs sandals with removable accent pieces so you can keep your look fresh with minimal threat to your space limitations. Buy 3 interchangeable accent pieces and you’ve basically packed 3 different pairs of shoes while only taking up room for 1.
As if that weren’t reason enough to purchase these soft leather sandals, Sseko is based in Uganda and was created to help generate an income for African women so they can continue their education at the university level. They also employ women from East Africa in hopes they can end the cycle of poverty that’s still prevalent in the region.
The T-strap Accent Sandal is the most comfortable model. These shoes are best worn to jazz up an outfit for an afternoon or early evening. As cozy as they are (I’ve worn them comfortably for up to 8 hours), they’re not meant for hours on end of walking tours and sightseeing.
5. SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
For the Off-Road Adventurer
If you’ve read about my canyoning adventure in Portugal or saw the post where I almost died (ok…slight exaggeration) climbing a 13,000ft volcano in Guatemala thanks to the no-training technique I employed alongside a pre-hike diet consisting of nothing but Ben & Jerry’s, then you know I’m basically adventurous because I pretend to be adventurous. It’s true. I lie about being into crazy things which leads to a false sense of bravado which in turn leads to me signing up to do crazy things. Does that make me truly adventurous? Well…if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Anyway that’s my long roundabout explanation as to why I have the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger on this list. I don’t own it and there’s a good chance I would never use it but I want it. Why? Because I want to be the type of person who owns a gadget such as this. The type of person who isn’t afraid to hike and camp through foreign backroads on her own. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be that type of person but if you would have told me earlier this year I was going to spend a few nights in the isolated Middle Eastern desert with an Omani male, I wouldn’t have believed you. So there’s still hope.
Mainly used by avid hikers, the GPS Messenger allows you to stay connected to friends and family via text message and email when you’re out of cell phone range. They can track your trekking progress and you can send them maps using your GPS coordinates, giving them (and yourself) peace of mind. It even comes equipped with an SOS alert that can be broadcast to emergency responders showing them your exact location in the event of an emergency.
6. Try the World Culinary Subscription Box
For the Curious Palate
I’m dangerously attracted to food and find myself dreaming of faraway meals on those occasions when I’m home at my semi-permanent residence in NYC. A tomate de atun montadito from the shop down the street from my old apartment in Valencia, Spain. A simple margherita pizza from the aptly named La Pizzeria in Florence. Homemade spring rolls from my cooking class in Hanoi. I’m one slightly stronger craving away from booking a flight to Budapest just for an ooey-gooey cheesy langos.
For travelers that suffer from the same ailments as me, there’s hope in the form of the World Culinary Subscription Box. Each month they send a box filled with delicacies from a particular country straight to your doorstep. Past boxes include ones from Argentina, Israel, Portugal, Thailand, and many more. All items are directly sourced from said country.
7. Oru Folding Kayak
For the Traveling Family
Kayaks are the ultimate family vacation watertoy. They’re perfect for summers at the lake, BBQ’s at the beach, and for trips down the river. The problem? They’re bulky and a pain to transport. Oru has solved that problem with their foldable kayak. It’s easy to unfold and is as reliable on the water as it is durable. The backrest and footrest are adjustable to ensure proper comfort. With its innovative and compact design, the Oru kayak makes it easy for each member of the family to have their own. No more fighting for roof space on the car!
The downside? It’s not the best for people over 6ft tall.
8. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
For the Newbie Travel Photographer
Adobe Lightroom is the premiere photo editing software for beginners. I’ll admit that I’m a s*** photographer and have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to making the best out of the few decent images I manage to capture. Lightroom makes it easy for me with its simplicity and its user friendliness. Photos are well organized, the editing tools are straightforward, and I love that it allows me to experiment without repercussions – one click of a button and I can return any edited photo back to its original form. Perfect for overediting screw-ups like me.
This is the quintessential gift for any traveler working on their amateur photography skills.
9. Custom Hand Painted Map Clutch Purse by My a la Mode Boutique
For the Lover of Maps
Anyone who knows me is aware of my map obsession. Ever since my Julia Stiles/Prince & Me phase, I’ve had a corkboard map hanging above my bed that’s pinned with colourful tacks denoting every city I’ve traveled to. Friends and family take this carnal knowledge as an excuse to inundate me with map-everything. Map passport holders, scratch-off maps, map-covered journals, map coffee mugs, and globes in a variety of sizes.
But what of those travelers who love a good map but wish to be more subtle with their affections? These one-of-a-kind hand painted clutches by My a la Mode Boutique are just the ticket. Each purse is made to order and can be fully customized with the location of your choice. It’s a uniquely stylish way to carry your love of travel with you.
10. eBags Packing Cubes
For the Organized Traveler
Ok so this is by far the most boring and practical gift on the list but I couldn’t not include it because eBag Packing Cubes changed my life. My backpack is so organized it’s insane. I use one for shorts, one for underwear, one for dresses, one for tops, and one for outerwear while on long trips. The eBags make it easy and efficient to find whatever it is I’m looking for in my pack. On my last trip, my backpack actually had wiggle room in it. Mind BLOWN!
11. A Tour with G Adventures
For the Experiential Traveler
Haven’t you heard? Experiential gifts are all the rage this year. According to a recent study, 72% of Millennials prefer experiences over material things (much to the chagrin of the flailing retail market). I thought long and hard about the perfect gift for this particular set before it hit me – what is the number one experience I would choose for myself? Easy.
Now I’m not much of an organized tour person and only partake in them when there is no other choice. Like when canyoning for the first time or if I want to go somewhere a bit rough around the edges where it’s essential to have a local guide. Well, G Adventures doesn’t run your average tours.
Specializing in small group travel, their unique cultural tours support local communities and allow you to travel deeper and make connections with the places you visit. They operate all over the world and offer tours for every travel style. You can choose one of their fast-paced multi-destination tours or sit back and relax on one of their water-based tours. If family-friendly travel is what you’re looking for, there’s a tour for that. Wanna see the world by rail? They’ve got that covered too. Tours can range anywhere from 2 to 60 days and there’s a price that fits most every budget.
I’m embarking on one of their Local Living tours in early 2017. I’m not ready to divulge the exact details yet but I will let you know that it’s for 7 days in South America and costs less than $1000.
Some interesting tour packages they’re currently promoting include:
- 7 or 10 Day Tour of the Galapagos Islands – Currently 20% off! “Snorkel with sea lions, soak up the sun with iguanas or marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds you – just a typical day in the Galápagos archipelago! Situated 965km (600 mi) off the coast of Ecuador, this isolated haven of biodiversity remains nature’s greatest science laboratory, home to a dazzling array of birds, reptiles, fish and mammals that you won’t find anywhere else”
15 Days Sailing Greece from Athens to Santorini – “A yacht adventure is the ideal way to experience what many consider the world’s most beautiful islands: the Greek Islands. Sail for up to 15 days aboard our 15m (52 ft) yachts, with plenty of time for hiking, snorkelling, and relaxing. Explore ancient archaeological sites and taverna-lined harbours, dine on fresh seafood and don’t forget to try the Ouzo!”
- 9 Day Cuba Explorer – “Explore a side of Cuba that few rarely get to experience on this nine-day adventure. Cruise Havana’s history-infused streets in a classic car and stroll along Trinidad’s cobblestone avenues to the rhythms of music floating from open windows. Tour a tobacco plantation for a taste of iconic Cuban culture and luxuriate in the view of the island’s rolling western hills. Travel by private air-conditioned vehicle is well-paced, so you’re refreshed and ready to explore the island’s vibrant culture and tropical airs.”
G Adventure also has 83 last minute trips currently on sale for 25% off! You can check out the full list of those trips here.
12. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
For the Off-the-Beaten-Path Explorer
My inability to find good off-the-beaten-path recommendations in both printed and online media is part of the reason why I dedicated this blog to atypical destinations and activities. Most of the places I recommend I’ve stumbled upon accidently. Mainly because websites and guidebooks point you to the same mainstream sites. That is not the case with Atlas Obscura.
Within the confines of its pages, you’ll be transported to surprising (if a bit odd) locales such as glowworm caves, bike tree forests, sound gardens, and many more. As interesting as it is entertaining, this should be on every traveler’s coffee table.
13. AirBnB Gift Card
For the Long-Term Backpacker
This one could actually be for all types of travelers but I chose the longterm traveler for this AirBnB gift card because chances are they’ve been slumming around in hostels and could use a break from drunken hostel-mates, pesky bug critters, and showers they have to wear shoes in.
AirBnB allows you to book rooms or entire apartments from residents and is one of the best ways to experience a city and neighborhood like a local. I spend a huge amount of time in London and have used AirBnB to “live there” and get off the tourist trail. In the past 2 years I’ve stayed in 6 different apartments in 6 different London neighborhoods!
Haven’t used AirBnB before? Sign-up using this link and get $35 off your first stay.
14. LUSH Solid Shampoo
For the Carry-On-Only Girls
Finally a shampoo you don’t need to check in your luggage or painstakingly measure out to comply with airline-restricted carry-on bags. Lush solid shampoo is a traveler’s dream. It’s compact, lightweight, can last for months, and even doubles as a body wash.
Another bonus: It’s good for doing on-the-go laundry as well. That’s what I call a win/win.
15. 1000 Places to See Before You Die
For the First-time Traveler
Ok so yeah this last gift is a bit on the cheese-ball/cliché side and was chosen purely because I’m the sentimental sort. Longtime readers know this paperback was my first travel book purchase. Fresh off my first trip overseas at the age of 19, I used this book to fuel my newfound addiction to travel. I read it over and over, cover to cover and promised myself I’d see every last place suggested within its pages. That’s how 1000 Places to See Before You Die unintentionally became the only bucket list I’ve ever had. 10 years later I continue to pay homage to my 19-year old self and honor the promise I made her.
I recently created a new Bucket List Quest page so you can track my progress. It includes the full list of places I’ve been as well as a link to non-touristy posts I’ve written on each specific destination.
This book is the perfect gift to inspire future generations of will-be travelers.
Are there any other great gifts for travelers I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
*this post contains a couple of affiliate links to items/brands that I currently own, use and trust. If you choose to purchase items through these links, I will earn a small commission at NO EXTRA COST TO YOU. These commissions help reduce the cost of running this site and business. I NEVER write about or suggest anything on this site that I don’t 100% believe in and this mentality extends to all brands and products mentioned above.
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!