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Happy holidays, everyone — it’s time to unleash the best gifts for travelers in 2020 and beyond!
This has been a tough year for all of us. I know that travel may not be the first thing on your mind — nor gifts for travelers in particular — but I know that with hard work and sacrifice, we will be back on the road soon again.
This year I am publishing a new version of my classic travel gift guide, keeping lots of favorites but adding in some new items in several categories. And not everything here is strictly for travelers — I think you’ll find something for everyone here!
This list was last updated in November 2020.
Why this guide? Because most bloggers’ gift guides are unrealistic, featuring items they don’t actually use, filled with high-ticket items that most people can’t afford. Sad but true. I love my blogger friends, but seriously — who has a thousand dollars to casually spend on a drone for someone?!
Guys, we are all privileged as hell, but at the same time, I don’t expect you to spend thousands of dollars on gifts. Or hundreds, for that matter. Your trust is important to me, so I’m not going to push things on you that I know are out of reach for most people.
But I will say this — I know great travel gear. I know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s a waste of money. (Most “travel clothing” is unnecessary and those scratch-off maps look much worse once you put them up, for example.)
So I decided to put together a list of things that I use, I love, and I think you would love, too.
Nothing on this list is ostentatiously expensive. All but a few items are under $100 and most are under $50.
Nothing on this list is ugly. Looking good is important to me, and you’ll never find me in an ugly “travel hat” or zip-off pants (unless hiking). Please kill me if you ever catch me wearing hiking gear in Paris.
Nothing on this list was thrown in for crap purposes. No filler here — I believe in every product on this list.
Here we go!
The best gift for women travelers this year is a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These gorgeous scarves have a secret pocket big enough to use instead of a purse. They are gorgeous, versatile, and handmade without using sweatshop labor! Also check out a lockable camera backpack and packing cubes.
Best Travel Gifts for 2020 (New and Favorite Items)
Each year I choose several new gifts that either came out in the past year or I discovered in the past year, with some perennial favorites mixed in!
But the year is 2020 and we are all STRESSED OUT — so let me direct you to CBD oil, which helped relieve my stress SO much.
Above Water CBD Oil
CBD oil changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. This is the single item that changed my life for the better more than anything else this year.
In the early days of the pandemic, my income dropped by 90%; I was stuck in Mexico City and had no idea whether it was better to stay here or go home where conditions were worse; and then my boyfriend and I were banned from each other’s countries. I was massively stressed out. I couldn’t sleep and everything in me churned. One day, I had a panic attack in the middle of the street.
I had to do something. I bought a bottle of CBD oil from a local shop — and not only did I calm down and relax, I actually slept NINE hours after days of insomnia!
Since then, CBD has become a regular part of my routine — not every day, but when I’m feeling stressed or having trouble sleeping. It brings me back to where I need to be.
After coming home, I started using Above Water CBD Oil tinctures. They are excellent, high quality, good value for money, and come in fun flavors! You put a dropperful of CBD oil underneath your tongue, hold it there for 30 seconds or so, then swallow.
CBD is made from hemp, but it doesn’t contain THC and thus doesn’t get you high. It just relaxes you.
Cute Face Masks by Speakeasy Travel Supply
Man, if only we knew we’d be getting excited for MASKS of all things this year!! We’ve all been wearing masks for months — it’s time to add some cool masks to our outfits!
Speakeasy Travel Supply is a company run by my friends, and I’ve been working with for years. They’ve always made the most gorgeous travel scarves with a hidden passport pocket, and I have two of my own signature scarves with them: the Adventurous Kate Manhattan Scarf and the Adventurous Kate Portugal Scarf.
When COVID hit, Speakeasy pivoted to making masks, which earned them tons of rewards and recognition! Their customizable mask, which fits all shapes and sizes of faces, even won awards! I’m so proud of how well they’ve done.
Adventurous Kate Speakeasy Travel Scarves
I’ve been a longtime fan of Speakeasy Travel Supply, the scarves with a secret pocket for your passport, and I always recommend them as one of the best gifts for travelers. For the past few years I’ve partnered with Speakeasy and chosen several scarves to be added to their collections.
We recently added a brand new Adventurous Kate signature scarf to the 2019 collection: the Portugal scarf! When I saw this blue and white pattern, it reminded me of the blue and white tiles of Portugal.
This soft pattern works equally well in warm or cold climates. I’m modeling it in Armenia in the photo above, and it was nice to have a scarf on hand to cover my head in monasteries in Armenia and Georgia!
Also available is the Adventurous Kate Manhattan Scarf, perhaps the most versatile style in the Speakeasy collection. It’s an abstract black and white in a stretchy, spongy bamboo fabric that is great in all seasons. I named it Manhattan because it’s as classic as the city itself! This is the perfect scarf if you’re not sure of someone’s style — black and white is perfect for everyone. It looks and feels expensive.
Best of all, the hidden pocket allows you to stash your valuables in a place where no thief will ever think to look.
Not a fan of these two styles? Fear not — the Speakeasy scarves come in tons of different colors and fabrics, perfect for everything from the tropics to the Arctic.
Most importantly: the Adventurous Kate signature scarves sell out QUICKLY. Three of my signature scarves have sold out permanently. If you’re interested in one of these scarves, I recommend buying them ASAP.
Scott’s Cheap Flights Membership
Ever hear about those super-cheap error fares, like Chicago to Paris round-trip for $179? I always hear about these deals long after they disappear.
But this year I began subscribing to Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter where they comb the internet for unusually cheap fares. The regular newsletter is free and includes one flight per day, but if you upgrade to the paid premium version, they will send you ALL the deals.
I haven’t actually bought any flights I learned of from them yet, but my friends have. One traveled from the US to South Africa, normally topping out at $1,000 or more, for just a few hundred dollars!
Airbnb Experiences Photography Shoot
Have you ever wanted to have professional photos of yourself taken in a place you’re visiting? (This is especially for you, the women who take great photos of everyone else but barely have any good shots of you!)
When Airbnb introduced Experiences a few years ago, this gave a platform to locals who wanted to give tours. It also allowed photographers to do simple, affordable photo shoots for tourists. You just book an hourlong session and they shoot.
This is THE best way to get photos for your Instagram! And if you’re a blogger or content creator, even more so. This is one of the best gifts for travelers today.
I’ve done photo shoots in Florence (pictured above), New York, and Mérida. Each of them cost less than $100 and netted me around 20-30 photos each, 15 of which were usable for the site, and five or so that I truly loved.
Quickshot Photo App Subsciption
The single best photo app I love the most is Enlight Quickshot. It’s better than any other app I’ve found for changing the sky.
I’ve been on a lot of trips where a flat white sky ruined what would otherwise have been a great scenery shot. I’ve edited a nice blue sky into a few of them — not EVERY sky, that’s a bit excessive, but it’s a lifesaver when you need it!
It goes beyond — it also changes the light and colors of the landscape to fit. And more — you can add crazy side effects like the Northern Lights, lightning storms, blood-red sunsets, and more!
We totally tried to fool our friends into thinking we saw the Northern Lights in the Italian Dolomites.
This app is so FUN. An app this good doesn’t come free — it’s subscription-based (or expensive for a one-time fee). But an annual plan will cost you just $19.99. It’s easiest to gift the app in the form of an iTunes gift card.
I received a pair of Bombas ankle socks in a swag bag at an event I attended and I have been OBSESSED with these socks ever since. Seriously. I throw them on as soon as they’re clean and I wish I had a ton of them.
Bombas socks are soft and snug but they also have extra support in the mid-foot, just where you want it. And they’re particularly good gifts for travelers because they’re made of breathable merino wool and cotton, keeping you dry and less smelly for longer. Also, for every pair they sell, they donate one to someone in need.
They aren’t cheap — which makes them a thoughtful holiday gift. I recommend buying during the holiday season because they have lots of sales.
I’ve used other VPN services over the years because they disguise your internet and protect you when online, but I started noticing that they wouldn’t always work when I wanted to watch Hulu. Over and over again, I’d get that message of, “We see you’re outside the United States.”
Enough. A less-than-stellar VPN wasn’t worth the subscription fee. The one I used might have cut it for online banking, but it wasn’t strong enough for streaming video.
I did some research and soon learned that ExpressVPN was one of the absolute best — and one that would ALWAYS work with Hulu.
I’ve signed up and it’s been perfect ever since. Because I absolutely need my new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Saturday Night Live and This is Us! Plus fun Hulu-only movies like Palm Springs.
Plus, now that I’m in the Czech Republic, we’ve learned that every country has its own set of Netflix. I use Czech Netflix to watch Grand Designs and Mean Girls, American Netflix to watch Schitt’s Creek and The Office! All I have to do is switch the location on my ExpressVPN.
And, you know, the keeping your banking information private thing. This is well worth the investment.
Get it here from ExpressVPN.
PacSafe CarrySafe 200 Camera Strap
While I’ve always had this product, my old camera strap wore out and I made the full-time switch to the PacSafe CarrySafe 200 this year — and I am absolutely LOVING it.
I always like having an extra layer of security by having a hard-to-slash camera strap, and PacSafe makes the best safety products. The PacSafe CarrySafe 200 is padded, comfortable, and lined with mesh, which keeps it from being slashable.
Cheap Gifts for Travelers (Under $25)
You don’t have to spend a ton of cash to give someone a meaningful travel gift that will help him or her on her upcoming trip. Here are several great options.
Point It: Traveller’s Language Kit
Ever tried a wordless dictionary before? They can be extremely helpful if you’re in a region where English isn’t widely spoken. The Point It book is full of pictures that you can point to when you’re having a hard time communicating. (I really could have used this when searching for electrical tape in Saranda, Albania!)
Hot Hands Hand Warmers
Know someone planning a trip somewhere cold? This the kind of travel gift you’d never pick out for yourself, but you use it, you’ll be in love with it!
In 2018, I planned some hardcore cold-weather trips to Hokkaido, Japan, and Antarctica. Even after growing up in New England, these destinations were a rugged kind of cold with no easy or obvious escape. These hand warmers kept me sane and warm. I would put one on my toes in between my sock liners and socks, and one in my hands between my mittens and glove liners. You shouldn’t put them on bare skin.
If you know anyone planning a winter trip, give them a big box of these — they’ll be eternally grateful. Just not having frozen toes immediately elevates your trip.
All-Weather Safety Whistle
I know you’re thinking of that scene in Titanic. And it’s the truth. Boat engines sometimes fail, and sometimes you’ll need to send a signal through darkness. A whistle is a cheap and useful gift for travelers. Above all, it attracts attention when you need it the most.
This one in particular is LOUD. AS. HELL. You can’t beat it for that price.
Manatea Silicone Tea Infuser
I love to try different kinds of tea while traveling — but the tea is almost always loose, not bagged. Most places don’t provide infusers, so you need to carry your own.
Enter the Manatea. Not only is it an easy way to get my tea fix, it’s an adorable conversation piece! This company makes a few different animals (I may also own the sloth), but the Manatea’s shape is easiest to fill and clean.
Mini Power Strip with USB Slots
What happens when you have limited time and need to charge your phone, laptop, Kindle, and phone battery? With a mini power strip, you can charge them all at once.
You’ll also become everyone’s best friend when staying in a hostel dorm with only one outlet!
Note: NOT all mini power strips are created equal. This one is good because 1) Its plug is attached to a long cord, rather than part of a block (block-style power strips often don’t fit if an outlet is next to furniture or a wall), 2) it has three outlets, which is the minimum you should have 3) it has an on/off button 4) it has USB slots.
Mini Portable Power Bank
I travel with two portable power banks: a mini and a big one. I’m putting the mini in this section because it’s cheaper.
A mini power bank is essential for travelers — it fits into my purse for a night out (and if you don’t carry a purse, it fits easily in your pocket). I also consider it a safety device, as my phone lets me summon an Uber or call a cab if I’m in an uncomfortable situation.
This BAITER Power Bank is tiny yet powerful — it can charge the average smartphone twice (which is a LOT for a mini power bank)
Gluten-Free Restaurant Cards
My friend Jodi of Legal Nomads writes about eating her way around the world as a celiac, and she has created excellent gluten-free dining cards that let celiacs eat safely in different countries. Why are these cards different from others? I’ll use Jodi’s words here:
You may have seen other gluten free restaurant cards, and many are great for those following a GF diet. As a celiac who is extremely sensitive, I got sick using them. I very much appreciate the work and effort that went into the freely available cards — but sadly they were not enough.
In contrast, the Legal Nomads cards are:
- Researched by a celiac who loves to eat.
- Written with the traveler in mind.
- Use local dish names, based on what’s eaten in that country not just a translation.
- Clear mention of cross-contamination and contaminated oil.
- Double checked for accuracy with two translators familiar with food, who speak the local language.
The cards are available in the local language for France, Greece, Morocco, Japan, Mexico, Vietnam, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and for Spain there are both Spanish and Catalan versions. This is a very thoughtful gift for a traveler with food allergies.
If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, you must bring a headphone splitter! But even if you’re traveling solo, you never know when you might meet a cool friend and want to watch a movie or listen to a podcast together while in transit.
Headphone splitters are simple — you simply plug the end into your device and you suddenly have two headphone jacks.
If you work while traveling, one of the most annoying things is to find a good place to work in a new city. Very often, the place with the best coffee and environment and plugs has terrible wifi. (Hell, I struggle with this in my own neighborhood in Prague!)
For that reason, a wifi extender helps you access wifi from further away. So maybe you can sit in the funky coffeeshop while accessing the much faster wifi from McDonald’s a few doors down. This extender plugs right into your USB slot and is one of the better models on the market.
This is one of the best gifts for travelers who work from the road.
Travel Towel Set
What makes a good travel towel? It’s small, it’s light, it dries very quickly. I highly recommend getting one large enough to wrap around yourself; it will make your life a million times easier!
This one is large enough to wrap, comes in a million colors, and is anti-bacterial. BONUS: It comes with a separate hand towel, which is great for taking along with you on sweaty or athletic days.
Quirky Airport-Themed Mugs from Airportag
Airportag has a variety of airport-themed accessories for your home, as well as t-shirts. My personal favorites are the mugs and refrigerator magnets. I think these accessories work best when they’re a casual touch rather than the primary focus of the room. Good things come in small packages!
Facial Cleansing Towelettes
Did you know that a Thai guesthouse once charged me extra because I got mascara on a pillowcase and they couldn’t get it out? Make sure this doesn’t happen to you! Believe me, the last thing you want to do when coming back to your hotel after a fun night out is a complicated skin routine — but sleeping in your makeup is bad for your skin.
Facial cleansing towelettes are the way to go, and I love these ones from Burt’s Bees. They are good at getting mascara off and the white tea scent is delicious.
Contoured Sleep Mask
If you can sleep with the cheapie eye masks that airlines give you, good for you! I find that I need something a little extra, however.
This contoured sleep mask is much better — it’s soft, blocks more light, and isn’t as tight on your eyelids. This is a thoughtful travel gift for your friend who needs blackout curtains.
Pair of Padlocks
Small padlocks are essential — they lock hostel lockers and your own bags.
I recommend getting 1) a combination lock where you can choose the combination, 2) a pair of locks, 3) TSA-approved locks.
(Are they impenetrable? No lock is 100% impenetrable. But the vast majority of thieves are opportunists who grab whatever’s easy to snatch quickly. A lock dissuades opportunistic thieves.)
Safety Gifts for Travelers
Being a blogger who specializes in solo female travel, I get a lot of questions about staying safe while traveling.
One of my top tips is to invest in quality gear that protects your belongings. This is something you shouldn’t scrimp on. At the same time, every travel gift on this list is under $80.
Pacsafe TravelSafe Portable Safe
This is the #1 item that I recommend travelers buy. One of my proudest moments was when I was leading my first tour in Central America and I walked into the bathroom and saw three of these locked around the base of the sink! “You guys listened to me!” I said through tears.
You fill this safe with your belongings, pull it shut, and lock it to the sturdiest thing in your room. Sometimes that’s the base of a sink; sometimes it’s a large, heavy piece of furniture. This way you don’t have to carry your valuables with you everywhere you go, which also puts you at risk.
This is one of the best gifts for travelers you love and want to keep safe.
Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bags
Dry bags are the other item that I recommend every traveler pack. When I was shipwrecked in Indonesia, I was able to rescue my phone, debit card, and point-and-shoot camera because I had a dry bag with me. Dry bags also protect my electronics when on crazy boat rides, like the panga ride to Little Corn Island that sprayed water everywhere.
You need these. Even if you don’t plan on traveling by boat.
These days I travel with two at all times: a small one (10 liters) and a large one that can fit my day bag (30 liters). And they come with a smartphone protector as well!
LifeProof Phone Case
Let me be honest: if it weren’t for my LifeProof, I would have destroyed my phone when I accidentally dropped it in a toilet in a remote part of South Africa.
No, it’s not the sexiest looking case out there, but it is the absolute best phone case out there — one that will protect your phone as best as possible. You can even go swimming with it (but I wouldn’t recommend that). I don’t know what I would do without it (wait, I do know — I would pay constantly for screen repairs).
LifeProof also has excellent customer service and they will often replace your case for free if something goes wrong.
It’s a good idea to pick up a three-pack of headphone adapters if you use plug-in headphones because it only comes with one. You don’t need them if you use wireless headphones.
I have not needed to use this yet, but I’m glad it’s there. Using a personal alarm has the same use as a whistle: it attracts attention when you need it. Maybe it’s when you’re lost or stranded; maybe it’s when you’re threatened by another person. Maybe a stray dog is scaring you. Either way, there is no way this alarm won’t get you attention. This is a gift for travelers that will give you peace of mind.
When traveling with a wallet, I always bring one that is RFID-blocking to protect against thieves. Your credit cards can be scanned remotely through your wallet, but RFID-blocking fabrics prevent this from being able to be done.
I suspect that my credit cards were scanned in Portugal back in 2012 and traveling without them was a nightmare, so I truly hope it never happens to me again — or any of you! (Be sure to hide an extra debit card in a different place.)
I hate most “women’s wallets” and it took a while to find one I like: this one is sleek, it’s made of leather, it comes in lots of colors, and it folds up small.
Pacsafe Camera Bag
Before I went to Central America in 2015, I was concerned about theft and knew I needed to get a day bag that locked. My day bag is what holds my photography gear, tech gear, and valuables, and it always stays with me, unless I’ve got the valuables locked up in my portable safe at home.
This is my bag and it’s perfect: it has a laptop slot (easily fits a 13″ MacBook Pro), room for three lenses, and everything is lockable. All that and it fits underneath the seat in front of me when I fly.
That said, some people might prefer a larger bag, especially if you’re carrying several lenses (the giant lens I rented for safari was pushing it). You can find a slightly larger model here. These bags are one of the best gifts for travelers heading to a region known for pickpocketing.
Travel insurance could save your life or your financial future. I use and recommend World Nomads, and never go on a trip without it.
Note what is not on this list: a money belt. I don’t use one and have no desire to. They’re uncomfortable and thieves are well aware that they exist. Get a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf instead — they’re comfier, more practical, and much prettier.
Insanely Useful Gifts for Travelers
If you want to get someone a travel gift that he or she will use every day while on the road, here are some great options!
EasyAcc Monster Portable Charger
If there is one item that people should travel with but they don’t, it’s a portable charger. I know this because people are always asking me to borrow mine, even my full-time traveler friends!
I recommend traveling with two portable chargers: a large one that is perfect for long flights, long days out, or days when you’re away from electricity; and a small one, which I throw in my purse for a night out (and mentioned above).
This charger is just as much of a Monster as its name claims. You can charge an iPhone SEVEN times with this thing! It was invaluable when I spent a few days in Guyana without electricity in 2019.
If you listen to podcasts, you may have heard of Quip — they advertise on tons of them and I found out about them thanks to Pod Save America. I ordered one last year, just thinking it would be a cool toothbrush, but honestly, this is the best possible electric toothbrush for travelers!
Do you want to travel with an electric toothbrush, but don’t want to lug all the gear? The Quip is a battery-operated toothbrush that is the size of a normal toothbrush and has no charging station. It pulses every 30 seconds for 2 minutes so you brush each quadrant of your mouth sufficiently. Every three months they sent you a new brush head and batteries. No excuses!
I love that I can actually travel with an electric toothbrush without using a ton of extra space and weight.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I devour at least one book per week. The truth? The only reason why I’m able to read this much is because I have a Kindle. I take it everywhere with me.
Getting my first Kindle in 2011 reignited my love of reading, which had faded off in years. It’s rare that you can credit an inanimate object to making you a better person, but every book I read makes me a better person.
I’ve used multiple Kindles, but the Paperwhite is a million times better than the basic — it has a touchscreen, it’s illuminated from within (perfect for reading in a hostel bed, while your partner is sleeping, or while breastfeeding at night), and it feels amazing in your hands.
Travelers who menstruate, if you haven’t made the switch to a menstrual cup yet, now is the time. It’s better for your wallet, better for the environment, gives you more space in your luggage, and it saves you from the hassle of trying to find tampons in Sri Lanka (which is…not easy). It changed my life for the better in so many ways.
Don’t be intimidated — it’s actually a lot easier to use than most people think. It just takes a few practice tries and you’re golden. See my full review here for more information.
TaoTronics Wireless Earbuds
After going through several kinds of earbuds, I finally found my holy grail of workout earbuds — a pair that lasts a long time and stays in your ears while at the gym, even if you sweat like crazy. It takes a bit of an adjustment to get used to charging your earbuds regularly, but you get used to it. I love not being connected to my phone.
LifeTek Travel Umbrella
Rather than buying cheap umbrellas that break apart in the first storm, invest in a small, quality umbrella and you’ll be a million times happier. LifeTek makes awesome, wind-resistant umbrellas that fold up tiny and have a two-year replacement guarantee.
S’well Water Bottle
Probably the best way to reduce your waste is to bring a reusable water bottle on your travels. It eliminates you from buying single-use plastic bottles and most countries are not good about recycling. Even with recycling, we should reduce anyway.
S’well water bottles are beautiful, well-crafted, and slim enough to fit into a bag. Mine is bright metallic blue but I love their wooden patterned bottles. This is one of the best gifts for travelers that also makes a positive impact on the places they visit.
So a water bottle is good, but what happens if you go to a country where you can’t drink the tap water? Enter the SteriPen. All you do is put it in a water bottle or cup, turn it on for less than a minute, and thanks to the UV light, the water is purified and safe to drink.
Between a SteriPen and a reusable water bottle, you’ve massively reduced the number of plastic water bottles that are going to waste in the world.
Flight 001 Packing Cubes
Packing cubes make packing a million times easier. You throw your clothes in there and then pack the cubes themselves. There are a lot of brands out there, but I happen to love Flight 001’s Spacepaks because they’re high quality, incredibly durable, and you can unzip the other side and fill them with your dirty laundry!
Trust me — these are one of the best gifts for travelers because as soon as you use them, you’ll fall in love. I personally use just two of them: the blue clothes bag and the lavender lingerie bag.
Travel T-Shirts from Adventurous Merch
Last year, Cailin and I created our first travel t-shirt line! Adventurous Merch features travel t-shirts that we would actually want to wear (and do enjoy wearing while out and about!). These are currently available to ship to the US, UK, and Germany.
The two that are the bestsellers so far? The one pictured above (Passport & Camera & Suitcase & Tickets & Phone), and the one that says Wanderer, Adventurer, Explorer, Nomad, Vagabond. And we’ve got plenty more!
Rent the Runway Membership (Update or Unlimited)
Most people know about Rent the Runway for renting nice dresses for weddings. But now that I have a RTR Update membership — four items per month — I wear more casual items and FEEL LIKE A MILLION BUCKS. Seriously. I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. I love that I’m not contributing to the “fast fashion” industry. And my Instagram account always looks fresh as a result!
Do you know someone who likes to look good in travel for photos on Instagram? This is one of the best gifts for travellers like her.
From left to right, that’s a Derek Lam 10 Crosby dress in Vienna; a Jason Wu dress in San Francisco, and a Milly dress in Williamsburg. Each of them cost upwards of $300. It also saves me money when I have to order something fancy for a formal event, which happens about once a month.
RTR Update is four items per month. There is also RTR Unlimited, where you get unlimited items. However, they almost always have discounted rates for the first month.
Memory Foam Travel Pillow
Traveling with a pillow is nothing short of life-changing. Suddenly sleeping on planes becomes possible — and that alone is a valuable gift for travelers.
This is another case where you get what you pay for — no matter what, a travel pillow should be about strong neck support more than anything else. This model from I’celus Comfort is ergonomic, made of memory foam, and comes with a free sleep mask as well.
Portable Bluetooth Speaker
I didn’t realize how useful a portable speaker was until my friend sold me on them. They are the best for playing music while sitting around a pool with friends (this brings me back to lazy pool afternoons at Papaya Lodge in El Tunco, El Salvador!).
They’re also good for impromptu dance parties, picnics or outdoor gatherings, or even just listening to podcasts while in the shower.
My UE Mini Boom is Bluetooth-enabled, the battery lasts for so long, and it’s durable as hell.
Durable External Hard Drive
When traveling, you should back up your photos in two places: online and on an external hard drive. And because slow upload speeds can be an issue while traveling, it makes it all the more important to use a high quality external hard drive.
The Transcend 2 TB StoreJet drive has 2 TB of storage and claims to be military drop-tested. I wouldn’t go for a swim with it, but it’s badass all the same.
Best Luggage Gifts for Travelers
A good piece of luggage is worth its weight in gold. Luggage can be expensive, but if you have someone special in your life and can afford to spend a larger chunk of change, it’s one of the most appreciated and best gifts for travelers. For that reason, I thought I’d share with you the three bags I like very much.
One thing to keep in mind — a backpack should be measured to a person for the best fit. If you buy a backpack for someone, make sure it’s returnable in case it isn’t a good fit.
Secondly, I recommend not buying bags in black if you can help it (even though I wear all black, all the time). I’ve got a few black bags and it drives me crazy trying to pick it out of a carousel full of black bags.
Best Carry-On Luggage for Travelers: The Carry-On from Away
I received a complimentary “The Carry-On” Away luggage as part of the campaign I did with RXBAR in 2017, with no obligation to write about it, but I fell in love with it and it’s still my go-to luggage. This is my essential carry-on bag and I highly recommend it.
What makes this different? It’s designed beautifully and efficiently — it’s how I imagine the Japanese would design a carry-on bag. One side is designed for clothes, one for shoes and hard objects. It comes with a mini laundry bag so strong, it can hold a wet bathing suit without getting the rest of your clothes wet. It’s got a compression belt that lets you pack more into less space. The wheels rotate 360 degrees and it’s such a smooth ride.
All that and it has a battery in it so you can charge your phone with your bag! Very helpful when you’re unexpectedly delayed. Do know that some airlines may ask you to remove the battery before boarding. It’s easy to do in the later models.
And if you buy more than one Away bag, they stack into each other so neatly that it won’t take up too much space, which is especially important if you live in an apartment.
Backpack Gift for Holidays: Pacsafe VentureSafe 45L
Once again, Pacsafe makes the best safety-conscious travel products, and I love my VentureSafe when I choose to use a backpack. It’s smart to have a soft-sided bag in your collection because you might need it if you fly on tiny planes — like I did in Kenya last year. I also prefer to use a backpack in less-developed regions like Central America and Southeast Asia because dragging a rolling suitcase over broken pavement gets old very quickly.
My favorite thing about this backpack is that every compartment locks onto the same bar, which you can lock onto another object. That’s the ideal way to protect your luggage on an overnight train.
Best Suitcase: Pacsafe TourSafe AT29
One more PacSafe bag to round them out! This is what I travel with most often. It’s a soft rolling checked suitcase and it has survived a lot of crazy trips.
The Travel Hack Pro Carry-on Suitcase
I love when my friends design their own products — and this year my friend Monica from The Travel Hack now has a custom suitcase! She designed it to have all the things that we want while traveling, while still looking good.
It fits as a standard carry-on bag, it has a padded laptop pocket, and it’s a light-yet-durable collection of faux black leather and 600D PU material (plus rosé gold zippers and a hot pink interior!). Best of all, there is a compartment on top designed for your purse when the airline makes you consolidate your carry-ons into one! (They force me to consolidate my bags EVERY time I fly through JFK or on a budget airline in Europe, which is frustrating, so it’s great that Monica came up with this solution!)
Digital Gifts for Travelers
Take it from me — travelers like to carry as little stuff as possible. Digital gifts for travelers allow you to give a travel gift without taking up any luggage space.
Travel Ebooks or Kindle Books
If your recipient has a Kindle, a book makes an awesome gift. And if not, Kindle books can be read on a smartphone as well!
Here are some of my other favorite travel and destination reads:
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt — Perhaps the best book about a destination I’ve ever read, this nonfiction novel is about the weird and twisted city of Savannah and its many characters.
The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran — Two comedy writers (who went on to write for 30 Rock!) race around the world without airplanes. Definitely the funniest travel book I’ve ever read.
Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman — The French raise their children differently. This American expat living in Paris tries to figure out what makes French parenting so different. Absolutely fascinating.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway — My favorite book of all time. A novel about the Lost Generation of the 1930s drinking and wiling their days away in Paris and Pamplona.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed — A woman struggling with a divorce and addiction decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, with absolutely no preparation.
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer — The riveting account of the 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that killed several people.
Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche — Another memoir written by my friend Torre, who decided to sail across the South Pacific with her boyfriend despite a crushing fear of drowning. Also check out the sequel, The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World.
The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell — The Danes are often listed as the happiest people in the world. A British expat living in rural Denmark tries to figure out why.
The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante — This is one of the most epic series I have ever read, and one of the best things about it is its depiction of a rough neighborhood in Naples, Italy.
Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim — A fascinating and heartbreaking account of an undercover Korean-American journalist posing as a teacher at a university in Pyongyang.
Euphoria by Lily King — One of the best romances I’ve ever read, based on the life of Margaret Mead and taking place in Papua New Guinea.
Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well by Lola A. Åkerström — Do the Swedes do everything better than we do? After reading my friend Lola’s book, you’ll think so! Lagom is the Swedish ethos of “not too little, not too much” and this book lays out how the Swedes choose to live in blissful moderation.
Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles — A novel depicting Odessa, Ukraine, in the 1990s, as everything was controlled by the Mafia and the only way out was to become a mail-order bride. This book was the reason why I went to Odessa in 2017 and I fell in love with the city. Out of print but you can buy it for Kindle.
This Is My South by Caroline Eubanks — A book by my friend Caroline, published in 2018, about traveling the Southern United States — a region on which she is an expert! Perfect for your South-loving friend.
Subscriptions to Online Publications
Good journalism will only exist if it’s funded, and the traveler in your life will appreciate being kept in the loop on what’s going on at home.
For newspapers, check out the New York Times (I love it because it has the best comment management on the web) and the Washington Post (which regularly breaks major stories). Keep in mind that the Washington Post is free for several months to Amazon Prime subscribers, then cheap thereafter.
Crashplan, Dropbox, SmugMug, Private Internet Access, or Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription
These are all web services that can help travelers.
Crashplan is a system for backing up your computer and external hard drives to the cloud. It works automatically in the background. If your computer is stolen, you can virtually recreate your old computer on your new machine.
Dropbox is cloud storage. You get a small amount for free; Dropbox Pro gets you a lot more storage.
SmugMug is backup photo storage. You can also use it to sell your photography.
ExpressVPN is a VPN service, meaning a place that lets you mask your location when using the internet. Not only does it protect your safety (and you should when doing things like banking online), but it allows you to access sites like Netflix and Hulu when outside the US. I’ve tried several VPN providers and now only use ExpressVPN — it’s the best, it has an app on your phone, and it’s the only one that works reliably for Hulu.
Adobe’s Creative Cloud gives you access to programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, which most amateurs and pros use to edit your photos. There are lots of plans, but the basic should be what most people need.
Gift cards to Spotify, iTunes, or Apple Music.
Extra music is always appreciated! Find one which one your gift recipient prefers first — I’m definitely a Spotify girl. I swear those algorithms know me better than I know myself.
Gifts for Travelers Who Have Come Home
Maybe you know a traveler who has come home after a long-term trip away. Maybe you know a traveler who balances her home life with travel. Even if you have a home somewhere, it’s nice to bring your love of travel into your cozy home.
Framed Travel Photos from Framebridge
If you have a photo from your trip you’d like to display, Framebridge does absolutely gorgeous framing. And the whole process is easy — you put in your info, find a frame and mat you like (they can also choose for you), they send you either a tube or a flat mailer to send the print in (unless it’s a digital photo you send), and they frame it and send it back complete with the mounting supplies and instructions.
It’s definitely on the pricey end, but your best photos deserve to be framed beautifully, not in a cheap generic frame.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a photo. I’ve got a map framed by Framebridge in every room of my apartment! A Harlem map in the living room, an antique Northern Italy map in the bedroom, and a Bangkok map in the bathroom, a hand-drawn Savannah coffeeshop map on the way to the kitchen.
(In the photo above is a Holding On To Love print by artist Chelsea Victoria that I found on Society6, framed by Framebridge in their rose gold Rosemont frame. I find that rosy shades of gold warm up my white-and-gray rainy day-inspired bedroom!)
Ugg Suede Slippers
It’s nice to have something you can only enjoy while at home. For me, it’s the Ugg Ainslay Women’s Suede Slippers. They are completely impractical for the road but one of my favorite indulgences whenever I come home from a long trip.
Mine are in bright purple (to the surprise of absolutely no one); they also come in several different colors!
Cookbooks From Destinations Your Traveler Loves
A lot of my foodie friends miss having a decent place to cook when they travel. Even if you book a rental rather than a hotel, chances are the knives are terrible. Let your friends revel in their cooking with these books.
Here are some of the best regional cookbooks available:
If they love Italian food: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is the holy grail. (And her butter tomato sauce is one of the best things that I made this year.)
If they love Thai food: Pailin Chongchitnant’s Hot Thai Kitchen is one of the best and most comprehensive.
If they love Mexican food: David Sterling’s Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition got a lot of praise.
If they love New York or the South: Marcus Samuelsson’s The Red Rooster Cookbook. Red Rooster is the restaurant that convinced me to move to Harlem!
If they love unusual or emerging cuisines: Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia, Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baeta’s The Ghana Cookbook, Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, and Gastón Acurio’s Peru: The Cookbook are all splendid choices.
I also want to throw in a shout-out to Chrissy Teigan’s Cravings — seriously, everything in this cookbook is amazing. Her jok moo (Thai pork rice porridge) is rhapsodic, and her Thai pork-stuffed cucumber soup is as healthy and yummy as it is hilarious.
Legal Nomads Food Map Prints and Accessories
My friend Jodi who created the gluten-free travel cards has also created beautiful maps featuring food from Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, and Portugal. They are perfect to have in your kitchen as prints; you can also get them on tote bags and t-shirts.
Jodi has been ill for the last few years and unable to work, so if you’re looking to buy a beautiful travel gift while also supporting someone who could use a helping hand, the Legal Nomads shop is a great place to spend your money.
Travel Coffee Table Books
Coffee table books really pull a room together and give you a chance to show your personality. And because coffee table books are on display, this is one case where you should judge a book by its cover.
My dear friend Kash Bhattacharya published The Grand Hostels, a guide to the coolest design hostels in Europe. This has been his passion project for years, one I’ve been involved with, and I’m thrilled that he finally has a gorgeous book.
My friends Mike and Anne Howard published Ultimate Journeys for Two: Extraordinary Destinations on Every Continent. It makes a great coffee table book but it’s also chock full of information on unusual travel destinations, many of which I hadn’t heard of (and for me to say that, that’s a BIG deal). It’s great even if you’re not part of a couple.
Some other coffee table books I recommend are Eighty Four Rooms (gorgeous boutique hotels), Poolside with Slim Aarons (or anything Slim Aarons — amazing luxury travel photography from the 1950s-1970s), NY Through the Lens (beautiful New York photography), Living in Style: Scandinavia (Nordic design), Havana, the New York Times’ 36 Hours In US and Canada or New York Times’ 36 Hours in Europe, and Steve McCurry: The Unguarded Moment.