Ultimate Christmas Gift Guide for Travelers

Wondering what to get the travel enthusiast in your life, or what to add to your own Christmas list? Our holiday gift guide features the coolest travel gadgets, inspirational travel books, and other must-have travel accessories. From luggage to comfy “tourist pants,” we’ve got something for everyone here.

On this list, we have a mix of practical yet fun travel gadgets (because no one wants to be the wet blanket that gets someone that gift they need, but don’t want), items that will inspire wanderlust, and several things we’ve used on our trips over the course of the last year that we think others will find particularly useful.

Before we get started, I think the best gift for travelers is the gift of travel, itself. Whether it be a weekend stay at a hotel a few hours away, or even something as big as an all-inclusive cruise. We try to ascribe to the motto of “collecting memories, not things” as much as possible.

Of course, stuff is nice, too. It’s also necessary to have certain items before taking a trip, as things can improve the experience, make it more comfortable, etc. Moreover, the gift of an all-inclusive cruise is not exactly a practical suggestion for the office Christmas party that has a $25 limit. In which case, the suggestions here are a heck of a lot more thoughtful than another $25 Target gift card. (Not that we don’t love Target!)

Anyway, here’s the list, in no particular order…

Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips – I’m a sucker for books like this. Whenever I’m picking up travel guides at the local library for a destination we’re visiting, I’ll inevitably grab a title like this for inspiration, too. The problem with most books like this is that they’re unrealistic. Beautiful and fun coffee table material, but filled with exotic and remote places most people will never visit. This balances the aspirational with the attainable, while also offering good daydreaming fodder.

A Moveable Feast – You could say that the next two items on this list are only tangentially related to travel. That’s one perspective, but I think these best encapsulate the romanticism of travel, and in so doing, inspire your own adventures. Hemingway’s nostalgic love-letter to Paris does exactly that.

The Before Trilogy – These are three of my favorite films of all time, but it’s really only the first (Before Sunrise) that gives me a sense of wanderlust. It’s anything but a travelogue, but Vienna quietly plays the third lead of the film.

Scratch-Off World Map – A great way to track your bucket list progress…and also inspire you to travel more. (Like Pokemon, travel is a “gotta visit ’em all” kinda thing once you have a visual reminder of how many places you’ve yet to see!) This U.S. National Parks Scratch-Off Map is a good alternative if that’s your primary focus.

Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack – Want to be ahead of the next trend? Rather than following the crowd and getting one by Herschel or Fjallraven, take a look at Cotopaxi. This up-and-coming company is making quality products in sustainable ways. Sarah has one of their bags and despite it being too large for her (it’s not this one–it’s even bigger), it’s exceptionally high-quality and looks nice. The linked-to bag is deceivingly large, so consider something smaller if you’re just looking for a daypack.

Compact External Battery Charger – If you don’t share a travel experience immediately on social media, did it really even happen?! Joking aside, we tend to use our phones a lot while traveling–mostly trying to make sense of where Google Maps is sending us. This very small battery backup will get you through the day, doesn’t take up much space, and is approximately 3 full phone charges. This external battery has double the juice; it’s heavier, but is enough for two or three people to share, so…just don’t be the one in your party to carry it?

Trtl ‘Scientifically-Proven’ Travel Pillow – If you try to minimize what you pack, the bulky travel ‘butt donut pillow’ may not make the cut. This alternative not only saves space, but doesn’t look nearly as dorky. This looks like a scarf, and is scientifically-proven to provide support.

3D Sleep Mask – Sarah swears by this, and specifically recommends the 3D contour version. Whether you’re seated on a plane next to someone using the reading light (or worse yet, won’t close their window) or rent an Airbnb that gets ridiculously bright at 5 a.m., this is a great option.

CozyPhones Headphones – Another dorky item we use on long flights (or when needing to sleep anywhere that’s loud), these headphones are not even remotely stylish, but you’ll have tons of fun comfortably sleeping with them on! 😉

TravelPro Crew 11 Carry-on – This is the only luggage I’ll use. Nothing we’ve used has held up as well as TravelPro, including significantly more expensive bags. There’s a reason these are the industry standard for flight attendants–they’re durable. They also have a classy, classic look.

Digital Luggage Scale – If your bags tend to get heavier towards the end of your trip–or you’re doing a multi stop trip with different airlines that have different weight restrictions–this is incredibly useful.

Packable Backpack – There are two reasons to get this: day trips from your main destination when you don’t want to take your full-sized luggage, and for when you need to bring home more stuff. I know we preached a “collect memories, not things” philosophy at the top, but we regularly find ourselves bringing home gifts for family and friends, and this is an easy way to bring them with.

USB Wall Charger – Nowadays, we find ourselves more charging devices via USB than actual plugs. Our phones, watches, external batteries, and even some cameras all charge via USB. While I normally prefer the version that lacks a power cable, this one is more practical, especially in older hotels that only have a few outlets, located in random inaccessible corners. (Which seems to be how every old hotel in Europe was built.)

Grid-It Organizer – We use this primarily for stray charging cables, but it has myriad potential possibilities for what it can old. It’s better than alternatives as it takes up next to no space in your luggage.

Compression Packing Cubes  In terms of organization and efficiency, this offers the best of both worlds. The amount of space you’ll save is not nearly as much as advertised, but you will save some space. Equally as important, these provide organization for multi-stop trips, so you’re not tearing apart your suitcase and repacking at each stop. Two sets is ideal (not sure why they don’t offer a 4-piece set…or maybe we just missed it).

Collapsible Water Bottle with Purifier – Having clean water is essential for travel, but water safety standards in some parts of the world do not meet those of the United States. For international travel to some destinations, that means either buying bottled water constantly, or having a purifier. For us, the space-saving design makes it a great option for travel. There’s also a cheaper filter-less collapsible water bottle if don’t need the filter for where you’re going…or just like living on the edge.

Caffeine Mints – Bummed that Four Loko has been banned and looking to get your dangerous caffeine fix some other way? These mints have about as much caffeine as coffee or an energy drink, so they will keep you going throughout the day. The other plus side is they won’t make you have to use the bathroom. That might seem like a minor thing, but have you ever tried finding a free public restroom in Europe or Asia? (See? Fun and practical!)

Neck Wallet – This is basically the equivalent of a fanny pack, except for those who are even more cautious. If you’re heading to some places in Europe (or elsewhere) where pickpockets are common, this can be a smart item. It definitely skews more towards “practical” than “fun.”

Softshell Pants – Following up one dorky item with another, but hear me out. These are the pants for when you’ve given up on trying to look stylish while traveling, and are willing to embrace your inner tourist. I recently hit this point, and am never looking back. While primarily marketed towards cross-country skiers, I’ve adopted these for everyday use, wearing them all over Japan. They’re insanely comfortable, water and wind resistant, and are made of stretch material. These pants can be pricey (they’re totally worth it), but I’ve spotted a few varieties that aren’t too bad. (REI Co-op has ones under $75 in stores.)

Windproof Winter Hat – I swear by the Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon hat. I’ve used it for about 5 years now, and it has made all the difference in the world. Whether you’re in a windy city or on a mountainside, it’s super-warm and you won’t feel a draft. The downside is that it can make hearing a bit difficult, but that’s a potential upside if you’re ready for some ‘alone time’ from your group.

Modular Gloves – If you’re going to be in any kind of conditions, you want gloves that have an outer waterproof shell and inner fleece layer that is thin enough so you can operate your camera or through them. These are not “electronics-friendly” gloves, but we’ve found those rarely work anywhere and also end up not keeping us warm. A pouch for handwarmers is another huge plus.

That covers it for our Christmas gift guide for travelers. At least, for now. We’ll return and add other items as we stumble upon new things that would make great presents.

Your Thoughts

Do you use any of the items on this list? What do you think of our recommendations? Anything that you’d add to this gift guide, or any gadgets we should check out? Hearing from readers is helpful and interesting, so please share any questions or thoughts that you have in the comments below!

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4 replies
  1. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Thanks for taking the time to put together this list. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace softshell pants for everyday wear, but I have worn them to my daughter’s soccer games.

    Similar to the neck pillow you linked, I recently bought one of these: https://goo.gl/EuKQW3

    I sleep horribly on planes and have tried the ubiquitous “butt donut pillow” to no avail. This one is far more comfortable and compresses down pretty nicely for less room in your luggage. It netted me 5 hrs of sleep on a transatlantic flight instead of the 1-2 I’ve gotten before, so I’d call that worth $40.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      If we were in Paris or a number of other European cities, I probably wouldn’t be so relaxed with my attire. In Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan, I think it’s more acceptable (or, I’m just getting lazy).

      That pillow you shared looks nice, albeit huge. Good to hear it compresses down!

      Reply
  2. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    Great list, gives me several ideas I could really use! I can imagine using the combo of the sleep mask, neck support scarf, and headphones for a nice zone out on a plane. I usually rough it and read the safety card to pass time, but maybe it’s time to allocate space for these conveniences!

    Reply

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