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 of our favorite gifts for Christmas 2021…

Travel Books

Guide to Kyoto’s Most Important Sites, Temples & Gardens – This comprehensive guide to over 50 Japanese temples and gardens—including all World Heritage Sites—offers an introduction to each. There are also beautiful photos, and a range of additional info. It’s a great way to get excited for or plan a trip, or as a coffee table book to reflect on memories of past visits.

Japan Style: Architecture + Interiors + Design – This is great for gaining a greater appreciation and eye for Japanese aesthetics. The photographs demonstrate how Japanese style achieves a timeless tranquility using a few very simple, natural elements.

Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips – 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, with remote places most people will never visit. This balances the aspirational with the attainable, while also offering good daydreaming fodder.

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto – If you’re obsessively checking When Will Japan Reopen? because you miss the country and its people, this is the perfect novel for you. It’s the author’s autobiographical experience going to Kyoto, living in a monastery, and engaging with Japan’s people. While the story itself is fascinating, the way he brings to life the contradiction of Kyoto, its changing seasons, temples, malls, streets, nightclubs, and stations is what sets this apart. It’s one of my favorite books for the way it immerses you in the essence of Japan.

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.

Travel Accessories

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 thin battery backup will get you through the day, doesn’t take up much space, and is approximately 3 full phone charges.

TravelPro Crew 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.)

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).

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.

EltaMD Face Sunscreen – It’s easy to get burnt while traveling, and although sunscreen doesn’t exactly scream “holiday gift,” this one is pricey–but worth it. Sarah favors this fancier brand, which is recommended by distinguished scientists from all over the world. (Probably.)

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! 😉

Water Bottle with Purifier – Having clean water is essential for travel, but water safety standards vary. Beyond that, some tap water just doesn’t taste good or flows through aging infrastructure and questionable plumbing. No matter whether we’re traveling in California or China, we like to carry with us this LifeStraw water bottle.

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.

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!

3 replies
  1. leopumps
    leopumps says:

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  2. 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!


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