Over the last few weeks, I’ve been coming up with holiday gift ideas for travelers, food lovers and photographers. Most are practical, a few are fun, but all are things that I think someone who loves these things would like to receive as a gift. Many of the items here are the same or similar to items I’ve tried personally and use every day and/or every time I travel. I hope you will find it useful. Happy holidays!
Gift Ideas for Travelers
- Lightweight computer. Frequent travelers need a lightweight computer, especially if they do a lot of digital photography and work on the road. I just upgraded to a 11.6″ Macbook Air (bought on Black Friday sale!), and I’m very happy with its size and weight. Before I spotted this sale, I was considering the Lenovo 11.6″ IdeaPad Yoga.
- iPad or Tablet. Some travelers go without a computer all together and just carry an iPad or another tablet. That system isn’t for me, but plenty of travelers get by just fine by packing just a tablet. Any traveler would be excited to get this beautiful 4th Gen. iPad with Retina Display.
- Kindle. I’m a new convert to the e-reader world. I just recently started using Kevin’s first-gen Kindle, and I’ve really come to enjoy having a lot of reading material in a slim package. Our ancient Kindle still works fine, but if I had to upgrade I would get the current model Kindle Paperwhite.
- Phone case with credit card slot. A few months ago, I picked up a Speck Candyshell Card Case at a conference, and I think it’s a great tool for lightweight travel. It holds three to four credit cards (or more thinner cards, like business cards). When I’m at home, I use it for my license, my credit card and debit card. I rarely carry my wallet anymore. When I’m traveling, I usually use it for my credit card, transit pass, museum tickets, and a few business cards. The case is very well padded and does a great job of protecting against drops. I’ve been joking that I can never upgrade my phone because I love the case so much–but when I finally have to, I’ll certainly shell out for another one.
- External Battery Backup Charger. Travelers who use their cell phone a lot knows how frustrating it can be to run low on battery life when you are on the road. I always carry this compact battery charger: Anker Astro Mini 3000mAH, which can recharge my iPhone 1.5 times. I find this enough juice to get you through a long day of sightseeing or a long flight. Also, it’s small and easy to stash in your pocket or purse.
- PowerCup: The PowerCup turns your car’s cupholder into a multi-unit charging station. You can use it to charge AC devices (like a laptop) or use the USB plug to charge a phone or tablet.
- Travel power adapter. A universal travel adapter will convert your device to the right power connection, wherever you are in the world.
- Travel power strip/surge protector. This Belkin travel surge protector protects your devices from getting fried by irregular power surges (common in the developing world) and adds extra charging capacity to rooms without many outlets. It also allows you to charge multiple devices with just one power adapter.
- Nibbles Cable Keeper. This brightly-colored little whale keeps your cellphone wall charger and USB cable wrapped up to keep track of it.
- Headlamp. A headlamp is small and easy to pack, and it always surprises me how often this comes in handy when traveling! I have this one.
- Noise canceling headphones. These are great for reducing environmental noise including airplane noise. Kevin has a pair of cheap noise-cancelling headphones that he uses at work but they don’t pack very well for travel. This is a more compact, mid-priced alternative.
- A computer bag with sleeve for your Tablet/Kindle. If you travel with both a computer and a tablet/kindle, having a bag that protects them both is essential. I have this bag, the STM Linear Shoulder bag and in addition to having a really attractive design, I love that it has separate pockets for both my computer and my Kindle. It is lightweight but has enough pockets to carry the essentials so it makes a really good everyday computer bag. As it’s not bulky, it’s also great for taking to meetings and as a travel carry on bag.
- Travel speakers. The X Mini II portable capsule speaker is said to have good sound and volume and it’s only about the size of a tennis ball so travelers can play their music wherever they go.
- Travel mouse: I have a small, 11 inch travel laptop and I have trouble using the built in mousepad for more than about an hour. This tiny mouse uses Bluetooth to connect and takes up next to no space in my bag.
- Rosetta Stone language software. This interactive language software is very good for improving your vocabulary and listening comprehension. When I lived in Los Angeles I used the Spanish software at the public library and I learned a lot. I often consider buying the full set to go through them start to finish. While I know it would help to expand my vocabulary and improve my (still weak) listening comprehension skills, $350 just for language learning software always seems beyond my budget. It would make a great gift for a serious language learner or anyone planning to live, work or travel abroad long-term. Rosetta Stone is available in 30 languages, including ESL (e.g. Rosetta Stone Spanish, Levels 1-5).
Gear and Accessories:
- Packing cubes. These are so useful, especially for longer-term travel because they allow you to compartmentalize your small bag, helping you find things and also pack them away faster. They are also great for busy trips where you are moving from place to place every night or two. We have a set of three medium packing cubes, I generally use two of them and Kevin uses one. You can also get a set that includes three different sizes.
- Packable daypack. This ultralight daypack comes in some fun colors and folds into a pouch when you are not using it.
- Inflatable travel pillow. Great for people (like me!) who have trouble sleeping on planes and it packs down to be very small when you are not using it. I have one similar to this one.
- Clear zip-up toiletry case. Disposable quart size bags rip and spill. A sturdy, reusable and TSA-compliant clear plastic case is better. This one is fun!
- Spill-resistant bottles for packing liquids. I like these silicone ones (GooToob, 3 pack). They are sturdy, very spill-resistant and easy to fill.
- Travel towel. This is a lightweight, absorbent, and fast-drying pack towel that also happens to be and softer than lots of rough hotel towels you might be given. It also makes a lightweight alternative to a beach towel.
- Silk travel sheet. A lightweight sleeping bag liner/travel sheet is great for travelers who staying in hostels, because it gives you a clean layer between you and questionably clean sheets. It also wicks sweat and adds an extra few degrees of warmth so it’s great for people (like me!) who get cold easily.
- Travel clothesline: This makes a great stocking stuffer for lightweight packers planning to do laundry in hotel sinks. The elastic clothesline holds items without clips and the carabiner attaches to walls, door knobs, or bed posts. I have this travel clothesline (Bonus: throw in a rubber sink stopper because many hotel sinks do not have stoppers)
- Small folding umbrella. Maybe it’s just me, but it always rains when I travel! This travel umbrella is cute and takes up very little room in your bag.
- Travel journal. Slim little notebooks like these ones are handy so you always have a place to write down information you want to keep track of, and record travel memories.
- Steripen (with clear, wide-mouth water bottle). This portable, UV light water sanitizer is great for travelers planning to explore the developing world. In just about a minute you can sterilize questionable tap water and make it safe to drink. Also, per manufacturers instructions it works best if you use a clear, wide-mouth water bottle like this Nalgene bottle.
- Starbucks Via instant coffee packets. It’s hard to find good coffee in many places around the world. It’s great to pack a few of these Starbucks instant coffee packets to prevent a potential caffeine emergency. This stuff tastes much better than the typical instant coffee you’ll find in many places.
- Solid shampoo. The brand Lush makes some really popular solid shampoos, but I’ve also used andlike this one. Solid shampoos are nice because they won’t take up valuable space in your clear liquids bag, and because they last much longer than tiny, travel-sized bottles.
- Dry shampoo. Super handy on busy travel days when you don’t have time to shower, when you are camping, or if you find yourself in a grungy hotel where you would rather go dirty than use the showers — it happens. See: Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo.
- The Traveler’s Handbooks series. A set of niche-travel guidebooks for the specialty travelers: The Family Traveler’s Handbook, The Food Traveler’s Handbook, The Solo Traveler’s Handbook, The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, The Luxury Traveler’s Handbook, and The Cruise Traveler’s Handbook. All of the books were written by experienced travelers turned travel bloggers with years of experience in the area and tips to share. The books are available in both paperback and Kindle editions. I have both the Food Travelers Handbook and the Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and learned a lot from them both.
- SmartWool Socks. These are great travel socks because they are warm, prevent blisters and (some say) they don’t need to be washed every day. Bonus if you get a fun pattern like these ones.
- Travel underwear. These are one of our lightweight packing essentials! You might remember Kevin’s ode to his travel underwear. ExOfficio makes men’s boxers and women’s briefs (lacy or regular cut).
- Packable rain jacket and a wind-resistant fleece jacket. This combination of two jackets works out really well for travel because one or both layers will cover almost any climate you could encounter. I have a rain shell by Marmot and a wind-blocking fleece by North Face.
- Quick dry, zip-off/roll-up travel pants. These are great for trips that involve a lot of outdoor activities and if they get dirty you can wash them in the sink. Personally, I don’t like the way the zip-off pants look on women, so I have a pair that rolls up into capri pants.
- Comfortable travel shoes. Comfortable pair of muted color or leather walking shoes, hiking sneakers, and Chaco sandals are all popular with travelers.
- Travel ballet flats. These cute and foldable ballet flats come with a little carrying case, and would be perfect for wearing on the plane and in the hotel as slippers or even out on the town.
- Rash guard. I find it almost impossible to cover myself enough with sunscreen when I’m in the water all day and my back and shoulders are always particularly susceptible to burns. A long sleeve rash guard is great for preventing sunburn on trips where you know you’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, especially when snorkeling. Because they fit close to the skin, it also helps keep you warm when the water is cold. If you don’t like the look of the long-sleeve shirts, they also make short sleeve rash guards, or even “rash tees” which are looser and more natural-looking than a rash guard, though they won’t do as much to keep you warm.
- Thermal underwear. Lightweight thermal underwear (also called a “base layer”), are great for travelers visiting cold places. If the recipient will be very active (e.g. hiking, skiing), be sure to get an all-synthetic materials so that it dries quickly.
Gifts for Traveling Pets:
- Automotive dog seat cover. For people who travel with their dog, a hammock style car seat cover helps to protect your seats and keep the dog hair contained.
- Automotive dog safety harness. This dog safety harness can help keeps your dog safely restrained in case of an accident. It also keeps curious pups from climbing in the front seat with you! We always strap our dog in when we are traveling long distances.
- Dog water bottle. This dog travel water bottle is quite handy because it has a small bowl built into the cap. It’s really useful when you are hiking, or an a road trip with your pup.
Travel Experiences and Inspiration:
- Gift certificate for a local history, food, or architecture tour. Even people who grew up locally will learn something and they are likely to value the chance to see their city in a different way.
- Charitable contributions to an organization working in a part of world that they love. In the US, use Charity Navigator or GuideStar to search for and evaluate charitable organizations.
- Kiva Gift Cards. This allowing the recipient to invest in hard-working entrepreneurs around the world. Buy Kiva cards here.
- A travel magazine subscription. Magazines like Afar, National Geographic Traveler, Outdoor, and Sunset are a great source of travel inspiration and great to have on hand to keep you busy during long flights. Most of them have online subscription options for iPad/tablet users.
- Global Entry Program Membership. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. For frequent international travelers, this will save them a lot of time getting back through the notoriously slow US customs checks. Give them $100 (for the fee) in a card with directions on how to apply. Find out more about Global Entry.
- A petsitting IOU or Trusted Housesitters membership. These would be very much appreciated by pet owners who never know where to leave their dear pets when they go away. Learn more about housesitting at: “What To Do With Your Pets When You Travel”
- A babysitting IOU. These would be very much appreciated by parents who are looking for the chance to take a night off.
- Manicure/pedicure gift certificate. Great for either right before a traveler leaves on a trip (when they want their nails to look nice) OR right after returning when their sore and calloused feet need some comfort.
- Amazon or REI Gift Cards — to let them pick out what they need for their next trip.
Gift Ideas for Foodies
- Charitable contributions to their local food bank. Use this tool to find a US food bank.
- Courses in cooking or craft foods. Some ideas are: Ethnic cooking, baking, beer brewing, wine-making, cheese-making, canning, butchery, bee-keeping, cocktail-making — courses like this seem to be popping up every day! Keep an eye on sites like Groupon and Living Social who often sell workshops like this.
- Local food/wine tour in the recipient’s hometown OR in a destination they are planning to visit.
- A hand-selected craft beer sampler. A selection of 6 (or 12!) craft beers, hand-selected from a local bottle shop or a store like Bevmo that sells individual bottles. You could select locally-brewed craft beers or do a regional or style-based theme (e.g. Belgian, IPA, Sour Ales)
- Good chef knife. A good 8″ chef knife is a staple in any kitchen. A good knife can be sharpened again and with good care it can last for years (e.g. J.A. Henckels International Classic 8″ chef knife).
- Large wood or bamboo cutting board. A large cutting board makes a big difference in how fast you can put a meal together, if you can do all you chopping without stopping to move the food off the board and into bowls. Wood and bamboo boards just feel nicer to work on than plastic. This extra large bamboo cutting board is similar to one that I have and that I love. OR you could get one in the shape of the recipient’s favorite state!
- Cast iron skillet. Cast iron pans hold heat and cook more evenly than other types of cookware. We use our 12″ cast iron skillet more than any other pan. I like this Lodge cast iron skillet because it’s pre-seasoned allowing you to skip easy but somewhat tedious work it takes to make a new skillet usable.
- Pyrex food storage. I love these food storage containers because they are unbreakable, unstainable, and go right from refrigerator to microwave without having to worry about leaching toxic stuff, like you do with plastics.
- Pizza stone. A pizza stone is a great gift for pizza lovers and home bakers. It heats the dough uniformly which leads to a better texture and crisp. You can also use it to bake bread.
- A good pepper grinder. I’ve had terrible luck with cheap grocery store plastic pepper grinders breaking on me. A good quality pepper grinder will also grind them to a more uniform texture. I just recently bought a wooden pepper mill similar to this one.
- Gourmet sea salt sampler. This gourmet collection of colorful finishing salts from around the world (Bali, Cypress, India, El Salvador, Hawaii) would be a great gift for a curious foodie and world traveler.
- Coffee + tea lovers: There’s no doubt that people love their Keurig coffee makers. Real coffee and tea nerds may also be more interested in gadgets like these: A porcelain brewing cone (and filters); coffee/spice grinder; electric milk frother; extra-fine mug tea infuser; electric kettle
- Cultural gifts: Mexican milk frother (molinillo) and Oaxacan hot chocolate discs; Japanese cast iron tea set; Japanese sake set
- Kitchen experiments: Whiskey barrel (for aging your own whiskey, wine, or vinegar); grow your own mushroom kit; kombucha starter (plus wide mouth brewing jar).
- Specialty gadgets: Brightly colored citrus squeezers, oyster knife + oyster safety glove, travel wine glasses, and travel sporks.
- Soda Stream: I’m kind of ashamed at how much I use my SodaStream. This is a great gift idea for anyone who likes sparkling water or who is trying to kick the commercial soda habit. You can even make your own (healthier) homemade soda syrups (see #9 here). I like this set because it comes with an extra bottle so you can always keep a cold bottle of water ready to go in the refrigerator (cold water carbonates better than water at room temperature)
- Useful (and fun) Small Appliances: Some of the small appliances that I find most useful are a powerful food processor, a slow cooker, a blender, a convection toaster oven, and a rice maker. Other things that are fun to have but certainly not essential are the bread maker (I usually use it to make pizza crust), food dehydrator, ice cream maker, and a juicer.
- Reusable shopping bags. I like the global-inspired patterns on these colorful Baggu bags. They also fold into a pocket-sized pouch.
- Books about food and cookbooks. A cookbook from the recipients favorite cusine or chef are always appreciated. Here’s a great list of best-selling cookbooks for 2015.
Gift Ideas for Photographers
- A new camera. Ugh… I can’t go too far into this because there is so much personal preference in camera choice, but I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this recently. I definitely believe that the best camera is one you’ll carry with you and be motivated to use. Personally, I use a 4 year old Nikon D5100 (DSLR) and my iPhone 6. The closest thing on the market today is the Nikon D5300. For something smaller that still gives top quality, I’ve used and like the Sony DSC-RX100M II. If you want something simpler, frankly, just upgrade your phone! Most smart phones have great cameras right now for everyday use. To take your photos up a notch, edit your cameraphone shots with…
- Adobe Lightroom! One of the best ways for travelers to improve their photography is to get into the habit of editing their photos, no matter what they are shooting with (DSLR camera, point and shoot, smartphone). The Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan includes a subscription to Adobe’s two professional photo editing software: Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom lets you quickly edit, import, export, and catalog your photos and even work with batched sets of files. It has many of the same advanced image processing features that are in Photoshop, but it is actually easier to learn.
- High capacity external hard drive. A few years ago I lost an entire trip’s worth of photos when my brand new laptop’s hard drive failed. Since then, I never delete photos from my camera’s memory cards until I have them stored in at least two other places. For short trips I can get usually get away with keeping my photos on the memory cards until I get home with regular backups to my laptop, but for longer or photography-focused trips I always bring an external hard drive to back up my photos to. I have this one (Transcend 2TB Shock Resistant External Hard Drive) which is small, does not need an external power source, and has a rugged coating to help protect its precious data from bumps on the road.
- High Capacity Memory Cards. It’s comforting to know you have plenty of space available on your memory cards, so larger-size, ultra-fast SD cards (64 GB and 128GB) make wonderful gifts.
- Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom tripod + ball head. A tripod is essential for sharp and well-exposed travel photography. I’m a packing minimalist, but this lightweight tripod fits in even the smallest purse so it’s something I carry with me every time I pack my DSLR. While it doesn’t give you the height of a full-size tripod, you can stack it on any stable surface to give it more height. The optional (but recommended!) Joby Ball Head allows you a wider range of angles and makes attaching the camera lighting fast so you don’t miss a shot. Buy the Joby Gorillpod Focus tripod here.
- Hoodman. This nifty little device allows you blocks the light of the sun and improves your ability to view your camera screen during bright daytime sun. It allows you to examine your shots when you are out shooting in bright daylight so you can change or correct the shot before it’s too late (Hoodman HoodLoupe)
- Lens pen. A great stocking stuffer and important tool to keep in the camera bag. This lens pen has a lint-free synthetic cleaning pad on one side and a retractable brush on the other side. It’s great for cleaning smudged lenses and brushing dust off without damaging the lens.
- GoPro Hero 4. This tiny but powerful video camera hoots high-quality video and still shots under the most challenging conditions. It’s great for adventure travelers who want to take video on the go, even when active (hiking, mountain biking, surfing, snorkeling, etc) There are three models (white/silver/and black). Black is the most expensive, but the one with higher resolution, speed, and best low-light performance).
- DSLR strap or strap cover. The manufacturer neck strap for DSLRs are uncomfortable and come emblazoned with the camera manufacturer which could invite theft. This attractive camera strap is an attractive alternative. Also, many vendors on Etsy sell hand-stitched camera strap covers (that slide over the manufacturers strap) that are removable and machine washable.
- DSLR camera sling bag. Lots of travelers want camera bags that don’t look like camera bags. I’ve had this LowePro sling bag for the last four years and I think it’s perfect for travel. It has a big open space beside the camera compartment that allows me to carry all the other things I need during the day. You can even take out the padded camera pouch and just use it as a purse.
- Waterproof iPhone/Android phone case. This simple (and cheap!) case allows you to take your cell phone into the water with you to either use it as an underwater camera. I’ve never used this particular device but it has good reviews, though I’m not sure I have the nerve to try it fully-submerged!
- Remote shutter release. This device will allow you to trigger the camera from a distance either from a wire attached to the camera, or a wireless remote. Shutter releases are camera specific so make sure you get the right device for your recipient’s specific camera model.
- iTunes/Google Play gift card. Bonus points if you include a list of recommended travel or photo editing apps
- Online Training Subscriptions. KelbyOne.com offers professionally produced streaming videos to help you improve your photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom skills. An annual subscription (allowing unlimited views) would be a great gift idea for students looking to improve their skills from home or on the road. Creative Live also offers some really great photography skill and software training courses.
- Photo outing or instructional workshop with a professional photographer. I recently went to a small group workshop with renowned landscape photographer Michael Frye and I learned a lot. Nothing can replace the in-person expertise of a professional photographer. A gift certificate for a photography workshop or classroom-based software training would be a great way to help your gift recipient improve their skills.
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