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At a loss for what to get the travel-bug in your family? Never fear: Here are my picks for this year’s best travel gifts. These are the items I’m repeatedly thankful for – tried, true, and travel-tested across multiple international journeys.
After all, it can be a challenge to know what to get for your jet-setting friends and family. The most extreme travelers are incredibly picky about what they take with them. And can you blame them? When you’re living out of a backpack or suitcase, you’ve got to be ruthless about what goes with you.
So, no matter what kind of traveler you’re shopping for, hopefully you’ll find something in here that will please even the pickiest explorer on your holiday list!
Great gifts for any traveler
Here are my faves for travelers of every stripe – chances are everyone needs help corralling their liquids, organizing their clothes, or blocking out a noisy neighbor on a plane.
Control those toiletries: HumanGear GoToob Travel Liquid Bottles
These little bottles are truly amazing. I used to scoff at the need for “fancy” liquid bottles for travel. I mean, really – the “civilized” travel tube? Whenever I passed these at REI I rolled my eyes a little bit. My $3 bottles from Walgreens or Target were just fine, thank you.
But after destroying multiple sets of cheap drugstore bottles – ones that leaked, broke when I washed them, got moldy, or were impossible to fully clean – I gave them a second thought.
Okay, fine. You win, fancy travel bottles. I resentfully ordered them, but my annoyance almost instantly faded when I realized how awesome these actually are.
First off, the 2 oz version of these soft, squeezable bottles have little suction cups that let you stick them to the wall – handy in too-tiny-to-bend-over European showers, bathrooms with gross floors, etc.
Also, both the 2 oz and 3 oz versions have plastic rings around the neck of the bottle that have a few common labels (soap, sunscreen, etc.) You rotate the plastic insert and voila – your product is labeled!
All of their sizes meet TSA standards, and there are some other cool features besides: a wide spout allows for easy filling, complete disassembly makes for easy cleaning, and the great color options help you differentiate your toiletries from your travel partner’s – always a plus. :)
Pack down your possessions: Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set
It’s really hard to imagine where I was before packing cubes.
Oh, wait, I remember: I was putting my clothes in giant, XXL Ziploc bags – the kind you use to brine turkeys – and sitting on them to force out all the air. The result? Slippery, rigid clothing-pancakes sliding around in my bags.
…It wasn’t a pretty situation.
Enter: packing cubes. A far better solution than literally butt-vacuum-sealing your clothing in Ziploc bags, let me assure you. After a friend religiously sung the praises of packing cubes, I decided to investigate.
These are a ripstop material – same as what’s used for parachutes. So, they’re basically super-durable clothing compactors. Roll your clothes, put ’em in, then use an external zipper to compress it all into a smaller package. When all’s said and done, your clothes become compact cubes that neatly fit into your bags.
What’s the big deal? You might be thinking. Well, a few things: you can pack more, everything fits better, and each cube keeps your items categorized. When you unpack, you don’t have to take everything out. Need underwear? Just grab your underwear cube. No more digging through all your nicely folded clothes just to find that one dress.
The cubes also have handles: easy for grabbing, but also for hanging. In a tight-squeeze bathroom, put your change of clothes in a cube and hang it on the door handle – now the counter is freed up. Yeah, I’ll admit it: I’m a little obsessed with packing cubes.
Block out the world: Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones
The favorite of serious travelers everywhere – noise-canceling headphones. They might be a pretty penny, but these headphones are a definite lifesaver when it comes to your sanity during long travel stretches. Even without music, when you flip the noise-canceling switch these create white noise in the background. In fact, they’re sending sound waves out to counteract sounds that are coming towards you. The science of it is pretty cool.
These are perfect when you’re trying to get some rest on a plane or drown out the sound of a noisy neighbor. They don’t muffle everything, but they reduce most background noise to a dull murmur and cut out sharp noises like crying and voices. They also get rid of almost all the plane engine noise that can make it difficult to sleep. Outside of planes, I use them in hotels and hostels for a bit of extra white noise when I’m trying to get some shut-eye.
I also prefer these to the over-ear version for a few reasons: they’re more comfortable to sleep in, they’re more compact for travel, and they don’t make my ears too warm. They’re also cheaper! I love these earbuds and honestly can’t imagine traveling without them.
Bonus: stocking stuffers
Here are a few smaller items that would go well in a travel-themed stocking for your favorite world explorer.
Sleep like a baby: Bedtime Bliss Contoured Sleep Mask
Travel can be a nightmare for getting a good night’s rest, whether it’s the airline crew turning on the overhead lights unexpectedly or an annoying street lamp outside your hotel window that’s at just the right angle to keep you awake.
Contoured eye masks succeed where others fail – when a flat mask is stretched over your face, it leaves gaps around your nose where light can leak in. This mask is moulded around your nose, which keeps more light out.
I also like that it’s concave around your eyes, meaning it doesn’t press down on them. In fact, you can even open your eyes underneath the mask and blink freely – this makes it far more comfortable than typical sleeping masks.
My only complaint about these is that the head-strap eventually stretches out. Maybe I just have a giant head, but I have to buy a new one perhaps once a year. Aside from that, my contoured sleep mask really has been a life- and sleep-saver. I wear it at home every night and religiously pack it in my carry-on when I travel.
Plug in anywhere: Insten Universal Travel Adapter
I used to buy travel adapters for each new country I visited, until I realized the ridiculousness of that situation. On trips that took me to multiple countries with different adapters, my electronics bag was heavy and unwieldy, full of rattling, redundant adapters.
That being said, it’s tricky to find a universal travel adapter that’s well-made, doesn’t have unnecessary bells and whistles, and isn’t totally overpriced. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 per adapter, for sure.
I originally got this universal adapter from a hardware store in Italy. After using it for several weeks in both Italy and Israel, I can definitively say that it’s awesome – it has practically all of the plug types you could need. The different plugs flip out depending on what you need to use. They can be locked in place with a switch, and it even offers some surge protection.
Best of all, it works in over 150 countries. So, unless you’re planning to go somewhere with very strange outlets, chances are this adapter has you covered.
Tag your bag in style: cute and functional ways to ID your bag
The only thing worse than the airline losing your bag is another person walking off with it. I love finding unique and functional ways to make my bag stand out from the rest. One great way is to add a carabiner clip with an LED light – as an added bonus, backpackers, walkers, and runners can use this to make themselves more visible at night.
Cute luggage tags are another fun way to make your bag stand out. They’re also a great stocking stuffer for multiple people on your list because they come in sets. I love these cute and colorful monsters, Star Wars characters, and fun travel-themed tags with worldwide destinations.
That’s it for this year’s best travel gifts. What can’t you live without when you’re traveling? What are you planning to buy for the travel-obsessed people you know this holiday season?