Let me share a little fun fact with you guys about myself: I LOVE Christmas, and especially love picking out the perfect gifts for all the people in my life. I shop year-round for the people I love, and usually have a stash of “oh, this would be perfect for [insert family member name here]” gifts come Christmas time. (Tell me I'm not alone here?)
If you've got a picky traveler in your life (or if you're like me and never seem to need or want anything specific around the holidays), this gift guide may help you find the perfect present.
This list is full of items that I personally use and love, and that I think other travelers will enjoy, too. Most of them are things I've purchased with my own money – nobody has paid me to include an item here, so you can trust that the recommendations are real!
So, without further ado, I give you the 2019 edition of Amanda's Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers (and Travel-Lovers)!
TRAVEL PACKING MUST-HAVES
1. Convertible Pacsafe backpack
For the past two years, I've been traveling with this convertible backpack/purse from Pacsafe – and I never fail to get compliments on it from other travelers! The bag is made with Pacsafe's signature slash-proof material, has lockable zippers to make it fairly theft-proof, and I love that it can easily transform from an over-the-shoulder purse on the plane to a small daypack for daily adventures.
I have an embarrassingly large amount of bags in my closet, but this one has become my go-to.
Time when it was most useful: In a museum in Vienna, when everyone else was being forced to put their backpacks into lockers. I converted my bag into a purse, and didn't have to pay for a locker!
If stylish-yet-safe bags like this are your jam, I also love this slightly bigger Pacsafe CitySafe backpack. It's not convertible, but it's got all the same safety features AND looks really chic. Perfect for any upcoming Europe trips.
2. Packing cubes
No gift guide or packing list would be complete without a mention of packing cubes. I use packing cubes to organize whatever bag I’m traveling with, be it a carry-on-sized backpack, or a larger suitcase.
I usually use about 3 cubes: one for tops, one for bottoms, and one for miscellaneous things like sweaters or dresses. This makes picking out an outfit SO much easier, since you don’t have to dig through every article of clothing in your bag.
Time when they were most useful: Uh, pretty much every trip! They can also help you keep your clean and dirty clothes separate, and even double as small laundry bags in a pinch!
3. Quick-dry travel towel
You may not *think* you'll get use out of a quick-dry travel towel, but you'd be surprised! Mine has come in handy for snorkeling trips, kayaking adventures, and even once or twice on a bus as a make-shift blanket. And the best news is that this specific towel doesn't take up a lot of room, making it super easy to pack.
Time when it was most useful: Obviously it's a must-have for any trips where camping might be involved. But I also was glad to have mine while traveling in Morocco. The towels provided by some of the hotels I stayed were scratchy and thread-bare, so I was really glad to have packed my own.
4. Solid shampoo/conditioner
For various reasons (including wanting to waste less plastic and keep my luggage lighter), I've started traveling with solid shampoo and conditioner on some of my longer trips. Shampoo/conditioner bars take up far less space in a suitcase, and aren't subject to the liquid rules that regular bottles of the stuff are.
Time when they were most useful: When I'm traveling carry-on-only for longer than a week; on those trips, tiny 3-ounce bottles aren't enough, but larger bottles of liquids aren't allowed. Solid shampoo/conditioner is an easy way around this dilemma.
5. Jewelry/makeup bag
I don't pretend to have an extensive makeup routine (spoiler alert: I very rarely wear any!), but I do usually travel with a bit of jewelry. And that jewelry inevitably always works its way into a tangled mess in my usual makeup bag.
I bought this all-in-one jewelry and makeup organizer and it's been SO much easier to find what I'm looking for on the road!
Time when it was most useful: On my recent trip to London, Italy, and Turkey. The easiest way to dress up a casual outfit is with some dangly earrings and a sparkly necklace.
6. Silk sleep sheet
I sometimes travel with a silk sleep sheet. This is kind of like a light-weight sleeping bag, and is great for either hot destinations (I'm one of those people who needs SOME type of blanket at night, even if it's hot out), or in instances where I need to sleep somewhere that might not be super clean. My silk sleep sheet weighs basically nothing, and takes up very little space in my bag.
Time when it was most useful: On an overnight train in Vietnam, where the sheets on the beds weren't changed in between passengers. Curling up inside my sleep sheet was the only way I could fall asleep!
7. Trtl travel pillow
Speaking of sleeping… I have a hell of a time sleeping on planes, so I'm always on the lookout for products that might help, but that also aren't bulky to pack. I ordered one of these Trtl travel pillows on a whim earlier this year before a trip to East Africa because it looked cozy AND it was slim enough to easily tuck away in a bag.
And guess what? I didn't hate it! It's still no comparison to sleeping in an actual bed, but I did find it a bit easier to nod off using this pillow. It's actually more of a neck brace than a pillow, but I found it pretty comfortable and did it keep my neck from hurting on an overnight flight when I had to doze while sitting up.
I'm one of those people who uses an electric toothbrush at home, but usually takes one of those $2 fold-up toothbrushes with me when I travel. Since I'm on the road a lot more these days, though, those cheap toothbrushes just don't cut it. So I picked up a travel-sized electric toothbrush instead.
This toothbrush is small and comes with a cover so you can easily throw it in with your toiletries. It runs off a AAA battery (easy to replace), and works pretty well for the price tag.
And, not because I expect that many people are buying full sets of luggage as Christmas gifts but rather just in case you're interested, you can find all my favorite luggage listed here: The Best Luggage and Bags for Travel
TRAVEL CLOTHING YOU'LL WEAR
1. Speakeasy hidden pocket travel scarf
It's true: I'm a liiiiiittle bit obsessed with these hidden pocket infinity scarves from Speakeasy Travel Supply. Not only do they come in soft fabrics and cute patterns, but they also come complete with a hidden zippered pocket that's the perfect size for a passport, credit card(s), and some cash.
These are perfect for travel days – just put everything important in your scarf, wear it like normal, and skip the part where you worry about your essentials getting stolen in-transit.
Time when it was most useful: As a way to hold my phone and money at temples in Egypt! I didn't want to carry a big bag around because there are lots of security checks, but was wearing a dress without pockets. Scarf-pocket to the rescue!
2. SUAVS shoes
I'm always on the lookout for my next perfect travel shoe. I've found flats that I love, and also have go-to walking sandals. And now I FINALLY have a pair of sneakers that I adore. SUAVS makes shoes that feel and fit more like socks. My SUAVS shoes are soft, breathable, and flexible. I can throw them in the washing machine if they get dirty or smelly, and they take up basically no room in a suitcase.
I also love that the company is based in the US and run by women, which is an added bonus in my book! (They also offer these same shoes in men's sizes – my husband has a pair of gray ones!)
Time when they were most useful: All of my recent warm-weather trips! I can wear them barefoot for a week or two, then come home and wash them so they're as good as new.
3. Packable sun hat
Sun protection is no joke, people. I've been on a quest for the past couple of years to find a packable sun hat that I love. And I've finally found one! This sun hat isn't too big or floppy, it truly is packable (it holds its shape even when folded up in a bag or suitcase for days), AND it's affordable. It also comes in quite a few different colors to match any outfit.
If Indiana Jones is more your style, I've recently added this Wallaroo sun hat to my arsenal. It's also packable (though you'll want to unfold it as much as you can), and protects you from UV rays, too!
Time when it was most useful: On safari in the Maasai Mara. We were in an open-top truck, and my Wallaroo hat helped provide me with some much-needed personal shade.
4. His and hers rain coat
One of my most-packed items is my Columbia Arcadia II rain coat. This waterproof jacket has traveled with me to many countries on multiple continents in the last few years, and it still looks (and wears) like new. I can't say enough good things about this coat! I love it so much that I bought it in a second color this year.
And the great news is that they make the same jacket for women and men – yes, Elliot totally has one, too.
Time when it was most useful: Obviously it's most useful when it rains – it's truly waterproof. But I also was very glad to have this coat when visiting the island of Mykines in the Faroe Islands. This island is known for its bird life (especially puffins), and I needed my rain coat to protect myself from falling bird poo!
For more of my favorite travel clothing, head over to my Amazon shop.
TRAVEL TECH YOU CAN AFFORD
1. Kindle Paperwhite
I don't go ANYwhere without my Kindle these days. And the Kindle Paperwhite, in my opinion, is the very best Kindle out there. It has a built-in backlight perfect for reading on planes, won't hurt your eyes with screen glare, and has a battery that lasts for weeks. The newest version of the Paperwhite is waterproof, too, making reading on the beach, by the pool, or in a fancy hotel tub even better.
Time when it was most useful: Pretty much every trip I go on ever.
2. Panasonic LUMIX LX10
I really love my Sony camera for traveling, but if you're looking for something even more compact and budget-friendly, this Panasonic camera is a fantastic option. It takes great photos (and video), still offers manual settings, and has a flip-up LCD screen perfect for taking epic selfies.
I bought this camera to carry with me as a back-up, but I've used it exclusively on quite a few trips because it's so good!
Time when it was most useful: I often travel with this camera as a back-up on longer trips, and used it as a second camera on my recent trip to East Africa. It was great while on safari, as I could quickly switch between my main camera with a massive telephoto lens on it and this one when animals came up closer to our truck.
3. Joby GorillaPod
Even though having a tripod with you at all times can lead to some epic photos (how do you think all of us solo travelers get those great selfies??), traveling with a full-sized tripod isn't always feasible.
In cases where I'm not sure I'll really use my tripod, or on trips when I don't want to carry the extra weight, I'll often pack my Joby GorillaPod instead. These tripods have bendy, magnetic legs that make them super versatile, and they weigh much less than a full-size tripod.
Time when it was most useful: I take my GorillaPod on a lot of trips with me. Most recently, I used it to take photos of myself in Scottsdale with the help of a remote.
4. GoPro Hero 7
Now that the GoPro Hero 8 is on the market, the GoPro Hero 7 Black has dropped a bit in price – meaning it's a great time to snatch one up! This version of the popular action camera is truly amazing.
The Hero 7 has a new stabilization mode called Hypersmooth that will really take your videos to the next level. Now you can go on all sorts of adventures and get smooth, professional-quality video without having to spend tons of money on expensive gimbals.
Time when it was most useful: I used my GoPro Hero 7 to film most of my trip to Aruba, which included bumpy 4×4 rides, snorkeling trips, and more – and the video quality looks amazing!
5. Anker Soundcore Mini
You don't need to spend $100+ on a fancy bluetooth speaker. This SoundCore mini by Anker produces great sound at a really affordable price. AND it's small enough to easily throw in your bag on your next trip. This speaker has become a must-have for me on road trips.
Time when it was most useful: I find rental cars can be really hit or miss when it comes to which features they have – never assume that you'll be able to easily connect your phone to a rental car's radio! I've used my SoundCore mini on road trips (mostly recently in Scotland) to listen to both music and podcasts.
6. Anker power bank
While batteries are lasting longer these days, I still find that my phone often runs out of juice after a long travel day of using maps and posting to Instagram Stories. For this reason, I always travel with a small power bank for backup battery power.
I like the Anker PowerCore 15000 because it's fairly small (meaning easy to throw into my purse or day pack), but mighty – it will charge my phone 3-4 times before needing to be charged itself.
Time when it was most useful: When I was in Istanbul trying to make sure my dad and I could find our way back to our hotel, and my phone inconveniently decided to die when we were still about a 20-minute walk away. Luckily I had my power bank and charging cord in my bag, and simply plugged in and kept walking.
7. Skyroam wifi hotspot
If you've ever been frustrated with trying to use your phone plan abroad, consider getting a portable wifi hotspot like a Skyroam. These portable wifi devices are SIM-free, have a long battery life, and allow you to only pay for the data you use. You can either purchase or rent a Skyroam device, depending on how much you'll use it.
I have a Skyroam Solis, which I've used so far in countries like New Zealand, Iceland, Scotland, Tanzania, and Turkey.
>> Save 10% on your Skyroam with the code ADBSKYROAM. <<
8. Power strip / surge protector
This Belkin power strip and surge protector ends up on almost every gift guide and packing list I write – but that's because I've never replaced mine after years of taking it on every trip. It's perfect for hotel rooms with a lack of outlets, and great because it doesn't take up a ton of room in my electronics pouch. I also love that it has no cord/extra wires to get tangled up.
Time when it was most useful: When I travel with other people or run into a hotel room with only one usable outlet (it actually happens fairly frequently!), this power strip is essential so I can charge everything overnight.
1. Scratch-off map
I like finding creative ways to bring my travels into my everyday life – and that includes in my home decorating! I love these scratch-off travel maps not only because it's fun to reveal all the places you've been, but also because they make for a great conversation piece up on the wall! I especially like this one from Landmass Goods because it includes all the flags of the world for you to scratch off, too.
Whether you have a fancy DSLR camera or a small point and shoot, keeping the lens clean is something every camera owner should be concerned about. I never travel without my LensPen for this exact reason. It's perfect for removing dirt, dust, sand, and those annoying fingerprints while leaving your lens scratch-free. It's also only the size of a marker, meaning you don't have to worry about it taking up extra room in your bag.
3. Cute cord keepers
Most people travel with at least a few pieces of tech these days; you've got your phone, maybe wireless headphones, a tablet or e-reader, a camera, maybe a fitness tracker… and not all of these things can be charged with the same cord. Meaning you've probably got quite a few cords that you're throwing into a bag to get all tangled together. This is where cord keepers come in.
These are super simple, yet so so handy. I never travel without a couple cord keepers in my bag. And, as a bonus, these ones come in cute animal shapes! A perfect stocking stuffer.
4. Eco-friendly gear
One of the easiest things you can do to cut down on plastic use and be kinder to the environment when you travel is to take a reusable water bottle with you. I love my CamelBak Chute bottle – it's traveled around Africa, New Zealand, Europe, and the US with me!
Speaking of being environmentally friendly when you travel… plenty of places around the world are still using unnecessary plastic straws. If you're like me and plastic straws make you a little bit rage-y, pick up some reusable stainless steel straws that you can carry with you. These ones even come with brushes to make cleaning easy.
5. Travel books
If you have a travel-lover in your life who also still enjoys the smell and feel of physical books, here are some travel books to stuff in their stocking this year:
- In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche
- The Worrier's Guide to the End of the World by Torre DeRoche
- The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan
- How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff
- The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
- 10 Years a Nomad by Matt Kepnes
Cool travel guides
- Comfortably Wild by Mike and Anne Howard (get a signed copy here)
- Dark Skies by Valerie Stimac (get a signed copy here)
- This is My South by Caroline Eubanks
- Ultimate Journeys for Two by Mike and Anne Howard
FOR THOSE WHO DON'T WANT “STUFF”
I personally enjoy buying people physical gifts to open on Christmas Day, but it can be really tough to find things that are both thoughtful AND useful. Sometimes, more “stuff” just isn't the answer.
If you're looking for some non-material things to buy the traveler in your life this year, here are 5 great things to consider:
1. Flytographer session
Whether you're traveling solo, with a partner, or as an entire family, it can sometimes be really difficult to get good photos of yourself. I often travel with a tripod to get the shots I want, but others usually just rely on the goodwill and photography skills of strangers – which we all know usually leads to absolutely terrible photos.
If you want to make sure your friends and loved ones get truly beautiful vacation shots to take home, why not gift them with a Flytographer session?
The way Flytographer works is pretty simple: you choose the city, choose a photographer, choose the length of your session (60 minutes is probably enough), and then book! And then you go have a fun photo shoot and get a few dozen edited photos to keep.
Flytographer operates in more than 300 cities all around the world, and you can buy a gift card that never expires.
OR, if you want to just book a Flytographer session for yourself, use the code FLY25 to save $25 off your first booking!
2. Priority Pass
Airport lounges are often only accessible to people flying first or business class. But with a Priority Pass, you can access airline lounges all around the world regardless of which class you're actually flying.
And why would you want lounge access? Think back to any time you've been stuck in an airport on a long layover or because of a delayed flight. Wouldn't it have been nice to be able to escape to a quieter, far more comfortable corner of the airport with reliable charging points, free food, a bar, free wifi, and clean toilets? That's what you get in an airline lounge! Some larger international lounges also offer showers and even rooms for naps for a nominal fee.
A Priority Pass currently allows access to more than 1300 airport lounges around the world. There are 3 different membership levels depending on how often you plan to use the pass. The Standard Plus plan is probably best for most travelers – it includes 10 free lounge visits in a year (and after those 10, you can visit any included lounge for $32).
>> Priority Pass is having a Black Friday sale where you can save up to 40%! Click here to learn more. <<
3. GetYourGuide gift card
I've been booking a lot of day trips and tours recently through the GetYourGuide platform. I find this booking platform really easy to use (they even have a handy app to keep track of all your tickets for you), and appreciate how many user reviews there are to read for most tours.
GetYourGuide has thousands of tours and experiences to choose from all around the world, from cruises to day trips to food tours. I've booked things like an island tour of Aruba, wine tasting in the Douro Valley in Portugal, a day trip to Essaouira in Morocco, sightseeing in Istanbul, and more.
You can purchase a GetYourGuide gift card for any amount and gift it to a friend of loved one. Gift cards are good for 18 months, and can be used to book any experience or tour on the site.
If the traveler in your life is planning a trip within the United States in the coming year, you could also consider buying them a CityPASS, the money-saving sightseeing pass offered in more than a dozen major North American cities.
I've used a CityPASS in Chicago and Seattle, but the passes are also offered in places like New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Toronto, and more. These passes really do save money, and would make a great gift.
5. Intrepid Travel tour
Lastly, you could go all-out and book a full-on tour for yourself and a loved one for Christmas. There are lots of great travel sales going on this time of year. For example, my favorite tour company, Intrepid Travel, is always offering last-minute deals on popular tours, as well as a Cyber Sale that runs through Dec. 5.
I can vouch for Intrepid; I've been on 9 tours with them all around the world, and have enjoyed every one. Affordable tours I can personally (and very highly) recommend include their 10-day Vietnam Express Southbound tour, their 12-day Egypt Experience tour, and their 13-day Morocco Uncovered tour.
>> Check out the 2019 Cyber Sale, which is offering 20% off ALL TRIPS. <<
So there you have it – another year, another gift guide! Which of these items would you like Santa to bring YOU this year?
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