Looking for a special gift for the traveller in your life? To help inspire your festive shopping, we’ve compiled this list of practical gifts for someone going travelling. These ideas are well-suited to practical travellers living out of a backpack, like us.

We took a year out of our jobs to travel the world, and along the way we discovered a lot about what makes a practical, helpful gift and what doesn’t. So, at the end of this article we’ve also included a few gifts to avoid.

This article contains links to products and services we love, from which we may make commission at no extra cost to you.

1.  Lightweight packable backpack

Every traveller needs a good travel daypack. We recently invested in lightweight packable backpacks by Zomake. They’re now one of our favourite pieces of travel gear!

This small, lightweight backpack is great for short breaks as well as long-term travel. It has 20 litres of storage space, but packs down into a compact pouch and weighs next to nothing.

We’ve used our Zomake backpacks on recent European city breaks to Bratislava and Vilnius, as well as for hiking in the High Tatras. They’re particular handy for travelling with carry-on luggage, as you can pack them into your small case and just use them whenever you need to during the day.

Buy now on amazon

2.  Carry-on luggage

A lightweight case is an incredibly useful piece of gear for shorter-term trips when it comes to carry-on luggage. We wouldn’t recommend this for long-term travel, as you’re likely to need a bigger backpack for that, and it would be too much to take carry-on luggage as well.

But for our shorter breaks in Europe, we’ve used our new carry-on luggage cases. Make sure you check the relevant airline policies to make sure you get the correct dimensions. In recent years, for example, European budget carriers have often made changes to their hand luggage rules.

Buy now on amazon

3.  Dry bag

For any traveller planning to go near an ocean, or any body of water for that matter, a dry pack is a great way to keep electronic gadgets protected. We bought some earth-pak dry bags when we were about to go scuba diving in the Philippines.

This meant that we didn’t need to worry about water splashing in and damaging our phones and cameras while we were out on the boat. We could just get the gadgets out when we wanted to take photos, and the adjustable roll top made them flexible and easy to carry.

Buy now on amazon

4.  Hanging toiletry bag

This is one of those little gadgets that we didn’t know existed until we noticed other backpackers using them. When you’re staying in hostels, the shower facilities are often riddled with wet floors and don’t always have shelves for your toiletries.

A hanging toiletry bag is great for keeping your shower stuff organised and easily accessible when you’re using cramped facilities. Having seen how effective these can be, we’ve now invested in a hanging toiletry bag for our next trip.

Buy now on amazon

5.  Packing cubes

This is probably the ultimate practical life hack for backpackers. Whoever invented packing cubes should be given some kind of award in recognition of their contribution to making travel packing easier. When you’re carrying your entire life in a backpack, it can be tricky to make optimal use of minimal space.

Packing cubes are the answer! A set of these gems allows you to organise your clothes and other belongings into small and convenient compartments. They’re the number one item on our packing list – we’d never travel without them.

Buy now on amazon

6.  Travel money belt

The jury is still out on travel money belts; some bloggers say you shouldn’t bother with them. We, however, disagree. Sure, a money belt can make you conspicuous if you’re dipping into it all the time with little subtlety. But if used in the right way, it’s hard to deny that they help to keep your money and documents safer.

I would argue that if a potential thief sees that you have valuables strapped securely to your body, they’re less likely to bother with you and will instead look for easier targets.

After our experience of getting scammed in Buenos Aires at a moment when we were not using our money belts, we decided to start using them. A few weeks later when we were travelling in Brazil, we felt a lot safer with our cash and passports secured discreetly under our clothes.

Buy now on amazon

7.  Secret stash can

Another excellent device for keeping valuables secure is a secret stash can. This is basically a small container that is disguised to look like a typical and non-valuable item such as a can of soft drink or deodorant.

We used a fake Lynx deodorant can to keep an emergency $50 note stored away during our travel career break. This came to the rescue after the above-mentioned robbery experience in Argentina. You can find all sorts of secret stash cans on Amazon. They’re not expensive, and make for a fun and practical gift for anyone about to embark on long-term travel.

Buy now on amazon

8.  Travel planner

A travel planner and journal makes for a lovely little gift for the creative soul. It’s the perfect thing to get for someone who is planning a big trip. While most planning these days tends to be done online using apps and spreadsheets, there’s still nothing quite like having your own personal booklet.

What’s more, it will later become a wonderful memento of the whole experience. The Clever Fox Travel Journal is one of many travel planners and journals available that helps you to get creative with the travel planning process. At A5 size, it’s also not too cumbersome to carry around in your bag.

Buy now on amazon

9.  Kindle

Backpacking journeys invariably involve long periods of time spent on buses, planes, boats, and – in more enjoyable cases – beaches. Having something to read during this idle time is an absolute must for most travellers.

As much as we love taking part in hostel book exchanges, carrying them around is really not practical. Investing in an e-reader is the best way to read on the road. Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite is our e-reader of choice.

For overnight journeys, the Kindle Fire can be a better option as it allows you to read in the dark. Whichever you choose, your travelling friend or loved one will be forever grateful for giving them a store of their favourite books at their fingertips.

Buy now on amazon

10.  A Bill Bryson book

History has given us many amazing travel writers, but Bill Bryson is perhaps the greatest of all. He has a way of bringing places and experiences to life in a way that’s hilarious and serious at the same time. Reading books like In a Sunburned Country and Down Under helped to shape my perceptions of travelling before I’d done much myself.

For somebody planning a big trip, this is a great way to get excited and motivated. Some other great books about travel to consider buying as a gift include The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho, The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. The latter is my personal favourite, as it’s set in my favourite place in the world.

Buy now on amazon

11.  A Lonely Planet book

Lonely Planet may have been caught up in recent years by the irrepressible force of online competition, but its guides still make for great travel planning resources. When I travelled around Europe many years ago as an 18-year-old, my Lonely Planet guide was the most important thing in my bag.

While I no longer carry one, I still love to flick through one while planning a big trip. Ultimate Travelist is fantastic for getting inspiration in the early stages of planning a big trip. If you’re buying for somebody who knows where they’re going, maybe get them a guide for a specific country or region.

Buy now on amazon

12. Bluetooth earphones

Listening to music and podcasts is another classic way to keep oneself entertained when on a long journey. I also find that it can be a big help with getting to sleep when there’s noise disturbance around.

A few months before we took our travel career break, Lisa’s parents bought me a set of bluetooth earphones. I’ve probably had more usage from these than any other travel gadget in my bag. Small and versatile, they’re a surefire winner as they can be used with any phone or speaker device.

Buy now on amazon

13.  Eye mask

One of the biggest challenges of staying in hostels all the time can be getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not easy when you’re sharing a dorm with strangers every night, who come in late after a night out or get up at the crack of dawn for an early flight.

An eye mask is a simple and effective way to combat the disruption of lights being switched on and off through the night. They’re also small and super-light, so they don’t take up much valuable packing space. We’ve been thankful for their benefits time and time again.

Buy now on amazon

14.  Ear plugs

If there’s anything more disruptive to sleep than lights being switched on and off, it’s noise disturbance. We’ve had our fair share of nights in rooms directly above busy late-night bars or in noisy city districts. It’s also inevitable that you’ll encounter the occasional inconsiderate dorm-mate on the road.

Ear plugs come to the rescue in times like these. It’s important not to go too cheap with these, as bad ear plugs can be painful. We use silicone ones, which have done the trick perfectly.

Buy now on amazon

15.  Silk sleeping bag liner

A silk sleeping bag liner is a small and invaluable piece of gear that can be a lifesaver in both hot and cold nighttime conditions. We initially bought our silk sleeping bag liners to use for camping. When we were trekking overnight in freezing conditions in the depths of Patagonia, they provided us with an invaluable extra layer of warmth.

Later on, we found another use for them. On a few occasions in hotter destinations, we stayed in hostels that had broken air conditioning, and provided sheets that were just too thick for the temperature. The thin silk liners proved to be the perfect fix in these situations.

Buy now on amazon

16.  SD memory card

There’s little as gutting as the moment when you’re at a beautiful location and get your camera out to take the picture, only to find that your memory card is full. You frantically try to delete some unwanted pictures, but you need to move along quickly and the moment is gone. Having a spare memory card means you’re always covered for moments like this.

For example, when we hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, we were off the grid for five days. There were no opportunities to back up and format our memory card. And of course, the surroundings were beautiful, so we got through a lot of photos.

If we hadn’t had a backup SanDisk memory card, we might have missed out on capturing some great memories. A spare SD card will never go amiss for the traveller with a love for photography.

Buy now on amazon

17. Waterproof playing cards

I would class playing cards among the essentials for a traveller’s packing list. Whether it’s for entertaining respite on long journeys or bonding with new hostel friends, there will always be a use for them. The problem is that playing cards wear easily. Well, the cheap and cheerful ones do.

For someone travelling for an extended period of time, it’s well worth spending a little extra on plastic-coated waterproof cards. I would be hard-pressed to name any other item in our backpack that gets more use than our playing cards. It’s a small investment, but one that will always come in handy.

Buy now on amazon

18.  Reef-safe sun cream

It’s hardly surprising that many of the world’s most popular travel destinations are those that get plenty of sun. If you know someone who is heading somewhere that fits this description, you can’t go wrong with buying them some decent sun cream.

It’s very easy to forget to protect yourself from the sun, and for travellers on a tight budget it’s never cheap either. While the price of food, transport and accommodation differs greatly depending on destination, the price of sun cream changes very little.

On our big travel career break, we spent many months on end in places drenched in sunshine, like Bolivia, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Vietnam. We did a lot of scuba diving in these places too, which made us acutely aware of the need to protect marine life.

A constant supply of reef-safe sun protection was a necessity. Helping someone out with a bottle of Sun Bum reef-safe sun cream will save them money without harming the marine life environment, and might avoid an unpleasant medical situation.

Buy now on amazon

19.  Water bottle

When we explore new places, we often spend many hours a day walking around. When you’re active like this it’s vital to stay hydrated. Buying water really adds up, so carrying a good, durable water bottle can really help.

We use metal water bottles as we’ve found that they last much longer. For hiking, we also use a camel pack – this would make for another excellent gift for travellers who love to get out on the trail.

Buy now on amazon

20.  Travel corkscrew

Imagine the horror: you’re in Mendoza, the city at the heart of Argentina’s famous wine industry. You’ve spent the afternoon at a couple of tasting sessions and treated yourself to a bottle of the bodega’s finest reserve. But then, you rock out the wine glasses back at your hostel and realise that you don’t have any way to open the bottle!

This is a situation that befell us on our travels, and it could have been avoided if only we had been carrying our own corkscrew. We didn’t make the same mistake again, that’s for sure. For the wine-loving traveller in your life, a handy pocket corkscrew is the ideal gift.

Buy now on amazon

21.  A cheap flight somewhere

A cheap flight to a cool destination might be the greatest of gifts for someone going travelling

A cheap flight to a cool destination might be the greatest of gifts for someone going travelling This may be the greatest of gifts for someone going travelling who doesn’t have a fixed itinerary. Perhaps they know when they’re going to be in certain continents, but beyond that their plan is open. 

Alternatively, this would also be a great gift for someone who has returned from a major trip and doesn’t have any travel plans ahead. If you think this is too much of a risk, then maybe give them an IOU note or a voucher instead, so they can choose the flight time and destination.

When looking for cheap flights, Skyscanner is your friend. This comparison service scours the web for the cheapest flights between any destinations, and then links you to the relevant airline’s site for booking. We now use Skyscanner to plan all of our trips.

Search for cheap flights

Things to avoid when buying gifts for someone going travelling

The items I’ve detailed above are all super useful for travellers, but there are plenty of examples of gifts that, while being thoughtful, aren’t really useful at all. To balance the list, we’ve also compiled a few ideas of the things to avoid when buying gifts for travellers. (If you’re reading this and you’ve bought us one of these gifts before, I’m so sorry! We know your heart was in the right place.)

1.  Passport holders

While passport holders can make for a pretty accessory, we’ve actually found that they are impractical and fairly pointless. They take up unnecessary extra space, and it can be a real pain to take your passport out of one every time you pass through customs in an airport. We used them when we first started our travel career break, but it wasn’t long before we ditched them.

2.  Full-size toiletries

Small, light and compact are the three keys when it comes to buying toiletries for travellers. We always look to buy products that don’t take up too much space or weight too much, and that we can take onto flights as carry-on luggage. Unless the person you know will have hold luggage and is planning to stay in their first destination for quite some time, it’s best to avoid buying full-size toiletries.

3.  Impractical gimmicks

There are many trinkets and gadgets out there geared towards travelling, which may seem like a fun gift. But always consider: is that compact steam iron really going to get any use? Or that mini shaver set? We travellers seek to save space wherever possible, so unless it’s a necessity that fulfils the bottom couple of levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, it’s probably going to get ditched.

4.  Anything big

Size is everything when your entire life belongings are carried in a backpack. Before our big trip, my work colleagues bought me a new board game. This was great, because I love board games! Only, I couldn’t take it travelling like they intended.

Even though it was in quite a small box, it was still far too big to fit in my travel backpack. We’ve had lots of fun with it since we returned home, but for travel? Always think small.

5.  Anything heavy

On a similar note, weight is just as important as size when it comes to travel accessories. A camp stove might seem like a great idea for a backpacking hiker, but in reality it will probably just be a burden to carry around. We did buy one, but after testing out our gear before our journey, we decided to leave it at home.

When seeking gifts for travellers, always remember that they are going to need to carry it everywhere.

Are you looking for gift ideas for a traveller who is into hiking? Take a look at our Patagonia packing list for our recommended gear. Have you had any great travelling gifts from friends and family? Let us know in the comments below.

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Seeking a special gift for the traveller in your life? This list compiles gifts for someone going travelling based on our own experiences on the road. Travel ideas | career gappers blog | travel gifts

29 thoughts on “21 practical gifts for someone going travelling (and 5 to avoid!)

  1. amaixico says:

    I have to say the #21 was my favorite! haha . But also the Bluetooth earphones, I really need that! The most important, oh Yes, avoid all the things we don’t need at all!
    Love your post.

    • bye:myself says:

      Being a passionate traveller, I actually own most of the things you are suggesting – only don’t use the packing cubes….yet, so if father christmas happens to be reading this: you know where to find my chimney! And, and once you’re at it, throw in a couple of those tickets; they don’t have to be necessarily cheap 😉

  2. Follow My Anchor says:

    Dry bags totally saved my life (and my phone, and my money, and my passport) during Songkran in Thailand haha!
    I would be so happy if my friends would get me any of these gifts, they are all so useful (especially the cheap flight somewhere!!) 😀

  3. Ženja | Bearly Here says:

    This is such a great post, I especially enjoyed DO NOT part of it! There are so many gifts that we have received that were very thoughtful, but not thought through.. Therefore couldn’t bring them to our trips. Great list, thanks for sharing!

  4. Travel Parable says:

    This article is really very informative and useful. As a traveller I always look for portable things. I have got some recommend items like Kindle, light foldable bags, earphones etc. This post make it easy to know what’s missing.

  5. paddockfamily4 says:

    I love that you included “a Bill Bryson book”! My husband and I have read all of his books together… he is such a fantastic travel writer!! We laugh so hard! Any of his books (or all of them!!) would be perfect gifts for a traveler!

  6. Noraly says:

    Great post, I wish my friends had seen this before lol! Item 21 is definitely the best gift though, just to put it out here.. my birthday is 30th of June! Or else a Lonely planet guidebook is also OK – I always travel with one of those!

  7. Federica Provolenti says:

    I would avoid to gift also with travel bottles. I am a traveler and I have so many of them, even immaculate ones, That I am seriously thinking to bring them to a charity.

  8. Richa says:

    Ha ha I think with my kids around, Waterproof playing cards would be great thing to buy for ourselves 😛 and the idea of gifting air ticket is super sweet and I think it would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Laurence says:

    This is right on time, I was thinking on what to give to my friend, because we like travelling, I didn’t think of these items. Really helpful for this coming holiday.

  10. MC Adventure Blog says:

    This is a great list of gift ideas for travelling and it has come just at the right time. We’ve been trying to think what to suggest to family for Christmas so I’m literally just going to forward this post!

  11. thetravelingmd says:

    My boyfriend’s birthday is coming up and we are avid travelers and im racking my brains for something i can give him travelwise. This is a great list but we seem to have everything already. This is awesome for first time travelers.

  12. meetmeatthepyramidstage says:

    Great post and just in time for Christmas! particularly love the travel corkscrew ( on separate occasions, I’ve to had to open a bottle of wine with a drill (yes really) and a screw driver – so this would actually come in very handy – Bill Bryson books are just the best.

  13. Yukti says:

    Thanks for sharing wonderful guide on what to gift to a person who is going for traveling. I loved the idea of Bluetooth headphones, playing cards, water bottles and carry on luggage. But the biggest gift which you suggested is cheap flight ticket to some destination. What an angel that person may be who is gifting ticket to somebody else. I also agree with Don’ts – Passport holders, they are just waste and in rainy weather, I use ziplock transparent bag for it. Thanks for sharing helpful post.

  14. Navita says:

    I am going to pass on this post to all our loved ones who buy gifts for us 🙂 The packing cubes are fantastic and they would make life so easy! And what fun to receive a cheap flight as a gift! Anything big and heavy a total no! Find the list very well crafted and thought through from a travelers point of view!

  15. Maria says:

    My nameday is next week and Christmas is just around the corner so I’m definitely forwarding this post to all my loved ones. I know they’re going to buy me something so why not spend their money on something I actually want? The hanging toiletries bag, the dry bag and the packable backpack are must-haves for me but anything from this list would make me happy. Yet nothing beats a (cheap) plane ticket hidden inside an LP guidebook ??

  16. Fly Away Godddess says:

    Hands down packing cubes are the best things ever created. I love mine. I would also add a portable vacuum and vacuum sealed bags ( bought on amazon) but it’s the size of a fat sharpie it plugs in and literally sucks the air out of you air tight bag full of clothes.

    Opinion but it’s just maximizes the already amazing perks of packing cubes!

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