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.
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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 above-mentioned shorter breaks in Europe, we’ve used our new IT Luggage carry-on 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 Ocean Pack 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 Gonex 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.
Our Adventure Book is one of many travel planners and journals available that helps you to get creative with the travel planning process. At 7.9 x 4.7 inches, it’s also not too cumbersome to carry around in your bag.Buy now on amazon
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
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.