In the United States, after we stuff our stomachs with turkey on Thanksgiving, we embark on a mission to empty our wallets in true consumerism fashion. As Americans gear up for “Black Friday,” the unofficial start of Christmas shopping, stores across the country are posting steep discounts, and this includes online stores as well. While I used to be a big shopper back in my high school days, I’ve moved toward minimalism the more I’ve traveled and realized how much more relaxing and freeing it is to live a minimalist lifestyle, and I think many other travelers will tell you the same. Thus, this year’s holiday gift guide is a compilation of our most practical gift ideas for the traveler in your life – no fluff, simple gifts that are essential for any traveler’s arsenal. Most of the products below are products that Hope and I use regularly for our travels or that we have at least tested personally. Here is our list of 33 practical gift ideas for travelers.
Hope and I each have our own Minaal backpack (I have the 1.0 and Hope has the 2.0), and we could not be happier with it. We’ve brought this backpack on weekend trips and also on a 2.5 month stint overseas, so you really can live out of this backpack. You’d think with all its space and organizational capabilities that it’s probably a very lage bag, but it’s actually very compact and lightweight. In fact, it meets the requirements for a carry on bag for even the smallest, cheapest airlines, such as Ryanair or Spirit, which fly tiny planes with very little storage. With the Minaal, you won’t ever have to risk having to pay extra baggage fees on cheap airlines.
Packing cubes are the secret weapon to keeping your backpack or suitcase organized and compact. You’ll find that it not only saves you a lot of time unpacking and repacking your suitcase while on your travels, it also helps save space in your backpack because it’s easier to see when you’ve got 10 shirts you’re trying to pack into one cube for a weekend trip that you’re probably overpacking. Every traveler needs some packing cubes.
The Tortuga Travel Daypack is lightweight, has organization compartments, and is easy to roll up and stow away. I typically pack this inside my Minaal backpack as a large packing cube, and then I’ll have a smaller, lightweight daypack to wander the city or go on a hike with when I arrive at my location.
Silicone travel tubes are far superior to plastic travel bottles because it is much easier to squeeze out the last of the liquids in a silicone bottle than a plastic bottle. An added bonus to these bottles is that the bottles come with pre-printed labels on the inside of the bottle, so all you have to do is twist the bottle to the correct lable, and voila – your bottle is properly labeled with its contents.
This toiletry bag is on the smaller end but is enough for all the toiletries and makeup I bring with me on my travels. The best part about this toiletry bag is that there’s a hook on the inside which easily hooks onto the back of the bathroom door, a towel rack, or anything else. This way, all your contents are open for you to see and easily access as you get ready each morning.
These bags are great not just for shoes but for dirty laundry as well. They are very lightweight and compact, so you won’t even notice if you pack an extra one to hold dirty laundry in as it accumulates throughout your trip. They’re also great for keeping your dirty shoes away from the rest of your clean clothes and gear.
Hope and I both have the Nikon D3200 and it’s our primary travel camera (other than our iPhones). It’s on the smaller side and comes with a great kit lens that’ll do a lot for you if you’re not in the market for new lenses.
With that said, if you are in the market for new lenses, the first one you should add to your arsenal is a wide angle lens. Whether you enjoy photographing nature or architecture, the wide angle lens is your best bet at capturing as much of the whole image you’re seeing as you can. We use this off-brand Tokina lens and have no complaints whatsoever.
If you’re more into portrait photography than landscape, you need a good portrait lens. Admittedly, neither Hope nor I take many portrait shots, so we may not be the best judge of which portrait lens is the best, but we both have this lens which has worked perfectly for our needs. I typically bring my wide angle lens and my portrait lens with me on my travels.
Another essential for photography travel lovers is a tripod, especially if you’re trying to shoot in low light or capture very detailed images such as stars at night or the northern lights, which has become almost a fad bucket list item for all the burgeoning Iceland enthusiasts who have emerged over the last few years.
11. Neoprene Sleeves
For a while, I used a bulky camera bag for my Nikon DSLR and a few lenses, and this took up almost half of my backpack. However, I recently discovered these neoprene sleeves, which keep my camera and lenses protected but greatly reduces the bulk. The best part is you can get a set of sleeves for your camera and three lenses for less than $20 USD.
I’ve yet to get a GoPro as this is definitely a budget list item, but I am dying to get one (any volunteers for donations??) Hope has an older version which we’ve brought with us on ski trips, but I really would like to have a waterproof one for underwater shots. This would be a perfect gift for any traveler.
I just got the Aukey clip-on camera lens for my mom for her birthday, and she loves it so far! It easily clips onto your phone camera, and it comes with two lenses: a wide angle lens and a micro lens. Essentially, this turns your ordinary phone camera into a fancy DSLR-quality camera.
I have this tee in every color, and it is the perfect length for us shorter girls (I’m 5’2″). It’s made from a super soft cotton fabric and the neutral color options are very easy to match with jeans or trousers or any color.
This is your classic cotton tank top, although a bit longer than I’d like it. The length is much longer than the Everlane Box-Cut Tee. However, I typically tuck in the front or tie the bottom with a hairtie, which resolves the length issue. For taller girls, I’d imagine this tank would be about the right length. It comes in neutral colors, like everything else from Everlane, and is easy to pair with any bottom.
This is a thin, soft long sleeve shirt that you can throw on easily over a tank or tee on chilly nights. I typically stow this away in my daypack and put it on over whatever I’m wearing if it gets a bit chilly. Beacuse it’s so thin, it folds up very small and you can stuff it into any crevice or opening in your daypack.
This pant feels like a sweatpant but can be dressed up to look much more formal, for instance with a pair of black heels. It is extremely warm and comfortable, perfect for cold airplane rides. The pant is cinched in at the bottom and opens with a zipper, so it would be difficult to make adjustments on these pants, but they are a good length on me (I’m 5’2″), so even shorter girls should be fine. I imagine on taller girls this pant would fit more like a cropped pant than a full length pant.
These are our go-to travel/hiking/exploring pants. They work for just about any situation you might be in while traveling and are so comfortable. The price is steep, but the quality is excellent. We’ve had ours for over five years now, and they’re still looking good.
I am not a big jeans girl and typically lean toward leggings or joggers that I find to be much more comfortable, but these jeans are so light and soft that they don’t even feel like jeans. There’s a lot more stretch in these jeans than some $300 jeans I’ve tried on, and these are only $75! I have the black ones, which pair with just about anything.
I don’t wear shorts very often when I travel because I’ve noticed that no one quite likes wearing shorts as much as Americans do, but when I travel in the summer months, I’ll typically still bring a pair of shorts with me just in case it gets too hot. I always bring these high-waisted shorts from American Apparel and pair it with some cropped tops for a comfortable yet well put together look.
21. Wool Socks
Merino wool socks are the best addition to any packing list, whether in cold or warm weather, because merino wool is quick drying and odorless. They’re perfect for traveling because you can wash them when they’re dirty, and they’ll dry much faster than socks made from cotton or other fabrics.
This lightweight jacket is so water and wind resistant that I bring it with me on summer and winter hikes now. In the winter, I’ll wear this under a thicker coat that looks more stylish but is less practical. This way, I am still protected from strong winds and rain because this water/wind resistant jacket provides that insulating layer for me.
These are a hiking essential. I don’t know what we would’ve done without these pants on our Trolltunga hike last summer. They kept us dry as it was raining on and off for most of our hike. We wore these over our leggings, in case we got too hot and wanted to take them off, but we ended up keeping them on the entire hike. I wore Jotunheim pants that I got in Norway, but these Columbia pants are similar.
I’ve worn these around Europe on multiple trips while walking 15-20 miles per day. These boots are so comfortable and provide good coverage whether you are wandering around a city or going on a hike in the mountains. If you buy the black ones, it’s also possible to make them look dressier if you want to wear them out at night.
If you’re not a big fan of boots, try these Vans Leather Slip-Ons, which are just as comfortable as the Troopas. They feel like sneakers but don’t make you look like you’re on your way to the gym.
If you’re going on a serious hike like the one we went on this summer in Norway, you’ll need actual hiking shoes. Hope and I both have Salomon hiking shoes, and we are both perfectly content with our shoes. I don’t think you can go wrong with either.
These are the shoes Hope wore on our 22 mile hike in Norway over the summer, and they fared well through rainy/muddy conditions.
28. Microfiber Towel
A microfiber towel is an essential for anyone who frequently stays in hostels or couchsurfs on their travels. This towel is very thin and folds/rolls up so that it hardly takes up any space in your backpack. The best part is that the microfiber material dries very quickly, so even if you use this towel to dry off after showering, you’ll be able to pack it away in your backpack without getting everything else wet almost immediately. I’ve had my microfiber towel for about two years now and have brought it with me on multiple trips without complaint.
29. Carabiner Clips
One of the most useful additions to my backpack are my black carabiner clips, which I use to hold my water bottle, jackets, or any extra bulk item that won’t fit in my backpack but that the carabiner can clip onto. I have the Bluecell carabiner clips, which unfortunately have been discontinued, but you can find similar ones at the link above. I bought a pack of five carabiner clips about five years ago, and I haven’t had a single one break yet. I always clip a couple onto my backpack before I leave for my trips, since I never know when I’ll need one.
It is so important to stay hydrated on flights and at all times when traveling. Rather than buying lots of water bottles, consider reducing waste and saving money and bringing your own water bottle on your travels. I have been using this Camelbak water bottle for the last seven years, and it has not failed me. I’ve tried lots of other water bottles in the meantime but kept coming back to the Camelbak. I usually hook it onto my backpack using a carabiner clip mentioned above.
You never know when you’re going to run into a screaming baby on your 10-hour flight or conversations you can’t help eavesdropping on but really have no interest in hearing. These noise-cancelling headphones do such a good job of tuning out outside noises that it even reduces, if not eliminates completely, the engine noise on flights. It does a much better job than in-ear headphones and would be the perfect gift for someone who flies often.
32. Playing Cards
A deck of playing cards is the perfect way to pass the time on a long flight, in the hostel with some new friends, or over a few beers on a relaxing afternoon. These playing cards are waterproof, which is even better for the many adventures and accidents that may happen with an active traveler.
Whether you’re trying to keep the contents of your backpack safe while exploring a new city or trying to lock up your belongings in a locker at your hostel, a small lock like this one from Master Lock will come in handy all the time. I prefer the locks with combinations on them so there’s no chance that I’ll lose the key to the lock.