It’s a typical scene during the holidays: well meaning friends and family, knowing that the person they need to find a gift for loves to travel, will — logically — seek out something travel related to buy them.
This usually means hitting up one of dozens of articles out there for ideas to point you in the right direction. From Business Insider to Pop Sugar and Extra Pack of Peanuts, there are enough opinions and ideas out there to make you dizzy.
Although some of their ideas are great — Business Insider was pretty clever to suggest ClearMe, for example, and that scratch off map looks like fun — I’d like to urge you to think past these neat lists of products this holiday season. Please, before you toss that cute emergency travel toiletry kit into your shopping cart, lets talk the travel gift ideas to avoid this holiday season.
“Essentials” That Don’t Consider Personal Style
There are millions of people out there who define themselves as “traveler,” and among them, a wide range of ages, income levels, tastes, styles, and interests that help fuel the wanderlust.
For that reason, you should avoid gifting luggage, toiletry bags, neck pillows, travel gadgets, or any other sort of travel essential unless you know the person’s travel style very well. For example:
A personal luggage scale, travel iron, or an item of clothing outside of their typical color pallet might just end up sitting in the back of the closet. I also find that, for a light packer, most toiletry bags out there tend to be far too large.
Instead, think about giving them something that will help them fuel the wanderlust, like a travel memoir, or better organize their pack, like the leather earphone organizer from PopSugar’s list. Better yet, get them something that doesn’t need to be packed. My sister, for example, totally nailed it by gifting me a Lyft gift card last year (who doesn’t want a free ride to the airport?).
Budget travelers — usually younger travelers — probably won’t need a fancy eye mask or nice leather satchel carry on. They’re more likely to travel with a backpack, stay in hostels, and rough it on public transportation.
As such, a budget traveler is less likely to appreciate “nicer” items that might get beat up while traveling, but a travel corkscrew, quick dry towel, or a nice travel lock for hostel lockers would be much more relevant for the way they travel.
Then think twice about gifting a quick dry towel or emergency survival kit. High end travelers tend not to need as many of those “just in case” items as the rest of us, but, like the minimalist, could always appreciate a little wanderlust inspiration or gift card.
I’m also kind of digging the felt carry-all from Business Insider’s list — but it’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t want to bring on a dusty bus ride in Kenya. In other words, it’s great for luxury travelers.
Travelers who primarily explore the globe in search of that next beautiful hike, climbing spot, bike ride, or scuba dive, tend to have most of the equipment they need for their sport of choice, though there are always things that run out and have to be replaced.
For example, a biker will have bike lights, but tubes get used up quickly. Climbers will have shoes, but are always in need of chalk. Hikers, if they use a compass, they’ll have one, but they can never have too many pairs of wool socks. And so on.
The one thing not to get a fashionable traveler: anything to do with fashion — especially travel clothing (with or without lots of pockets). Though many travelers swear by these items, there are plenty more who don’t, and fashionable travelers tend to be particular in their style.
Instead, focus on another aspect of their packing personality. Do they love music? How about some portable speakers. Avid writer? Get them a moleskine. Selfie aficionado? Go for an olloclip iPhone lens or mini tripod.
If your friend, or family member, tends to overpack for every trip, getting them something else to put in their bag is generally a bad idea.
However, compression sacks and packing cubes could help them get their act together and reduce their bag size, and, well, they’re the ones that personal luggage scale was made for.
Like luxury travelers and minimalists, business travelers tend to not need too many just-in-case items — or at least, not the same just in case items as anyone else. For that reason, sleep sacks, head lamps, portable speakers, or a water purifier won’t make good gifts for them.
However, a good neck pillow or eye mask to help them sleep on a plane, or a portable battery to make sure their phone is always charged, are exactly the sort of items they’d want to stuff in their tasteful carry-on.
Avoid Luggage & Cameras
Some of those lists have some solid luggage gift ideas (thanks Extra Pack of Peanuts!) but generally if you’re buying something for a frequent traveler, you can assume they already have the luggage they want, and have put a lot of thought into choosing it. Same goes for cameras.
Generally, I’d stray away from giving a frequent traveler luggage, cameras, or any other travel essential they probably have and use already. Of course, if they’ve mentioned that they want to swap out their old Osprey for a new Tortuga, that’s a different story.
Don’t Buy Things; Facilitate Experiences
On that note, consider not gifting them things at all — especially if you don’t know the inside of their travel backpack. Let the light packers continue to pack light, and give the gift travelers really want (but would never ask for): the chance to travel.
- Airlines gift cards
- Uber or Lyft credit
- A tour or cooking class in their next travel destination
- A night (or two) somewhere at an amazing hotel/hostel/getaway nearby
- Admission to an event or tour in their own city — travel doesn’t have to be far flung, after all!
If possible, give them an “experience” that has flexible dates, or coordinate with their travel partner to choose the best day otherwise.
Get Radical: Don’t Give Gifts at All
Of course, you could simply forgo giving any gift at all. This year, Tortuga is encouraging its customers to think about supporting a cause we feel passionate about — sea turtle conservation. If your traveler has been around, there’s a chance they’ve discovered something they feel passionate about as well.
Consider donating to a national park they loved, supporting a non-profit they volunteered with, or any number of goodwill gifts that doesn’t just say “we’re supporting a good cause,” but “we listened to your travel stories and want to support a cause you feel strongly about.”
If you’re thinking of gifting a frequent traveler something travel related this holiday season, don’t get them something that will sit in the back of their closet, never tagging along for their world adventures. Instead:
- Get them an item that speaks to their individual packing/traveling style — not all travel related gifts work for all travelers
- Give them the gift of experiences, rather than things
- Avoid big ticket items/travel essentials unless you know they’ve been looking to replace something
- Be radical, don’t gift them anything at all, but donate in their name
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