The best travel gifts have no season. They encourage travel, make travel easier, pamper travelers, and remind us, even when we’re home, of the world all around.
We’ve been lucky to stay up to date on travel-related products, and to maintain a travel mindset. During the past couple years, we’ve explored our home state of Minnesota, mostly hiking in State Parks and enjoying city staycations.
Recently, we’ve even boarded flights for international and domestic travel. Yes, we felt a bit out of practice, but we relied on well-tested gear and some packing muscle memory to slide back into the routine. (Here are 20 Reasons We Keep on Traveling.)
We know what it’s like to travel now. With respect to the changing conditions and safety precautions around the globe – and at home – we offer our top travel gift recommendations, combining a few old favorites with some new products. Enjoy.
Table of Contents
Someone suggested this wallet to Tom after his old RFID wallet wore out, and he's now in love with it. It's super slim, and because it is, he's cut down on the number of cards he's carrying – which makes it even slimmer. It's plenty slim to carry in the front pocket, and that, too, makes it a tougher target for pickpockets. While super slim, it's still enough to carry four credit cards, driver's license and Global Entry IDs, four or five business cards, and his health insurance card. Also, there's no bill compartment, so he folds up a few bills and sticks them in the outside slot. After all, there's not that much need to carry cash these days.
LCP Frontline Face Masks
Face masks are not created equal. We want maximum safety and ultimate comfort. The winner is this new LCP mask that’s soft to the skin, with a custom-fit N-95 filter set a centimeter or so away from your mouth and nose. Comes in three adult and two children’s sizes. And it's got adjustable ear cords. Definitely our pick for extended use during air travel.
Kris can’t pass up a chance to test new sunglasses. For active adventures, when she’s wearing contact lenses, her current faves include the high-quality Nathan polarized no-slip sunglasses, classified for running. For biking and winter sports, Kris goes to the Shady Rays React series: a wrap-around style with interchangeable lenses to adapt for snow, filtered light, bright sun, or anywhere in between.
Travel Bags and Gear
Travel bags make all the difference staying organized while getting from point A to point B. Whether considering checked or carry-on bags or day packs, we know the layout inside and out. (TIP: pack with the same system, that is putting the same items in the same place every time, to help you from forgetting something.)
This Osprey bag IS Tom’s best pick for day hiking. It's got all the features, like multiple interior and exterior pockets for separating everything you need into easy to find spots. He especially likes the pockets on the waist belt, where he keeps things he needs to get to frequently, such as bug repellent or lip balm. The multi-tool or pocket knife also goes in there. (You can read more about what goes into Tom's hiking day pack here.)
Kris’s Fjallraven backpack bag gets just as much use at home as on the road. It holds enough for full days walking or biking around town, or for easy access to the essentials needed during long flights. A bonus is the foam square tucked into an interior pocket that works great as a seating pad on wet forest ground or concrete floors at the train station. For its mini size, it continues to pack a ton of stuff.
Oh boy, Kris has just stepped up to Leki trekking sticks, now available in a folding pole. Made of lightweight and tough carbon with well-designed grips and the great mechanics you’d expect from this German company. Like the Black Diamond Z trekking poles that Tom carries, Leki trekking poles fold short and pack easily, even into carry-on luggage.
First aid kit You can make up your own First Aid kit, or buy a light weight one that has the essentials. As for essentials, that's several Bandaids, a larger bandage or two, adhesive tape, tweezers for splinters, ibuprofen, alcohol wipes, sterile gloves, antibiotic cream, antihistamine ointment for bites.
Travel Electronics and Apps
Though this is slightly larger and heavier than the usual power bank, Kris maintains the battery life and built-in cords make up for that. “Those people who forget their cords? I'm now their best friend.”
We've been carrying this one, or one much like it, for years. In fact, we even use them at home because they can charge multiple devices at once in addition to plugging in in whatever country you happen to be in.
In addition to carrying Bose noise-canceling plug-in earphones for long flights, Kris also swears by these Jabra earbuds. Even moving about the plane, she can still stay tuned via Bluetooth to her phone’s podcasts and music. Nice for tuning out when staying in cramped quarters, too.
Along with Google Maps, this is our most oft used app when we are traveling. All in one place, we can see our arrangements for air, hotel, ground transportation, and meetings. Plus, Trip-It gives us a heads up on our points status, flight and gate changes, even baggage claim info. And, super useful these days: TripIt Pro has added all the Covid information you need for your destination.
Travel in style with clothing that feels great and protects you from the elements.
For men and women, we especially like wearing this for water sports and hiking when we need both cooling and sun protection. The men's version has a built-in hood, too, for extra protection of your neck and ears.
Kris didn’t know the Kühl brand suited her until trying these Kuhl Trekr Travel Pants. Great fit, utilitarian pockets without screaming hiking pants, and easy transition from the trail to the city. Check out the Kühl travel pants categories for men and women and you’ll certainly end up browsing other cool Kühl product lines, too. By the way, for long flights and yoga on the go-go, you'll usually find Kris in pants by Athleta.
Unbound Merino wool t-shirts
Tom’s a huge fan of layering over his Unbound Merino wool base t-shirts. Besides the comfort and breathability of Merino wool, Kris appreciates the odor control properties. On our recent three-week trip to Spain, Tom packed three Unbound Merino t-shirts and wore one every day. He rinsed one out in the hotel bathroom twice during the trip. Easiest and best packing tip ever. This is one reason we can go to Europe for three weeks with only a roll on bag. These Merino shirts are available in long sleeves, too.
This is mosquito-proof clothing for men and women. You can bet we both tested this out in the state of Minnesota where the mosquito is the state bird. Kris wore this Jack Wolfskin shirt hiking down and up the Grand Canyon, too, and appreciated its versatility through changing temperatures.
For men and women, of course. These “100% American” socks have made it to our respective wish lists for the third holiday in a row. We both favor the light targeted cushion of the ankle length trail socks.
Travel Inspiring Books
Dream on with these great travel books or books that open your eyes to beautiful and fascinating corners of the world.
Ultimate Journeys for Two
Our friends and fellow travel bloggers, Mike and Anne Howard, are the authors of the lively index of destinations, Ultimate Journeys for Two (to which we contributed a chapter on Ghent, Belgium.). Mike and Anne are working on a second volume of Ultimate Journeys while they're spending the winter on the Polynesian Islands of the South Pacific. Need we mention that we're very very jealous? Jealousy aside, Mike and Anne assembled a wonderful compendium of sites that lend themselves perfectly as sites for couples' visits. In fact, Mike and Anne, whose blog is called HoneyTrek, bill themselves as having been on their honeymoon for, oh, about 10 years, or so. We'd like to think of ourselves as kinda doing the same thing as we dig out our copy of this book and plot our own trips frequently.
A stark but intriguing digest of abandoned destinations from around the world. Covering everything from villages abandoned due to earthquake or volcano risks, to man-made anachronisms like Tuscany’s psychiatric hospital or the Crystal Palace subway station in London. Maps, photos, and detailed descriptions with historic context lead us to these places few even remember, much less visit.
A practical guide to day trips and weekend getaways, this title is great for RV and road-trippin’ lovers. Local experts have selected the backroads itineraries and provide advice on what to do and see along the way.
Over 120 recipes drawing from the complex blend of French, Indigenous, and Creole cultures, with a hearty maritime twist. This is a perfectly legit way to travel.
A fun book for both young readers and younger picture/activity enthusiasts. While the material encompasses creatures and habitats around the world (and under the sea), this volume might entertain your kids while just heading out on errands or a family road trip.
This brand new book is equal parts utilitarian and just downright fun. We’ll be placing this book out on the table over the holidays for all to enjoy. 150 roadside attractions are displayed with color photos, entertaining descriptions, bits of historic detail, and quirky infographics. Organized by region, readers will discover, for example, the world’s largest picnic basket, the world’s largest fish, classic dining cars and motels, Carhenge, Robert Johnson’s Crossroads of Delta blues fame, and, of course, several versions of Paul Bunyan. Get the book and point your car down the road.
This great coffee table book touches on many of the cathedrals we've visited and photographed. In fact, the book includes photos by our very own Tom Bartel (of cathedrals in Salamanca and Toledo, Spain).
Travel Gifts for the Home
While you are reading the travel books above and planning your next trip, look around. Does your home help inspire you to travel?
Images from Tom Bartel’s photography, taken from his travel to over 70 countries, are available for purchase. Select landscapes, architecture, and portraits come from his published work and one-man photo exhibition.
More for Travelers and Dreamers
Don’t worry about clothing sizes or appropriate gear for your traveler. Just capture the essence of the travel mindset with these gifts, sure to appeal to the worldly, aware wanderers in your life.
Expand your thinking about this outdoor retailer because they’ve expanded to include great classes and experiences. Shop online, of course. But especially if you are lucky enough to live near an REI Co-op, do check out their array of classes, day trips, skill courses, and events.
This conservation fund operates specifically to promote sustainable adventure tourism, knowing that supporting local communities is critical to the long-term protection of local economies, environments and wildlife protection.
Let’s recognize that air travel is part of the climate change problem. While doing what we can to cut back on flights and combine trips, we can also help clean up carbon dioxide. Buy a subscription for your traveler, and they’ll get a monthly confirmation of their carbon removal progress.
Support the cause your traveling friend finds dear. For us, if it's not the environment, it's the arts. We learn so much from our visits to museums, we consider them our essential travel and history guides. This year we discovered the American Friends of the Prado, a group that has helped fund acquisitions and restoration of art in The Prado, our favorite art museum in the world. (That would be in Madrid, Spain, one of our favorite cities, naturally.) Consider gifting a membership, or even sharing the calendar of events to attend an informative virtual session in English.
You can help yourself get ready for your own travels by reading our Get Started Planning Your Trip Now page.We love traveling–with the right gear. We've gathered a lot of the stuff we use to make travel more pleasant and efficient all on one page. Shop our Travel Past 50 Amazon page to find our favorite gear. If you purchase something from the store, Travel Past 50, as an Amazon affiliate, may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Thanks.
We never leave home without our travel insurance. Nor should you. Search for the travel insurance from Allianz that best meets your needs, whether it be an annual plan or a single trip.
You can see (and buy prints) of most of our travel photos in one place on this page.
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