8 must-have gifts for the traveler in your life (plus what NOT to buy)

Whether it's a going away present, a birthday, Christmas, or a wedding, it's always a good time for GIFTS! Keeping in line with bloggers everywhere, we have put together our recommendations for eight must-have great gifts for travelers, especially those who go ultralight (carry-on only). You'll also find some tips on what NOT to buy. Read on!

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After 16 weeks, 3 countries, and 10 cities on the road, we (the Normal Nomads) have gotten a good handle on our packing list. If you're curious, you can see everything we bring along with us in our packing lists for men and women.


Below are the things we absolutely love. We can't imagine traveling without these things and the traveler in your life will love them!

1. Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
How did I ever travel without these headphones? They're comfortable, lightweight, have an easy portable carrying case, and make life so... quiet! Absolutely the best gift for backpackers.

Imagine sleeping on an airplane and hearing a soft voice in the distance gently reminding you that the weather in Bali is lovely this time of year... THESE HEADPHONES DO THAT. Well, not the talking part, but by cutting out the white noise on an airplane you are able to quietly hear announcements without having your eardrums blasted. If your traveler does not have these, they are a must-buy.

2. Reusable beeswax food wraps
These are essentially an eco-friendly and more effective replacement for using plastic wrap on your food. Keep fruit fresh, cover leftovers, or identify your stuff in a hostel kitchen. I personally have used Wrappa wraps (from Australia) for over a year now, and love them.

They're made from cloth, beeswax, and other simple natural ingredients that mean that heating them between your hands makes them stick to themselves. Genius! We brought an extra large wrap on our journey and I only wish we had brought more!

3. Anker PowerCore portable USB charging battery
We have two Anker portable batteries (older models, so not as nice at this one) and use them constantly. They were a Christmas gift from my mother 3-4 years ago, and they're still kicking!

When you have limited access to outlets or converters , you can charge your battery all day then plug in devices at night (phone into battery, laptop in the wall). It seems silly but travelers, especially digital nomads, will love this. In our experiences this is one of the top practical gifts for backpackers in Asia.

4. Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
OK, so convertible pants aren't the coolest, but these ones actually look nice, dry fast, have all the necessary pockets, and even look pretty good as shorts. Men's clothing is much easier to buy than women's because you can buy, y'know, specific sizes.

If your male traveler doesn't already own convertible pants, these ones are great!

5. 1 liter reusable water bottle with flip lid and handle
Everyone should have a reusable water bottle. This one's perfect:
  • One liter is small enough to carry but large enough to set a goal to drink enough water.
  • Flip tops keep your mouth piece clean.
  • Handles keep your hands free!
  • Screw tops mean you can get in and clean the water bottle occasionally.
Mine is very similar and was purchased during our trip, after my old one became disgusting. Seriously, even if you aren't a traveler, this is a good gift.

6. SOCKS! Smartwool Women's PhD Ultra Light Socks and Compression Socks
OK so of all the un-sexy things on this list, this is probably the least sexy... and the one that may be someone's secret favorite gift! Its not super unique but socks are good, useful gifts. They'll thank you later.

Why ultra-light PhD socks? They're VERY lightweight, plus Smartwool dries quickly (great for hand-washed laundry), wicks moisture (great gift for hikers going to humid climates like the Borneo jungle), and the short style makes them wearable with shorts. Seriously, I wore one pair of these for three days straight hiking the Borneo jungle and my feet were always dry and happy. Best socks I've ever owned.

Why compression socks? It's only a matter of time before every traveler injures their toes/feet/ankles. Getting on a plane with a foot injury = extreme swelling and pain. And trust me, if you're over 30, you want to be wearing compression socks on every flight.

7. Youphoria Quick Dry Travel Towel
Douglas Adams taught us that, "a towel, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have."

It's a towel. It's a blanket. Yoga mat. Napkin. Tissue and groundcover and shade and tablecloth and bath mat. This one is ultralight and dries ultra-fast so it's ultra-good for traveling the galaxy (and Earth).

8. Chromecast
Your traveler won't always have access to a TV. But when they do, a great way to make friends at a hostel is to say, "Hey, anyone want to stream your favorite movie/show/YouTube video?" We love our Chromecast and it's great for long-term travel. It's like a TV in your pocket. Check with your traveler to find out if they're Google Play subscribers (like us) or if another brand of the many plug-into-the-TV play devices are better for their subscription services.

Looking for something small or gifts for travelers under $10? Christmas stocking stuffers (if you're into that)? Check these out:

  • Sun Bum Sunscreen is strong, trusted, and won't mess with your skin. Any beachy traveler will love it.
  • A small pocket-sized tiny pen will come in handy on international flights, immigration offices, etc.
  • Travel Money Belt with RFID Blocking will be really helpful for passports, phones, money, that tiny pen, and everything else you need while traveling. I wear mine below or above my clothing, depending on what I need, which as a female traveler I really appreciate.
  • Pocket sewing kit -- buy this in person to make sure the needle is high quality. I've used mine 3-4 times already!
  • USB light - really nice in places without reading lights.
  • Mini flashlight for those dark entryways, night jungle treks, or when you lose something below your seat on a crowded bus. Or, when the power goes out.
  • Headphone splitter (for traveling couples to watch movies together)

4 travel gifts you want to buy but you SHOULD NOT BUY:

1. Hiking clothing or shoes (unless they picked it out) will not be what they want. Unless they're men's basics, they won't fit. Have you ever researched the perfect hiking boots then had a sub-optimal pair given as a gift? You're not going to have two pairs of hiking boots so now you just have a pair you don't like. If you have to go this direction, go with a gift card and set a date to go shopping together.

2. Personal care products unless you're a dermatologist. Imagine you're parsing down your belongings to go on a travel adventure. Someone buys you a face lotion or body wash that you don't like. Are you going to throw it away and buy a different one? Of course not! Every day, it will be frustrating. Some things are personal; let it stay that way.

3. Lonely planet guides. At least, not physical copies. They seem like ideal going away gifts for backpackers, but heavy books like this should be used in digital form, especially because you only use part of it, and it needs to be up-to-date. Plus, every hostel has a copy of the local/regional guides, so it truly is a waste.

4. Any other gadgets, like portable DVD players or hand-held fans. They're always top gifts for travelers on websites, but they're actually inconvenient. Seriously, they're just heavy.

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

Everyone loves them, but we have had fun finding books at hostels and other exchanges (or at cheap used book sales, for under $2 a piece). Plus, if I know I only have my book until I have to get on a plane, I actually read it. In other words, use your best judgment here. We broke this down further if you need help deciding.

More creative ideas:

  • AirBnB gift cards (any denomination helps!).
  • Subscriptions like Audible or Netflix or Kindle unlimited, which people may have cancelled to save cash but are always an appreciated luxury.
  • Donations in their name to their favorite charity, or one they have volunteered with/plan to volunteer with. You can even offer to cover the volunteering cost (which covers things like room and board)!
  • Tickets to a music festival in another country (if they're that kind of traveler) are always expensive but give someone a great memorable experience and an excuse to get away. Feeling selfish? Get tickets for the two of you!
  • If someone has a trip planned, research something location-specific like a week-long Tokyo rail pass!
  • If all else fails, book them a relaxing foot massage or spa day for when they get back.


And there you have it, eight great gift ideas for travelers, plus stocking stuffers, gifts to avoid, and some creative alternatives. Digital nomads and frequent travelers may be hard to buy for, so small and personalized gifts are perfect. Remember, the latest gadget looks cool, but would you want to carry it on your back for a week? Stick with this list and it may not seem flashy, but after using your gift on their journey, your traveler will thank you!


  1. These are essentially an eco-friendly and more effective replacement for using plastic wrap on your food. Keep fruit fresh, cover leftovers, or identify your stuff in a hostel kitchen. I personally have used Wrappa wraps (from Australia) for over a year now, and love them. local minibus hire
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