Practical Gifts For Travelers

It can be a challenge to find practical gifts for travelers.  We tend to be pretty independent — and proactive about buying what we want and need for our trips.

But it’s not as tricky as you think. Travelers are a diverse lot, but you can’t go wrong with items that make travel easier and more fun. Look for practical gifts to help us pack more efficiently and lighten our load. Help us replace or upgrade our travel gear or give us a beautiful or interesting item to spark our wanderlust.

The items pictured here are from Shopbop.com, where I’m an affiliate. Since selections change, I update the links to reflect what’s in stock. If you see something you like and have questions about it, let me know in the comments and I’ll help you track it down.

Here are several of my favorite practical and aesthetically pleasing gifts for travelers on your list.


Backpack by STATE

A Backpack:

Pretty much every traveler will already have a wheeled suitcase that they love, so help them upgrade their backpack instead. They can use this as their personal item on a plane, take it on short hikes and picnics or fill it with toys and games for the kiddos on road trips. Look for sturdy straps, zippers pockets and a padded back in case they need it to double as a laptop bag.

Headphones:

I’m one of the few people I know that still rely on earplugs to block out other passengers and engine noise during long haul flights. The people around me overwhelmingly opt for noise canceling headphones. (And I assume they’re can using headphones for their intended purpose as well.)

This gift requires a little homework on your part, because you’ll need to know which devises they access on a long flight to make sure the headphones are compatible. Just start an innocent conversation about what they bring on the plane and you’ll get the info you need.

A New Travel Book:

If they have a trip on their calendar, treat them to a well-designed travel book featuring their destination. If not, just get them something interesting.

Shake things up by choosing a volume from a series they wouldn’t normally spring for themselves. Or try a children’s travel guide that appeals to actual kids and kids at heart.

Universal Adapter:

A universal adapter is a must for any traveler. Many international travelers already have one in their arsenal, but newer versions are more compact and offer USB ports for charging electronic devices, so you can help them upgrade.

Even if they already have one, it’s nice to have a spare on hand, just in case.

E-Reader:

Look, I’m an author and a total book nerd. I love the heft of an actual, physical book. But even I must admit that, when traveling, e-readers are a much more practical choice. I can take along dozens of books and magazines without adding an ounce to my suitcase.

There are lots of e-readers to choose from, so let the recipient’s travel style guide your choice. If she’s backpacking across Europe, get the smallest option possible. If he loves to read on the beach, look for an option with a no glare screen.


An oversized blanket scarf is a great layering piece.

Blanket Scarf:

I’m a firm believer that travel items need to fulfill more than one purpose or they’re not worth packing. A large, rectangular scarf in a thick cotton, thin cashmere or wool can be draped around your neck or unfolded to cover your body for warmth on a plane, train or bus.

This is one of those gifts for travelers that’s both pretty and practical. And that goes for both genders. Learn little more about scarves for men in this piece I wrote about fall layering.

Insulated Cooler Bag:

An insulated cooler bag is a wildcard item that I never thought of buying until I received one from a promotional partner as a free gift. Now I use mine all the time.

Pack a picnic, a beach lunch or road trip snacks. Add a few ice packs and to keep beer cold in hot weather or fill the bottom with ice and use it in lieu of a refrigerator in a tiny hotel room. I’ve also seen fellow travelers unpacking a pretty impressive dinner spread from their own insulated bags on the train, a strategy I plan to steal in the immediate future.

Magazine Subscription:

Even the most enthusiastic travelers (and travel professionals) need to nest sometimes. So bring the world to their door with a travel magazine subscription. Nothing gets me dreaming like curling up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee and a magazine full of beautiful photos and helpful travel tips.

Head to your local bookstore to find something suitably travel focused. Mail in the subscription card before wrapping up the magazine, adding a note with the promise of issues to come. (This gift also combines nicely with some of the smaller items on this list.)


Calendar by Rifle Paper Co.

A Cool Calendar:

Help them count down the days until their next trip with an inspired calendar. Choose a colorful calendar that doubles as art or one that showcases their favorite destination.

If you don’t know where to start, just ask them about where they’d like to go next or the art they’re currently collecting. You’ll be bound to find some clues to their taste.

Thin T-Shirts:

Thin, packable layers are key for a traveler. Tissue thin, fitted T-shirts are a great for layering under winter clothes and double as workout gear, pajama tops and summer gear. And they need to be replaced constantly. (I live in black T shirts and I go through a couple every season.)

Think of which neutral color (black, white, gray, brown, cream) shows up in your traveler’s wardrobe most often, then package up two or three shirts so they’ll have a few extra. If in doubt, go with white or black. It’s not a terribly romantic gift, but hey, I promised practical solutions they’ll actually use!


A laundry bag is one of those things you need, but rarely get around to buying yourself.

Laundry Bag:

Separating dirty and clean clothes in a suitcase is a must, but using the hotel laundry bag is pretty basic. Help them upgrade a necessity into a nicety with a large, well-designed laundry bag that folds up when not in use. This option is odor resistant, which is a nice touch.

Down Jacket:

If you want to splurge on your traveler, spring for a lightweight, very thin down jacket. This is one of my must-have winter layers.

Look for a jacket that fits close to the body (but still allows for a few thin layers underneath) and can be rolled into a suitcase. The jacket I wear all winter rolls into a tube about the size an umbrella when I’m not wearing it, so I never have to lug around a giant, puffy coat.


Flight 101 travel bottles and jars

Travel Toiletries:

Spending your travel budget on boring necessities like toiletries is such a drag. Make adulting less of a bummer for the travelers on your list by hooking them up with a TSA compliant travel sized toiletry kit so they can bring along their favorites.

If you really want to adult to the max, throw in a few travel sized toothbrushes, mini tubes of toothpaste, a first aid kit and travel sized medicines like pain relievers. Nobody really wants to buy these things, but everybody needs them. And they’ll appreciate having them on hand. (Maybe throw in something fun as well, so this isn’t an entirely practical gift.)

Wool Socks:

If you’re going to give someone socks for Christmas, at least make them top of the line. Thick, warm wool socks are a comforting at home, but awfully practical on the road. They double as slippers in a hotel and they keep feet nice and toasty on evening city strolls.

Just make sure you buy a few pairs. Throw in a few moisture absorbing sock liners in their favorite neutral color and they’ll be ready for their next winter hike.

What are your favorite gifts for travelers?
Which items would you add to this list?
What travel necessities do you have to replace a lot?
What travel inspired items do you need this year?
I recommend listing them in the comments and sharing this post.

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Alicia Underlee Nelson

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