My family no longer does a traditional gift exchange during the holidays. Instead, if we come across something that makes us think of a certain friend or family member, we send it to them when they're not expecting it at any time of the year, which is the perfect way to let them know they're always in our hearts. We also enjoy gifting experiences, which become memories that we can call upon during the times we cannot be together. This often involves travel, which can be as simple as an outdoor activity like hiking or biking or kayaking together, a day trip to a new-to-us town, or a long-planned vacation together like last year's two-week cruise from the east to west coast of the U.S. via the Panama Canal. It's with those adventures in mind that I've compiled this list of what I consider to be the best travel gifts costing $35 or less. These are all affordable, super useful items that any traveler would be happy to add to their packing list.
Odds are, you or someone you know has been pickpocketed while they were on vacation. Even the most experienced travelers let their guard down and become an easy target for a nonviolent thief. You put your wallet in your rear pants pocket or leave your purse or day bag unzipped when you're navigating a crowded market or riding on public transit. There is one sure way to avoid this unfortunate and all-too-common occurrence: wear a neck wallet or money belt.
Even if you travel with a purple suitcase like I do, chances are that someone on your flight has one that is similar. One way to avoid the possibility of them (or you) grabbing the wrong bag from the overhead bin or at baggage claim: adorn it with a unique luggage tag.
Some of my most cherished possessions are my handwritten journals from a solo trip to Europe almost 20 years ago and to India a decade later. Even if you are not a writer, you can make notes, drawings, and paste in tickets or stamps. A journal allows you to record your own thoughts and feelings that a photograph cannot capture. Plus, you can always let people you meet during your travels write or sketch something for you to remember them by.
I have carried a Reisenthel bag every day for the past 15 years, whether I'm at home or traveling. There are many other packable, reusable bags but these are the most durable and stylish. They're perfect for carrying books, groceries, laundry, a picnic lunch, or a swimsuit and towel. I never go anywhere without mine!
Whether you fly with a carry-on or a checked bag, you can and should use these TSA-approved locks to keep dishonest baggage handlers and other passengers from rummaging through your belongings. I also use mine for hostel lockers, to secure my bags on public transit, and if I'm leaving a suitcase in storage after checking out of a hotel.
If you stay in hostels frequently or if you couchsurf, a well-designed sleep sheet is invaluable. They are also perfect for germaphobes or people that have had bad experiences with bed bugs, even in fancy hotels. A sleep sheet can also double as a picnic blanket or an extra layer on a cold airplane. I like this one because it is lightweight, compact, breathable, easy to care for, long enough for taller people and has a side opening for easier access.
Here's another item that I always take with me when I travel: an inflatable neck rest. Besides using it on long flights, bus or train rides, it comes in handy when the hostel or hotel pillows aren't clean or comfortable. The most important aspects of the design are that it's easy to inflate and deflate, doesn't take up much space when not in use, and the cover can be removed for cleaning.
Yet another invaluable travel accessory: the eye mask. Paired with ear plugs, this allows me to get a better night's sleep in almost any conditions. There are lots of different styles; I prefer a non-rigid, well-padded mask with a wide adjustable strap that is machine washable.
This is the best way to transport your favorite shower gel, lotion, sunscreen and even food products These carry-on size silicone tubes are refillable, don't leak, and have an ID window on the collar so you know what's inside.
These packing cubes keep my suitcase or backpack organized. I use the smaller one for socks and underwear, the midsize one for tops, and the larger one for pants. I also have a smaller, narrow one that I use as a bedside "sleeping kit." It holds my glasses, eye mask, earplugs, headlamp, locker key, etc.
A good travel towel is an indispensable item on any traveler's packing list. Ideally it is large enough to cover you for the walk from the hostel's public shower to the dorm room, it has a loop for easy hanging, and it is lightweight and dries quickly. It can also be used as a beach towel, a blanket or rolled up as a pillow.
The final item on my Best Travel Gifts list is not one you actually take with you on a trip, but one you can enjoy when you are at home. My husband bought this for my birthday this summer and I love the color and detail of this map. I have been to more than 70 countries so it took me awhile to scratch off the areas and flags for the places I have visited. It also reminded me how little of the world I have actually seen and is an inspiration to travel more!