The best gifts for travelers is usually travel itself, but if you can’t afford airfare and hotels, I’ve still got you covered! These travel gift ideas are budget friendly! Here are some of my favorite gifts for any occasion.
Gogo Internet ($5+)
Gogo in-flight internet isn’t particularly cheap, but it is a great way to entertain yourself during a flight. Buying passes ahead of time is cheaper than onboard and makes a cute gift for the frequent flyer.
Airport coffee shops are notoriously expensive but that beverage can be just what a traveler needs when they’re jet-lagged or have been on the go for hours. Starbucks is everywhere, but you can switch it up to other brands if you know the airport they frequently transit. My favorite is Argo Tea at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
iTunes Gift Cards ($5+)
Let’s face it: flights, bus rides, and idle time are boring. Hand out iTunes gift cards so the recipient can buy music to listen to, movies to watch, digital books and magazines, or games or other apps. If they’re not an Apple fan, an Amazon card is just as broadly-used.
Hand Sanitizer ($5)
Clean hands are the number one most important thing to avoid getting sick on the road. You’ve likely touched a million things: elevator buttons, menus, and public bathrooms that don’t have soap. Antibacterial gel is easy to find, but I specifically like the ones that have a built in holder to attach it to your backpack, keys, or a carabiner.
Picture Dictionary ($6+)
Language barriers are difficult for international travelers to overcome. Apps and dictionaries have a helpful place, but there won’t be confusion on pronunciation if you just point to pictures as part of your pantomimes. This book has frequently used topics all in photo form so you can get your point across.
Platypus Water Bottle ($8+ depending on size)
Water is the magical cure to all sorts of travel ailments. It can help you recover from jetlag, hiking, bike tours, energy slumps, and travel stress in general. Stop buying plastic bottles on the road and reuse one. The Platypus bags are great for light packers: they roll up compactly so they barely take any space in your suitcase. Best of all, when full, it still stands upright in cupholders.
Electronics Case ($10)
It’s nearly impossible to travel without electronics now. I have tried to pare them down, and keeping them in a single case keeps them organized and protected. This one from Amazon is sturdy and just the right size. It has slots for a pocket camera, memory cards, chargers, spare batteries, and even a headlamp. I don’t particularly care for the grid style organizers because they leave screens vulnerable to being scratched.
BirchBox, Sample Society, or GLOSSYBOX Subscriptions ($10-21/month)
Sample size products are great for travelers because they conform to TSA restrictions and can be fun to try out new products. These monthly subscription boxes send sample products of all sorts right to your mailbox. Just fill out a preference survey and they’ll ship the toiletries and cosmetics each month (shipping included). Gift a single box or a long-term subscription.
Dr. Scholl’s Fast Flats ($10)
Rollable shoes are the greatest solution ever when space is tight in your suitcase. These shoes roll up small enough to fit in a handbag so you can carry them all day if needed. I’d love a pair of high-end Tieks, but this $10 option is a lot more budget friendly! Stop worrying about whether your footwear is appropriate at certain venues and just be prepared with a pair of these shoes. Men, I’m sorry there’s not an option for you.
Never in my life have I played more cards than I did on my trip to Asia after trekking all day or when camping at night. Games are great for passing time while waiting for buses and planes or for breaking the ice with other travelers and/or locals. Bananagrams is a fast-paced version of Scrabble and packs nicely into your backpack.
Regional Foods ($12+)
For the traveler who wants to re-live their vacation, or someone gearing up for a special trip, Goldbely is a fun food delivery service. You can order favorites from around the USA, like New York pastrami, Chicago pizza, Louisiana crawfish, and San Francisco sourdough. New customers can get $10 off a $20 order or using my referral link bumps it up to $15 off $40.
Travel magazines can often be useless. I get frustrated with featured travel experiences that are not replicable or far out of my budget. Sure, I’d love to try a $10,000 African safari, but I’d rather read about somewhere I can actually go. Budget Travel has advice for all styles of travel (not just budget!) at bucket list destinations and off-the-beaten-path areas as well. I’d call this one more of “mid-range travel”…you won’t find hostels or chicken buses, but it’s a great read.
Contact Cards ($12)
Have you ever met someone while traveling and then lost their contact information? Sharing actual cards is better than losing a scrap a paper or forgetting about them in your contact list. These cards by Moo are great because you can add your photo to make sure they remember who you are as well as information like your email, Twitter handle, and blog link.
Lush Ultrabalm ($14)
When sample products won’t do, solid toiletries are a good alternative. Lush ultrabalm doubles as a moisturizer, lip balm, makeup remover, and more without filling your TSA 3-1-1 baggie. Since it’s not liquid, it also won’t leak in your purse or suitcase! It’s best as a moisturizer but is relatively effective against insect bites and sunburns also. Like all LUSH products, it’s all natural so you can feel good about applying it liberally.
DryLite Towel ($14+)
Towels aren’t just for showering! I use my DryLite towel on the road all the time — after bathing an elephant, on snorkel tours, and at amusement parks. Sure, any towel will do, but these ones are lightweight and fold/roll down into tiny sizes, which makes them great to throw in your daypack. I make do with the small (wring out and re-use like a chamois) but travelers needing them as shower towels at hostels or camping might want a larger size.
SmartWool Socks ($15)
Happy feet are the first step to a happy traveler. Whether you’re walking the neighborhoods of Paris or hiking in the Rocky Mountains, you don’t want to ruin your day with a blister. SmartWool is expensive, but it keeps your feet dry even when you face puddles, mud, and sweat. It washes out great in hotel sinks so you can just buy a few pairs and re-use them throughout your trip. They are worth every penny, I promise.
Mapnetic World Map ($15)
Scratch-off maps are so 2013, but travelers still love showing off where they’ve been and where they’re going. This dry-erase magnetic map is the perfect size to put on your fridge to show off adventures. As a bonus, you can stick photos and postcards on the map, too!
Inka Travel Pen ($15)
Instead of pulling out your smartphone, sometimes it’s better to revert back to pen and paper. You can draw a map on napkin, write a note on a business card, or just sign a credit card receipt. There’s no excuse not to have a pen with you when you can just loop this one onto your keychain. It wins in novelty: supposedly it can ever write underwater.
Belkin Power Strip ($15)
Most hotel rooms were designed before travelers carried suitcases full of electronics. There are never enough outlets or they’re in hard-to-reach spots. Bring a power strip and you’ll be all set at airports, hostels, and everywhere else along the journey. I love that this one is compact, has a built in surge protector, and has extra USB outlets in case you’re out of space on your laptop.
First Aid Kit ($16)
First aid kits don’t make glamorous kits, but they are essential. I prefer to assemble a DIY first aid kit, but you can easily pick a small one up for your suitcase. Check the list to make sure it has whatever you need: aspirin, antidiarrheals, and bandages are especially important for traveling. You can always supplement with more specialty items like motion sickness pills or malaria medication.
Action Wipes ($17)
When a towel alone won’t do, action wipes can save the day. These pre-moistened towelettes will help you shower on-the-go. After a red-eye flight, these can refresh you and get you ready for the day and they’re also great when you’re on overnight trips and don’t have access to a shower, like when I camped in the Sahara or on top of a volcano.
Wet Suit Bag ($18)
I used to pack my wet bathing suit in a ziploc after spending the day at a beach, but they don’t always stay sealed or they tear just enough to get everything else damp and smelly. It’s a mess to come home to that, so avoid it in the first place by getting a specialty waterproof bag. It’s a great way to extend your vacation a few hours when you don’t want to get to the airport too early. (Also available: a separate bag to keep sandy towels at bay).
Globe Bookends ($20)
The more I travel, the more I appreciate home, but being able to blend the two is best of all. These bookends are great for showing off a travel passion even when you’re at home. Pair it up with some travel books or photo albums to make it a complete set.
I love eBags packing cubes! They can help you stay organized and find things easily, especially if you move around every night or two. Mix and match an assortment of sizes (I tend to pack in small, medium, and slim and throw in an empty large one to become a dirty laundry bag). Lots of different colors and patterns to stay even more organized!
Watches have gone out of style with cell phones, but I prefer to have something on my wrist in case checking my phone could lead to theft or destruction (think: the beach). I love to wander without keeping track of time, but when you have tours and trains to catch, that’s not an option. This Timex version is waterproof, has an alarm function, and best of all — allows you to set two time zones so you also know what time it is back home.
Kiva Gift Cards ($25)
I’ve seen firsthand how budding entrepreneurs in developing countries have fabulous ideas and strong work ethics but simply can’t succeed because they don’t have the startup capital. Make a difference this holiday season by making a capital contribution and helping people around the world start a business. Gift cards let the traveler pick an entrepreneur that resonates with them — perhaps because they live in a country they’ve traveled to or are heading to in the coming year.
Travel T-Shirt ($28)
In case you know a traveler who doesn’t already have a million t-shirt souvenirs, this is a great one to add to the collection. It’s a great conversation starter when you want to rant about the USA’s limited vacation time or a cute top to throw in your suitcase.
On outdoor trips, a flashlight is non-negotiable. You’ll want it for camping, caving, and other fun activities. However, you never know when the power will go out in a hotel (especially in developing countries) and you need your own light source. I prefer a headlamp for those times when you need hands-free light, but as long as you have a flashlight and fresh batteries, you’ll be okay…
External Battery Charger ($37)
Traveling with portable electronics has become a “necessity” these days. For anyone relying on their smartphone as a GPS, music player, and camera, you can drain the battery quickly. Cheap external battery chargers will double the battery life but this one has enough power to re-charge your iPhone 9 times and it’s still small enough to fit in your pocket.
The New York Times 36 Hour Itineraries ($40)
Weekend getaways are a great way to break up routine and get a dose of travel even when your time is limited. This book features a 36-hour itinerary for every featured destination. There are editions for the USA/Canada and Europe, together offering options for 275 vacations…that’s 5 years worth of getaways, even if you leave every weekend!
Water Bottle – $45
Travel green and pack a reusable water bottle on every trip. Using a refillable water bottle will make a big difference in cutting down plastic waste and in saving you money. Fill it up in the airport after going through security and refill it in the hotel before your day tours. This particular Katadyn water bottle is more hardcore: it also purifies water so it’s safe to drink. This comes in handy in parts of the world where you have to be careful and on hikes where bottled water isn’t for sale.
US National Parks Map ($45)
Everyone loves to show off their adventures! I’ve got a massive wall-sized map from SkyMall, but this one is a fun variation. It’s a scratch-off map specifically meant to show United States national parks. It’s the perfect size to hang up and it’s fun for outdoor enthusiasts who love to include our national treasures in their vacation plans.
Flight Essentials ($65)
Fact: I can’t sleep on planes (even in business class), but that’s a personal problem. For overnight flights, grab a kit with eye shade, ear plugs, neck pillow, and blanket. You can build one yourself, but a pre-made one is an easy gift idea for fellow travelers. To make it more deluxe, throw in things like lip balm, cozy socks, breathmints, a magazine, and noise-cancelling headphones.
Quality binoculars are a must for anyone who enjoys wildlife watching. I’ve used mine all over the USA from whale watching in Maine to bear spottings in Denali National Park. As a bonus, they’re even great for amateur stargazing. I recommend Nikon Trailblazers, a good balance between quality and cost (they’re nearly as good as my husband’s pricier Monarchs).
All travelers should have a kindle or other e-reader these days. They are very affordable now and they are great for travel since they are lightweight and hold a long battery life compared to tablets. They are also handy for entertainment, downloaded travel guides, or even PDF documents of your own reservation details, emergency contacts, and other travel plans. Not bad for $79.
It’s no secret that I love traveling within the United States or that I think the National Park Service is a tremendous asset. Get annual access to all 400+ parks by purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass. It can be a money-saver if you visit multiple parks or a source of support to the NPS if you don’t.
Travel Blog Success Membership ($450)
This is the gift that keeps on giving! Travel Blog Success is a set of online courses, articles, and videos to teach someone the fundamentals of blogging, how to earn money as a blogger, and the art of travel writing. On top of that, it provides access to an online discussion group (which is where the best secrets are shared!). I’m a member and I love it.
Cash is always king and can make a useful gift. However, if you take the extra step to convert it to a local currency, it’ll be more thoughtful and more fun to open. Help someone pay for their upcoming trip by buying euros, yen, or anything else. It’ll help them get familiar with how bills and coins look and it’ll save them a step when they land at the airport.
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All these recommendations are based on my experiences and holiday spirit — not sponsored placements. However, purchasing these or other products through my Amazon store provides a small commission to The Girl and Globe.
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