Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
Whether you’re buying a gift for a business traveler who practically lives in the Delta lounge or a college student embarking on their first-ever trip to Europe, you’ll want to look for items that are attractive and functional enough to justify taking up space in whatever suitcase or backpack they’re bringing with them. As a travel-gear writer for the Strategist who spends a lot of time in transit myself, I’ve personally tested many of the products below to make sure they’re durable and multitask-able enough to be worth the extra luggage weight. I’ve also spoken with fellow Strategist staffers, flight attendants, travel agents, and experts about what they recommend.
Below, you’ll find a sleep-enabling travel pillow that I take on every long haul, comfortable headphones that can block out engine noise, and a packable coffee maker that will reduce reliance on hotel Nespresso pods. There’s also a magical Patagonia duffel that can bypass in-flight luggage restrictions, the inexpensive (yet life-altering) clip-on toothbrush protector I don’t leave for the airport without, and an ingenious washing bag for doing loads of laundry on the road. Grouped by price point for easier shopping, many of these products are so tried and tested that they earned spots on our “Strategist Travel 100,” which includes our absolute favorite products for all sorts of trips. And now that the countdown is well and truly on, you can check out the rest of our holiday-season gift guides here.
This “Capri Sun for adults” is designed to be rolled up and stashed until needed, then clipped to the outside of your bag using the included carabiner. It’s much easier than trying to shove a Hydro Flask into a cross-body bag.
A passport-holder should be large enough to hold cash and travel documents yet slender enough to slip into a cross-body or purse during times of airport stress. This one fits those requirements and has an elegant envelope design that can be wiped clean.
I always recommend purchasing packing cubes with a mesh window that lets you see which clothes you have inside — having to unzip every cube when looking for your favorite sweater gets old fast. This smart-looking set complete with a laundry bag would make a great gift for anybody who just got a new suitcase.
Every time I take a trip without some sort of laundry detergent, I regret it. But these hotel sink-ready sachets of Tide will allow your traveler to wash underwear and socks while on the road, which means they don’t have to pack as many pairs and can save space for souvenirs.
While many travel toothbrushes are flimsy and difficult to actually brush with, this one is sturdy and ergonomic enough to compete with the Curaprox in its recipient’s bathroom. And a choice of colors makes this admittedly practical gift a little bit more special.
The board game version of The Settlers of Catan definitely isn’t designed to be played at 30,000 feet, but this portable dice-based one is easier to learn and faster paced. It has a single-player mode, which means it’s a nice gift for solo travelers, too.
If you’re buying for someone who tends to travel by bus or budget airline, this bendy foam phone stand will let them more easily watch TV shows in transit. It’s lightweight and easy to pack; I also like to use mine for FaceTime calls.
Your traveler probably isn’t going all the way to space, but they will still appreciate having a reliable pen in their bag for filling out arrival forms, journaling, or completing crosswords. This leakproof astronaut-tested one will write on any surface, in all weather conditions, and at any cabin pressure.
After a leaking-water-bottle incident in Rome that resulted in a Baggu full of soggy Ibuprofen, I no longer travel without a waterproof pill case. This one from Matador has an airtight seal and seven compartments, and the metal shell means it cannot be crushed in transit.
This red-eye-ready eye mask is far more comfortable and effective than the freebies handed out by airlines. It comes recommended by Scott Keyes, who founded the flight-deals subscription service Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) and has perfected the aisle-seat snooze.
Aēsop makes what is surely the world’s only giftable hand sanitizer, with an appealingly nonclinical scent.
I like this simple and lightweight travel clothesline from Sea to Summit that doesn’t require additional pegs.
If they are loyal to that Curaprox, several other Strategist staffers and I are obsessed with these clip-on protectors that’ll keep those expensive bristles in perfect condition. They’re compatible with most electric toothbrushes.
Slathering this rich cream on postflight is a beauty trick we learned from actress Hari Nef. I’m a fan too and have used it to look glowy even immediately after a series of long-haul flights to Australia.
I took some packs of Perc on a trip to Montreal with friends and genuinely shocked my companions with how delicious it tastes. These freeze-dried grounds are also a favorite of author Lisa Przystup, who describes herself as “hyperparticular when it comes to coffee.”
This isn’t the prettiest gift on the list, but it might be the most valuable, given it could save its recipient hundreds of dollars in overweight-baggage fees over time. Prepare to receive thank-you texts from far-flung hotels.
There’s nothing worse than trying to charge multiple devices using a single outlet at a hotel or airport, all while using a foreign plug. Former Googler and current travel-content creator Catarina Mello says this durable adapter is among the very best options because it has built-in USB-C and USB-A ports as well as an overload dual fuse, which means it can handle devices like hair dryers, curlers, and steamers.
Don’t let someone you love store their Sephora minis in a ziplock bag. This case has two compartments for optimum organization and even comes with a decent-size stand-up mirror that slides into a storage pocket.
Unfortunately, Airbnbs and hotels cannot be relied upon to provide a Nespresso machine every time. Much more packable than the original AeroPress yet just as efficient at pumping out fantastic single servings of coffee, this wondrous tube of plastic is one of the best ways we know to prepare for such caffeine emergencies.
An ideal gift for anyone who meticulously plans their vacation fits, Conair’s travel steamer has the useful feature of working with 120-volt U.S. outlets and 220-volt outlets, which are more common worldwide. Strategist writer Erin Schwartz says it heats up in about 36 seconds and emits a fine, gauzy hiss of steam that unwrinkled a pair of wool pants easily.
Like all the best gifts, this Dopp kit will last forever — it’s literally constructed from ballistic, military-grade nylon. And while it packs up small, when extended and hung on the hidden hook, your recipient will have full and easy access to all their toiletries across multiple compartments.
Somebody embarking on a big adventure — whether that be a van-life odyssey or a few months of Interrailing — would make good use of this long-haul laundry bag. The process is simple: Just add water, detergent, and soiled clothes, then give the bag a vigorous rub so that the hundreds of mini-nodes inside scrub away dirt.
A powerful portable charger makes vacations far less stressful, especially if your smartphone is your main camera. Consultant Vikram Saini (who flies multiple times a month for work), likes this Anker one, which he says can usually provide five or six full iPhone charges before you need to plug it in.
Save the frequent flier in your life from watching a Christopher Nolan movie with tinny airline earbuds by instead using this adapter that’ll connect the in-flight entertainment system to their Bluetooth headphones. It changes lives.
While most compression socks wouldn’t look out of place in a medical facility, these stylish Comrad pairs have been known to pad up and down the aisles of private jets. Karlie Kloss wears them, as do Strategist staffers — including me and our editor Maxine Builder — with somewhat humbler travel arrangements.
Athletic travelers will appreciate the packing solution offered by this two-in-one foam-roller water bottle. My fellow Strategist writer Jeremy Rellosa has taken his on trips to Texas, Chicago, Boulder, and Arkansas, where he “happily rolled out at various Airbnbs, hotel rooms, and airport gates.”
Decanting toiletries can be a messy undertaking — and in my experience, it’s especially annoying if you’re already running late to the airport. Cadence’s leakproof set of magnetized containers makes the whole process much easier, and numerous color options mean they’re definitely cute enough to gift.
Less sporty-looking than the ubiquitous Lululemon belt bag, and constructed from stretchy neoprene fabric that lets you stuff it full if you need to, our favorite fanny pack is wonderful to travel with.
The Trtl is our favorite travel pillow and a longtime Strategist best seller. Its uniquely supportive wrap design is especially good for side sleepers, allowing them to lean their head in one direction and nod off, even in the middle seat.
This packable duffel can carry your traveler’s souvenirs home in style should their suitcase start overflowing with shopping. Just imagine the relief when they don’t have to locate a checkered Chinatown tote at the last minute.
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer
For germophobes like Strategist contributor Alison Freer, this mulberry-silk sleep sack is a miracle solution to questionably clean hotel and Airbnb sheets. And if you’re a restless sleeper, know that it doesn’t feel confining like a sleeping bag (though Freer says you can use the sack inside of one for extra warmth).
This new-school garment bag is ideal for wedding trips and would make a savvy gift for that one person you know who is heading to a destination ceremony every second weekend. Moonflower wine-bar co-owner Rebecca Johnson took hers all the way to Tasmania for a romantic antipodean getaway with her husband.
Airports are obviously the very worst thing about travel, which is why a Priority Pass is an especially luxurious and well-appreciated gift. It’ll give the recipient access to first-class lounges around the world, even on a coach ticket.
If you’re buying for an overpacker, take note of this Patagonia Black Hole Mini, which former Strategist associate editor Louis Cheslaw called his “secret second suitcase.” Despite being personal-item-size, it easily fits two pairs of men’s shoes as well as a week’s worth of underwear, socks, and shirts in the main compartment.
Give the gift of Wi-Fi in more than 130 different countries and stop them from having to buy expensive Starbucks drinks at inconvenient moments. This gizmo lets you connect up to five devices and manage your data from the Sapphire app.
The lightest and most compact Kindle model is perfectly packable, which is why it recently earned a spot on our “Strategist Travel 100.” As our tech writer Jordan McMahon — who has tried out every Kindle since 2013 — notes, the six-inch display makes it especially easy to stuff into the front pocket of a backpack.
Nothing — not a comfy pillow or sleep mask or Bloody Mary from the drink cart — will improve someone’s in-flight experience as much as a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Sony’s cans are extraordinarily comfortable while also being effective at drowning out engine noise and maintaining sound quality, according to our tech contributor David Pogue.
Gifting someone a suitcase is special and symbolic, and this expert-recommended carry-on with a roomy, almost 50-liter capacity is durable enough to accompany its recipient on all kinds of trips for years to come. It’s also just very pretty, especially in the limited-edition seasonal colorways.
The latest GoPro makes a nice gift for travelers who like to record every detail of their adventures, as most do. It’s waterproof with features including voice control, video stabilization, and a touchscreen, making it particularly easy to use while on the go.
This statusy lanyard passport-holder would make an excellent present for the forgetful frequent traveler. Director Baz Luhrmann identifies as such: He told us he purchased his after failing to bring his passport to the airport and missing a Cannes opening ceremony.
Sweatpant-averse fliers will appreciate these stretchy flares that can be worn both in transit and out to dinner. Yolo Journal’s Yolanda Edwards dons her pair on every single plane, and says their fabric is optimal for long-haul comfort: “It’s thick cotton with a lot of Lycra, but it’s not a legging, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing exercise clothes.”
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