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16 Best travel gifts: A unique gift guide for travelers

I know I’m not the only one who loves to travel. Lots of us do. This travel gift guide isn’t long, but if you’re shopping for someone with wanderlust, I think it contains the best travel gifts. Look no further for the best travel gift ideas!

This short-but-sweet list contains carefully chosen unique travel gifts that either I have or I’d like to have. Most of them are useful at home as well as away. I’ve chosen items from a range of prices to suit everyone’s budget.

I hope this list helps you find the perfect gift for the travel lovers in your life!

Text: 15 best gifts for travelers for any occasion. Image: an Ekster wallet.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you buy an item through an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission. This will not affect your price.

Travel items I use regularly

The following are things I use often myself whenever I travel. 

1. PacSafe bags

A travel bag of some sort is always a good gift for a travel lover. PacSafe makes quality bags in all shapes and sizes: backpacks, suitcases, daypacks, laptop cases: you name it. They pay particular attention to anti-theft devices: anti-slash fabric, RFID safe blocking pockets, lockable zippers, and so on, so they’re great for travel or, for that matter, everyday life.

I received one of PacSafe’s backpacks as a gift several years ago and I’ve used it on every trip since then to carry my laptop and as my under-seat bag when I fly. 

I’m very impressed with PacSafe’s attention to detail. The material has a wire mesh inside it, making it impossible to slash and grab. It has a fancy locking system for the zippers, even the one on the outside that is most likely to be targeted by a pickpocket.

The two side pockets on the outside make it handy to carry a bottle along. I can take the bottle out, have a drink, and put the bottle back in without having to take off the backpack. The shoulder straps are padded and comfortable, so they don’t dig. If I’ve fully packed it, of course, it’s going to feel heavy after a while: I like that it has two wide elastic bands on the back so I can attach it to the handle of my wheeled suitcase.

A grey backpack.

Note added in November 2023: I’m still using this bag on every single trip and it looks like the day I received it except for a bit of dirt on the bottom. All the zippers, snaps, locks, etc still work perfectly. This 25-liter size is perfect for an under-seat bag. It holds, on a typical trip, all of the following: my laptop (a Surface) with its cords, sometimes a second travel screen, a small notebook and/or a book, my toiletries bag, earbuds in their case, a clean shirt and underwear, my camera, and assorted snacks, as well as a bottle.

On a related item, I’ve been pleased to see that fanny packs have made a comeback. They were never pretty, but they’re oh-so-convenient. And they feel safe because all your stuff is right there, attached to you in front and within sight. Nowadays they’re referred to as “waistpacks” and they’re often worn as a cross-body bag instead, with the bag itself across your chest, instead of around the waist. They might be a good gift for someone who needs to carry only a few small items.

Explore Pacsafe’s range of bags to see lots of other unique gifts for travelers in your life: 

2. Packing cubes

I resisted the idea of packing cubes for a long time. I just didn’t see how they could possibly make a difference. But when I received a couple as a gift and realized what they could do, I was sold. I use them every single time I travel now. 

Packing cubes don’t just help you keep your clothes organized – I put shirts in one, pants in another, underwear in another, etc. They also help you compact your clothes far more than you normally could. You place the items in the bag, nicely folded or rolled, and zip it closed, flattening it. Then, using a second zipper, you flatten it even more. It squeezes the pile to about half its original size. 

Two blue packing cubes. They're not actually cubes. They are rectangular and shaped like a briefcase but smaller, with a small cloth handle at the top.

Take a look at my article on minimalist packing – or pass the link to the person you’re giving the packing cubes to – for lots more advice on how to pack as little as possible. For most trips I use only an underseat bag (the Pacsafe described above) and one carry-on bag for in the overhead compartment. Packing cubes help me accomplish this.

Keep in mind that, while packing cubes will definitely help you fit more clothing into your luggage, they won’t reduce the weight of that clothing. Warn your travel-loving gift recipient that they should keep an eye on the weight of their luggage so they don’t end up with extra fees from the airline! Which leads to my next suggestion …

3. Portable luggage scale

While we’re on the topic of packing, a luggage scale is a very useful item for any avid traveler. Many airlines, particularly the budget carriers, weigh passengers’ luggage to make sure they’re within the prescribed limits. If your travel-loving friends try to travel with carry-on bags only, it’s really easy to go over the weight limits, which is why it’s a good idea to get them a luggage scale. 

Travel luggage scales come in digital and analog forms. Ours is analog, and I usually leave it at home and just don’t do any shopping while I travel. If your friend or family member likes to buy souvenirs, I’d suggest choosing the most compact design – probably digital – so it’s easy to pack. That way they can check again after they’ve shopped and make sure their luggage still fits within the limit. If it doesn’t, they can look at, for example, mailing their purchases home. If they got really carried away with shopping, they can add a checked bag to their booking for the flight home.

4. Universal adapter 

This may not be such a fun gift or a particularly unique gift for the traveler in your life, but every world traveler needs a universal adapter. I have one much like the one pictured, and it does the job. It goes with me on every trip outside the EU.

The adapter is white and more or less in the shape of a cube. It has a number of holes at the near end, where a plug from anywhere in the world can be inserted. The USB ports are not visible in this photo.

These days it’s not just your phone that you need to charge. You might also have a portable modem, a smartwatch, an e-reader, a power bank, or a tablet that needs charging. This adapter can charge three devices at the same time: one plugged in with its electric cord, and two plugged into the USB ports.

The most useful adapters are universal: they can plug into outlets in all possible formats. So, for example, the triple plug they use in the UK, the double round plug used in Europe, and so on, are all built into one device. And they can accept USB-A, USB-C and Apple Lightning chargers.

Keep in mind, if you’re from the US, that if you want to use other sorts of electrical devices, such as a hairdryer, you also need a power converter. If you plug a hairdryer or curler from the US into a 220V power supply, like most of the world uses, you’ll fry it. An adapter like this is only for electronics that can handle 220V. 

You can see lots of other travel-related products using this link to Irv’s Luggage or click on the button below for a range of travel adapters.

5. Power bank

I also always carry a power bank with me. My phone is a couple of years old and using apps like Google Maps, which I use a lot, uses up the battery very quickly. So does taking lots of pictures or especially video. Carrying a power bank makes it easy to charge the battery even when I’m on the move.

Power banks come in different sizes indicated by mAh or milliampere hours. The number – usually between 3,000 and 20,000 – indicates the capacity of the power bank. My 20,000 mAh power bank can charge my phone fully twice, which is useful if you end up in a place with on-again off-again electricity. Some power banks can charge more than one device at once.

The problem is that the more capacity the power bank has, the heavier it tends to be. It’ll also be more expensive. Any travel enthusiast can use one of these!

6. Priority Pass

Priority Pass would be an ideal gift for anyone who is a frequent flyer. You know those airport lounges that cost an arm and a leg to get into or that are reserved for business or first-class passengers? Well, Priority Pass allows admission to lounges around the world. I have a Priority Pass – it was what I asked my husband for on my last birthday. 

It’s lovely to be able to relax in an airport lounge while I wait for flights. The quality of the lounges varies, but they all have comfortable seating and are generally quiet and clean, with plugs for charging devices and good lighting. All offer free drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – and most offer food. I’ve found that the level of the food varies a lot, from light snacks (here in the Netherlands) to complete, delicious hot meals (Mumbai).

Using the “standard plus” membership plan, which includes 10 free visits, I often plan my travel so that I can eat a meal in the lounge. That way I avoid paying airport prices for food or relying on the questionable food on the flight. If you count the free meals and the tea and sodas I drink in lounges around the world, my Priority Pass probably pays for itself. Click on the banner below to get a discount!

Note added April 15, 2024: I’m not sure I can recommend this anymore. Much as I loved having the pass when I was in airports, I recently decided to cancel it because I’m flying only a couple of times a year these days. The problem is that as far as I can tell, the only way to cancel is to fill in a form on their website and ask to cancel. It took me three or four times filling out the form before I finally got an answer from a human. Each time I would get a bot email that didn’t answer my question about how to cancel. Very poor customer service. Otherwise, I still think it’s a valuable product.

7. SCOTTeVEST

SCOTTeVEST makes clothing, particularly jackets and vests, with lots of extra pockets. Many of the pockets are on the inside, making them very hard to pickpocket and very easy to take through airport security. 

Photo of a woman wearing a red hoodie.
Me wearing one of my SCOTTeVESTs.

I won’t write a whole description here because I published a separate review of SCOTTeVEST (Yes, that’s how it’s written.) I’ll just say that these would make a great gift for travelers going to climates that aren’t too hot – Europe or North America in the spring or fall, for example. I wear them at home and abroad all through the fall, winter and spring. At home I might carry a handbag, but abroad I usually carry my wallet, passport and meds in the coat’s many inside pockets. It keeps them safe and leaves both hands free for taking pictures. Make sure to order a size up to allow for the added bulk of the things they carry in all those pockets.

8. Ekster wallet

This one isn’t really specifically for travel, but everyone needs a wallet, right? And this wallet is unlike other wallets.

Note: I received this wallet as a gift from Ekster, along with a Chipolo to carry in it (more on that in a minute). I was thinking about giving it to my husband, but then when I received it I liked it so much I had to keep it! 

On the left, the box the wallet came in: It is black, with shiny letters that say Ekster and crossed symbols that are not very clear. On the right, a brown leather wallet, but with a black plastic knob in the left-hand corner. In the right hand corner, the letter E inside a crest shape is embossed on the leather.

You know how, when you have a pile of credit cards and bank cards in your wallet, it’s sometimes difficult to find the specific one you’re looking for since they’re all squeezed in together? The Ekster wallet makes it extra easy to access your cards. See that black thing at the bottom left of the Ekster? All you have to do is push on that, and your cards pop up at the top, staggered so you can see each one separately. 

It doesn’t hold very many cards – maybe four or five – depending on how thick the lettering is on the cards. Some of their models can hold more cards than that. There are some normal pockets too, so I’ve used them for the cards I’m least likely to need. I carry cash in my pocket, but the elastic band is intended to hold folded paper money instead of carrying a separate money clip.

The wallet is open in this photo, and the knob on the lower left is visible, with a person's finger pushing it. At the top of the wallet, the tops of 4 cards peek out, each a bit further out than the one in front of it so all 4 are visible.

Note added November 2023: I didn’t notice at first, but this thing is really durable too. I use it on a daily basis at home and abroad. The leather has held up really well, and the button to pop up the cards works just like always. 

The optional Chipolo is a device the shape of a credit card but a bit thicker that serves as a tracer. Download an app and you can signal the Chipolo to ring, helping you find your wallet if you misplace it. It also shows you where it is on a map. You can set it to alert you if you leave your wallet behind and move away from it. Note added November 2023: I’ve stopped using the Chipolo because I bought some SmartTags. If one of my bags goes missing, I can track it, and I don’t have the added bulk of the Chipolo in my wallet.

Other travel gifts

The following are all great travel gifts. Either they’re things I only use occasionally, or they’re things I don’t have but seem like high quality, practical gifts to me. 

1. Compression socks

Compression socks are supposed to help prevent the development of clots leading to deep vein thrombosis after long flights. I’m not a medical person, so I have no idea to what extent they help, but many people wear them on long-haul flights. I have a pair I picked up randomly at Schiphol airport, and half the time I forget to wear them. Maybe I wouldn’t forget them so easily if I had a brightly-colored pair like some of the ones at Irv’s Luggage – they’re much more fun!

2. Wanderlust Passport Travel Journal

This new addition to my best gifts list is a great present for someone planning a big trip, or even a small one. It’s small and portable, and it offers a great way to keep track of travel memories – as well as small items like ticket stubs – instead of just a file full of digital photos with no explanations attached. (Which, I admit, is all I have after some trips!)

There are lots of blank pages you can write or draw on, with spaces at the top to fill in the date, location, weather and accommodations info. There’s a place at the front to add an index so you can organize the book when the trip is over, and a pocket at the back for small items you want to keep. The journals come in a variety of forms and colors, so check out their website! They also sell colorful stickers to illustrate the journal.

The book in its clear plastic packaging, plus a small packet of stickers.

This company doesn’t do affiliate links, but they do offer a discount of 10% if you use my discount link or fill in RACHELH

3. Tray organizer

If you’ve ever fallen down the rabbit hole of reading horror stories from flight attendants, you know that people do some pretty disgusting things on planes. Without going into detail, let’s just say the tray tables aren’t always so clean. The seatback pockets are even less so.

Back of a tray table with cloth pockets hanging on the tray table, stuffed with things like a magazine, headphones, etc.
Photo courtesy of Serenity.

That’s why the tray organizer by Serenity appeals to me. You just slip it over the tray table, close the tray back up, and you have plentiful pockets. When you want to use the tray to eat, leave it on and use it like a tablecloth. After your trip, you can throw it in the wash.

When you’re not using it, the organizer folds up very small, so it’s not a burden to take it along on a trip. It comes in a range of colors.

Airplane tray table covered in orange material.

When you empty and fold it, the organizer takes very little room. Be careful, though, when you arrive and want to remove it from the tray table, that you don’t dump everything out onto the floor! Better to take it all out of the organizer first, then remove it.

The organizer comes in a range of colors.

Note added November 2023: I have tried this on both a train and on four flights this month. On the train it didn’t fit the tray table very well, but on the airplanes it did, and I found it very useful. It was nice to a) have the cleanly covered tray and b) to have everything right there even when the tray table was down. I have a tendency to lose my earbuds case, leading to a frantic search under the seats. This time, it was right there in the tray organizer pocket when I needed it. 

4. LastObject reusable travel products

LastObject produces items that everyone uses every day: cotton swabs, for example, and makeup pads, tissues and sanitary napkins. Here’s the thing, though: they’re all built to be easily reusable! One “LastSwab,” the company claims, can replace up to 1000 disposable swabs. What a great idea!

Each item comes with a colorful box: either recyclable silicone or plant-based plastic. When it’s finally used up, which will take a while, you can buy refills rather than getting an extra box you don’t need.

The company doesn’t make these products specifically for travel, but they make so much sense for travel! Why pack a whole box of cotton swabs when you can just bring one? These are truly sustainable alternatives to disposable products!

A long purple container with the words "Last Swab" along its length. The top is partially swiveled to show the single swab on a stick that is mounted inside the box. It looks like a normal cotton swab with a white tip and a purple stick.
A LastSwab.

As far as unique travel gifts go, look for their travel packs of products. Or choose a gift certificate so your traveling friend can choose themselves.

Use the code rachelsruminations for a 10% discount!

5. Travel scarves from Waypoint Goods

I received two scarves from Waypoint Goods as a gift, and I love them.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t just any scarf; it’s a travel scarf. Hidden in its seam is a pocket with a zip closure. It’ll fit your passport, cards, and other small items.

You might think that it would be obvious that you’re carrying items in your scarf, since the weight would pull it down, but it’s not. The scarf is long enough to double or even triple: put the pocket in front on your chest or up next to your neck. Twist the scarf once and wind it a second time around your neck. The top loop of the scarf covers up the bulge in the lower loop.

A photo of me from the waist up. Wearing a black sweatshirt with a scarf around my neck that is patterned in shades of orange and pink. My skin is white, my glasses are red-framed, and I have short brown hair. Behind me is an apple tree.
Waypoint travel scarf.

What I love about this scarf is that I can use it instead of a handbag so my hands are free for my camera.

I keep my phone in a jeans or jacket pocket since I use it so much. That leaves room in the scarf pocket for my passport, my wallet, my migraine pills for just in case, and a couple of spare camera batteries. I’d suggest, though, that you just carry a few necessary cards – a credit card, a bank card and a driver’s licence – and leave the store cards and such at home.

Note added November 2023: I don’t use this these days as a travel scarf, since I mostly travel in warm places and don’t need a scarf. Instead, I use it at home in the winter just because it’s pretty!

The scarves come in two weights and lots of patterns or solids. Click on the button below to go look at the whole range and to order. The lightweight ones are made of bamboo and cotton; the heavy ones are polyester and significantly warmer. I can see wearing the lightweight scarves in spring, fall and winter, and the heavier ones only in the winter. Both have a nice soft feel.

Waypoint has some other travel-related products too: candles with scents based on particular cities, for example, travel journals, jewelry, and more.

6. Filter bottles

Nowadays it’s very common for travelers and also people at home to carry a water bottle. Travelers to countries with unreliable water treatment systems often carry a filter of some sort so that they can clean the water as they go. It’s also distinctly more economical and environmentally-friendly than constantly buying bottled water.

6a. Grayl filter bottles

The way the Grayl filter works is this: you fill it with water – from a stream or a tap – and then you push the filter down through the water. As the filter gets older, it will take longer to push through.

Now here’s the beauty of this system: if it takes 25 seconds to push the filter down, it’s time to replace it. Nevertheless, it will still filter the water, just more slowly. That confidence – that the filtration still works – combined with that signal – the increased time – is why I particularly like this water bottle with filter.

The Grayl filter promises to remove 99.9% of viruses, bacteria and protozoa and to filter for particulates as well as various chemicals and heavy metals.

It comes in two sizes. The bigger one (Geopress) holds more water and the filter lasts longer. My son used this one the year he lived in London because he didn’t like the taste of the tap water. The filter gave it a more neutral taste.

The smaller one (Ultrapress) is specifically designed for travel. The filter won’t last as long, but it’s easier to pack and carry.

6b. Water-to-Go filter bottles

I recently received a gifted Water-to-Go bottle and I think it’s worth mentioning as well. This bottle, made from sugarcane rather than plastic, has a filter that the company claims, like Grayl, removes 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, parasites and chemicals. In this case there is no plunging like with the Grayl; you just fill it with water and drink it through the filter. 

What I particularly like about this bottle is how light it is, so it’s no problem to take along to the airport to fill up later.

A Water-to-Go filter bottle in its cardboard packaging.

The filter cleans 200 liters, or 2-3 refills per day for three months, though if you’re filtering particularly dirty water, the company recommends replacing the filter after two months. I asked them about how one keeps track of that 200 liters and was told that when flow rate begins to decline it’s time to change the filter, but the filtration will still work. 

If you fill in the discount code RACHEL, you’ll get a 15% discount on your whole order!

7. Travel maps

Scratch-off maps are very popular gifts for travelers. I’m not a big fan because there’s a bit of a design flaw. Over time, the stuff to scratch off (some sort of coating), hardens. I realized this when I tried to scratch off a country and ended up damaging the map, digging a hole in the backing paper.

Awesome Maps has scratch-off maps, but it also has lots of other really fun items that would make perfect travel gifts. Is your favorite traveler into running or fishing or kitesurfing or diving? Buy them a world map with all the best spots for their favorite activity marked on it! Planning a road trip in Europe? There’s a map for that too! Each map is also available in the form of a towel, so they could even take it with them!

For the more general traveler, try the bucket list map: it shows the 500 best sights to see and things to experience around the world.

Use the “magic code” RUMINATIONS to get a 5% discount!

8. Cards, notebooks, phone cases, etc.

At Redbubble I’ve started a small shop based on my favorite photos. Choose the photo you like and you’ll see a range of different items printed with the photo: a spiral notebook, for example, or coasters for drinks, phone cases or framed pictures to hang on the wall.

When I first set the shop up, I ordered a few items, just to see if the quality is good. It is. In the photo below you can see a spiral notebook and a small picture to hang on the wall. Check out my shop on Redbubble to see lots more choices: more photos and more different items.

On the left, a spiral notebook with an image of brightly colored warehouses on a canal in Norway, a small boat passing in front of them. On the right, a photo of the New York City skyline against a blue sky with fluffy clouds.
Items from Redbubble.

If there’s a particular picture on Rachel’s Ruminations that you’d like to see in the Redbubble shop, let me know. I can add it to the shop very easily.

Summary

Less expensive gifts

These are the least expensive gifts on the list, but all would be great gifts for frequent travelers:  

Mid-priced gifts

These items are a bit pricier, but not hugely expensive:

More extravagant gifts

If you can afford them, any of these would be the perfect present for anyone with a love of travel:

Small-sized travel gifts

These products would make great stocking stuffers:

Most practical gifts

If you just want to give something practical, stick with these:

Fun at home too

If you want to buy something for the type of traveler who enjoys the anticipation and the memories as much as the trip itself, go for one of these:

Please suggest any other special and unique travel gifts that you think should be included in this list!

Pin the image below to Pinterest to save this article for later!

Text: Unique travel gifts that any traveler will love and use! Images: above, me wearing a bright pink and orange travel scarf; below, two items printed with travel photos: on the left a notebook with a photo of warehouses along a canal with a boat passing by, and on the right, a photo of the NYC skyline.
Perfect for pinning!

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
  • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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