Like many of you, I didn’t go anywhere for over 18 months as I braved through the restrictions, lockdowns, and closures that summed up much of 2020. I didn’t think much of traveling last year and didn’t do a holiday/end-of-year gift guide.
During my time at home, and now that I’ve started traveling again (my first trip of the year was a cruise on the Carnival Mardi Gras in August 2021), I’m starting to think about the little things that help make travel easier and my time at home more reflective of the joy that I have for travel.
The 2021 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers has been divided into three sections – a general travel section, a foodie travel section, and a technology section. All of these items are things that I own or are on my personal wish list, and they span a realistic price range. Gifts for real people.
Many of these items are listed with affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase, there may be a small commission coming my way. Using these links is one way of supporting my small business.
While I still believe that the best gifts of all are experiences, I know that not everyone is traveling again. These are items that will help you get ready to get back out on the road.
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Gifts for All Travelers
Secret Seattle: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure
By Mary Jo Manzanares – I wrote a book!
Discover the unique destinations, colorful history, and wacky legends that make the greater Seattle area such a popular destination to live and visit. Whether you’re a local looking for something new or a visitor wanting to feel like a local, Secret Seattle lets you in on dozens of secrets around the Emerald City.
This is a perfect day bag – when you need something smaller than a pack but more than a person. It’s great for carrying picnic food, a small mini-purse, chargers and cords, and anything else you might want for a day exploring. I use it around Seattle as much as I do when I’m traveling, and love the exterior zippered pocket to keep small things handy.
I hate sitting at a restaurant or cafe where there’s no room to put my purse (or day bag) – except on my lap (inconvenient) or on the ground (big yuck). These foldable bag holders can be unfolded and hung on a table, counter, or ledge when you need them and take up no space when you’re carrying them. These are glitzy, but there are plenty of plain ones. I have a travel-themed one that I’ve carried around for years.
I’ve had this globe for several years and recently moved it into my office. During Covid non-travel times, I’d close my eyes and spin the globe, dreaming about places to visit.
Of course, I really like this fancy-schmancy globe also.
I was a late convert to packing cubes, but once I started using them, I’m so much more efficient in how I pack for a trip. There are lots of philosophies about how to best use them, and I experimented a bit to come up with what works for me. Now I can’t imagine packing without them. I recently received another set as a gift (thank you to my friends at Globus).
Dyson Hair Dryer
This was a Christmas gift last year. It’s a real splurge and at this price point, one you have to think about for a while. I have thick, wavy, medium-length hair and it would take forever to dry. Friends raved about this dryer and after a year of use, I see why. Dries my hair in about 15-minutes (as opposed to 45), and that’s while sipping my morning coffee.
This is one of those little things that I wish I’d thought of before. I love the rain showers that many hotels have, but I don’t always want to get my hair wet. I’m often relegated to a hand-held or side spray option. I now pack one of these shower caps and I can stand up that ceiling rain shower as long as I want. They’re kind of dorky looking, but no one sees it in the shower, and they’re super cheap in case I leave one behind.
Samsonite Winfield 2 Luggage
We updated our luggage during a 2019 Black Friday luggage sale but really didn’t get to use it until recently. This set is lightweight, has a 20 and 24-inch bag. The smaller bag meets international carry-on standards and both are sturdy enough to survive as checked bags. This pretty blue color is mine, Tony has a charcoal grey.
Even though we have heated car seats, a blanket is one of those necessary items that I like having on hand. I can tuck it around myself if it’s chilly or spread it out on the ground to sit on. Spread it over the seat to keep it safe from wet or dirty clothing, or use it to provide some protection for fragile items in your trunk. I think of it as one of the must-have first aid/emergency items for the car.
Dark-colored Travel Sweater
A dark sweater is my go-to travel outerwear for flights. I want one that’s heavy enough to keep me warm and easy to slip on and off (sometimes I use it as a mini-blanket) during flight. It must-have pockets, and it can’t be so expensive that I’ll be upset if I leave it behind. Yeah, that’s happened all too many times. This is the sweater that I’m currently wearing and it’s seen me through short and long flights, wine tasting, cruising, a conference, city sightseeing, and more.
Packable Sun Hat
I’ve had the sun hat for a few years and take it with me on most beach vacations (and it’s been far too long since that has happened). It’s big enough to give me good coverage from the sun and looks as stylish as I’m likely to get at the beach. It folds up in my suitcase and then fluffs up when I unpack. Combined with some high-quality sunscreen, I’m prepared for all those sunny destinations.
Mosquitos love me. I’ve covered myself in lotions and potions, sprays and gadgets, and they still love me. These sticks can be burned like incense, providing an eco-friendly choice for when I’m on my deck. I haven’t tried them yet, but they come recommended by a friend, and when it’s warm enough for outside activity, I’ll give them a try. Mosquitos be gone!
Tony first discovered these shoes, buying a pair of slip-ons for city walking. He quickly wanted another pair and I tried a pair of flats, finding them perfect for packing. They take a little room and can comfortably compliment most outfits. There’s a great sale going on right now and we’ve bought a few more styles. Bonus points for being lightweight and washable.
Travel Pocket Scarf
This isn’t the exact one I have but it’s quite similar. I love scarves! They’re an attractive accessory to dress up a plain dress, they provide warmth in cooler weather, and with this style, there are a couple hidden pockets to stash valuables. I like the button that holds this all together and keeps it from sliding off or being grabbed. It’s great for lightweight items (ID, money, credit cards, etc.), but it loses its shape if you weigh it down with too much junk.
TSA Approved Travel Bottles
I’m continually amazed at how many people still aren’t aware of the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on bags on an airplane. To reiterate – 3-ounce bottle maximum, 1 bag, 1 quart. (There are exceptions for infants and medication.) It was time to replace my old bottles and this is the set I got. A solid workhorse for packing, doesn’t leak, is reasonably priced, and can be used for carry-ons or in checked bags.
Gifts for Foodie Travelers
Reusable Silicon Bags
While I’m trying to reduce my use of single-use plastics, there are times when I need to use a baggie. I try to re-use when I can, but it seems that they inevitably tear or can’t be cleaned. I’m ordering these silicone reusable food containers and will keep a set for travel. Perfect for storing snacks in my carry-on without worrying about granola spilled all over my bag, packing a wet swimsuit, or bagging specialty food items that I’ve purchased while traveling. Lots of sizes and assortments to choose from. If you like to bring wine home from your travels, these reusable wine protectors work well.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of corkscrews we have around the house. The reason? We like picking up a local bottle of wine to enjoy in our room while traveling and we never remember to pack a corkscrew. And, in those situations, it seems like we end up buying a cheap one that we don’t want to use again. I finally just purchased a duplicate of our at-home favorite to stay permanently in my suitcase. And while this is the one we use at home, I do have my eye on this one. I’ve also started packing these silicone bottle stoppers for when we don’t finish a bottle.
We enjoy wine tasting when we travel and I do a lot of online researching. I have my eye on this guide to add to my wine reference shelf. With new wineries opening (and old ones closing) on a regular basis, it’s inevitably out of date before it’s even published. It still serves as a great starting point. This guide on Washington State wines and wineries hasn’t been updated in a long time, but may still be helpful.
Wine Tasting Resources
I’m not a pro at wine tasting, but I’m working on incremental improvements. This simple aroma wheel has been helpful in identifying what it is that I’m smelling (and later tasting). There are still a lot of scents that I’m not familiar with (and so couldn’t identify them), and I’ve thought that an aroma kit would help me learn more. If you bike when you’re traveling, and still like to do some tasting, this bicycle wine caddy may be handy.
Once we started visiting wineries, we started buying wine, which meant finding some simple storage solutions at home. When we outgrew a box in the basement, we opted for a wine refrigerator. This is the newer version of the model we purchased. It’s handy to keep in our family room off our kitchen and is where we keep our everyday wine selection. That former basement storage area is being turned into a full wine cellar, where we’ll have additional refrigeration, floor to ceiling storage racks, additional storage area, wet bar, and sitting area. Can’t wait till it’s finished (soon)!
Craft Beer Guide
My flight attendant friends swear by this little gem. You may have seen crew members walking through an airport with a large food tote. Eating in restaurants get really tiresome, and in an effort to both save money and eat more healthily, flight attendants often pack their own meals. Add in the ability to have something warm, and it’s even more appealing. And during various lockdowns, it was often the only way to get a hot meal while on the road.
I love European-style coffee and this purchase was a big splurge in order to simulate the experience at home. No regrets! We use it daily, a cup with a nice crema head during the week, and a latte on the weekends. The milk frother is great! Almost as good as if we were traveling, just no cobblestone streets. As an added bonus, we save lots of money by not stopping for coffee on the way to the airport.
Gifts for Techie Travelers
I’ve been a Kindle fan since they first came out. Yes, I still love the feel of a book in my hands – I wrote one, I have bookshelves of reference books, and I love getting autographed copies. But, I read a lot and I found myself packing too many books when I traveled. My Kindle helps me lose that excess weight, it holds a thousand (or so) books and I don’t need to worry about reading everything, and it syncs with my library (where I get most of my books). I have the Paperwhite version, it’s waterproof, backlit, and I can adjust the font size for easy reading. Add a pretty cover.
Long Charging Cords
This isn’t something that I pack on every trip, but if Tony is going, or I’m sharing a room, and going to be on the road for more than a weekend, it’s a necessity. I like this one because it’s square, rather than a true strip, and it seems to fit plugs a little better (i.e., I can use all the outlets, rather than having one blocked). This is a lifesaver when you need to charge a bunch of items – or when the hotel outlets are too loose to hold in your charging cord. I have several around home that are all well used.
I’m going to order several sets of these – one for each of us, and a couple for around home. Between all our various devices – phones, Kindle, computers, and all their chargers, it’s a mess of cords. I’ve tried some elaborate methods to wrangle them in and am hoping this will do the trick. It comes recommended by a well-traveled friend.
I have never used the iPhone listening devices – whether wireless or corded. They just don’t fit my ear, despite the shapes changing over the years. I ordered the AirPods Pro last year, with a fair amount of skepticism, and love them. Since they fit more like an earbud, I don’t have to worry about them falling out. They also have noise cancellation and transparency mode, so you can set your listening pleasure. Tony prefers these.
We originally purchased this because we were getting lots of deliveries (instead of going out) during stay-at-home orders. We have a large home, often wouldn’t hear a knock or ring at the door, and there was always the concern of porch pirates. We got the installed (along with one for the other doors) and it made life easier. An added travel benefit is that we can see what’s going on while we’re away, including interacting with someone, if need be.
I’ve had a Skyroam device for years and updated to the new Solis a couple of years ago. I use it for international travel when I want to connect multiple devices to wifi. It will connect up to 10 devices, so a great option when traveling with family or a group of friends. There are various options for data plans. I have chosen the day rate (24-hours) and use it when I don’t have other wifi options. Since I usually work from the road, it’s well worth the price and is a good value.
This is another item that comes recommended by flight attendant friends. When activated by the pull pin, it emits a loud alarm designed to scare off an attacker or call for help. It can be attached to clothing or a bag, keeping it close at hand. Something to think about if you’re traveling alone or have to be in sketchy areas.