Over the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to have some unforgettable travel experiences. I’ve lived on a rooftop in Beirut, dirtbagged down the west coast from Canada to Latin America, and spent way too much time looking for places to sleep in airports across the globe. What I take in my pack is hugely important. I need gear for all occasions – but not extra stuff that will be dead weight at the bottom of my bag.
With these experiences in my back pocket, here are suggestions for some awesome gift ideas for the traveller in your life.
1. Packing cubes
Discovering packing cubes was a revelation. The organization and compression of my clothing and electronics suddenly improved tenfold. I always pack an extra cube in case I come home with a collection of T-shirts from Armenia, hot pepper paste from Lebanon or a bunch of gifts for friends.
2. A travel towel
Compact, incredibly absorbent and quick drying – I never hit the road without a travel towel. Every traveller should own one to dry off from a river dunk during a long-distance cycle tour or a rest day shower at a Tbilisi hostel.
3. A backpack that acts like a suitcase
Know someone who wants to travel light and skip the luggage conveyor at the airport? The Gregory Tetrad 40L Travel Pack opens up wide to easily pack and unpack, and is comfortable to carry on trails or in the city. Good water resistance and padded sleeves for a laptop, too.
4. Collapsible water bottle
Gone are the days of chunky water bottles slotted precariously into the side pocket of a backpack – collapsible water bottles are here to stay. The Softbottle weighs less than a KitKat bar, takes up basically no space when empty, and comes in two sizes to fill up at the departure lounge after clearing customs.
5. A compact headlamp
A decent headlamp is something I always bring along. It’s essential for hands-free lighting, whether you’re stirring noodles after sunset on a mountainside or sneaking out of a room for an early flight. The lumen-rich Petzl Tikka Headlamp has three brightness settings, a red light to avoid disturbing hostel mates, and can run on rechargeable batteries.
6. A travel pillow
Long-distance bus rides and transcontinental flights have many things in common. One of them is the never-ending challenge to try and get comfortable. The Kikkerland Zip & Flip Bear Pillow helps with that and is cute.
7. A stealthy hip pack
Perfect for slinging ear buds, keys or individually wrapped pieces of pistachio baklava inside. This Patagonia mini hip pack barely takes up space in your luggage and is made from 100% recycled material (awesome).
8. An iron-on patch
Does your nomadic buddy use an old MEC pack as their carry-on for every trip? If they want to give it a fresh look or reinforce some aging fabric, give them a patch that exudes traveller spirit and makes a tired pack look ready for another adventure.
9. A scarf that does double-duty
Travelling versatility at its best. Along with keeping you warm, this merino shawl scarf is ideas for visiting sites where modest attire is needed. The cozy merino wool blend is soft, not itchy.
10. A way to hang stuff, anywhere
Carabiners are handy beyond just climbing. Use them to attach your bag to your person when sleeping through a long layover, or to store gear when you’re back home. The Heroclip takes it one step further, with an additional hook for added adaptability.
11. A stand to make video chats easier
The Nite Ize FlipOut Handle and Stand provides additional support for your do-it-all device. Use it when you’re taking selfies overlooking old city walls, chatting to folks back home, or when you and your travel buddy want to watch a movie on a rest day.
12. A protective wallet
I once had an incident with a pickpocket in Ghana who tried to take my wallet (they failed) and I’ve been way more vigilant since then. The MEC Globetrotter Neck Wallet is a great option if you’re a security-minded traveller, as it keeps your essentials close to your chest.
13. A belt with a hiding spot
When travelling to places that are notorious for pickpocketing, it’s never a bad idea to keep cash close to your person. It doesn’t get much more personal than the MEC Globetrotter Money Belt, which has a hidden zipper pocket to stow away emergency funds.
14. A lightweight rain jacket
An indispensable item for any traveller (it’s certainly saved me on more than a few occasions). Cotopaxi’s Teca Half-Zip Windbreaker looks rad and is made of fabric that has been re-routed from the landfill. On top of that, it’s also got a massive chest pocket to store snacks.
15. A simple, functional watch
The classic Casio Water Resist comes with an alarm and a stopwatch – all you need to wake up for a connecting flight out of Moscow Sheremetyevo, or to time your hostel-cooked ramen to perfection. It’s cheap, simple and not something fancy that you’d be worried about losing.
16. A portable powerbank
It’s a challenge to keep devices charged when power outlets are limited. The Goal Zero Flip 10 Recharger is about the height of a deck of cards (and weighs even less) and allows travellers to stay connected on the road.
17. Protection for your toothbrush
Keep your toothbrush hygienically floating above grimy shared hostel bathrooms and questionable counters with the Kikkerland Fox Toothbrush Holder. What’s more, the ever-so-terrifying fox design keeps pesky toothbrush thieves at a safe distance (at the very least, no one will mistakenly grab your brush by accident).
18. A little extra warmth
The Chaos Merino Wool Tubular Headwear (or just Chaos Tube if you want to sound cool) is more versatile than a spork. It can be a neck warmer, a balaclava, a toque or a hood – it all depends on how you wear it. A good addition to your hip pack in case your long-distance night bus decides to take an extended break.
19. A travel journal
Words just flow better on the road. Help the explorer in your life put their thoughts on to (recycled) paper with this mini traveller journal.
20. A travel first-aid kit
No one expects to cut their thumb chopping onions or to get stung by a wasp on a patio in Camden. The Kikkerland Wilderness First Aid Kit get you back up to speed again, all in a compact – and nice-looking – package.
21. A travel adapter
The Pro World Travel Adapter is helpful for digital nomads or people taking extended trips through several regions that use different plugs – it works in more than 220 countries!
22. A silk sleep sheet
Sketchy hostel beds have claimed many a night’s sleep in the life of the perennial traveller. One solution is a portable sheet of your own. The MEC Silk Travel Rectangular Liner is more packable than cotton or fleece, has its own pillow sleeve and gives its user a slight air of luxury in a $10 dorm bed.
23. Ideas for the next adventure
Know where they’re off to next? Stoke their exploring spirit with a bucket-list travel book packed with adventure inspiration. Or if they already have a destination in mind, pick up a guidebook to help them plan an amazing trip.
There you have it: a fairly extensive list of travel-oriented gear to cater to people about to head out on their first trip or the most hardened of explorers. All that’s left to do now is to see them off at the airport and bid them safe travels.
A big, globe-sized thank you to MEC staffer Hilary for being the traveller ready to take off in our photos.