Buying gifts for travellers can be tough. What do you get for someone who’s always jetting off on another adventure? What gifts are actually useful and won’t just wind up being dead weight in their luggage?
I’ve been lucky enough to explore lots of North America, Europe and Southeast Asia on everything from weekend escapes to a 6-month backpacking trip. As an active traveller who loves hiking and trekking and takes local public transportation, I think a lot about what will make it into my bag for each trip – and what I’ll leave behind.
Based on my years of exploring the world, here are some of the best gifts for travellers, globetrotters, backpackers and frequent flyers on your list.
1. A travel pillow
For long flights, overnight bus rides, or hostels where the pillows just aren’t quite right. Way more than a luxury item, the MEC Deluxe Pillow is lightweight, inflates quickly, and packs away to almost nothing.
2. Packing cubes
Packing cubes are great for helping you stay organized. I recently bought a set, and they’ve made it so much easier to pack my bag and find things once I arrive.
Plus, they protect delicate clothing and help compress bulky items. I use a big one for pants, dresses and sweaters; a medium one for shirts and shorts; and a small one for tiny necessities like headphones and earplugs.
3. A rolling suitcase
For frequent city or air travel, a rolling suitcase is a great option. This rolling duffle comes in three sizes, in case they’re a firm believer in carry-on-only travel or more of an “I need options” maximizer.
4. A travel towel
I have one of these travel towels and I think it’s fantastic. It’s absorbent, and it packs down small enough to stuff in a daypack. Plus, the synthetic fabric dries quickly, so your favourite traveller won’t ever have to stuff a damp cotton towel in their pack.
5. A collapsible water bottle
Filling up your own water bottle after going through airport security is a classic budget travel hack, but rigid plastic bottles take up space even when they’re empty. A collapsible bottle is the best of both worlds: it’s there when you need it, and nearly disappears when you don’t.
6. A compact headlamp
When they’re tiptoeing out of the hostel dorm to catch a pre-dawn bus or exploring the natural caves in the Thai countryside, a headlamp is indispensable. This Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is tiny, super-bright and waterproof, so it’s up for any adventure.
7. A versatile Carry-on
On my list this year? The MEC Travel Light Carry-On. Its big clamshell opening and mesh compartments will make it easy to pack, unpack and stay organized. Plus, the whole bag folds up into its own pocket for easy storage between trips (handy if you live in a small space like me).
Another great option is the sleek, rugged MEC Outpost Pack: it’s tough enough to survive being shoved under bus seats and thrown into Thai longtails, it’s made from waterproof fabric, and it’s got a padded pocket for my laptop.
8. A Canada flag patch
It’s a classic for a reason. (Sewing skills not included.)
9. wrinkle-free pants
I don’t have a pair of the MEC Lina Joggers yet, but they have great reviews from members and are made of quick-drying polyester material that resists wrinkles. For men, check out the MEC Concourse Pant.
10. A packable duffle
Does your favourite traveller have a weakness for souvenirs? Toss the Travel Light Duffle in their bag. It stows in its own pocket on the way to their destination, and unfolds to hold 25L worth of memories.
11. A multi-purpose shirt
It wicks sweat, dries quickly and protects you from the sun, but the men’s Overlook Shirt looks just as good at a casual restaurant as it does on a jungle trek. For women, check out the Focus Tee or the Sparrowgrass Graphic Tech Tee.
12. A protective wallet
Help travellers keep their identities and money secure with a scan-proof wallet. It offers your favourite globetrotter a little peace of mind knowing that no one is stealing their credit card information.
13. A phrasebook
Want to make sure they know exactly how to say “hello” and “thank you” in every country? A pocket-sized phrasebook is a handy travel tool. As soon as they land in Bangkok, they’ll tell you “khop khun!”
14. A lightweight rain jacket
15. A warm layer
Even if your globetrotter is off to a warm climate, they’ll need a warm layer for overly air-conditioned buses or on an unexpectedly chilly night. The Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket is warm enough for mountain adventures if they take an unexpected detour, and it only weighs as much as a banana. Here’s the women’s version.
16. A portable powerbank
When they’re trying to Google Map the bus station but their phone is at 5% battery, they’ll be glad they have this pocket-sized recharger.
17. A travel adapter
A travel adapter is a must when travelling through areas that use different electric plugs than you’re used to at home. The Pro World Travel Adapter is especially helpful for digital nomads or people taking extended trips through several regions – it works in more than 220 countries!
18. A travel-friendly toiletry bag
Help your traveller keep their toiletries organized with this compact toiletry bag. It even has a hook, so they can hang it up if the hostel’s bathroom counter looks slightly dodgy. Mine’s been going strong for nearly six years.
19. A little extra warmth
A cozy toque and touchscreen-compatible gloves are small additions to their pack, but they’ll make a big difference when the temperature drops or they take a spontaneous detour to a cool mountain town.
Or give the gift of versatility: this multi-purpose piece can be a scarf, hat, hood, bandana, headband, ear warmer or balaclava, so it’ll come in handy no matter what weather they wake up to.
20. A low-tech game
Long waits in ferry terminals and airports call for interactive entertainment. These playing cards are printed with fun and interesting questions so you can get to know your travel buddies or new friends from the hostel.
21. A travel first aid kit
Safety first. They’ll be glad they have this tiny first aid kit when they get a blister from walking miles on cobblestone streets.
22. A sleep sheet
Sometimes, the hostel sheets just look a little sketchy, and they’ll be glad to pull out this lightweight sleep sheet.
23. The next adventure
Now all that’s left to say is “bon voyage!”