Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you’ll actually use

Holiday shopping is always a challenge, and shopping for frequent travelers can be even more difficult. If we’ve seen one list of “travel gifts” we’ve seen them all, amirite? How many monogrammed travel pouches, passport covers and decorative globes does one person need? Sure, it’s the thought that counts, but why not combine thoughtful with genuinely useful this holiday season?

We’ve compiled a list of travel gear that make great gifts for the frequent flier in your life — from tech-savvy stocking stuffers to can’t-believe-we-didn’t-think-of-that travel gadgets to a few big ticket items that every travel enthusiast should own. And to make sure we covered all our bases, we consulted some globetrotting travel bloggers on the products they love and the ones they’d love to receive to bring you a list of gifts that real travelers will actually use. And, to avoid all the hassle of Black Friday, these gift ideas are all available online right now. Happy shopping!

The perfect carry-on luggage
Packing made easy
Mats and towels with purpose
Airplane necessities
Multitasking clothing
Kid-friendly gear
Travel pillows 2.0
The gift of experience

The perfect carry-on luggage

Tough and tech-savvy


Pack up, charge up and go (Image: Away)

That perfect carry-on is hard to find. Either it’s too big, too small, too hard to organize or uncomfortable to lug around the airport. The Away carry-on is perfectly sized and boasts an impenetrable shell impervious to all the jostling of overhead storage space, features compartments for all your stuff and even offers a built-in battery to conveniently charge your USB devices. Tessa Juliette from Where To Next? is a huge fan of this sturdy, multi-tasking carry-on: “It’s durable, spacious and the exact dimensions for every airline’s carry-on allowance. The best thing about it, and also the biggest time saver at the airport, is the charging ports that are on the luggage itself. That means I can grab food without having to worry about finding a plug before or after my flight. Serious piece of mind.” While the price tag on this carry-on is a little steep ($225), it may be a worthwhile investment. As Juliette shares: “Even if you’re an occasional traveler it pays off in so many ways.”

Durable and affordable

Pack smart (Image: Paul Marshmann)

Pack smart (Image: Paul Marshman)

Another carry-on to consider with a bit of a lower price tag is Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds 20″ Molded Upright Spinner. It’s lightweight and sturdy with a retractable handle and multidirectional wheels and comes in a variety of fun colors. And, costing less than $60, this carry-on is durable and affordable. For Paul Marshman of The Travelling Boomer, this carry-on is a must: “I find I can fit in enough clothes for a whole week, with special compartments for shoes and toiletries. And if I buy things on my trip, the case expands about an inch to accommodate the extra volume. Some people like the soft-sided cases, but I prefer the hard because it protects the contents better — I could even put a camera lens in there.”

Packing made easy

Keeping it together

Gift guide draft 1

Strap in and takeoff (Image: Demi Hugger)

You know that feeling when you’re juggling a rolling suitcase, a shoulder bag and a laptop bag, diaper bag or purse through the airport? Everyone’s done it, and everyone’s watched other people do it. Save your loved ones the trouble by gifting them the Demi Hugger. It’s a strong neoprene strap that attaches to the handle of your rolling suitcase, keeping other bags placed atop it secure. For less than $40, travelers can avoid inconveniently juggling luggage through the airport terminal. According to Tracey Nesbitt of Solo Traveler, this “new type of luggage strap is completely adjustable and attaches items snugly to your suitcase handle. I’m usually traveling with a laptop, and in colder months, a coat, and I need to have my hands free for my boarding pass, phone, coffee, etc. when maneuvering through the airport. This product makes my travel life a little bit easier.”

Stylish splash-proof pouches

ALOHA Collection

Say ALOHA to wet and dry clothes staying separate. (Image: ALOHA Collection)

Traveling on a beach day can pose quite the predicament, but with the ALOHA Collection’s pouches, you can hit the beach and then toss your wet bathing suit into the 100-percent-coated Tyvek (a waterproof material) pouch. Then toss it right into your suitcase without the fear of it impacting your other clothes. The colorful zip pouches come in three sizes — small ($26), mid ($32-$38), and max ($42), and are the perfect gift idea for the beach-loving traveler who is always on the go.

Go-to gadget organizer


Clear skies, full charge, can’t lose (Image: Cocoon Innovations)

Even the least digitally savvy among us travel with a number of devices. From phones to tablets and e-readers to laptops, it can be hard to keep track of all the chargers, adapters, headphones and other easy-to-lose items. The Cocoon Grid-it comes in a variety of sizes, with options specially crafted for different tablet and laptop sizes. Prices vary but start around $15. Keep all your gadgets organized and accessible, with cords untangled and headphones and other small items easy to find. Matilda Geroulis of The Travel Sisters swears by this organizational must-have: “Most people travel with a large number of electronics and accessories. This electronics organizer keeps all your digital devices and accessories organized and readily available.”

Packing cube perfection

Organization made easy (Image: eBags)

Organization made easy (Image: eBags)

Packing cubes are a great way to organize luggage, fit more into your carry-on and separate your items to make packing for a multi-destination trip easy as can be. The eBags brand packing cubes are offered in a variety of sizes and colors, and they are a great gift for anyone on the go. They’re also perfect for couples or families packing in one suitcase. Prices vary, but a set of three is available for less than $30. Emily Crider at Hudson and Emily swears by them to “maximize the space in our bags and help us stay organized.”

Digital-savvy backpack

Hedgren Connect

Pack all your gadgets in one place. (Image: Hedgren Connect)

We are digital nomads, so we pack all our gear in a backpack that loves tech toys as much as we do. The Hedgren Connect is a backpack for the digital nomad who packs light and loves tech toys. The brand boasts an assortment of unisex tech-friendly bags, backpacks, laptop bags, carry-ons and carry-alls like the Hedgren Framework Laptop Backpack. Available in gray and black and priced around $100, the multi-compartment backpack includes a retractable USB Cord, RFID (radio frequency identification) blocking for extra security, a padded laptop sleeve for notebooks up to 15 inches, and five different zippered pockets, including a side exterior “crush-proof” pocket for fragile gadgets like cameras and headphones.

The rolling packing alternative

Roll it up and go (Image: Gobi Gear)

Roll it up and go (Image: Gobi Gear)

If you love the outdoors (or know someone who does), the Gobi Gear HOBOROLL is the perfect gift. It’s not your average stuff-sack. With five segmented compartments, you can fit more and organize better, and can easily convert to a day bag with the addition of a clip-on shoulder strap (which you can purchase separately for $8.99; the bag itself costs $39.99). Nora of The Professional Hobo has been living on the road for 10 years and is a huge fan of the Hoboroll: “It organizes all my little stuff (like socks, underwear, scarves, hats, workout gear, and more), and then compresses it for super-easy packing. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

An extra bag

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 10

Have an extra bag to stash souvenirs. (Image: Matador)

When you travel, it always seems like you come back with more stuff than you had when you left. We’re not sure if this is science, or the seemingly ubiquitous need to buy souvenirs along the way. Either way, the Matador Daylite16 gives you extra space, only when you need it. The 16-liter weatherproof pack sells for $49.99 and easily transforms into a palm-sized pack for easy storing when not in use. Featuring 100-percent waterproof Cordura ripstop material, matte waterproof zippers and Duraflex hardware, the Daylite16 is weatherproof and durable, with two water-resistant zipper compartments, two side pockets, and adjustable, breathable airflow straps.

Mats and towels with purpose

Yoga on the go


Yoga to go (Image: Manduka)

Packing a rolled-up yoga mat is pretty impractical, so yogis on the road usually end up having to rent one in their destination, which can limit their practice to yoga studios and gyms. Enter the Manduka eko superlite travel mat that offers great grip, is super easy to transport and, at $40, is reasonably priced. Deia of Nomad Wallet always travels with her mat: “When folded, this yoga mat only takes up as much space in the bag as a pair of jeans. It’s perfect for budget travelers who hate luggage fees but still want to stay fit on the road. Mine is the Manduka eKO SuperLite travel yoga mat. It’s still holding up well after three years of being schlepped all over the world to places like Bali, Tokyo and Montreal.”

Beach towel 2.0

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 1

Sunbathe better (Image: The Tillow)

The Tillow (travel + pillow) is a beach towel with a removable foam pillow insert and touchscreen pocket for your smartphone so you can use it without damage, as well as a water-resistant (and camouflaged) storage space to keep belongings safe and out of sight. Carry it conveniently with its removable strap, which also doubles as a lounge chair belt. At $35.99, this is a gift that’s the perfect combination of unique and functional, and it comes in a number of patterns to please all the beach bums in your life.

Multitasking Turkish towel

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 6

Extra soft, highly absorbent and quick drying, a Cacala 100% Pestemal Turkish towel is the perfect multi-tasking travel gift and costs just around $20. It takes up little room in your luggage and can be used as a fast-drying towel, light blanket, scarf and more. It is the current favorite travel gift of Caroline of Caroline in the City: “It can be used as an actual towel, picnic blanket, scarf, and even sarong. I now bring it on every trip.”

Airplane necessities

Portable water bottle

Gift guide draft 1

Hydration station (Image: Platypus)

Packing your own water bottle is a great way to save money while traveling. Just fill it up at the airport or on the road and stay hydrated without having to buy bottled water. The Platypus plusBottle adds an extra convenience — it’s flexible, lightweight and oh-so packable. Just roll it up and stick it in your bag for the most space-saving convenience. According to Esther and Jacob of Local Adventurer, at around $15, the Platypus plusBottle is a necessity: “No matter where you’re off to, you always need to stay hydrated. We do our best to pack light so this makes for the perfect companion. You can fill it when you need it, and when it’s empty, you can roll it up to pack away.”

Headphones for two

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 4

Enjoy a movie for two. (Image: loveBuds)

Watch movies on long flights or listen to joint playlists with loveBuds. Available for $22.49, this is a gift you can share, and (despite the romantic name) it can be used by all pairs (couples, friends and travel companions) looking to make use of one computer, tablet or phone when traveling.

Hip and cozy headphones


Get comfy and chill. (Image: SleepPhones)

Sleeping on a plane is endlessly difficult. Finding the right position for optimal comfort while simultaneously wearing headphones is nearly impossible. But frequent fliers will never have to worry about headphones crushing their ears against a plane window again. SleepPhones feature flat speakers embedded inside a super-soft, machine washable headband. SleepPhones stay put because they’re constructed to be used while lying on one’s side and can even function as an eye mask too. The classic, corded version costs $39.95, but you can go wireless for $99.95.

Battery back-up

AirScale by Oaxis

Weigh in and power up. (Image: Oaxis)

The best travel gadgets multitask, allowing you to get more out of less. Frequent travelers will love the AirScale by Oaxis, a combination luggage scale and power bank. The ergonomic AirScale, sold for $59, features an easy to read digital display showing luggage weight (it can weigh up to 88 pounds in metric and imperial units) and a 6500mAh battery that can fully re-charge most smartphones two times faster than regular battery banks.

Plane power

Great Useful Stuff

Keep organized in-flight. (Image: Great Useful Stuff)

Keep must-have gadgets charged, cords untangled, and all within reach with Great Useful Stuff’s Power Folio 3-In-1. The Power Folio 3-In-1 functions as a case, stand, and charging station for an iPad Mini, Kindle, or any other tablet up to eight inches and up to two cell phones. The $29.99 folio has a separate zippered pocket for excess cords, and it can convert into a tablet stand.

Personal space


You don’t have to rub elbows anymore. (Image: CREATE-A-SPACE)

Even when you try to book the best airplane seat, sometimes even the most experienced flier will end up in that dreaded middle seat or seated next to someone who hogs the armrest. CREATE-A-SPACE is a portable seat partition that lets travelers create their own armrest or divide the current armrest in half to share. The lower section also eliminates lower body, hip-to-hip contact with the passenger in the next seat, and the whole thing folds into the size of a book for easy storage. At $39.99, this is the perfect gift for any traveler who enjoys his or her personal space.

Onboard om

Colorado Aromatics

Keep calm and spritz on. (Image: Colorado Aromatics)

Give your favorite travelers the gift of relaxation. For long-haul flights, facial misters help you stay hydrated, but Colorado Aromatics combines their mister with aromatherapy scents like lavender, sage, mint and lemon. The one-ounce and two-ounce spritz bottles range from $5.50 to $7.95 and are perfectly sized for flying, as well.

A “psi” of relief

Psi Bands

Relieve motion sickness in style. (Image: Psi Bands)

Acupressure wristbands like Psi Bands help relieve nausea due to motion sickness and are drug-free, waterproof, adjustable and reusable. Available in a variety of colors and styles for less than $15, this little goody is a perfect stocking stuffer for frequent travelers.


Bedtime Bliss

Sleep blissfully on board. (Image: Bedtime Bliss)

As most well versed travelers can attest, not all sleeping masks are created equal. Made of a blend of bamboo and cotton, the Bedtime Bliss contours to the shape of the user’s face, avoiding pressure on the eyes. The adjustable mask, available in crimson, pink, purple, and black includes earplugs and a carrying case for $17.50.

Drink and tablet holder to fly hands free 

In-flight entertainment (Image: The Airhook)

In-flight entertainment (Image: The Airhook)

The Airhook is a stable drink holder and a secure mount for an electronics device that attaches to the tray table in its locked position. Not only does The Airhook let travelers get maximum legroom, it helps keep cups in place, reducing spills. For $24.95, this a la carte upgrade is a gift all frequent fliers will appreciate.

The smallest laptop charger 

The world's smallest laptop charger (Image: Dart)

The world’s smallest laptop charger (Image: FINsix)

The smallest and lightest laptop charger in the world, the Dart is a go-to gift for business travelers, bloggers or anyone who likes to stay connected on the road. Costing $99.99, it’s compatible with all major PC brands and features an additional USB port, so you can simultaneously charge another device.

Shampoo bars

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 1

Rinse and repeat (Image: Lush)

Small, long-lasting (up to 80 washes) and easy to pack, Lush shampoo bars are perfect for travelers looking to travel without checking a bag. Since this shampoo isn’t liquid, it doesn’t have to fit into your liquids baggie, leaving more room for other goodies. And with so many scents, you’re in for a spa experience with every wash. Prices vary, but range from around $10 to $13 (a storage tin can be purchased separately for $3.95). Ashley from Ashley Abroad swears by this solid shampoo: “It suds up surprisingly well and is super compact. It also lasts a while – I went through one bar in about two months.”

Fresh breath

Kissy Permissy

Pucker up with Xs and Ox. (Image: Robin McGraw Revelation)

Looking for a little something extra to stick in your favorite traveler’s stocking? How about Flossy Glossy ($3.95), 10 floss picks in a tiny metal tin complete with a mirror, Kissy Permissy ($5), a red lip-shaped tin filled with tiny peppermint Xs and Os, or Lippy Lovey ($3.95), a moisturizing lip balm with jojoba oil and shea butter. Packaged in bright, colorful hearts, Lippy Lovey comes in eight flavors, and all are perfect for keeping fresh on the go.

Multitasking clothing

Change of clothes

The Chrysalis Cardi

Lighten the load with versatile clothing. (Image: Encircled)

Travelers are always looking for ways to pack less without sacrificing style. The Chrysalis Cardi does just that. It is one item that can be worn eight-plus ways, including as an infinity scarf, wrap dress, cardigan, poncho, beach cover-up and airplane blanket. Made in Toronto, Canada from eco-friendly, Modal fabric, the soft multi-way travel garment costs $128 and is wrinkle-resistant and easy to transform — hidden snaps along the hemline and a belt help facilitate the various looks.

Versatile button down


Be fit to a ‘tee’ from plane to city and day to night. (Image: johnnie-O)

The wrinkle resistant, moisture wicking, washable johnnie-O performance button down rolls up easily, includes a “tweener” button (a button between the second and third button for more options) and is versatile enough to wear during the day or at night, ensuring a stylish outfit from landing to a day or night on the town. The bamboo/polyester/spandex shirt is $125.

Smart outerwear

Ready to go (Image: Scottevest)

Ready to go (Image: Scottevest)

The Scottevest RFID travel vest boasts a surprising number of hidden pockets given its tailored look. Carry everything you need on your person and feel safe from high-tech skimmers with an RFID-blocking pocket. Johnny Jet is “a huge fan of Scottevest [travel vests] because of their multiple hidden pockets. They not only keep my valuables safe but the jacket also acts as an extra carry-on. I use their products every time I travel.” The vest starts at $100 and comes in multiple colors with styles for men and women.

Undercover underwear

Urban Undercover

Always pack a spare pair. (Image: Russell Heeter)

We see London, we see France…we always carry a second pair of underpants. Urban Undercover are pretty, comfy underwear trimmed with Italian lace that fold into a pocket that sits hidden in the waistband. Bonus: Depending on which flap is folded, travelers know which pairs are clean and which pairs are dirty, so there is no more guessing. Plus, they’re easy to throw in a purse for changing inflight. Panties and bralets range from $24-$32.

Kid-friendly gear

Car-seat on wheels


Glide on board. (Image: Doona)

Families with a baby no longer have to surrender their car seat or stroller at the gate with the Doona, a car seat with a built-in mobility system. The car seat has wheels that curl up and a handle that extends turning it from car seat to stroller in seconds. Glide through the airport and, with the push of a button, the wheels curl back up and baby is strapped in for the flight. The Doona comes in a number of colors and costs $499.

Cruise and scoot around the airport


Children can scoot through the concourse. (Image: ATM Luggage)

ATM Luggage makes it a breeze to maneuver children through the airport with their Cruizer and Scootie. The Cruizer combines a suitcase with a classic ride-on toy, and the Scootie is a carry-on suitcase and scooter with a rear-fender brake and height-adjustable T-bar. The $59.99 Cruizer supports kids up to 40 pounds and the $89.99 Scootie holds up to 110 pounds. Both come with shells in a choice of Nickelodeon characters like Dora the Explorer, Sponge Bob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Versatile stroller

Versatile stroller (Image: Babyzen)

Versatile stroller (Image: BabyZen)

BABYZEN YOYO+ stroller is a versatile stroller that folds down to the size of a small carry-on bag, so you can actually stow it in the overhead bin of an airplane. Or, as Marianne from Bebe Voyage suggests, “in a small corner of your hotel room or cruise cabin.” The YOYO starts at $420 and allows for infant car seat attachment, which means that you can take your car seat with you, easily get it through the airport and easily stow the stroller frame. According to Marianne of Bebe Voyage, a huge fan and personal user of the YOYO, “the price might seem a bit steep, [but] considering how many other pieces of equipment you WON’T have to buy, I think it’s totally worth it.”

Travel pillow 2.0

Upper body support


Zzz…. (Image: Travelrest)

We hate the Bobblehead effect of sleeping inflight without a pillow, and we’re not into the bulkiness of packing a travel pillow in our carry-on. The inflatable Travelrest pillow is the only travel pillow that provides full lateral support. The pillow can be positioned across the torso or down the side. Unlike other travel pillows, the Travelrest pillow, when inflated, fully supports the upper body because it stays put. The $29.95 pillow inflates with just three to four breaths and deflates quickly.

Ergonomic comfort

Holiday gift guide: Travel gifts you'll actually use 18

Sleep soundly (Image: Cabeau)

The Cabeau Evolution travel pillow is made from super soft and supportive memory foam and offers an ergonomic design for ultimate comfort. For maximum efficiency, the pillow shrinks to one fourth its size for easy packing. Costing $39.99 and including a two-year satisfaction warranty, this pillow is confident you’ll enjoy your on-board slumber.

Cozy times infinity


Style and comfort, yes please. (Image: Sleeper Scarf)

How about an infinity scarf that’s also an inflatable neck pillow? The Sleeper Scarf is just that.  An air valve is hidden in the scarf and the entire pillow portion is removable, so you can wear the scarf alone once you’re in your destination. This multitasking scarf costs $39.50.

Give the gift of experience

They often say experiences outweigh material goods when it comes to getting your money’s worth, and, with Tinggly, you can give the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime experience (think cooking class in Rio or “Game of Thrones” tour in Croatia). A Tinggly experience is easy to buy and easy to send, regardless of the distance between you and the gift’s recipient. Buy a gift box online and the recipient can choose their own experience from hundreds of activities worldwide. With different price ranges from “Essential” ($79) to “Premium” ($119) to “Ultimate” ($279), you can choose the amount that works for you.

Main image: iStockPhoto/svetikd

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