12 Hard-core Travelers on the Gifts They Want for the Holidays

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Photo: James L. Amos/Corbis via Getty Images

Finding the perfect holiday gift can be maddening (is this the color they’d want? Is it something they already have? Is it so last year?), but really, once you have a sense of a person’s taste, it’s not impossible. This season, we’ll be talking to members of various tribes to find out exactly what to get that college student, or serious home cook, or Star Wars fanatic in your life. Think of it as a window into their brain trust — or, at least, a very helpful starting point. For our latest installment we found a dozen people who travel for a living who told us about the space pens, portable printers, and Gucci luggage they’re hoping to be gifted this year.

Under $100

“I lost my Space Pen on a flight after coloring with my daughter. In the rush to get out, we accidentally left her bag of pencils and my pen. While I quickly got some new pencils for her, I haven’t gotten my replacement yet. This is an amazing pen that writes anywhere. Too often, I’m stuck in a line, trying to fill out customs forms with a crappy ballpoint that doesn’t work. The Space Pen never had that problem and lasts forever. As long as you don’t leave it on your chair, that is …” — Chris Bergaust, 12 years abroad as an expat, 27 countries (not including airports), and 29 flights so far this year

“Watching a movie is a great way to pass the time on a long-haul flight, but sleeping through a red-eye is my first choice for beating jet lag before it starts. However, actually losing consciousness on a 500-ton metal tube roaring through the sky at 560 miles per hour is easier said than done. Sure, I could turn to my old friend Pinot Noir, but on my next overnighter, I’d like to try Sprayable Sleep’s melatonin spray instead. Melatonin pills tend to stir up some pretty intense dreams, like watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a loop all the way to Thailand. Sprayable Sleep claims to be different.” Yael Boyle, author and full-time traveler who has visited more than 25 countries in the last four years (and spent just ten days in the U.S.)

“I’ve always wanted to be the kind of traveler who looks stylish and put-together no matter where she’s landed. Instead, I always look rumpled and frumpy. So I’ve been dreaming about starting from scratch with an entirely new travel wardrobe: A bunch of versatile, wrinkle-free, light-to-pack, easy-to-wash, quick-to-dry pieces that would ensure I always appear as the neat and fashionable digital nomad I feel like, and not as the living-out-of-a-suitcase, long-term traveler I sometimes look like. A few brands are focusing on exactly this kind of clothing — including things that can be worn in multiple ways — and they intrigue me. Encircled’s Chrysalis Cardi is somehow a cardigan, a blouse, and a dress; Eddie Bauer’s 7 Days 7 Ways Cardigan is exactly what it sounds like; and Betabrand has several multitaskers, including the Travel Wrap Dress and the Round-Trip Dress, both of which have pockets (huzzah!) and the magical ability to be four frocks instead of just one. I’ve heard good things, too, about Anatomie’s lightweight, breathable travel pants, and I’m super curious about Tieks’s foldable ballet flats, which frequently show up in my Facebook feed claiming to be the ultimate travel flat. The catch is that clothing in this category can be expensive, so while these are things I wouldn’t necessarily get for myself, they’d make perfect gifts.” — Billie Cohen, content director at WendyPerrin.com and travel writer

“I’d like a book: Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums, by Maryam Omidi. After a recent trip to the Caucasus, I’ve become fascinated (and a little bit obsessed) with Soviet history and architecture. If only I had grasped the cultural importance of this much-beloved public institution born of Soviet times — the sanatorium — I might have treated myself to a crude-oil bath in Baku. Places like Abkhazia, Transnistria, and Crimea now feature on my bucket list, so I’d love to understand more about this aspect of the post-Soviet lifestyle before I travel in the region again.” — Emily Lush, a writer and communications consultant who has lived in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and now Vietnam

Under $200

“My 3-year-old has logged some pretty serious miles already, which is par for the course when your mom is a travel editor. She’s just getting strong enough to lug her own stuff around with her — and the compact size of this stylish carry-on from Away is very appealing. No more overpacking allowed!” — Julia Cosgrove, VP and editor-in-chief of AFAR Media

“My job is quite selfish in many ways, in that I take so much from people. I take their picture, I take their time, I take their life story, I take their personal space in their home, and I take their food, tea, and more from hosts who never give less than the best of whatever they have. I find myself feeling I wish I had something to give back. The digital age and social media mean nothing in remote Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Sierra Leone, or even Bangladesh. To have a portable printer that can connect to my DSLR or even mobile phone, that doesn’t need ink cartridges and will print out high-quality images, would mean I leave a part of the story with the storytellers themselves — many who will otherwise perhaps never have a personal or family photo in their lifetime.” Maria de la Guardia, staff photographer for Save the Children Australia

“As a photojournalist, my work requires me to travel internationally at least 70 percent of the year, and to some of the most remote, misunderstood, and desperate places in the world, as well as some of the most breathtaking, inspirational, and life-changing. In the hunt for a good story, nothing is more important than being able to communicate with locals. While I usually rely on human interpreters, this isn’t always possible; neither is learning five languages. So, nothing could be more perfect than these small, portable, lightweight earbuds that give real-time translation! I bet they will even make foreign-language jokes funnier.” — Maria de la Guardia

“I want the TLS Mother Lode wheeled duffel because I love the two-compartment design, perfect for when a trip includes hot and cold climates; reconfigurable dividers to keep everything in place; and expansion zippers, for when you need a little more room. Basically, a one-stop shop for all my packing needs.” — Susan Portnoy, founder of TheInsatiableTraveler.com

Under $500

“I’ve had my eyes on Bose noise-canceling headphones for a long time, but Sony’s new Bluetooth set with a longer battery life and higher sound reviews looks even better. Just imagine drowning out all the hustle and bustle of your commute. Stylish, too!” — Chris Bergaust

“I travel to some pretty scary places with awful water. Surprisingly, most water purifiers don’t actually filter everything out. While taking care of bacteria and protozoa are nice, the smaller viruses will quickly ruin your dream vacation. Since this came out last year, I’ve been wanting to pick one up, but the high price tag has put me off. Would make for a really great gift (hint, hint).” — Chris Bergaust

“I have a hard time buying things for myself — things that aren’t plane tickets or hotel rooms, that is. But I haven’t stopped eyeballing Bragi’s the Dash Pro wireless headphones since they were released back in May. Saving space is paramount on the road, and the Dash Pro packs a lot into a little: playing music from my phone or laptop, doubling as earplugs on naps over the Atlantic, and keeping me motivated on 5 a.m. jogs through downtown Budapest. The Dash Pro even includes a real-time language-translation app, helpful not only for asking directions home after a half-conscious ramble through a foreign city, but also for ordering a bag of warm chocolate croissants on the way back to the apartment. Which means another predawn run the next day, and probably the next, too. That’s the circle of life (and pastry).” — Yael Boyle

“I first discovered Osei-Duro a few years ago at the West Coast Craft show in San Francisco. I’ve since become obsessed with their graphic home accessories and women’s clothes, made primarily using textiles from Ghana, India, and Peru. This ikat trench is a showstopper, and sturdy enough for long flights.” — Julia Cosgrove

“Since I’m usually on the road for several months at a time, I typically rent or borrow a sleeping bag, so I don’t have to lug one around when I’m not hiking. But after freezing every night on a Kilimanjaro trek last month in my rented sleeping bag, and dealing with a bulky one in Torres del Paine a few years ago, I’ve decided that I finally need to invest in my own sleeping bag for hiking trips. REI’s Joule 21 is on the top of my list because it’s one of the lightest water-resistant bags I’ve found with a temperature rating below freezing. It weighs around two pounds. This is my Christmas gift to myself this year.” — Anna Mazurek, an Austin-based freelance travel photographer and writer at TravelLikeAnna.com

“In a world of digital, there’s something to be said for the tangible. I’ve always wanted to leave more behind than just a thank-you. Making a photograph with someone and being able to give them a picture in real time feels like a fitting tribute to the time spent and connection made. I was in Namibia a couple of years ago, photographing members of the Himba tribe. The children loved to see their images on the LCD screen. I would have loved to have been able to give them photos right there and then. With the Polaroid Pop, I could.” — Susan Portnoy

Under $1,000

“I like to go to extreme places when you aren’t supposed to be there, which is why I’m headed to Alaska this winter! I’m going to Fairbanks to do some aurora-viewing, dogsledding, and snowshoeing in February. I am a supercheap traveler, so I seldom buy myself the right equipment, but in this case, I can’t really screw around. I need the right cold-weather gear to survive these adventures!” — Sherry Ott, founder of Ottsworld.com and nomad for 11 years and counting

Under $5,000

“As an editor for a publication that covers luxury travel, I get to lay my head in some fabulous places. I remember one particular rest not too long ago at rural Virginia’s Primland that was so heavenly, I almost took a sick day from my own vacation. While I’m sure I could probably find the cloudlike mattress online somewhere, this Christmas I’d be content with re-creating the experience at home with a set of fine Frette sheets similar to the ones used at the Forbes Travel Guide four-star resort.” — DeMarco Williams, managing editor of Forbes Travel Guide

“Despite the schlep that modern air travel has become, I still believe that if you plan smart, dress well, and invest in airline-lounge membership, getting there can be half the fun. For months now, I’ve been lusting over this Gucci carry-on suitcase, which is distinctive and stylish — just the way I like to present myself to the world. But at $4,200, it’s also completely beyond my freelance-writer budget. Yet I love it still. To me, the overlay of the colorful embroidered appliqués on the traditional Gucci printed canvas makes it less ‘I’m carrying this because I want everyone to know it’s Gucci’ and more ‘I’m carrying this really cool bag. And, yeah, since you asked, it’s Gucci.’ I visited it in my local boutique at least three times this summer. Here’s hoping the fourth will be with someone who’ll buy it for me.” — Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, TV host, Caribbean expert, and travel writer at JetSetSarah.com

“As a food writer and photographer who spends most of his time wandering around taking photos in remote markets and rural villages in Latin America, I need to lug around a clunky DSLR camera with several lenses and a backpack to get the right shot, which can be tiring and attracts a lot of unwanted attention. My iPhone is okay on occasion, but the quality is lacking, and the types of shots I can get are limited. The Leica Q is a full-frame camera that’s as good as any DSLR, I can stick it in my pocket, and it isn’t flashy. Plus, it easily connects to Wi-Fi, so I can upload a shot to Instagram in real time.” — Nicholas Gill, co-founder of NewWorlder.com and co-author of Central with Virgilio Martínez

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Hard-core Travelers on the Gifts They Want for the Holidays