I love to travel and firmly believe that the right power adapter or sleep mask can make a good trip a great one. When buying a gift for the frequent flier in your life, don’t be afraid to get them something similarly practical, whether that means a Bluetooth headphone adapter to make long flights seem shorter or a translation device to prevent language mishaps on the ground. Of course, there’s another travel theory that we stand by here at The Strategist: Time away from home calls for a few little (as in TSA-size) luxuries, from mini beauty products to cozy shearling slippers. Whether you’re looking to gift a dorky-looking (but sleep-enabling) travel pillow or a tasteful set of leather luggage tags, I’ve compiled a list of the 76 best travel gifts that come highly recommended by expats, flight attendants, travel writers, travel bloggers, travel agents, couples who travel together, and one consultant who flies multiple times a week for work. I also added a few favorite travel products that Strategist staffers have discovered ourselves, including the magical duffel bag our associate editor uses to bypass in-flight luggage restrictions, the inexpensive (yet life altering) clip-on toothbrush protector I don’t leave for the airport without, and an ingenious washing bag for doing loads of laundry on the road.
“A full-grown Capri Sun” is how Strategist contributor Caroline Bankoff describes this foldable, washable anti-bottle that can be reduced (when empty) to the size of an iPhone. A light packer’s dream, the size of the Vapur “adjusts to the amount of water that’s in it, so I can fit it into any bag,” and it gets smaller as you drink out of it.
“I’d recommend a Hydro Flask so you can avoid paying the pricey fees for water at the airport and refill anywhere once you get through security,” says flight attendant Jennifer Nors. Hydro Flask also happens to be a favorite water bottle of Strategist editor Maxine Builder, who says that it “really is as nice a water bottle as everyone says it is.”
Travel blogger Jessica Ufuoma likes the Welly water bottle, which can keep drinks hot or cold and comes with an infuser for tea or fruit. “It eliminates the temptation to indulge in single-use plastics (which are even more convenient while on the go) and allows me to be sustainable and ecofriendly while staying hydrated on my trips,” she says.
When former Strategist senior writer Lauren Levy tested travel pillows, her favorite was this one from Trtl. “The Trtl pillow is so small that it’s essentially a padded scarf, taking up the same amount of space as a couple of magazines,” she wrote. “Three interconnected bands hidden inside a hypoallergenic fleece exterior hold your head almost completely upright.” Ufuoma likes it too: She says it’s a good alternative to “old-fashioned pillows that look clunky and uncomfortable.” I own a Trtl pillow, too, and it converted me from being a longtime travel-pillow skeptic. You will absolutely look ridiculous wearing one of these, but it’s worth it for an economy-class snooze.
Too often, airplane eye masks work better in concept than real life. Especially the flimsy ones that are sometimes handed out for free on international flights. Scott’s Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes says that having a “decent, $10 to $20 mask can make all the difference,” especially if the mask has contours that allow your eyes to open and shut without touching the fabric. His preferred brand is Nidra, which he says “blocks out the entirety of the light.”
As far as last-minute airport snacks go, Chex Mix is a reasonable choice. But if you have time to prepare, consider this alternative that Emily Elyse Miller, a cookbook author and the founder of the vegan-cereal brand OffLimits, says is “what I always wished Chex Mix would be.” Westbourne’s Togarashi Crunch is “packed with an array of crunchy bits that are perfectly salty,” including rice crisps, organic smoked almonds, puffed rice, and quicos (a crunchy corn kernel).
A thoughtful small gift, according to flight attendant Nikki Helms: Tide’s Travel Sink Packets, designed for hand-washing clothing in the sink. She explains that throwing the packets in her luggage means “I don’t have to pack so many clothes, leaving more room in my bag for goodies I find on my trips.”
The Scrubba washing bag is another one of our favorite ways to do laundry while traveling. Just add water, detergent, and clothes, then give the bag a vigorous rub against a flat surface so that the hundreds of mini nodes inside can scrub away at your dirty gear. When it’s not in use, the bag folds down small enough to slip into any pocket of your luggage. Having owned one of these for the past three years, I’ve used it to wash (very dirty) clothes during an eight-month van-life odyssey, as well as (somewhat cleaner) pairs of socks and underwear while completing two weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine in Australia during COVID. The cute mini-version is designed for shorter trips.
After your traveler does their laundry, they’re going to want to dry it out somewhere. I like this simple and lightweight travel clothesline from Sea to Summit, which doesn’t require additional pegs.
When she’s traveling, Strategist contributor Ashlea Halpern throws “a wee packet of portable soap leaves” in her purse — just add water and lather for clean hands, in an airport or on a hike. She notes that “some soap sheets smell overwhelmingly floral or perfumy; these just smell straight-up clean. Plus, I like that the brightly colored cases can be easily spotted in the bowels of my carry-on.”
When traveling interstate or overseas, you never know when you’ll need your vaccination card. So Keyes suggests gifting your traveler some protective sleeves, which we here at the Strategist are also big fans of. “With these, I’m less worried that I’ll rip the card or spill something on it, or that it’ll get bent,” he says.
In the age of Airbnb, where amenities aren’t always guaranteed, it’s always worth packing a spare towel. Particularly a microfiber one that is light and packable enough to fit into your carry-on during those budget, personal-item-only flights. Keyes is a Packtowl loyalist, having brought his along on all kinds of adventures, from woodsy cabin getaways to international trips. In a pinch, he says, the towel is “also a good picnic or beach blanket.”
“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,” says Anna Mazurek, travel photographer and writer at TravelLikeAnna.com. However, after enduring a freezing night on Kilimanjaro in a rented sleeping bag and dealing with a bulky one in Torres del Paine, Mazurek says she finally decided it was time to invest in her own sleeping bag. She purchased REI’s Joule 21, which is sold out, but this model is very similar.
For germaphobes like Strategist contributor Alison Freer, this Mulberry silk sleep sack is a miracle solution to questionably clean hotel and Airbnb sheets. The machine-washable sack rolls up into a pouch the size of a burrito for easy portability, and it has a pocket where you can insert a pillow because, as Freer says, “If the sheets aren’t clean, the pillow probably isn’t, either.” And if you’re a restless sleeper, know that it doesn’t feel confining like a sleeping bag (though Freer says you can use the sack inside of one for extra warmth).
Chris Bergaust, who has spent more than a decade abroad as an expat, has traveled to some places “with awful water,” he says. “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.” He’s had his eye on the MSR Guardian purifier, which “would make for a really great gift.”
If you’re not ready to shell out a few hundred dollars on a water purifier, the LifeStraw is a solid and much more affordable alternative. Jeff Jenkins, founder of ChubbyDiaries.com, likes to bring it wherever he goes. “I can drink almost any water in any city, country, or random pond in the middle of nowhere because of this thing,” he says.
Alexandra Brown, who co-authored the book A Year Off with her husband David, told us about this collapsible infant travel bed, which was first introduced to her and her family by friends. “This baby tent doubles as a bed and a cozy shelter for outdoor chill-time and napping,” she says. “It’s compact, lightweight, and incredibly versatile — and so much easier to bring with you on trips with your little one than traditional ‘pack-’n’-play’ travel crib options.”
Travel agent Lisa Murphy Harper told us she “loves packing cubes,” modular organizers designed to fit in a suitcase. Her tip: If you’re sharing suitcases with family members, buy separate sets of packing cubes in different colors to differentiate whose clothes are whose while unpacking. Cookbook author Corky Pollan likes this set from Bagail. “I pack too much, I can never organize myself, and with these, it’s so easy to organize and set one size for underwear and bras, and another for tops and blouses, and the other for pants,” she told us.
Strategist contributor and “compulsive overpacker” Foster Kamer recommends this Eagle Creek packing-cube set, which comes with a small, medium, and large container. “Your packing won’t just have structural integrity, it will also have architecture,” he says. “You will become the Frank Gehry of luggage interiors.”
When we talked to cruise-line operators and wildlife photographers about the best things to bring on an Alaskan cruise, they recommended weather-safe gear, useful for travelers in all climates. Travel writer Susan Portnoy, a.k.a. the Insatiable Traveler, recommends these all-purpose dry sacks for carrying camera lenses while traveling. The sacks are watertight, so they’d also work as carrying cases for larger toiletries.
This carrying case from Beis is a favorite of freelance writer and editor Kristin Corpuz. “I love that it’s double-sided, so I can separate out my products as needed; and though it’s quite small and can easily slide into a backpack or other carry-on, it actually fits a ton.” It also has a mirror, which she notes, is a big bonus.
Note: This case is available only for preorder and will ship in mid-February.
If you find yourself struggling to pull your laptop out of your carry-on, try this featherlight quilted case that Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo considers the best thing she bought all year. Corsillo says the “nylon material is a little slippery, so they slide into a backpack or purse quickly and easily,” and “they’re ultrapadded, so they protect my computer no matter what bag I throw it in.”
Toiletries and beauty
Music journalist and Strategist contributor Issy Sampson suffered from swollen ankles that were so painful she couldn’t fall asleep during flights — until she discovered this gel that works better than compression socks. A tablespoon of the cooling, nonsticky formula is all Sampson needs to reduce swelling “within minutes,” she says. “I’m convinced you can see your legs shrink just seconds after using it.”
It’s always useful to have some TSA-approved size toiletries on hand, and our skin-care hobbyist Buzz Bissinger wrote that this Laneige lip mask (one of 2022’s most-hyped buys) is one of the products he packs to make in-air time less miserable and protect against chapped lips. “Yes, I know you should apply it just before you go to bed, but it’s sooo velvety and smooth and pampering,” he says. “It has a multi-berry scent and contains hyaluronic acid to truly protect the skin.”
Although you may not be able to give the gift of a shower immediately upon landing, you can give dry shampoo. Our beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton included this in her list of travel items that work as well as her daily staples. “It cancels out any kind of intense shine and oiliness, without making your hair look weird and dry and without any white cast,” she says.
Actor Hari Nef says that she “slathers Skin Food on” after a flight — the super-rich moisturizer feels “like your face is having a meal.” It’s also recommended by Sweetbitter author Stephanie Danler and makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, who calls it a “wonder product” for recovering from dryness and creating a dewy glow.
We’ve written a lot about using sunscreen daily, and it’s definitely necessary on that beach vacation. Travel blogger Oyin Edogi says this is the one to pack. “This sunscreen is my favorite for traveling because it’s small enough to fit in my carry-on, and it protects my skin while adding a bit of glow,” she explains.
No vacation is complete without your toiletries, and Edogi likes to start her day with a deodorant from Raw Sugar. “They keep me feeling fresh and clean,” she says. “My personal fave is Beach Rose + Aloe because of its clear, dry glide and biodegradable packaging.”
Levy calls the Radius Tour the “the platonic ideal of a travel toothbrush” for its “concise” and “practical” design. It unfolds into a full-size toothbrush and folds down into thirds, with a “roomy” chamber that protects the bristles from debris without trapping moisture.
If your frequent traveler is specific about the style of toothbrush they use — and we can relate — then a toothbrush protector might make an even better gift. I never travel without a Steripod clipped to my Curaprox, one of those incredibly simple concepts that nonetheless proves totally life changing. The clip is designed to protect the bristles of both analog and electric toothbrushes, adding zero bulk but making sure they don’t get squashed in transit.
If you’re looking for something to turn your Costco-size products into travel-friendly versions, you’ll need these. “We all know the struggle of packing our skin care and toiletries with us while traveling,” Ufuoma says. “This is why I love these Matador toiletry bottles.” You can fill these TSA-approved pouches with your favorite shampoo or face wash. They hold three ounces, so they work for carry-on travel as well. Ufuoma adds that “their sleek and minimalist designs make for the perfect gift for stylish and savvy travelers.”
Memberships and gift cards
According to Rachel Coleman, the social media lead at Berlin travel agency GetYourGuide, one of the best things you can give a frequent traveler is the gift of … more travel. “I moved to Berlin this year, which means I’ve been spending my weekends exploring new cities in Europe and beyond,” says Coleman. “One of my favorite gifts from my family has been gift cards to airlines like Ryanair, which can get me to Edinburgh or Athens for a weekend getaway for less than $50.” If the recipient is based in the U.S., Coleman suggests giving an American Airlines gift card, which doesn’t expire. [Note: The Ryanair gift card price is an estimated conversion of euros to U.S. dollars.]
If you’re not sure what airline your frequent flier flies, Coleman says that another option is to treat them to a more relaxing time at the airport. “Priority Pass lets me access airport lounges around the world without an expensive first-class ticket,” she explains. Memberships start at $99 a year, and give the recipient access to 1,300 airport VIP lounges around the world.
For the person who is making their next travel plans while they’re still on vacation, Hoskins recommends a magazine subscription to Yolo Journal, founded by former Condé Nast Traveler creative director Yolanda Edwards. “The escapism of this magazine has been one of the things that I’ve relied on to get through quarantine,” says Hoskins. “If you want to trigger some major wanderlust, pick this up.”
With this Bluetooth adapter recommended by food stylist Judy Kim, you won’t have to pack an additional pair of headphones or resign yourself to the airline-provided ones when you want to watch an in-flight movie. The adapter allows Kim to use her AirPod’s noise-canceling setting and prevents her seatmates from getting tangled in cords when they need to reach the aisle.
Ufuoma says every traveler will appreciate this device. It’s “a handy two-way translation device that fits in your purse and is a great way to overcome language barriers,” she says. You can talk directly into it in your native tongue, and it will automatically translate your words into one of the 82 languages it’s compatible with. Pocketalk’s camera can also translate text so you can read signs or restaurant menus.
“Sure, it’s not the most glamorous gift of all time, but a USB adaptor is extremely practical, and I find myself using mine on every trip,” says Coleman. She loves that this adapter has four USB ports, meaning that instead of carrying around four different USB chargers, she can charge her phone, headphones, and external batteries all with one device (just note that you would still need four USB cords). Another reason why this adapter makes a great gift, according to Coleman, is that it’s universal. “I can charge everything in one place, no matter which country I’m in,” she says. I also own one of these and have found it useful both on the road and at home, where it’s handy to use as a bedside charger for multiple devices at once.
Another unglamorous yet extremely handy travel gift? A practical power strip with both plug outlets and USB ports, as recommended by Keyes. “I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in an airport, wanted to charge up, and seen that all the outlets are taken,” he says. “But if you have one of these, you can politely ask someone to plug it in, and then you’ve got five more outlets to use. You’re going to be the most popular person in the airport.” Plus, “in hotels and elsewhere, it can get a little cramped, so this gives you a lot of options.”
Consultant Vikram Saini (who flies multiple times a month for work), suggests a portable charger. “While more aircraft these days do provide charging outlets, a fair amount do not, particularly regional or short haul aircraft,” says Saini. “Portable charging devices can also come in handy when traveling abroad and without an adapter, or even backpacking.” This is his go-to model, which he says can usually provide 5–6 full iPhone charges before you need to recharge it. We’ve heard about Anker’s portable chargers before from comedian Jacqueline Novak, who told us that adding an Anker charger to her life has “been huge.”
Edogi is partial to this portable Wi-Fi hot spot. “I can’t count the amount of times I’ve traveled to another country and spent hours struggling with Wi-Fi connection,” she says. With the Sapphire 2, it’s less of an issue. “The portable hot spots are compatible in over 130 countries, so the possibilities are endless when it comes to connection.” You can connect up to five devices and manage your data from the Sapphire app. If you want to spend less and know your traveler’s itinerary, there’s also a rental option from $7 a day.
Travel agent Bryan L’Heureux says a hanging luggage scale is a “lifesaver” for traveling, especially for those who worry whether packing that extra set of shoes will put their checked bag over the weight limit. L’Heureux has gifted the scale himself: “I put it in a gift basket with luggage packing cubes, a passport holder, and luggage tags.” While he didn’t name a particular preferred brand of hanging luggage scale, this one is highly rated on Amazon.
“I’ve had my eyes on Bose noise-canceling headphones for a long time,” says Bergaust. He also mentioned Sony’s Bluetooth set, which are a favorite of our tech contributor David Pogue. “The bass is stronger and deeper, the midrange is balanced, the highs are crisp,” he says of the Sony pair. Either way, over-ear headphones are most comfortable for long-haul flights, according to Dr. W. Chris Winter, a sleep specialist, and both options fit the bill.
The latest GoPro makes a nice gift for travelers who like to record every detail of their adventures. It’s waterproof, with features including voice control, video stabilization, and a touch screen, making it particularly easy to use while on the go. We heard about it when we talked to VSCO girls — who are known for documenting their time in nature — about what they wanted for the holidays.
Corpuz often travels solo, so she likes having this selfie-stick tripod duo to snap photos of herself along the way. “I’ve had to learn how to become my own Instagram husband,” she says. “It has a Bluetooth-enabled remote that allows me to trigger the shutter on my camera or phone, making it easy to take all my travel snaps on my own. Now I even bring it when I am traveling with someone because it allows me to have full control over my photos.”
Speaking of phone tech, this clicky-clacky QWERTY smartphone keyboard allows me to leave my laptop at home on vacation and travel light. For any travelers in your life who enjoy writing on the road, this is a higher-tech alternative to a Moleskine notebook that’ll let them work on their manuscript without having to tote an entire MacBook around.
Corpuz says she has bought one of these Moleskine daily planners every year since graduating high school, and it always comes with her on her work trips. She finds the index in the back of “time zones, international measurement conversions, and dialing codes” especially useful for international travel.
The Baron Fig Squire pen came in at the top of our exhaustive 100-pen ranking for its sturdy aluminum barrel and smooth writing. “I was worried that the Squire would fail the smudge test, due to the heavier distribution of ink onto the page, but it passed with flying colors,” wrote former Strategist deputy editor Jason Chen — helpful for filling out forms in a customs line.
Travel agent Jane Freund says, “I love giving frequent travelers passport covers that can also hold a few credit cards and cash. It’s easy to grab when you need something and keeps it all in one place so you don’t have to shuffle through your bag at the airport.” Freund suggests this one from Zoppen, which she uses herself.
Travelers will appreciate a gift that helps make an unfamiliar space feel like their own. We recommend Piper Perabo’s favorite nag champa incense: “When I’m traveling and move into a hotel or apartment where I’m filming a show, I’ll light it right away because it makes the room feel familiar and homey,” she says. Plus, the box is small enough that it’s easy to slip into a suitcase. If nag champa isn’t their style, try Strategist-favorite incense brand Nippon Kodo, which offers a range of scents.