gifts they might actually want

The 39 Best Travel Gift Ideas, According to Frequent Travelers

Photo: John Rawlings/Condé Nast

If you’ve ever sat in the middle seat during an overnight flight or dragged your carry-on suitcase through a crowded train station, you know how important it is to have the right travel gear. That’s why the best travel gifts are also often the most practical, from things that’ll make that long flight feel a little less long to stuff that’ll make an interminable layover a little more comfortable. If you’ve already given your globetrotting friend a nicer-than-airline-administered eye mask or a handsome leather passport holder, fear not: the below list features 39 other gifts for people who travel recommended by frequent travelers, including expats, flight attendants, travel writers, travel agents, couples who travel together, and one consultant who flies multiple times a week for work. We also added a few of our favorite travel products we’ve discovered here on the Strategist.

Nikki Helm, who is one of the almost 400 (but maybe more now) flight attendants who own the jumpsuit that many consider their “unofficial uniform,” told us this jacket is “super easy to pack” and that she loves how it rolls into “a cute little bag that I can sneak in my carry-on last minute.” The jacket has lots of other things a frequent traveler would want in a coat, she adds: “I love it’s zip-up pockets, it doesn’t wrinkle, and it’s really lightweight.”

“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 managing editor Maxine Builder, who says that it “really is as nice a water bottle as everyone says it is.”

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for the frequent flyer on your list, Helms suggests Justin’s peanut butter packs. Not only are they great for some “quick protein” in between actual meals, they’re also travel-safe: “They maintain quality in any weather, so I don’t have to worry about them getting too hot or cold any time,” says Helms.

Another thoughtful small gift, according to Helms: Tide’s Travel Sink Packets. She explains that, with them, “I don’t have to pack so many clothes, leaving more room in my bag for goodies I find on my trips.” While laundry detergent might not seem like the most exciting gift, there’s no denying that your favorite globetrotter will get a thrill out of freeing up that extra space in their suitcase.

“One of my favorite packing items given to me has been a bra travel organizer,” says flight attendant Jennifer Beckwith, who also owns the flight-attendant jumpsuit. She told us that this organizer has saved her from one of the more humiliating airport moments — namely, when your “bag is chosen for additional screening by TSA and your undies and bras are thrown right on top because you packed at the last minute.” The bag holds three to four bras and about ten pairs of underwear “if they are rolled up,” according to Beckwith, so should you suddenly have to open your bag for a TSA check, you can rest assured that your delicates won’t be on display to all of the people in the security line behind you.

For something a little more luxe, try the satin lingerie bags that Moda Operandi founder Lauren Santo Domingo chose as her go-to under-$100 gift. Like Beckwith, Santo Domingo notes that any of these (they come in three sizes) will save your dignity while going through a security check — and the bags are particularly gift-able because they can be customized. “Aside from the appliqué monogram, the pouch can be personalized in different fabrics and finishes (from muslin to satin), and in many colors, making it even more ‘intimate,’” she says.

Another gift idea for those who want a more organized suitcase comes to us from travel agent Lisa Murphy Harper, who “loves packing cubes.” Her tip: if you’re sharing suitcases with family members, buy separate sets of packing cubes in different colors to make it easy to know whose clothes are whose while unpacking. Cookbook author Corky Pollan is another fan of packing cubes, specifically 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.

$10 for 3

When we talked to cruise-line operators and wildlife photographers about the best things to bring on an Alaskan cruise, they recommended plenty of weather-safe gear that would also be useful for travelers going to less icy climates. Take these all purpose dry sacks, for instance, which travel writer Susan Portnoy, a.k.a. the Insatiable Traveler, suggests for carrying camera lenses while traveling. The sacks are watertight, so we think they’d also make some punchy carrying cases for any larger toiletries you’re stowing in your bag.

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 is one of the products he packs to make in-air time less miserable. “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.” Do your traveling friend a favor by gifting them something that will help combat dry airplane air-induced chapped lips.

Although you may not be able to give the gift of a shower immediately upon landing after long-haul flight, you can give some 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.

According to Rachel Coleman, the social media lead at Berlin-based 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 taking advantage of 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, making it easier for the traveler to use it when it best fits their schedule.

From $99

If you’re not sure what airline your frequent flier flies, Coleman says that another option is to treat them to (at least slightly) 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.

“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.

In the same vein, 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.”

Travel agent Bryan L’Heureux has another practical gift suggestion: a hanging luggage scale. He says it’s a “lifesaver” for traveling, and we agree it seems handy for those who always worry whether packing that extra set of shoes will put their checked bag over the weight limit. L’Heureux has gifted the scale himself, telling us, “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 has received more than 6,000 Amazon reviews, the majority of which are five-stars.

Fellow 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.

If you want to complete the luggage scale and passport holder/wallet gift set with some luggage tags, this handsome Aspinal of London set came recommended to us by writer Bridget Arsenault. “The black croc feels luxurious,” she says. “Each comes with an address card that’s disguised by a flap, keeping my personal information slightly more concealed. And the gold hardware makes them stand out from other all-black tags.”

Chris Bergaust, who has spent more than a decade abroad as an expat, lost his Fisher Space Pen on a flight after coloring with his daughter. “In the rush to get out, we accidentally left her bag of pencils and my pen,” he explains. “While I quickly got some new pencils for her, I haven’t gotten my replacement yet.” The appeal of this pen, especially for a hardcore traveler, is that it 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 has that problem and lasts forever. As long as you don’t leave it on your chair, that is.”

Several of the travelers we spoke with wanted gifts to help them sleep on planes. Yael Boyle, author and full-time traveler, told us about this melatonin spray from Sprayable Sleep for overnight flights. She much prefers this to “melatonin pills, [which] 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.”

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Speaking of stuff to help you sleep, when former Strategist senior writer Lauren Levy tested travel pillows, she found that this one from Trtl topped the list. “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.”

Sleepy Ride
$15

For those who struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position while cramped in economy class, writer Alyse Whitney tipped us off to this airplane-friendly foot sling called the Sleepy Ride: “The 21-inch-long, 7-inch-wide footrest is made of plush memory foam, but is flat enough to fold up neatly in a little pouch that I tucked into my backpack. The straps are adjustable and hook around the tray table in front of you so that it becomes a foot hammock, rocking gently with the motions of the plane.” Not only does it make your seat feel a little more comfortable, it also helps prevent swollen ankles and feet.

Photo: Retailer

If they love their compression socks for long flights but wish they looked a little cuter, they’ll be charmed by these ones from VIM & VIGR. As Strategist contributor Allison Freer explains, “The beauty of VIM & VIGR is that it takes nice-feeling black or tan compression socks and injects them with actual style. You can choose from tasteful micro-dots, nautical stripes, or maybe a rugby look if you’re so inclined.”

For a sportier-looking compression sock, Coleman suggests Bombas, which offers its compression socks in various neutral and bright colors, all with a gym sock-inspired double stripe detail at the top. “They help me avoid swollen feet on airplanes, and they get softer every time I wash them,” she told us.