The holidays are almost here and, if you’re like me, you always struggle with finding the perfect gift for everyone. I love giving gifts that I know people will use and love, so it’s often something that’s been great for our family. So without further ado, here are our top picks for useful travel gifts for families on the move – and you’ll also find inspiration for each family member including travel gifts for kids, gifts for female travelers and even travel gifts for him!
The most useful travel gifts for families
A great travel stroller – Every family needs a solid, practical stroller and for families who travel we think the best stroller for travel is the Baby Jogger City Mini (or its slightly beefier sibling, the GT version). Ours traveled the whole world with us and always miraculously came back in one piece. It has a huge canopy to keep kids protected from even tropical sun, handles cobblestones like a champ, lies flat for diaper changes in a discreet corner of the piazza (because there are never changing tables in restaurants and museums when you need them), and sits upright enough for those late-night highchair-unavailable dinners in Spain. It’s also light and compact enough that I once jumped off a train that was about to leave the station with the City Mini’s handle hanging from my pinky – clearly a great lightweight stroller for travel!
An awesome baby carrier – While we love our stroller, there are times when you need a different weapon in your arsenal. Whether you’re hiking in Panama or exploring little towns in Tuscany, your family deserves a great baby (or toddler) carrier to help you through your travels. Most travelers prefer a “soft structured carrier” and our recommendation after trying many brands goes to Tula. They’re extremely supportive, they’re stylish, and they come in a range of models to fit your families needs, no matter which stage.
We have personally used and loved the original standard size (fits approximately 6 months to 2.5 years) and the original toddler size (fits 2.5 – 5 years, but in a pinch I could probably still give Jacob a ride) – we have this one with us for our family gap year! There are also two newer models available: Free-to-Grow (fits newborn to 2.5 years with three different seat width settings) and Tula Coast (same sizing as the original, but with a mesh panel to keep parent and child cooler on hot days). If I was buying now for our family, I’d definitely pick up a new toddler-sized Coast!
Travel car seat – Do you want to really make your favorite jet-setting family happy? Given them the gift of not lugging 25lbs of car seat through the airport (along with 25 or 30lbs of kid). Get them the best travel car seat for their family’s needs – our favorite is the awesome, lightweight Combi Coccoro, but you can find even more recommendations by age and stage in our guide to car seats & travel. Or grab another amazing travel gift for parents like the Ride Safer Delight travel vest (min 3yo, read full review here) or the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat (min 4yo, read full review here).
National Parks Pass – Experiences over things, right? Give your favorite outdoor-loving family an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass to keep them exploring all year long! We guarantee they’ll be surprised and delighted.
Binoculars – We find that a good pair of binoculars (which we’ve borrowed, but don’t own yet) makes so many activities more fun! Bird watching, hiking, and eco-tours are all more engaging for kids and adults when it’s easier to see the action like it’s right in front of you.
Packing cubes – Packing cubes must be one of the best travel innovations of all time.They make it easy to keep the whole family’s clothing organized, see who’s running low on underwear, and get unpacked and repacked quickly at each destination. The eBags medium packing cubes are our favorite size and we’d consider these as essential gifts for someone traveling. Since we tend to pack light, for a normal two-week trip the kids and I each just need one medium (Ronnie usually needs a bit more space since men’s clothing tends to be bulkier).
Travel towel set – I bought my first travel towel when I started traveling over a decade ago, and somehow as a backpacker in my early 20s I managed with something that is only about the size of the aforementioned packing cubes.
Bully for me.
Now that we’re grown ups, I bought us a family set of travel towels and they have been extremely handy during our family trip around the world! Like our stay on a remote tropical island, or that time our rental apartment didn’t include linens or towels. This set that we bought includes one huge towel, one that’s perfect for kids, and a third that’s small enough to take anywhere and just the right size for carefully wiping sand out of preschool-sized eyes. Ask me how I know.
Amazon Fire tablets – You will have to pry our tablets out of our cold, germ-infested, jet-lagged hands… and you still probably won’t be able to get them away from us. They make flights with the kids extremely easy and give us even more resources for roadschooling the kids during our extended family travel.
There are lots of models available these days, but we think the sweet spot balancing features and cost is the new Amazon Fire HD8 – great screen, long battery life, fast performance, decent storage, and only $80! Perhaps our favorite feature of Amazon’s tablets is the library program, which is a relationship between most public library systems in the US and Amazon’s free Kindle reading app. We also love the breadth of free Kindle Fire apps for toddlers – you can check out the best apps for toddlers (and why we think the Fire is the best tablet for toddlers) here. Us grown ups love them because, in addition to the free library books, we can download all of our favorite Amazon Prime video content to take on long flights. Not a Prime member yet? Try a month for free!
Subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Music – If you’re looking to a great gift for a book-loving traveler who already has a tablet, why not give them as many books as they want? The Kindle Unlimited subscription costs $10 per month and grants access to over a million books, magazines and audiobooks. Try a month for free… for “research”.
Over the last year Amazon has also launched a subscription version of their popular music streaming service and we love it. There’s a huge catalog of songs and we can stream it on any of our devices where we’ve installed the Amazon Music app. The best feature? You can download your favorites to listen when you’re on a plane or road tripping in areas without internet coverage. Amazon Music Unlimited served us in good stead during our 6000 mile cross-country roadtrip, whether we wanted adult music or the kids’ favorite Disney soundtracks. You can opt to gift the individual plan ($79 per year) or the family plan ($149 per year, but streams on up to 6 devices at a time). Try it for yourself free for a month!
Toiletry kit – I’m usually so practical that I wouldn’t spend a ton of money on something like a toiletry kit, but I recently realized that our family’s toiletry kit is nearly 20 years old. And it still works perfectly and looks almost new. So three cheers for Tumi for making products of exceptional quality. They no longer make the exact model (and I’d have no idea what it’s called anyway, as Ronnie received it as a high school graduation present) but this one is pretty similar in its features and materials.
GoPro or other action camera – I’ll admit that the current generation of action cameras look amazing. The results are just stunning. I didn’t have the stomach for the price tag (which can get hefty once you add in accessories) or the space to take it all along on our big trip, but a GoPro and underwater housing would make an amazing gift for adventurous travelers. There are also some great budget action cameras you can check out that seem to work almost as well at a fraction of the price! Check out our hands-on review of one of the best cheap GoPro alternatives.
Compact camera – Unless you’re a professional photographer, chances are you’d rather carry a compact camera than a multi-pound digital SLR rig. There are some amazing options available now! The two primary options are “bridge” cameras, which have are one-piece (fixed lens) but lots of manual options and great zoom capability, or mirrorless system cameras with interchangeable lenses but smaller bodies than DSLRs. We have a mirrorless Olympus OMD EM-10 and we’re really impressed with the breadth of the lens selection (I’m hoping to add this one next), but the newer Olympus PEN is even smaller and packed with great features. If you prefer the best compact bridge camera, check out the Panasonic Lumix ZS70K.
Cork globe – I am sadly not a scrapbooker, nor am I especially good at printing photo albums. When I saw this cork globe at my brother’s house, covered in tiny pictures they’ve attached to each location with a push pin, I knew it would be a great addition to our list as one of the more unique travel gifts but still with a dose of practicality. These make absolutely perfect gifts for travel lovers!
The best cheap gifts for travelers
Adorable (and affordable) luggage tags – We are forever running out of luggage tags! We change up our backpack/suitcase configuration all the time based on the needs of each trip, but we always seem to show up at the airport with at least one lonely, untagged bag. Give your favorite traveler (or yourself) the gift of never running out of them. At just over $1 each in this set, you can afford to gift one or two to every traveler in your life.
Packable grocery bags – We always try to save money when we travel by staying in apartments through HomeExchange or Airbnb, and buying our own groceries to cook at home is a big part of the budget travel equation! But as good little global citizens, we always try to bring our own fold away shopping bag to eliminate waste. In many countries, it’s not even optional – an unexpectedly large grocery run in Chile resulted in a huge box of groceries placed in our trunk! We love to travel with this awesome foldable shopping bag in a pouch.
USB power strip – Put this on the list of things I wish we had brought around the world. In this day and age, every family member has at least one (or two or three) device that needs to be charged, and of course always at the same time. You could buy four plug adapters for each region you’re visiting, or just bring one really good global power adapter and a tiny USB powerstrip that allows you to connect everyone’s devices at the same time.
We loved that one for travel thanks to its wind-up cord, but sadly we left it behind at our GuesttoGuest home in Utah. We opted for this slightly bulkier version that also incorporates a surge protector. It’s a touch heavier, but more robust if you plan on full-time travel and really top quality.
External battery pack – We use our phones for everything these days when we travel. Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Skyscannner, Instagram and of basics like snapping photos and videos along the way. My phone battery is pretty much always having a near-death experience. I would be totally sunk without our external battery packs – we brought four different ones on our round-the-world trip. My favorite – and the most giftable – is this high-quality, durable model from Anker. It’s tiny, it works great and the fit-and-finish can’t be beat. We have the compact version that’s good for 3350 mAh, but there’s also a slightly larger 5000 mAh version. Don’t forget a short cable to plug into your phone.
Travel gifts for kids
You can find tons of great ideas in our bargain gift guide for kids! Here are a few that we’re loving right now.
Clip-on book light – Now that we have an avid reader, we love giving him a way to stay entertained screen-free during our many long flights and road trips – or even to read at night when he’s sharing a room with his little sister. We just picked up this book light/bookmark combo for him and it’s total love!
Travel puzzles and games – We picked up a few small puzzles, each in its own tin, in Target’s dollar section and they’ve been great for the whole family! The ones we have range from 24-48 pieces and they’re themed to all of the kids’ favorite movies. Likewise, an UNO deck has gotten us through many slow meals abroad. Our new favorite, a gift before we left the country for our gap year, is Table Topics – they definitely get the kids engaged in conversation and have even inspired us to come up with some questions of our own!
The best kids headphones – We’re devastated that we finally abused the kids’ headphones enough that they broke, but that’s on us rather than them – Jacob’s lasted a solid 4 years and dozes of flights. What makes these the best headphones for kids? First, they actually fit kids. You wouldn’t believe how many pairs we tried that were just too big, even though our kids aren’t even babies or toddlers anymore. Second, they sound good and they’re loud enough. Some kids’ headphones have serious decibel limiters that are lovely in theory but make them inaudible on flights where the airplane engine noise can get in the way. We prefer the wired version so that we don’t have to remember to charge them or worry about them dying during flights to the other side of the word; if your flights or shorter or you think your kids will be irritated by the wires, there’s a bluetooth version available for just a few dollars more. I know what our kids will be receiving for the holidays!
Tegu travel sets – Our kids are just getting into Tegu blocks, but they’re bigger than LEGO and magnetic so they’re less likely to get lost. They also work our kids’ brains in a different way! We’d love to have some of these travel sets to bring along for flights, road trips and restaurants (and they’re marked waaaay down for Cyber Monday!).
Kid-sized Camelbak – Out kids love having their own right-sized Camelbak to get them through hikes and long outings! It’s both practical and fun. Check out all the great colors here!
Polarized sunglasses – Our kids are total divas about their sunglasses and can never have (or lose) enough pairs. Grab them a cool looking pair (plenty of color choices!) without paying a premium – with the added benefit that the polarization cuts glare and makes it easier to see rainbows, swimming creatures and more.
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Gifts for female travelers
Top-secret cell phone case – So often when traveling abroad, I’d rather not cart around anything extra like, you know, a wallet. One of my favorite finds before our gap year was this awesome cell phone case that can secretly stash two cards in the back compartment. From the outside it’s hard to tell that there’s anything unusual about it! So many times, I was able to travel light and secure. Ronnie has one too, which allowed us to easily separate our cards to make sure we were covered if something happened.
Miracle socks – What could be more qualified as a “useful gift” than socks? But these are no ordinary socks – high-quality merino wool socks keep your feet dry and stink-free even after multiple wears thanks to their anti-microbial properties. SmartWool makes awesome wool socks for every need – from thick, cozy hiking socks to the best no-show socks around. For our gap year I brought two of these to wear with my TOMS Avalons, two of these to wear with my hiking shoes (the higher coverage is nice to protect my foot from the tongue of the shoe) and one warmer pair for hiking in Patagonia.
“Mary Poppins” bag like Lo&Sons OMG – This bag is so great that it’s traveling around the world with us! Sometimes it feels bottomless – it holds my 15” MacBook Pro, my Amazon Fire tablet, camera gear (including another lens), an emergency med kit, my makeup case and so much more. It would also make a perfect bag for a solo weekend away if you travel light like I do! The quality is excellent and I can’t recommend this bag enough.
Camera purse – Ok, so here’s one of a few exceptions to my rule about recommending things I’ve tried. I really really want one of these awesome purses that disguises a mirrorless camera inside! There are so many beautiful options these days and I will have one eventually. Please?
Longchamps LePilage – Notice a theme? What can I say? I enjoy practical bags that look great. As I showed off in my Croatia packing list, It holds enough for a compact carry-on, but doesn’t look so book that it’s out of place for daily wear. I love my royal blue foldable nylon tote for travel. The real deal Longchamps will set you back $120+ but there are pretty good knock-offs for a fraction of the price. I didn’t bring mine on our big trip and sort of wish I had!
Nice sunglasses – My sunglasses were the one thing I forgot back in the US while packing and it was hard to find nice quality shades overseas without spending an arm and a leg.
Shampoo/conditioner bars and tins – We’ve been using Lush shampoo and conditioner bars on our trip and they are amazing for long-term travel. The shampoo is especially effective! They also smell amazing. No more leaky bottles in the toiletry kit, and these are an affordable hostess or gift exchange option. Don’t forget a tin to keep it safe!
Best travelling gifts for him
A just-in-case backpack – There have been so many times during our travels when we’ve unexpectedly needed and extra bag of some sort. When our buddies at Tortuga sent us their latest packable backpack to check out, I wondered if it could really be that different than other similar products we’ve tried (and not liked) in the past. The verdict is in: it’s a total winner!
We love the padded straps for more comfortable carrying and the slightly structured back panel that prevents it from collapsing on itself while you’re wearing it. As a small detail, the branding is much more discrete for those of us who prefer not to have cheap screen-printed logos peeling off of our stuff a day after we buy it. Despite the structured back, it still packs down small and light. We both carried it during our travels and found it comfortable and stylish. The $39 price tag is perfect for gifting! Check it out here and pick one up for your favorite traveler.
A life-changing book to read – When I asked Ronnie what he wanted to add to our updated gift guide, this book was the first thing that popped out of his mouth. He read it near the end of our gap year and felt like it helped him focus on what was really important by cutting out other distractions. Putting its strategies in place will hopefully help some of the workaholic dads (and moms) in your life carve out more time for family travel.
Leatherman multi-tool –
This could just as easily go for moms. Indeed, I use our Leatherman more than anyone else in the family so this could be the best travel gifts for him or her. No matter who uses it, if the travelers you love generally check a bag for long trips, a compact Leatherman Juice will serve them well for so many situations. We’ve used ours for opening packages, repairing the stroller (twice) and attempting to fix Jacob’s jacket (one-and-a-half times).
Travelon Heritage/Urban bag – Ladies don’t get all the fun, right? Traveling men need a secure place to keep their passports, cameras, guidebooks and water bottles too. Ronnie really wanted one with a slash-proof strap and body, especially for our times in cities where petty theft is common. It was a bit of a struggle to find one that we would both be (mostly) willing to carry, but in the end Ronnie’s heart was won by Travelon’s new line. Check them out!
Beard trimmer – It seems that growing a “travel beard” is a rite of passage, but that doesn’t mean that Travel Dad has to look unkempt! Ronnie got this cordless electric beard trimmer before we left on our family gap year and he’s been using it almost every day. He told me to put it on this list as one of the best travel gift ideas for him, so it must be one of his favorite travel items!
What did we miss? Let us know your favorite gifts for travelers!
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