You know that friend that’s always on the go? The one that’s off to a new, exotic destination each month or about to embark on a six-month backpacking trip around Europe.
Wherever they’re going, whatever they’re doing, one thing we all know is they’re a pain to shop for.
What do you buy the person who lives by strict baggage weight restrictions? The person who doesn’t have a permanent home to put things? Or someone who values experiences over material possessions?
If your friend is anything like me, then all they really want is money or a plane ticket around the world. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that an around-the-world plane ticket isn’t a practical item to put on a present wishlist.
To save you from just shoving a twenty in a card and calling it a day, I’ve compiled a list of travel-related gifts for you to give your nomadic friend. They’re all affordable — $50 or less (USD) — and they’re all practical gifts for someone constantly on the move.
Although these may not be the most glamorous presents, they’lll be appreciated by any traveler.
Because sometimes you need to drown out the raucous of the world around you. These are great for long hours at airports, on planes, trains or buses. There are some expensive options popular with travelers, but many affordable versions also will do the trick. Sony and Taotronics both have great options under $50.
Waterproof phone case
A must-have if you’re going anywhere tropical and a handy accessory for all travelers.
Speaking from experience, there’s nothing worse than your battery dying right as you’re trying to capture whatever beautiful location you’re at. For me, it was the top of the Gondola in Vail, Colorado, 11,000 ft up in the Rocky Mountains. I was not happy to say the least. Save your friend the pain and make sure they always have a portable charger with them.
This one’s super nifty as it provides its own charging cables:
Or you can go for the classic shape that slips easily into your pocket:
If your friend is a seasoned traveler, then they probably already have one of these, but this is the kind of thing you can never have too many of — I know I’m always accidentally misplacing mine.
This one is great because it also has USB ports — eliminating the need for you to take your iPhone wall port with you as well:
Extra long phone charging cord
Not all accommodations are set up with the conveniences of a home, and often, hotels/hostels don’t have charging sockets where you want them. Same with airports and other public places. Having an extra long charging cords allows you the flexibility to plug your phone in and not have to crowd the charging station with the 10 other people desperately juicing their electronics.
Smartphone photography accessories
Can’t afford to buy your friend that $800 DSLR camera they’ve been lusting after? These accessories allow you to give them the next best thing. Give your friend the freedom to get those insta-worthy shots even if they’re travelling sans professional photographer.
This set comes with a mini tripod and Bluetooth remote for the full professional photography experience:
Or you can buy a tripod separately.
This smartphone edition of the GorillaPod is great. It comes with a Bluetooth shutter remote control that has a range up to 30 ft. It’s also lightweight and small, making it easy to slip into that already over-packed suitcase.
Whether your friend is spending long hours in stuffy airports or hiking in the Grand Canyon, staying hydrated is critical. The travel industry isn’t stupid either. They know that water is valuable at airports and popular hiking destinations, and they’ll price it accordingly.
This collapsible water bottle is perfect to pop in your bag and pull out anytime you need it. Your friend will save money and plastic with this. A win-win really.
Or you can opt for a more traditional bottle. This one comes with a water filter and a clip so you can easily hook it onto your bag — two great features for travelers:
Bear with me, I realize how unglamorous buying someone a towel sounds, but these are so practical. They’re light to pack, quick to dry and a must-have for every traveler. Just a warning to pass onto your friend, these aren’t a towel you want to take to the beach or lay on the ground for a picnic — they tend to pick up every little thing, and it can be a pain to pick everything out of them. Having said that, they’re still a great addition to your travel bag.
I also found some pretty similar versions on Amazon, like these ones:
Although I rarely use this as my main backpack when I’m traveling, I usually always find some use for mine. Whether I’m going on a day trip and only want to take a few essentials, or I’m coming home and somehow my stuff no longer perfectly fits in my suitcase, having an extra bag is super handy.
Flying must haves
Your friend won’t win any fashion awards in these, but they do make a difference on a long-haul flight. Even if your friend doesn’t suffer from any major ailments that would require these, it’s good practice to wear them anyway.
Neck pillow/sleep mask
Give your friend their best shot at getting some shut eye on a long-haul flight with this ultimate sleep kit. For $18.95, it comes with a sleep mask and ear plugs:
Again, something your friend probably already has, but can never have too many of. These keep your luggage secure and save your padlock from being destroyed by airport security.
There’s nothing like brushing your teeth and slapping some cold water on your face to help make you feel like a human again after long hours of traveling. This set makes it easy to pop into your carry-on so you can grab it during any flight or long layover.
Looking after your skin is super important, but I know if I’m trying to pack light, my skincare bottles are one of the first things to go. These mini gift sets are a great gift. They’re small enough to fit in your friend’s carry-on and will help her skin stay healthy and happy during her travels.
Digital luggage scale
I know I’m always trying to squeeze every last pound or kg (and then some) out of baggage restrictions. Having a personal scale saves you from having to repack when you get to the airport and your friend will thank you for this, trust me.
This one is great because it also doubles as a portable charger:
Bits and bobs
A good pair of sunglasses is a traveler’s best friend. And a great, practical gift is a cute case. When you’re trying to cram as much as possible into your luggage and day bags, you can all too easily smush your sunglasses in the mayhem. A hard-cover sunglasses case is a practical and helpful item. It’s also something you can jazz up, like with this funky pattern:
Wallet phone cases
The more compact you can travel the better, and these allow your friend to keep their phone, important cards and maybe even some cash* all in one place.
These options allow you to just pop them on the back of your phone case:
Or you can grab an all-in-one case:
*I would suggest to keep some money in a separate location in case disaster strikes and their phone ends up lost/stolen.
Gift your friend the gift of a time machine and take them back to a pre-smartphone era. These are a great idea to take on a trip with you, and I love the concept of coming home, getting your film developed and looking back through the photos you took. I know I always look through all my photos on my phone whenever I return from a trip, but there’s something nice about having developed photos to flip through instead.
These guys are great, especially if you’re friend is going to be living out of a suitcase for a while. Traveling can be hectic and often my suitcase becomes a nightmare. Save your friend from the mayhem and give them some structure to their packing.
This set also comes with a laundry bag which is a great bonus:
Not a travel necessity at all, but wow is this a fun idea. If your friend is going anywhere tropical, outdoorsy or anywhere with trees really, then this is a an awesome luxury for them to bring along.
Collapsable shot glass
Always be prepared … do I need to say more?
Infinity scarf with pocket
I stumbled upon this online a while back and thought ‘what an ingenious idea.’ I don’t know how comfortable it would be in reality, but I like the thought behind it. And maybe your friend will too.
Having an old-fashioned watch is a great way to stay aware of the time and saves you from having to constantly get your phone out. Just don’t forget to manually adjust it when you change timezones.
This fitness tracker comes with all the bells and whistles — heart rate and sleep tracker, pedometer, smartphone syncing, waterproof:
Or you can kick it old school and opt for a simple digital watch:
Although this is basically just giving someone money, a gift card is more personalized while still giving your friend what she probably needs most — funds. If you decide to just give cash, consider giving it in a relevant currency. Doing so adds a personal touch, and having the appropriate cash readily available when you get off the plane is great.
You also can choose to get a Visa or MasterCard gift card. This is basically like giving cash, but has the advantage of being global, rather than currency specific. If you do just want to give straight dollars then think about getting your friend one of these instead.
For something equally as useful, here are some suggestions of some different travel-specific gift cards you can choose from:
Airbnb is a great way to travel on a budget. Giving a $25 voucher can be synonymous with buying someone accommodation for one night, but they still have the freedom to choose where and what standard of accommodation they would like.
You can purchase these on the Airbnb website or on Amazon and can choose between $25, $50, $100, $500 or a customizeable amount (available on the Airbnb website only). From my understanding, in order to purchase a gift card you have to be signed into your Airbnb account. If you don’t have an account, you can set one up pretty easily, or I would just head to Amazon.
Taking an Uber can be a luxury for many budgeting travelers. It grants freedom that extends beyond public transport that travelers often have to live by. It’s also great if you’re traveling with large suitcases through cities that perhaps you don’t know or don’t trust yet. I know I used Uber in Rio de Janeiro when we were travelling to and from the airport and our accommodation. The rest of the time we used public transport, but Uber offered some extra security when we had all our luggage with us.
Is your friend going to DisneyWorld, New York City or San Francisco soon? Some specific places have prepaid gift cards that you can buy online. You can even purchase the Disney World ones at Target.
Lonely Planet Books/guides
These things are great for beginner travelers. Unfortunately, they’re also pretty pricey for someone traveling on a budget — making them a great gift to give. There are a couple of options you can go for, so I’ve broken my tops picks down for you below.
- These are great because they’re a travel-friendly size and weight, but still contain the main information a traveler needs to know about a specific city. They’re also more budget friendly that the full size books with prices around $14.
Don’t see the city you’re looking for above? Don’t worry it’s just a sample of what they have on the website.
- Although Google translate and various other technologies may make these seem cumbersome, I think there’s something nice about having an old-fashion phrase book in your backpack. And if you’re friend isn’t a book person, there’s also an e-Book version of some selected languages these available. Either way, these are the most budget-friendly option of the books. Each costs between $9 and $13, and the e-Books start at $6.99.
- Although the pocket guides are great for their size and weight, there’s no denying the amount of information that gets left out. While I wouldn’t suggest getting your friend the full-sized book to lug around with them, the e-Book versions are a great travel alternative. These vary in price but range between $14 and $30.
Don’t be afraid to be practical. When space, weight and money is tight, we have to be frugal about what we pack — although I’m notorious for overpacking. Help your friend out and give them something they’ll use, and they’ll love you for it.
Many of the links above are affiliate links. While the products shown are intended as inspiration for you, I did research each item and chose the best option to list here. You’re welcome to purchase the items I suggested, but don’t feel obliged. I hope this guide was useful either way.