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Top 10 gift ideas for the travelers on your holiday shopping list

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: December 14, 2019
  • Published December 14, 2019

Just to the left of my computer screen, I can see my open suitcase spilling onto the floor of our vacation rental. Try as I might to ditch them, mounds of my stuff follow me around the world.

So when it comes to the holiday season, it’s a battle to keep the bulk of any goodies to a minimum. Travelers on your gift list will appreciate your attention to small, flat, light and easily packable items.

Forget the iPhone or the slim laptop. Frequent travelers already have their favorite devices. But some of the accessories can really make or break a trip. One additional benefit: Most of them will fit nicely inside a stocking hung by the fire. No bulky Christmas tree required!

Here are my top 10 favorite gift ideas for travelers:

1. SIM card holder. International travelers know what I’m talking about. When you land in a foreign country that won’t support your cellphone carrier, you need to get a local SIM card. On a trip last year to Europe, I ended up with a separate card for the Czech Republic, for Hungary and for Austria. Keeping track of the tiny chips is important, and a credit card-sized caddy is helpful. I found several at Amazon between $7 and $13, each of which came with an ejector pin for your iPhone. Remember, your phone needs to be unlocked by your carrier to be able to swap out your SIM card.

2. Portable power charger. When I first got one of the mini battery chargers, I thought I’d never use it. Now, my wife and I fight over it. So give one to your beloved this season. I use one from that has built-in plugs for iPhone and Android devices. Anker also has a wide variety of portable chargers. It works for my phone or my camera.

Anker's PowerCore Portable Charger 13000 is smaller than most wallets and features two USB ports. (Anker handout photo)

3. Power strip. Fumbling my way through the tropics, it’s amazing how few electrical sockets there are. I still throw one of my clunky power strips into my suitcase, but Anker has some more elegant options that include both regular plugs and some USB sockets.

4. Power adapter. If you’re traveling internationally, you probably need a power adapter. Often, the front desk at the hotel will have one for you to use — but maybe not. Don’t be surprised. Be prepared. I like a power adapter setup that includes a voltage converter — from 220 volts to 110 volts — from BESTEK. You also can get a nearly universal power converter without the voltage adapter that covers most, but not all, countries over at REI.

5. Under-the-shirt passport/document holder. In my recent travels, I’ve had the opportunity to make donations to local thieves in several countries. But I’ve never had anything taken from me that I was wearing around my neck. The kids think it looks dorky, but I don’t care. Stick your passport, currency and credit cards in the pouch and slip it around your neck. I found one at L.L. Bean for less than $15.

Stashing your passport and money in an under-the-shirt pouch like this one can keep valuables safe from thieves. (iStock / Getty Images)

True confession: This document pouch will not help you at the border if you forget your passport, like I did most recently. Thankfully, Christy and I had only flown 3,500 miles and had a couple of days before our international trip began. So, be sure and put “PASSPORT” at the top of your packing list!

6. Headlamp. When you want to read on the plane and the overhead light doesn’t work, a mini-headlamp will help. Or, when the power goes out at the hotel and you need to use both hands, the headlamp is more functional than the flashlight on your phone. I like the Petzl headlamps, but Black Diamond also has some nice, portable models. The Zipka is very elegant with a retractable headband. You can find it at REI for $30.

7. Headphones. More travelers are using the headphones that come with their phones, and that’s fine. But I like the noise-canceling models that help me block out all the racket on the plane. My favorite headphones are from Bose, but mine are so old they don’t even offer them anymore. All of the new ones are wireless. Sony, Sennheiser, JBL and Beats all make their own version of over-the-ear headphones.

Beats Solo Pro wireless headphones, arranged for a photo on Oct. 15, 2019, in Tokyo. (Bloomberg photo by Akio Kon)

8. Socks and underwear. Undergarments are not my specialty, but I’ve been impressed with Ex Officio underwear that I can wash in the sink. They’re comfy and dry quickly. I also like their T-shirts for the same reason: They’re quick-dry. For those long flights, get some compression socks to keep your feet from swelling up. Sockwell has a good selection.

9. Big, fat extra bag. Originally known as a “comeback bag” or “marriage saver,” a portable nylon bag can come in handy. Whether you’ve found some precious goodies on your trip or you just want to check, this is a solution. There are several varieties, but Samsonite’s “Tote-a-ton” is big and light — and folds up tight. It’s perfect for dirty clothes.

10. Universal charging cord. My cable bag runneth over. There’s a cord for my phone, a big charger for my laptop and a cord for my camera. Nomad makes an expensive ($39.95) version of a universal charging cord that will connect to iPhones, USB-C and micro USB. It’s really heavy duty. If you want to get me something for Christmas, well, this is it.

Still stumped? The simple solution for most travelers is just to take them on a trip, preferably somewhere they’ve never been. I’m corresponding with friends in India, in Africa, in Europe and South America. They all want me to come and visit. So, I’m making a list and checking it twice. But trust me — at the top of the list is “PASSPORT.”