If your holiday gift list includes a travel lover (and who isn’t one, really?), consider these 11 great ideas. They include picks from top travel writers, who each offered a few items they don't leave home without, plus three recent books that will whet anyone’s appetite to get out and explore.
Pro hikers know that trekking poles can help save your knees, especially on descents. I like the Makalu Lite COR-TEC style from Leki ($119.95, Leki.com), which break down into three pieces that fit into a carry-on bag. One set of two poles equips a couple. And L.L. Bean has Hikelite 4 Season Poles ($79.95, llbean.com), nice and lightweight at just over a pound, telescoping to a packable 65 cm (about 25.6 inches). Even more lightweight, at 10.4 oz, are Cascade Mountain’s Tech Aluminum Quick Lock Trekking Poles ($23.99, target.com), with cork grips and a length that adjusts from 26 to 54 inches. —Elaine Glusac, a Chicago-based freelance travel writer and the Frugal Traveler columnist for The New York Times.
Last year for Christmas, my family gave me the SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker ($119, bose.com) and it’s become a constant travel companion. It offers excellent sound quality, and the palm-sized speaker has a silicone strap that allows me to attach it easily to a backpack and play tunes — helpful for keeping the bears away when hiking in Alaska. You might also consider the JBL Clip 3 (49.99, jbl.com) or the soup-can-shaped iLive Audio Waterproof, Shockproof Bluetooth Speaker with Speakerphone, an affordable option for beachside or boating ($19.99, target.com). —E.G.
Our National Monuments: America’s Hidden Gems by Q.T. Luong
Photographer Luong hiked and camped across the U.S. to capture 22 of the most beautiful national monuments in the U.S. — natural lands to be treasured, as emphasized by the conservationist writers who contributed to this coffee-table book. It includes stunning images of soaring saguaro cacti in the starkly beautiful Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona; the rocky rivers at Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, a haven for dark sky viewing and river paddlers; and lush springtime hillsides at Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California. ($55)
Travel Hacks by Keith Bradford
How about 651 tips that, as Life Hacks author Bradford puts it “solve a problem, simplify a task, reduce frustration, and make your next trip as awesome as possible”? His is a compact little book you can grab for a few minutes here and there — it’d make a great stocking stuffer — for pearls of wisdom from seasoned travelers. Among them: Before you leave for vacation, pour some baking soda and vinegar down your sinks “to keep your drains and pipe fresh while you’re away” and take a quick photo of your luggage before checking it at the airport to "help speed up the paperwork process” in case it gets lost. ($14.99)
Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras
If you know anyone who’d relish learning about Germany's spaghetti ice-cream sundaes (they're a thing); what goes on in the yam houses of Papua New Guinea; and the story behind one of the first competitive eaters in recorded history (Britain’s Great Eater of Kent, as he was known at the height of his 17th century fame), this is the book for them. It’s a colorfully illustrated, totally entertaining tour through global cuisine, particularly the quirky sort (think urine-fermented skate fish in South Korea), often including tips on where in the world you might try some of these treats. You can still sip mead on a visit to England’s Holy Island of Lindisfarne, for instance, where hundreds of years ago an Irish monastery became renowned for its version of the ancient brew. ($40) —C.I.
I always read when I travel, and books are heavy and take up space, so I like to bring an e-reader along. I've destroyed two of the old models of the Kindle over the years (just a little too thin and light), but they have a new Oasis model, with 8 GB storage, that's water-resistant. And I like its soft-lighting options, preventing you from keeping a traveling companion awake when reading at night ($249.99, BestBuy.com). Less pricey options include the waterproof Kobo Libra ($149.99, us.kobobooks.com), and the NOOK GlowLight 4 ($149.99, BN.com), with 32 GB storage and backlighting that’s easy on the eyes, available Dec. 8. —Bill Fink, an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in Lonely Planet, Frommer's, The San Francisco Chronicle and many other outlets.
Versatile travel pants for men
This is a great gift for the traveling guy in your life. Because I pack light when I travel, I need my clothes to serve multiple purposes. So I always bring along pants that are sturdy, stretchy and water-resistant for hiking, comfy to wear on a plane, and decent looking enough to wear out to dinner at the end of a day. Some good examples of multiuse pants include The Diamond Anchor Stretch Pant ($120, backcountry.com), made of a cotton/nylon blend; Arc'teryx Palisade Pants ($169, arcteryx.com); and Columbia’s nylon Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants ($60, Columbia.com). With the latter, you can zip off the bottom and — voilà! — you have shorts. —B.F.
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Stuff duffel bag
I always travel with a stuff duffel bag — a large tote that compresses into a small pouch. I find myself reaching for it at the end of trips when there’s no room left in my suitcase for souvenirs. But the bag can also come in handy at the beginning of a journey. On my last flight, my suitcase weighed in at just over 50 pounds, an overage that was going to cost me a $100 overweight fee. But instead, I pulled out my duffel and filled it with a few pairs of shoes from my suitcase, reducing my luggage weight by a couple pounds. I took the bag aboard as a carry-on and avoided the extra charge. A few good options include the ultralight REI Co-op Stuff Travel Duffel ($34.95, rei.com), the L.L. Bean Stowaway II Duffle ($49.95, llbean.com) and the Samsonite Foldaway Duffle ($34, samsonite.com). —Larry Bleiberg is president of the Society of American Travel Writers, a frequent contributor to BBC Travel and the creator of CivilRightsTravel.com.
Small packable daypack
These weigh just a few ounces and, as with the stuff bag, fold up into a tiny bundle that can fit into a jacket pocket. I use one on outings to explore cities and visit museums, or on hikes. It’s the perfect size for holding snacks, chargers and a guidebook. Nice picks include Eagle Creek's Packable Daypack ($36.95, eaglecreek.com); the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack ($39.95, rei.com), just 2.5 ounces and compact enough to fit in the palm of your hand when folded up; and the Freerain22 Waterproof Packable Backpack ($99.99, matadorup.com). —L.B.
Whether I’m going to soak in hot springs in Iceland or snorkel in Hawaii, I travel with a waterproof midsize pouch from Aloha Collection ($42, alohacollection.com). The botanical prints always take me somewhere, even if I’m just heading to my local pool. You can also opt for a slim turquoise version, the Nite Ize Waterproof travel pouch ($30, rei.com) that’ll protect your electronics from all kinds of watery mishaps — or your clothes from toiletry spillage in your suitcase. Or for something smaller and sporty, there's Geckobrands' Waterproof Phone Tote, which comes in seven different colors and camo patterns ($24.99, geckobrands.com). —E.G.
Sleeping on a plane can be particularly difficult when you’re stuck in the middle seat: Unless you're traveling with a companion upon whose shoulder you can nap (or are able to make fast friends with the stranger seated next to you), you've got nowhere to rest your head. Enter the Trtl Travel Pillow ($26.99, trtltravel.com), a soft fleece scarf that has hidden internal support for your head if you want to lean it to the side. Another scarf with a secret weapon: the Convertible Travel Pillow Infinity Scarf, which has an inflatable pillow packed inside ($40, uncommongoods.com). A less-compact option — so maybe better for long car trips than flights — is the Infinity Pillow ($39, infinitypillow.co), a loop of padded fabric that twists and rolls into endless shapes, and comes in nine different colors. Ball it up and as a pillow to rest against a car window, stuff it behind your back for lumbar support, or wrap it around your ears to muffle noise while you doze. —C.I.
Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.