My Anti-Gift Guide: What You Shouldn’t and Should Buy The Frequent Traveler

White House Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again when every web site and blog has their own holiday gift guide sharing what they think constitutes amazing gifts. That’s certainly true in the travel world and so far I have read through dozens of these guides. I personally don’t love them because they’re usually very self-serving, they use links whereby the owner of the site gets a percentage of sales. It’s fine I suppose, everyone has to earn a buck but some of the items just seem so out of left field that it makes me wonder. That’s why today I thought I’d do something a little different and offer up some ideas on what you shouldn’t buy that person in your life who loves travel. That’s right, these are items I strongly suggest you avoid purchasing. This is meant to be a fun post, but there are some nuggets of wisdom hidden here as well. To maintain the positivity though, I’ve also included a few items that I do think travelers would like to see under the Christmas tree.

More cables and batteries

Usually when one buys electronic equipment, one also buys the necessary extras that go along with it. That’s the major reason why I don’t understand why so many gift guides include cables on their lists. I don’t need them, I don’t want them so please don’t buy them for me. Also included in this category are portable batteries. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great and I make sure I always have one when I travel. But I really don’t need more than one or two, and if you know someone who travels a lot chances are they already own one. So do yourself a favor, save some money and don’t buy this either.

Any luggage related item

Your friends and loved ones know you well and if you like to travel, they think that buying travel-related items is actually a good idea. It’s not. If you travel often, then you probably already own everything you need including items related to bags and luggage. I have dozens – dozens – of luggage tags, ropes, belts and any number of other ways to identify my bags. I use only one, so I really don’t need any more although I do appreciate the thought.

Travel pillow

Travel pillows are useless, there, I said it. And yet, it seems as if every week I see a new entrepreneur start a project on Kickstarter to fund their “new” idea on how people can finally sleep with ease on a plane. The truth is that unless you’re in a premium cabin then no, you won’t be able to sleep comfortably while on a flight and no iteration of a pillow will help you. I sort of like the U-shaped pillows, but they’re too bulky for me to take with me when I travel and the inflatable ones don’t work well. That means that I, and many other frequent travelers like me, simply use whatever poor excuse for a pillow the airline in question decides to offer that day.

Useless single-use gadgets

Years ago I remember watching an episode of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown in which he lambasts single-use kitchen gadgets. You know the type, gadgets or machines that are designed for one purpose only. His argument is that they take up space and ultimately aren’t that useful. The same holds true in the world of travel related gifts, so whatever you do resist the desire to buy these items for your loved ones. This includes anything that you think looks “cute” or “clever.” In all likelihood they are neither and will only take up space. A few of these items include money-belts, anything with the word “kit” in it, and probably anything you haven’t seen before. Honestly, there’s a reason why you haven’t seen it before.

Unwanted electronics

I travel with a lot of electronic gadgetry, it’s just part of my job. The worst thing anyone could ever do for me though is to buy me a piece of electronic equipment that I haven’t asked for. Whether it’s my camera gear or anything related to mobile computing, I have put a lot of thought and time into organizing what I do and don’t use. If I haven’t asked for a lens then that means I don’t need it and frankly don’t want it. If I haven’t asked for a new laptop sleeve or camera gadget, the same holds true and it will only serve to be an annoyance to me. Respect your family member who travels and don’t try to get cute or creative when it comes to big-ticket or electronics related items.

Chengdu China

What You Should Buy

That being said, this post is a little snarky so I thought I’d share some great ideas that I know I would love to receive and I’m willing to bet that other frequent travelers feel the same way.


Reward that travel lover in your life with something you already know they love – travel and travel experiences. There are a bunch of options when it comes to giving the gift of travel from airline and hotel gift cards, to actual experiences through a web site like Viator or Groupon. I’ve both given and received these as presents before and the results have always been amazing. The last thing most of us want is something else in our homes that will simply collect dust. By giving the gift of an experience though, you’re creating memories that they’ll treasure long after they’ve donated that gadget you gave them.

Personal mementos

A few years ago a family member gave me a Christmas present that I know I’ll always treasure. She printed one of my photos and had it framed. The print in question is one of my favorite photos and every time I look at I smile as I’m instantly transported back to that place and time. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift and really made me rethink how I give people gifts. Thanks to Facebook and other ways we share our photos and travel experiences, it should be easy to find a photo or two that your friend or family member likes. It will surprise them beyond belief when they open the present to find their own image staring back at them and you will have won the holiday.

Gift cards

As someone who travels frequently, one thing that I am in constant need of is entertainment. I go through books, movies and TV shows like you wouldn’t believe – easy ways to pass the time when I’m in transit. I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent on these distractions and I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone. Everyone who travels needs ways to entertain themselves so be thoughtful and give them a gift card to their amusement of choice. Barnes and Noble, Kindle, iTunes; whatever it is, your loved one will be thrilled with the gift.

Food related items

Food is one of the most important aspects of the travel experience not only because it’s the best way to learn about a new culture, but because of the indelible memories those dishes create. Think back to your own travels, I’m sure there are many times when a taste or even a smell transported you back to a favorite trip or vacation. It’s amazing and many of us purposefully try to recreate these experiences in our own kitchens. I’ve purchased cookware overseas with this in mind and many times I find myself trying to duplicate a favorite recipe from France or Thailand. Gifts that help your intended gift recipient accomplish this are a fantastic idea. It can be a country-themed cooking kit, special spice blends, cookware itself or cookbooks focused on a style of cuisine where they’ve traveled. This is a thoughtful idea that any traveler will love.

What are some other items you’d add to either the should or should NOT buy lists?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

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