Sarah’s Favorite Travel Gifts

Travel Gifts

It’s that time of year again when everyone starts to think about Christmas gifts. I’m a practical sort of girl, so I prefer to give and get things that are so practical that they are almost boring! New underpants? Yes please! As long as they are packable and dry quickly! Moleskin! How did you know? Christmas is very exciting at my house, as you can see, because my favorite things are travel gifts.

If you’ve got a traveler in your life, you have plenty of options for travel gifts. I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite gear, the classic choices for any traveler. First time abroad? A bag and guidebooks are a great choice. Seasoned traveler? Secretly check out their gear stash and make some upgrades. If someone on your list hasn’t updated in a while, gifting new travel items will be appreciated as travel gear has recently become lighter and more functional than ever.

What follows are the reliable favorites that I can personally say I use and would buy for anyone.



Backpack- The Tri-Star by Tom Bihn,

This bag has served me well for several seasons now. It’s been mercilessly tossed around, been doused in wine and olive oil, made its way around Europe by boat, plane, train and bus. It is still in excellent condition with plenty of miles to go. I picked it because it is compact but well designed, with three compartments for organizing my stuff. I also like the additional snap-on pouches for small items. Tom Bihn is always a winner. If I were to buy this bag again, I’d choose the version made in lightweight Dyneema fabric to shave about a pound.


Rolling Suitcase- The Ravenna Rolling Suitcase by Rick Steves,

I’m no big fan of rolling bags, but this one seems like it was made to woo me. The design is slick and smart. It’s a combination of both a hard shell case and a soft side case, bringing the good qualities of both types. My favorite feature on the inside is the separate compartment for flat-fold items that is already built in, no need for a folder. The architect in me just likes how pretty it is. All of these nice qualities at a reasonable price point. I did a little tour of this bag on Facebook, watch it here.

Daybag- The Cafe Bag by Tom Bihn

If you are attracted to the Tom Bihn line but can’t justify the high price tag, this is a great starter bag to see if it is worth it. These handy bags come in three sizes and are a design that can work for men and women. They have fewer features than the fancier bags from the company, but have the interior loops to add accessories that customize the bag. I have owned just about all of the day bags from TB, but I keep coming back to this simple and elegant design as a favorite.

img_4523Stow Away Bag- Electrolite Duffel Bag by Lewis N Clark

Ridiculously thin and light, this little bag packs down to the size of a small orange and makes a great, low-priced travel gift. It’s remarkably tough and roomy on the inside, I used it for the 10 pound packing challenge. Great stocking stuffer or upgrade for a regular traveler.

IMG_4166Packing Cubes- Specter by Eagle Creek

Packing Folder- Specter by Eagle Creek

I have gone around and around on packing cubes. The Rick Steves ones are good because they have mesh sides you can see through, but the dimensions don’t always work for me. I bought the Tom Bihn cubes but I don’t like how shallow they are. The lightest, best design continues to be the Eagle Creek cubes. I wish they unzipped a little more but they have served me well for several years now. The packing folder sits at the bottom of my bag and divides the folded items from the rolled items. Not only does it compartmentalize my clothes more efficiently, it also keeps things wrinkle-free.

Toiletries Kit- 3-1-1 by Tom Bihn

This is all I take for my toiletries, seriously! I have used it for ages and it keeps on keeping’ on despite much abuse. If this is simply not enough space for your toiletries, I totally understand. Try the Eagle Creek Specter kit instead.


Headphones- Bose Soundsport Comfort

These headphones are a favorite item in my bag. They aren’t cheap, but have lasted longer than any other pair I’ve owned–going on 4 years. The weird silicon cuff makes them float in your ear so you can’t even feel them. Bose, of course, is known for sound quality and they deliver. While not technically noise-canceling, these do a decent job of blocking out ambient noise.

iPad- Apple

I realize that almost everyone has an iPad, but I continue to be impressed with how useful it is. This one device has replaced pounds of other stuff in my bag, including my laptop, camera, notebook, books and so on. I got a pen for it this year and was able to use it for book research, marking up book chapters digitally. I’m experimenting with drawing on it, maybe it will replace my sketchbook someday too.

Back-up Battery- Anker Powercore

I have a new appreciation for these little batteries since the Pokemon Go craze swept my kids last summer and drained my batteries. Keeping an extra power supply on hand is invaluable, especially in emergency situations. Great stocking stuffer too.

IMG_6731Kitchen Scale- Oxo Good Grips

If you have read my blog for some time, you know that I weigh everything. I used to use a cheap plastic flour scale that was totally inaccurate. My new scale is so much better! The Oxo scale has big numbers and gives you a precise measurement. The large surface for weighing thing makes the task a bit easier too.

img_4528Luggage Scale – EatSmart Precision Luggage Scale

After weighing each item, you’ll want to weigh the whole bag before heading to the airport. I have a handy scale that I attach to the handle of my bag and lift it, giving me an instant readout on how well I’ve done. Also a good way to get your kids to lift weights.


Umbrella- Plemo Ultra Mini Umbrella

I don’t typically pay much for an umbrella since I lose them all the time. I decided to find a well priced, yet good quality umbrella that was super compact and light. My research led me to this snappy little thing, which comes is a pretty wool pouch. I’m a sucker for nice design and cool packaging. Still, I’m waiting for someone to invent a truly ultralight and unbreakable umbrella, but this is good for now. Added bonus to this model, it has a UV blocking layer for scorching sunny days. Dual purpose! Score!

Travel Toothbrush- Violife Slim Sonic

I tried a few toothbrushes this year, which I’ll get around to writing about eventually. The little sonic toothbrush I bough last year is still the best one. It’s light. It has replaceable brush heads. The same battery has been powering it for more than a year! Is it a real sonic toothbrush? Nope. But it is better than a standard travel toothbrush any day.

Insulated Water Bottle- Hydroflask

As I am a Californian living in Seattle, I’m perpetually cold and am often found holding a warm drink. Good insulated water bottles are hard to find, as the pile in my pantry can attest. I don’t even know where it came from, but I recently acquired one that actually works. The hot liquids stay hot and the the cold liquids stay cold for HOURS. I took iced tea in it one day and it was still icy 6 hours later. What makes these travel friendly for me is that you can buy different lids, some that can attach to your bag.

These are my practical basics for any traveler, all of which would be great travel gifts. I’ll be tackling new, fun travel gifts and travel gear for kids next week. Need specific shopping help? Comment or leave me a message on my Facebook page and I’ll see what I can do.

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Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.