Best Gift Ideas for a New Traveler

Coming into the heart of the Christmas shopping season, when people are getting desperate for gift ideas, I thought I’d offer up 10 suggestions for gifts that a new frequent traveler will actually use. While many gift lists are pushing Away luggage, Huzi infinity pillows, and Aesop travel kits (these companies must’ve splashed a lot of samples around the blog-o-sphere), I built my list based on my own travel kit; the things I use every travel day in the 40-50 trips I take each year.

  1. Black 20-inch carry-on suitcase Black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents hunting for bag-sizer bait. Black also doesn’t show stains. A 20-incher should get your traveler on-board for 90% of airlines without a hassle. I go for the 2-wheeler with the biggest wheels I can find to make it an easier, smoother pull. But that’s my personal preference; a lot of travelers (including my wife) swear by their 4-wheel spinners. I bought the TravelPro Maxlite 5 a few months ago and highly recommend it.
  2. TSA Global Entry or Pre-Check Gift your new traveler with 5 years of time and hassle reduction. $100 for both; $85 for just Pre-Check. If you have a high-end card like an Amex Platinum, you might be able to put your card on their application and get the $100 fee back in a statement credit.
  3. Noise Canceling Headphones I mentioned in the last podcast episode how my trusty Bose QC-15s saved me from the propeller drone on my flights around the Baltics. The drone of jet or propeller engines disappear with the flick of a switch. But it’s the drop in stress level and blood pressure that accompanies that flick of the switch — you don’t realize how much that drone affects you. Everything in my briefcase has to earn its space. I’ve been carrying Bose headphones for, I dunno, 10, 15 years. They’re nowhere near compact, but I’ve never thought of leaving them behind. The models you want to look for — either the Bose QC-35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM3. Your generous gift will be lovingly appreciated by your new traveler.
  4. VPN Subscription Frequent travelers spend much of their time on public WiFi networks — airports, hotels, bars, coffee shops, …. Help them surf safe with a VPN subscription. I’ve used NordVPN and PIA. They both protect laptops, and iOS and Android phones and tablets. VPN providers always have some promotion going on. A one-year subscription is usually in the $35-85 range.
  5. Portable Power Bank Whatever the size or form factor — slimline, lipstick, high-capacity brick — having that second or third charge readily available is critical to get last-minute gate change notifications and when you’re using electronic boarding passes. It saves you from stalking cleaning crews to find a live power outlet on your layover, or negotiating with your seat mate for possession of outlet between you. It’s cheap peace of mind. The Anker PowerCore+ Mini is light enough (under 3 oz) to carry any time. I’ve also started carrying a Zendure Power Bank Supermini for faster iPhone 11 charging.
  6. Badger Hair Shaving Brush I switched from an electric razor to blade to make it easier to pass through London-Heathrow during one of their security crack-downs and never went back. To do it right, though, you need to have a badger hair shaving brush. I use a not-too-expensive Edwin Jagger brush that makes my morning shave into a bit of a meditation. If you want to go all in, get your traveler the Alluvian Shave Soap 5-Piece Travel Size Sampler. They smell great and are the perfect travel size.
  7. Merino Wool Scarf  A man’s scarf is an incredibly undervalued piece of intermediate winter wear. In an airplane cabin or hotel room where a coat is too much (especially in a middle seat), but there’s a draft that chills you, a scarf around the neck is just enough without being too much. You may have to teach your new traveler how to wear it, but you can have fun with colors. I’m a big fan of merino wool scarves — they’re warm, soft, and dry out if you spill water on them.
  8. Compression Socks Yes, I know that compression socks won’t generate the most ooh’s and aah’s when their wrapping is torn off. But not having to stuff swollen feet back into shoes after an international or transcontinental flight has made me appreciate them. I wear SB SOX Compression Socks, but any moderate compression sock should be fine.
  9. Short HDMI Cable and Dongle It’s a rare hotel room I walk into that doesn’t have a big flat-screen TV mounted to the wall. Many of these will let you log into your Netflix or HBO Go account so you can watch your content on the big screen. But why go through all that (and trust their data and network security set-up) when you can just plug your laptop into one of their spare HDMI ports? I use a basic 3-foot HDMI cable. Most of the common business laptops from Dell and Lenovo have HDMI ports but, because I have a MacBook Air, I also carry an Apple USB-C-to-HDMI adapter.
  10. Travel Notebook And finally, a stocking stuffer idea — a travel notebook, something to jot down thoughts, ideas, observations, to do lists while waiting for the flight to board, the train to come, or the room to be made up. Nothing extravagant — no leather embossed cover — but it should be small enough to fit in a pocket, but substantial, something that can survive being knocked around in the bottom of a briefcase, and with paper quality that will hold onto those thoughts for a while. I used to use a Moleskine pocket notebook but have switched over a similar-sized Clairefontaine A6 notebook. The soft cover fits better in a jeans back pocket, and the paper is more fountain-pen friendly. Or go a bit more whimsical and get a pack of Field Notes.

Note: I purchased these items with my own money. This is not a paid endorsement. This post contains links to Amazon where I can earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

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