10 Best Travel Gift Ideas for These Unprecedented Times

Social distancing the reindeer will be tough

With public health officials saying things like “it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality,” I figured this year’s travel gift guide would need to be a bit different. Here are my top shopping ideas for your pandemic traveler.

  1. Comfortable Masks — If your traveler is a bandana/buff wearer, they’re going to need a more conventional mask to get on an airplane. And since they’ll be wearing it for 2 or 3 or 4 hours straight, they’ll want something a bit more breathable than the bargain-basement masks the gate agent give away for free. I’m a big fan of the evolvetogether masks in basic black. They’re breathable, they come with a pocket carrier for spares, and at $1.20/mask, they hit the right cost/quality balance point.
  2. Battery Packs With more things going contactless — electronic boarding passes, digital hotel door locks, order-ahead food and beer — a dead phone is more than just a bit of an inconvenience, and having that second or third charge immediately available is a lot more important. I carry a mix of sizes. The Anker PowerCore+ Mini lipstick charger is light enough (under 3 oz) for my pocket while the heavier/higher-capacity Zendure Power Bank Supermini waits for me in my computer bag.
  3. TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry — A perennial on the gift guide, but even more important when we want to limit time spent in security lines because no one is really staying 6 feet away from each other. It’s $85 for 5 years of Pre-Check or, if you’re feeling optimistic about international travel opening soon, $100 for both Global Entry and Pre-Check. You might be able to use a high-end travel card like an Amex Platinum to pay for your traveler’s application and get the TSA fee back as a statement credit.
  4. Car Phone Mount — If your traveler isn’t buying the airlines’ “HEPA filters are great!” pitch, they’ll be doing more road trips — and so could probably could use a phone mount upgrade. I like the simplicity and low profile of air vent mounts. If your traveler just upgraded to a new iPhone 12, you could go all-in for a matching MagSafe vent mount.
  5. VPN Subscription Another suggestion that’s on every one of my gift guides. When you travel away from home or the office, you spend most of your time on public WiFi networks. In the last podcast episode, we talked about an FBI consumer alert reminding folks about the risks of these networks. Help your traveler surf safe with a VPN subscription. I’ve always used one of the top paid VPN providers: NordVPN, ExpressVPN, or PIA. A single subscription, usually in the $35-$85 range, will cover their laptop, phone, and tablet. VPN providers always have some promotion going on so it pays to shop around.
  6. Bring-Your-Own Dining Sets — Trying to navigate all the restaurant lockdowns and indoor dining limits, I’ve eaten more take-away meals in my hotel room in the past 6 month than I have in the prior 6 years. Rather than struggling with plastic knives on styrofoam plates, upgrade your traveler’s dining experience with their own non-breakable wine tumblers, IPA glasses, and camping mess kit. And don’t forget the non-plastic upscale sporks.
  7. In-Room Coffee Brewing Kit — In episode #139, I interviewed Coleman Collins about brewing the best hotel room coffee. Back then, it was only a thing for coffee geeks (snobs?) because just about every hotel lobby offered free coffee. But now, those coffee pots are locked up with the rest of the free breakfast gear, and most hotels aren’t restocking the in-room coffee makers. So keep your traveler caffeinated with their own coffee brewing kit. I like keeping things simple with a plastic Hario V60 cone over a coffee mug, but you could go all-barista with an Aeropress Go travel press and Hario mini-mill coffee grinder.
  8. Portable Bluetooth Speaker — Last-minute restrictions and closures could have your traveler spending more time than planned in their hotel room or Airbnb, and needing a way to keep themselves entertained. Wearing headphones is OK for a day or two if you’re by yourself, but when I’m with the family, I want something a bit more social. I’m a Bose fan, so I like their SoundLink Micro, but there’s a broad selection of makers, form factors, and price points to choose from.
  9. Smartphone Tripod — It’s tough to get everyone into an arms-length selfie and maintain social distance. A tabletop tripod with a smartphone clamp like the Manfrotto PIXI can help your traveler get those group shots as well as taking some night shots and maybe a cool timelapse video.
  10. Travel Notebook Nothing fancy, no leather embossed cover, just something to jot down thoughts, ideas, observations, or to do lists while traveling in this time of COVID. My first travel notebooks were Moleskine pocket notebooks but I’ve switched over similar-sized Clairefontaine A6 notebooks. Their soft cover fits better in the back pocket of my Levis and the paper is more fountain-pen friendly. Or you could go a bit more whimsical and get a pack of Field Notes.

Note: None of these suggestions are paid endorsements. This post contains links to Amazon where I can earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.