If last year’s gift guide was all about helping folks travel while dodging last-minute lockdowns, this year’s guide is stacked with the best travel gift ideas to help the frequent traveler in your life cope with all the major airline meltdowns. Or, if you are the frequent traveler, here’s a list of hints you could strategically drop on family members looking for shopping ideas.
- Battery Packs — We just can’t easily travel anymore without a working mobile phone. It holds our boarding passes and our proof of COVID vaccination, gives us gate change and flight delay notifications, and routes us around traffic jams. A dead phone while flights are being cancelled is more than just a bit of an inconvenience; having that second or third charge immediately available is critical when trying to swerve a long delay. There are a lot of choices; just pick one. I carry Zendure and Anker power banks; they’ve served me well.
- Noise Canceling Headphone or Ear Buds — Whether you’re sitting in a noisy airport waiting out a delay or are up in the air, it’s great being able to cut out all the background noise and find your Zen place with the flick of a switch. I’ve been carrying Bose headphones for at least 15 years and am now on my 3rd pair, the Bose 700’s. They’re not compact yet they continue to earn their space in my travel bag. I find over-the-ear cans more comfortable, but if you can handle in-the-ear buds for extended periods, Bose does ear buds, or for Apple eco-system diehards, my kids recommend the AirPod Pros.
- Comfortable Masks — I don’t see an end to airport or in-flight mask mandates anytime soon. Since you’ll be wearing a mask for 3 or 4 or 8 hours straight between the airport and the flight, you’ll want something a bit better than the bargain-basement masks the gate agent give away for free. I’m a big fan of the evolvetogether masks. I wear their standard masks all the time and wore their KN-95 masks on my recent flights to and from Italy. They’re breathable, they come with a pocket carrier for spares, and at $1.20/mask, they hit the right cost-vs.-quality point.
- Apple AirTags — Another suggestion for you Apple eco-system inhabitants… Putting an AirTag in your checked luggage lets you see if your bag is joining you on the new flight the airline just rebooked you on, or you can hang one from your backpack to track it if it somehow wanders off while you’re checking the departure board.
- Water Bottle — With in-flight service still being a bit iffy, many people are carrying on their own water bottles. Most airports have refilling spigots next to regular water fountains so it’s easy to fill up on the air side of security. There’s a huge range of bottles and prices to choose from. I use a mid-range Contigo bottle when I’m not refilling the Evian bottle I bought at the Hudson News stand 15 minutes ago.
- Merino Wool Scarf — Men’s scarves are way undervalued (at least in the US) as something that can you can whip out of your travel bag to ward the chill off. In an airplane cabin where a coat is too much (especially in a middle seat) but you’re getting cold because you’ve pointed the air jet straight down to create an air curtain between you and the guys next to you, a scarf around the neck is just enough without being too much. I’m a big fan of merino wool scarves — they’re warm, soft, and dry out if you spill water on them.
- USB-C to HDMI Cable — Back in the July episode, I said my USB-C to HDMI cable was the most important piece of travel kit on my trip through the Northeast because, by mirroring my MacBook Air display on hotel and beach house TVs, I could sit back with a beer and comfortably watch YouTube highlights of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament and the Tour de France on 40-60” flat screens instead of hunching over a 13” laptop screen.
- Portable Bluetooth Speaker — 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.
- Smartphone Tripod — My lightweight Square Jellyfish phone tripod came in very handy while doing my at-home COVID test in Italy the morning before my flight home. The eMed test proctor wanted to watch me swirl the cotton swab in my nose and then insert it into the test kit. I’m not sure how I would’ve done that while holding my phone. I use it a lot more than I thought I would for video calls and to watch quick videos on my phone.
- Travel Notebook — Nothing fancy, no leather embossed cover, just something to jot down thoughts, ideas, observations, or to-do lists while waiting out that flight delay or for the bartender to bring you a beer. 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.