12 December 2013


As I surf through my virtual world of blog-land, pretty much every site has some version of a “wish list” and perfect "gift-giving ideas" for the significant other, kids, parents, siblings, hostesses, pet-lovers, and friends (of course covering the different types of people, glamour-gal, boho-chic, minimalist, artistic, earthy, the gal that has everything, trendy, etc.).  For someone like myself who lives a more minimalist life in which I know that in the not too distant future I will have to pack up my stuff again and set out for my next destination, so acquiring “stuff” isn’t realistic or conducive to my lifestyle anymore even if I do really want it.

So I thought about it, what kind of gifts would a consummate traveler or expat (who moves often) really like?  Here’s a list of a few things I can think of that are helpful for just about any traveler (hint: think digital and/or lightweight/easily packable)…

For the traveler you’re not going to spend time with in person:

  • Premium Spotify account for a year - this is essentially like Pandora and iTunes all rolled into one where the member can create their own playlists and listen to just about any music that exists online without buying it plus they can listen to it offline for when they're on a long ride.  Premium accounts work for long-term travelers as the other accounts are not made for travel beyond two-weeks.  iTunes gift cards are always great too for new apps, music and movies.
  • Google Drive account (or some other online backup) for a year - great for a person that works off their laptop and without an external hard drive for large storage backup of their computer or specific files.
  • Air miles or airline tickets home - many travelers travel on very tight budgets and expats often make less than they did in their former lives.  Any financial relief especially for plane tickets is always appreciated.
  • Amazon gift card - good for Kindle books (why would a person travel with large and heavy books??) and so much more!
  • Travel insurance through providers like World Nomads for whatever number of months of travel - no one should ever travel without travel insurance as it often covers most activities that people do while they travel that they wouldn't normally do at home (i.e. white water rafting, trekking, scuba diving, sky diving, etc), changes/cancellations in travel, stolen personal property, and even disaster/emergency services like evacuations which would normally cost a small fortune if you have to pay directly.  

For the traveler you’ll spend time with over the holidays:

  • Gift cards to stores like Target, REI, Amazon so they can stock up on essential items for travel again and/or are unable to find those items in the country they reside in.
  • Dinner at their favorite restaurant or fast food restaurant, especially Mexican food (THE most difficult food to find abroad that is done well), steak or burgers (the meat around the world just tastes a tad too different, especially in undeveloped/developing countries), and what Californian doesn’t miss an In n Out burger??  Or even Chipotle?!
  • A decent bottle of wine (unless they now live in France, Italy, Australia, Chile, or America).  Wine is often transported in warm conditions so it’s not always good once it arrives and is extremely expensive to buy abroad due to it being an import and taxes.  Even better, take them wine tasting at a vineyard or wine shop - believe me, they'll savor every sip!  It’s a luxury to drink a half decent bottle abroad so almost any wine is better than no wine.  Also, good micro-brews also fall under this category.  What I wouldn’t do for a really good bottle of IPA!!
  • An off-beat gift especially for female travelers, a self-defense class.  Sure, we could all use this, but it’s important for females going into uncertain areas in uncertain countries to have some form self-defense.  They’ll likely never need it, but it never hurts to know too.
  • An external battery that can charge just about any electronic device they (or their friends) travel with, perfect for those long bus/boat rides to read, play games, listen to music, or when you need to use your maps on your iPhone when you're lost.  I got this one and it's been really useful for me.  I can get 3 full charges for my phone from it.  There are a bunch of different ones on the market, so do your homework. 
  • A gift card (or take them shopping) to their favorite clothing store.  Clothes do not fit the same all over the world.  Especially here in Asia where the people are much smaller than Westerners.  Nothing makes you feel better about yourself than wearing 2XL!  And if you're a backpacker, your clothes get worn out very quickly!  So it's good to get what you know will fit.
  • A gift card (or take them shopping) for perfume/cologne.  Now, let me explain this one as it seems a bit of a luxury.  Thing is, when you travel, it's nice to have the comforts of the familiar, including personal scents.  After a traveler has been traveling for a long time, sweating for days on end, smelling all sorts of funk that comes out of the sewers here, the weird food smells, and the mildewy hostel dorm rooms, a little piece of luxury lies in a bottle in your bag and can instantly change your mood from feeling ugh(!) to feeling pretty awesome about yourself.  
  • A goodie bag of their favorite candy/snacks, especially items from Trader Joes!

It’s funny that when I started to live abroad, I started craving things that I no longer had access to that I would generally never want when I was home.  It’s the wanting what I can’t have.  Like Red Vines - I CANNOT find Red Vines here in Thailand!  So naturally I crave them all the time.  And here, we all crave items from back home and we often talk about it.  We miss the familiarity of certain things from back home, especially food.

While I think we all appreciate any gift that we receive, it’s just that if the gifter is going to GIVE something, they should keep in mind that a traveler doesn’t always have the space or available weight in their luggage/backpack to transport some items abroad and sometimes, some items won't be allowed through customs.  Travelers and expats have needs and wants that are very specific to their way of travel or where they live (I’d love to receive some 30% DEET mosquito repellant with 12-hour release over a pair of fuzzy socks any day of the week!).  But at the end of the day, I believe just spending time with a traveler over a home-cooked meal with a bottle of wine, catching up, and having some laughs together is the best gift of all.  If you can't do it in person, set up a Skype date.  Just because you're not in person doesn't mean you can't share a glass of wine or beer together while catching up and sharing in the holiday spirit.

Links:  spotify //  itunes  //  google drive  // amazon // world nomads 

Photo credit: kraft gift wrapping

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