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Best Gifts for Frequent Travelers

Back in the day, I might've asked for a new sled. These days, I'm a bit more circumspect about holiday gifts. Photo: Eric Jensen

It’s that time of year when gift-giving becomes a national sport. Sure, it stimulates the economy and it might even garner a few points with a skeptical mother-in-law, but it’s hard to square the supposed meaning of the season with all the hype and pressure. Buy and beware: it really is the thought that counts, so think wisely about your gift choices for travelers this holiday season.

I’m not as big of a Grinch as I may seem. My beef with the shopping season is that it lacks the sense of thankfulness that it could have. It’s focused on twinkly lights and shiny baubles, not on the awe-inspiring wonder of the complex universe and our great good fortune to be alive and wandering through it. So how do we recenter our minds and open our hearts to what the season is really all about?

Let’s start with the obvious: Since I’m fortunate enough to have the means to travel, I am “the person who has everything” in the ever-popular “what to get the person who has everything” phrase. Getting more things to add to my things just doesn’t feel right. At first blush, that may seem to make the task of selecting gifts for the traveler in your life harder, but let me narrow things down to make it easier.

First, frequent travelers are fairly picky about their bags, gear, and gadgets, so anything you find in that department would have to be pretty special to avoid a trip to the return counter on Boxing Day. Second, travelers are simplifiers by nature, so you can make an impression by not adding to their packing burden when they make the trip home after the holidays. I know, I know. What does that leave?

Great gifts for frequent travelers fall into three categories: Consumables, experiences, and donations. Like any gift, these items can be simple, or they can be carefully customized, going the extra mile to make them extra special.

Consumables could just be a nice tin of holiday cookies. Or, if your traveling friend has just returned from a trip of a lifetime, riding the rails in Switzerland, a selection of Swiss cheeses or a bottle of Kirsch will spark some fond memories from the trip. It will be even more special if you make the gift yourself. I’d be touched if someone who heard my story about the delectable Nidelkuchen I tasted in the Swiss village of Murten last summer then found a recipe online and baked me one in their own kitchen.

Nidelkuchen, a local specialty from the Swiss village of Murten, just west of Bern. Photo: Eric Jensen

Experiences can range from elaborate and expensive to simple and free. They can be given as gift certificates for, say, that fabulous Vietnamese restaurant or a tandem paragliding trip, or as a personal IOU to cook a special dinner or take a scenic hike. My preference is for the more personal and less costly, so take me on a hike nearby with a picnic of cervelat on a stick over an open fire, just like at my favorite park on Mt. Rigi in Switzerland.

Donations to causes I care about may not have produced much excitement in the ten-year-old me, but these days I actually prefer donations to any gift that benefits me personally. In the same way that a little careful thinking can produce a “just right” consumable or experience gift, a donation can be linked to a cause your favorite traveler holds dear. Maybe they remarked with sadness about the deforestation they saw in the Amazon from the plane window. A gift to the Rainforest Trust’s Conservation Action Fund might be just the right thing. Or maybe they’re aware of the carbon footprint their travel has, so a gift of carbon offsets for their next trip from makes sense. As with any charitable donation, be sure to vet the charity through a reputable organization like to make the biggest impact.

However you spend your holidays, I wish you the best now and in the New Year. If you have ideas for how to navigate the gift-giving season, let me know in the comments below and subscribe to our monthly email newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.



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