Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Traveling Families
Travelers can be tough to buy for – they either don’t want anything because they are on the go or what they do want is too expensive or unattainable (flights, cameras, more vacation time!). Personally I love travel experiences, but every traveling expert also needs an arsenal of products to make their journeys smoother. Even though what we all really want is the time and money to travel more, there are still some great gift ideas most every traveling family will appreciate!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Stocking Stuffers for Traveling Families
Let’s start with the little things, stocking stuffers! Let me warn you right off the bat that I am all about the practical. I love practical travel items that can be used for stuffing the stocking. Below are some of my favorite little items that every traveler should have! Want even more ideas? Head over to my stocking stuffers gift guide for more practical, silly and affordable ideas.
ChicoBag Bottle Sling
This is sort of a random item, but I found this ChicoBag Water Bottle Sling last year and have fallen in love with it. This little, very light water bottle sling has been great for hiking and even cruising through London! I tend to not carry a real purse anymore, just a small bag for my phone, money and credit cards, which means I am left holding my water bottle in my hand all day. That is not conducive to taking lots of photos as you can imagine. So in comes this little sling. It hangs super low, but not too low to interfere with walking, is light and even has a little pouch for money, keys or chapstick! This is a great gift for those who love hiking in nature or urban settings!
World Laundry Bag
I have two of these World laundry bags that we use when traveling. Clothes that aren’t going to be washed in route and one for clothes that need to be cleaned before returning home. I love these bags! Since they fold up so small, they are great for the stockings! And for the first time ever I actually saw these for sale at a local shop.. the trend is catching on folks, grab them while you can! They also have a 3 pack set with different sizes that is now on my wishlist! Check out the adorable airplane print bags too! I’m pretty sure my son will find that in his stocking this year.
Such a simple little thing, this laundry line has become one of my favorite travel items from camping in the backcountry to traveling internationally! I have used a version of this since my first trip to Europe 25 years ago! IT is small, super light and can be used anywhere – tie it around a tree or a chair. I have hung it from balconies in Berlin, attached it to my hostel bed in Switzerland and even used it at home in the backyard. (An alternative option by Lewis n Clark is also great.)
Combined with the Scrubba wash system below you will have everything you need to do laundry quickly and cheaply on the road. I know, sort of a silly stocking stuffer, but it’s obvious I now follow in my mom’s footsteps of giving very practical weird items in stockings!
Cord Tacos & Ties
Another totally practical item. Can you tell I like the practical things for Christmas rather than clutter? For men, the headphone holder and leather cord tacos make great stocking stuffers, while for kids and for other family members I prefer the Bobino cord wrap that comes in 3 different sizes. I can almost guarantee I will see some of those in my stocking this year!
Along these same lines are these adorable cord savers that snap onto the end of your phone cords to keep them from breaking. For the less cute, but equally durable, these from one of my favorite brands Nite Ize are great too.
Lewis N Clark Clip Stash / Chums Surfshorts Wallet
I am all about traveling light which means I carry very little with me out on the go. I have a sling phone purse (see below) that holds my credit cards, ID and phone, but when I’m in countries that have a lot of coinage as currency I like to carry a small wallet. For that I love the Lewis N Clark RFID Blocking Clip Stash Wallet. It’s small enough to easily clip onto my leggings or stuff into my pocket of my cardigan (see below!). And I know that I am safe and secure. I tend to split up my credit cards when I’m traveling so that if one thing gets lost or stolen I am not totally moneyless!
Another option that I have recently become obsessed with is this great little wallet keychain! It is now my go to for all my travel needs including while out backpacking! I actually have this attached to my car keys with my wallet and main credit card. This tends to be the only thing I have with me other than my phone.
Travel Luggage & Backpacks
I am a gear addict. I LOVE checking out suitcases and random gear for travel. But at the end of the day, there is only room for so much in our traveling life. And these are my favorites!
My all time favorite suitcase is the Away Suitcase. I got one several years ago and wasn’t quite sure about the hardsided case as I was in love with my former eBags carry-on. I am a convert now after several years of use and would highly recommend the investment. I have managed to stuff this bag full for a multiple week trip as well as for quick weekend getaways. It is worth the hype and expense!
Since I couldn’t quite afford one for my son, he found this great one SpinTech 5.0 carry-on by Samsonite that he loves. It’s super lightweight for him to carry up and down stairs but fits a ton. He has put away his travel backpack as of late and takes this bag everywhere he can!
Skip Hop Little Kid Luggage
My son had the Skip Hop rolling bag for 5 years and still refuses to let it go. Now that he’s 12 he doesn’t use it anymore, but this was his FAVORITE carry on bag for many many years. He could roll it on his own, but if he got tired, I could attach it to my bag or put it over my shoulder with the attached strap. For short trips he would take just this bag!
For longer international trips, this bag held nhis entertainment for the plane, snacks, headphones and a change of clothes in case of a spills. This little bag has seen at least 15 countries and countless national parks in its lifespan!
Osprey Ace 38 Backpack
When we decided to travel the world for a year, we decided a backpack would make the most sense for my son. After months of research and even purchasing several bags, we finally settled on the Osprey Ace 38 Backpack for him. It was a little tall for his small frame at age 8, but it has grown with him through the years. The fit is great and even though we could overstuff it, we kept it to no more than 12 lbs for him to carry easily during that RTW trip.
This bag is perfect for camping trips, backpacking trips and travel backpacking! We took this bag to 15 countries and over 200 miles of backpacking. It is still holding strong and working well for him!
REI Tarn 18 Day Pack
If you aren’t looking to backpack, but would rather get a great sized daypack for your kids, we love our REI Tarn 18 Daypack. It holds so much stuff, has a waist belt and plenty of bells and whistles (literally a whistle for emergencies!) for kids to enjoy. My son particularly loves the little pockets on the waist belt where he can hide his collection of rocks he picks up on the way! This bag as seen a lot of the world and continues to be the go to item for days out on the trail and as a carry on for flying.
Backpack for Laptops & Gear
I told you I love gear! If your budget allows, I would highly recommend getting the Osprey Nova backpack. It is my go to backpack for all of my travels. It is expensive, but I have found it is much more durable and has a few more bells and whistles that I love.
There are several zipper pockets making storage and organization super easy. There is also a small hidden pocket that I keep some money in with my extra sunglasses.
For those on a budget, the AmazonBasics Backpack is very similar. It fits my my laptop, external drives, camera gear (camera, 3 lenses, Gopro, etc) as well as my son’s homeschool packet with ease. The biggest negative for me is that it doesn’t have the waist belt. I did use it for a while before upgrading to my Osprey.
Looking for kids travel backpacks? We have you covered with the top kids travel backpack options for all ages!
The best thing you can do for travel is have a lightweight, easy to pack backpack to use for your day hikes and wanderings around towns. I have several different backpacks for my needs.
My city backpack that I carry while traveling is this Eagle Creek bag that I was gifted and cannot find for the life of me. A similar one to it is the Sea to Summit foldable super lightweight backpack that I carried up Mt Whitney. This is a great addition for your car when you might need a bag or for travel.
Items for the Eco-Conscious Traveler
One of the things we try to always do is consume less and reduce our usage of throw away products. In that realm, we always travel with our reusable water bottle, cutlery and straws. Below are some of our favorites.
Seriously if you are still buying plastic bottles, you need the HydroFlask. There is no reason to buy plastic bottles anymore except in rare occasions! I love to have cold water to drink and this bottle keeps my ice frozen for up to 2 days. I’m not joking. It is so good. Mine has been beaten up like crazy, but it still is holding strong. This is a must have for travel or just day to day life at home. I promise you will drink so much more water when you have it with you all the time. It doesn’t spill, it doesn’t have condensation on the outside. It is just perfect. This is a great gift item for frequent travelers or even anyone!
For my day to day drinks I love my Yeti Tumbler. I drink my morning iced tea and then continue with water for the rest of the day.
If you have been following our adventures you will know that we are Eco-Warriors in training. After our visit to the South China Sea a few years ago my son has been dead set on reducing our plastic consumption to zero. One of the ways we attempt this goal is by taking our own straws with us. We have both the curved and the straight, but prefer the straight straws for ease of cleaning. This set includes some of both with a cleaning brush that is easy to travel with. While at home we keep some in the car as well!
Another eco friendly item that is great to travel with is the Sea to Summit Cutlery set. This makes a great stocking stuffer! My son hangs his from his backpack so we always remember to use it when we are eating on the road. I will say that our knife has been taken away before, so beware! El Salvador was the first country after many that would not let me take it through! I lost a very great knife there. And Cian lost a rock he had been carrying around for months!
Now I know you think I am totally off my rocker! This seems weird I know, but as a traveling family, we always need food on the road. For road trips I always take a regular size bowl for my son’s oatmeal or cereal, but while traveling internationally I don’t like to take up the space. These collapsable bowls are perfect for oatmeal or cereal in the room as well as for taking a few leftovers from meals to eat later. Trust me, we have used these bowls all over the world so far. They definitely come in handy and it helps that they are small and light.
Technology Must Haves for Traveling Families
Anker Battery Pack
This Anker Battery Pack is a bit bulky and heavy but it has been a lifesaver! It has three USB connections so you can charge several items at once. It also holds a ton of charge. I have used this to power my phone, Skyroam and two cameras on an overnight trip to the top of a volcano and I still had plenty of charge let to keep on going. I love this charger so much that it comes with me on every single trip and day trip! Definitely invest in one of these before you go away.
My recent addition to my battery packs is this super lightweight pack that I take backpacking. It is a bit expensive, but it is amazing!
One of my favorite travel must haves is my Skyroam Solis. I was given one a few years ago and just upgraded to the newest version. I have used it from Borneo to Iraq to Guatemala and even here at home to get internet on the go from the moment I land until the moment I take off. I love the monthly subscription service when I am traveling so that I never am without internet (unless I am somewhere without phone coverage!). The Skyroam connects up to 5 users at a time making it perfect for families who need access all the time.
The Skyroam itself is a great purchase for the traveler on your list that you want to stay in touch with while they are on the road. For 10% off use my link above and put NOBACKHOME in the code box. They often have specials as well, so check it out near the holidays for sure.
Belkin Headphone Splitter
In the olden days I recommended the Belkin Headphone splitter for families with multiple children. Now technology has moved on and many devices don’t even have headphone jacks anymore. Thankfully someone out there is still thinking of us and has created this one that works for devices that don’t have headphone jacks anymore!
These days with so many Bluetooth options you might not need this anymore, but we have found it still useful for occasional use.
Now that phones have moved into the sphere of no AV jack, it’s imperative to get with the program. I recently purchased these JBL wireless headphones for my son and he loves them. They have a great battery life, protect your kids ears and even have noise cancellation. He wears them around the house listening to audio books, uses them for online classes and when we travel.
If you have a little more money to spend, then definitely splash out on the Apple Airpods. I got them a few years ago and they go everywhere with me. They are so light, have amazing sound and keep a long charge. Perfect for travel – except you can’t use them on the in-flight consoles, so don’t forget your old school headphones too!
Sony Mirrorless Camera
It was tough to give up my Nikon DSLR, but it became just too bulky to lug around, especially when you have children to tow around too! I moved on to the Mirrorless Sony systems and have loved each one I’ve owned! My recommendation is to buy only the base (whatever one you can afford – I have the 6300) and add on your own lenses. My two go to lenses are the 20mm and the 35mm (which is in effect a 50mm). The benefit of these lenses are excellent low light photography and they are super small and light which means your camera can fit in your tiny little purse!
That said, for the last year I have been using a zoom lens which has almost replaced my other two favorite fixed lenses. The 16-70mm is expensive, but is an all around great lens for travel photography. I now only switch to my fixed lenses when I am shooting at night and need a lower F stop for clear night photos.
My three must have cameras are my iPhone, my Sony Mirrorless and my GoPro. I do not travel anywhere without the three! Our GoPro has seen the icy cold lake water of Ireland, the thermal waters of Iceland, the cool blue waters in the South Pacific and the clear waters of our Palm Springs hotel pool to mention a few! It has also been dropped and run over while riding a bicycle! It has been wagged here and there and is still in perfect working order. It’s waterproof, drop proof and kid proof. A must have in any adventure traveling families camera bag.
If your traveler already has a GoPro, consider purchasing some of these amazing accessories. We love our GoPro Dome that allows you to take photos both underwater and over the water at the same time.
I do not have one of these yet, but it’s on my wishlist! For travelers, this is a fun piece of equipment to enjoy on the road. You need to research in advance where you are going to make sure you are allowed to have one in each of the countries visiting, but overall I think this is a great addition to the technology arsenal!
After testing out my friend’s different drones and seeing them in action on the road, I really want the one of the DJI Drones. There are so many different options now that DJI has come out with that there is something for most price ranges.
Travel Clothes & Accessories
Years ago before my wool obsession, I was obsessed with all things SCOTTeVest. They make amazing travel clothes with secret pockets. I seriously lived in my cardigan at home and on the road. Now I have moved on to wool, but I still love this one and highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!
The reason I love it – I like to travel very minimally – without a bag if I can get away with it. All of their products look cool, but I’m particularly in love with the Cardigan.
If you want a wool version, but without all the secret pockets, my new go to is this one from Wool&.
Ex-Officio BugsAway Clothing
I am constantly worried about mosquitos biting me through my regular leggings when I travel to buggy places. In my eternal search for ‘regular’ clothes that would help protect me from the little critters, I came across Ex Officio’s line of Bugsaway clothing. I bought a pair of leggings, these jacquard leggings and a light jacket. I love the leggings because they have a great little zipper pocket on the leg. The most amazing thing is, is that they are made with mosquito and tick repellent in them which means no more worrying about getting eaten alive while wearing black leggings! Love them all! They also have socks and underwear for even more protection from those pesky mosquitoes!
Packable & Crushable Hat
Love love love my packable and crushable hat. Not only does it fare well in the back of my car, it does great in my suitcase! This is the perfect travel accessory for women, especially ones with fair skin who need to keep covered.
Crossbody iPhone Purse
Several years ago I did away with my big old heavy purse. I have a 12 year old who can carry his own belongings so I do not need to have a big bag with everything under the sun in it. For everyday errands, running around town and travel, I have transitioned to this little bitty purse. I love it! It’s super cheap (and not the most amazing quality either I must admit) which means when I’m ready for a change my pocket book won’t get too mad. (NOTE: The Iphone purse photo here is the one I currently use, but it is no longer available on Amazon. Instead here are a ton of other options.. which I also will need to try soon!)
Patagonia Hip Pack Mini
Ok, I have been noticing the trend of fanny packs, but have been trying to avoid getting caught up in it. Until, I spotted this little bugger at REI a few years ago. I used my Patagonia Hip Pack exclusively on our Gap Year for my credit cards, Passports and my phone when I want things to be a little hidden, but still easily accessible. It is still my go to “purse” when we travel, although at home these days I carry just my keychain wallet mentioned above!
Miscellaneous Must Have Travel Items
Travel Beach Towel
I have wavered between taking a full size beach towel with me on my travels and using a pack towel. However this past year of travel with one of each, I have to say that I LOVED having my full size sand resistant beach towel with me. My HelioDry Sand Free Beach towel is a luxury must have for any traveler or family who hits the beach each year. This towel is more expensive than something you might buy for yourself, which makes it the perfect thing to ask for as a gift!
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes
There are so many different packing cubes out there and I have tried a ton of them. After a year of traveling full time, I have to say these are my favorite. They are lightweight, don’t hold smells and can be used for a variety of things. I still have my very first set of Eagle Creek packing cubes that I bought on the advice of Rick Steves in 2000! These babies hold up! Now I use either the compression cubes or the newest lightweight cubes.
BubbleBum Inflatable Booster Seat
I have written about this previously, but it continues to be one of our most used travel accessories. The BubbleBum Inflatable Booster Seat is a lifesaver for traveling families! We have used it in the US for rides in Uber, in our car when a friend needs a ride home, on the road in India, in Fiji, in Mexico and it will keep going with us wherever we go. Once deflated it fits perfectly in the front pocket of my carry-on suitcase!
Scrubba Travel Wash System
Back in my backpacker days this would have been so useful. The 2018 version of Scrubba Travel Wash System is basically like having your own little washing machine out on the road. It is perfect for kids clothes as you don’t have to use a ton of muscle to get them clean. A touch expensive, but you will save money not sending clothes to the laundry and in being able to pack lighter thereby avoiding excessive baggage charges. We often take this with us for our week long camping trips to wash socks, underwear and other miscellaneous items.
One thing you have to have of your own if you are a frequent traveler is your own snorkel gear. We love these Cressi masks and snorkels. (Don’t forget the awesome snorkel mask strap!) But even more, you should consider buying these awesome snorkel life vests that pack super small and make it so much easier for your kids to just jump right in.
Travel Books & Magazines
These are some of my favorite travel books, journals and magazines to help you inspire travel, record travel and more.
Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids
My friend Rob from 2TravelDads wrote this Travel Journal for Kids and I love it. It’s a great addition for any family who travels a little or a lot. Geared for kids aged 6-9 years old this is great for road trips and flying trips.
Backyard to Backpack
This is another book written by a travel friend. Backyard to Backpack is so cute and perfect to inspire more family travel journeys! Based on Evie and Emmie’s travels around the world, this will surely inspire you to get out and visit more of the world.
My son was gifted this book for his birthday in anticipation of our trip around the world and I remembered how much I loved it and thought I definitely should recommend it to you all again! Travel Listography is the perfect present for the traveler who also loves to make lists (me!!). This journal/ list making book provides 70 prompts for travel adventures near and far. Topics like quintessential cities and countries visited to food you want to try around the world, this is perfect for the blogger, traveler or armchair traveler in your life.
Lonely Planet’s Wild World
I am a sucker for coffee table books. I have so many that I have them scattered around my bookshelves in large piles! But even with the ubiquitous of the internet and Instagram, nothing beats inspiration from a photo you can look at closely in your hands. And that is exactly what I get from Lonely Planet’s Wild World book. This follow up to Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World is a fabulous conversation starter and is great for sitting around the fire family trip planning.
If that one doesn’t float your boat, there are a ton of other options this year focusing on things like epic drives, epic bike rides and the one I have on my wish list – National Parks of America.
Sometimes you just don’t know what to get your world traveler friends, in that situation, here are several perfect travel themed items anyone will go gaga over!
Travel Scratch-Off Map
With no shortage of scratch off travel maps to choose from. At the moment we love this Travel Scratch Off Map by Landmass. It allows you to scratch off individual US states as well as individual countries which makes it tops in my book. In addition, it also has a scratch off flag for each country at the bottom. Perfect! We actually have two of them – one for my office and one for my son’s room! For the long term travelers, check out this awesome scratch off journal.
Travel Themed Homewares
Maptote offers some really unique options for personalized travel accessories. The personalized throw pillow is a great option for someone who had a special trip or date that would be fun to remember. For me, my pillow would say BOM and the date of my son’s birth in Mumbai! There are a variety of cool travel related products ranging from throw pillows to tote bags, canvas prints as well as t-shirts. Great ideas for the person who has it all!
As I mentioned earlier, many travelers often prefer experiences over things. This can be local memberships to the science museum, the zoo or awesome experiences while traveling. This wasn’t always so easy to do in years past, but with the internet and gift cards it can be done quite easily now. The following are my two favorite experiences that are easy and practical gifts!
Tinggly is the ultimate in an experience gift. You pick the price point, the recipient picks the excursion in over 100 countries around the world and enjoys life! I have seen this type of giving for wedding gifts when they couple knows where they will be and what they want to do, but Tinggly takes it to a whole new level of awesomeness. My problem is I wouldn’t be able to decide which experience to choose! From a spa experience to bungee jumping to a guided hike, there are so many amazing things to do almost every where in the world.
CityPass is one of my favorite gifts to give, even to friends who live locally. It is a good motivator to get people out and exploring even in their own city! CityPass has passes in many major cities in the US including Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and so many more. CityPass offers visitors (and locals) access to a variety of the city’s most famous attractions at an unbeatable price. Give the CityPass VIP treatment to someone this year!
For more travel gift ideas, read my gift guide for outdoor kids, my post on Stocking Stuffers under $20, my post on top 7 travel essentials every traveler should have and an old post on travel activities for kids.
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