If you’re like me, you may not like the idea of mindless swapping of useless gifts at Christmastime. I prefer to give something practical, even if it’s socks. Socks are a great gift! But maybe that’s because my feet are cold right now. Better than a deeply practical gift is one that is practical and thoughtful. If it can also be homemade, then–only then–do we reach true gift greatness. The homemade practical thoughtful gift. So today I’m thinking of the most practical things I would like to receive, homemade travel gifts.
If you’ve got a traveler on your list, it’s easy to think of lots of great gift ideas, which I’ve written about here and here. The main tactic I suggest is bringing an element of comfort and personalization to the traveler in your life. Travel can be hard on a person and receiving a homemade travel gift can brighten an otherwise gloomy hotel room, flight or train ride. Adding a homemade dimension may not come to you easily, but I have some ideas to get you started. Many of these homemade travel gifts are really fast to put together and would be good last-minute projects or projects for kids to make for a traveling parent.
Personalized Pillow Case- As you may know already, I like to travel with my own pillow. I was finding that it was easy to lose pillows in the flurry of packing up, so I started putting bright pillowcases on to remind me not to leave it yet again. I started writing my name on the pillowcase in Sharpie, then decided to let my kids draw on it too. And voila! The best travel gift for a parent was born. My kids have made a couple of these for me, and sleeping with a pillow covered in their drawings is what I need most sometimes. All it takes is a pillowcase and fabric markers. Sharpies work too. I like to get the pillow covers with a zipper on one end, and then I use it as my laundry sack on laundry day. If they don’t have one already, add a nice down pillow to the gift. Don’t get a pillow that is very expensive, you want low fill so that it packs well. Also be extra careful to avoid feather pillows, those are horribly pokey and heavy too. This is the one that I carry in my bag.
If the traveler in your life doesn’t bring a pillow, you can make them a pillowcase anyhow to use as a zippered laundry sack. If you’re not into drawing, you can use photo transfer paper in your printer to make iron-on images.
Custom T-Shirt- Speaking of iron-on images, remember back in the 70’s and early 80’s when going to the Iron-On T-Shirt shop at the mall was all the rage? I remember how exciting it was to personalize my own shirt, I can even recall that burning plastic smell as they put the shirt in the big iron machine! Or maybe that was just MY childhood. Anyhow, you can live or relive this experience in your own home, and make a fun Christmas present at the same time. Using the iron-on photo transfer paper mentioned above, you can print out family or travel photos and make a cool t-shirt or personalized pajama shirt for your traveler. Just print, cut out the images, arrange on a blank t-shirt and iron. This is also a great way to transfer art onto cloth, just take a picture and print.
Personalized Luggage Tags- This is a simple project for even the most inexperienced crafter. You can buy these nifty self-laminating luggage tags, they are very easy to use. Find a great photo, kid’s art or even flower petals, and arrange them on one side, with an address label or business card on the other and then seal the label. Easy-peasy. I’d suggest you use really bright colors on this so that it will stand out at the luggage carousel. Glitter anyone?
Handmade Tablet Cover- If the traveler on your list carries a tablet, which they should, help them protect their tablet on the road. The normal covering isn’t enough, as I have found out the hard way. It’s nice to have a pocket to slip your tablet in to keep it dirt-free. Making one is pretty simple, even those with few skills can do it. Your first option is to use felt, which is available at most craft stores. Find out the dimensions of the tablet, then cut a piece of felt that is twice the size plus 2 inches. For example, if you have a tablet that is 6 inches by 8 inches, you’d cut a rectangle 14 by 18 inches. Fold it into an envelope shape and stitch up the sides, then add a fastener at the opening, like a button or velcro. You can embellish it with travel patches or felt shapes if you wish. This would be a great project for a crafty kid that can do a little sewing.
Knitters can also use their skills for the same task. Knit a rectangle to the dimensions you calculate as above, then stitch the sides and add a button. My best girlfriend made me one for my Kindle in a cozy dyed yarn, my favorite kind for knitting or gifting, Manos del Uruguay. It’s like socks for your electronics! Socks! Knitters can also make lovely homemade socks as gifts. Yeah, my feet are still cold.
“Box of Awesome” Emergency Kit- Over the years I have cultivated a little emergency kit for my purse that I like to call the Box of Awesome. It can fix most minor travel emergencies, and a few major ones. I wrote about it a while ago, which you can read HERE, and I encourage you to steal this idea. The basic idea is to buy a simple first aid kit, I like the little one from Johnson and Johnson, and then add extras to it that will solve small problems. I carry tiny scissors, safety pins, glasses screwdriver and screws, tiny tubes of Crazy Glue, moleskin, a little tube with medicines, twist ties, dental floss, excellent tweezers and a sewing kit, just to name a few. THIS little sewing kit comes with the scissors and pins, I’ve also just used the little sewing kit from the toiletries basket in hotel rooms. You can come up with your own additions, personalized to the traveler. A lot of this stuff you may already have in your house. This is a great gift, as I think every traveler should have something like it. I’ve made them for my car and purse at home, and I should probably make them for my kids’ backpacks too. Gifts for everyone! If you’re not feeling like assembling one yourself, ricksteves.com sells something similar, and I just saw this adorable girly version at JCrew, which you can find HERE. That’s going on my Christmas list.
“Bling” a Bag- If you’re giving a new travel bag to a friend, give it a more broken-in feeling by adding some travel patches. You can get them just about anywhere, even your hometown. If you want a more exotic look but forgot to buy travel patches on your last trip, never fear, the Internet has got you covered. This one is on my list for my bag. Sorry, the cool Rick Steves Tours patches are not for sale, you have to come on a tour with me!
Photo Water Bottle- Most people like to bring a water bottle with them to refill as they go, which is a great thing to have in Europe, especially since there are plenty of public water fountains. Water bottles all seem to look alike, but you can make a unique one with family photos, one that is less likely to be lost or stolen. The one you can have made at Walmart Photo is a good deal, it’s $14 and comes with a clip to attach it to your daybag. You’ll need to order this ahead of time. Don’t have time to order ahead? You can also make this yourself, using pictures or your own collage with a personalized water bottle kit.
Travel Memory Ornaments- I’ve always wondered what to do with those ticket stubs, bus tickets and odd-n-ends I bring home in my bag. They are too pretty to toss, but I’m not a scrapbooker. I’ve found these fun clear plastic ornaments at the craft store with removable tops or halves that come apart. You can cut your scraps to fit the shape of the ornament, then roll and insert into the globe, done in 5 minutes. Add glitter if you are that sort of person. You could do a whole set of them with map fragments and ticket stubs for a travel-themed Christmas tree, or give them as gifts. Geez, now that I’m thinking of it, wouldn’t it be super cool to make a paper chain out of maps from your travels? I am totally going to do that next year, after I raid the TI in Rome and load up on maps!
Bookmarks- I do love my tablet, but I’ll always love paper books more and usually travel with one. If you find me reading somewhere in Europe, I’ve normally got a business card stuffed hastily in my book as an impromptu bookmark. But that got me thinking, why not use fun museum or bus tickets, maps or brochures and make a proper bookmark? For this, you’ll need clear Contact Paper, available here or at somewhere like Target. Cut two pieces about 2 inches by 6 inches. Peel back the paper and stick your scraps on, leaving a border of at least 1/4 inch. Peel off the other piece and carefully lay it on top, matching sides, then seal. Trim the edges and you’re done.
Now that you’ve got a bookmark, what else can you give that favorite traveller of yours? Why, books of course! Stay tuned, I’ll be loading you up with book suggestions for Christmas gifts…or maybe just for yourself.
Happy crafting everyone. Let me know if you come up with some other cool, homemade travel gifts ideas and I’ll add them to the list.