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It’s that time of the year again, time to surprise and delight the traveler in your life with something fun that will make their life on the road happier. I’ve got good news for you, I have found some great things in my travels that have upped my game. From splurges to little, thoughtful items, it’s simple to give a traveler a great gift.


Is it noisy in the Rome airport? I have no idea!

Is it noisy in the Rome airport? I have no idea!

Bose Quiet Comfort Headphones – about $250-350

The best gift I received last Christmas was one I’d have never bought myself, fancy-schmancy noise-cancelling headphones. You’ve definitely seen these if you’ve been on a plane lately, every frequent flier has them glued to their ears. Now I get why, they somehow magically suck all of the noise out of the world. Yes, even the screaming toddler sitting next to you. Blocking the ambient noise of a plane makes a soothing, cocoon-like sense of calm wash over you. And yes, they are bulky and not at all what a light packer should bring but I DON’T CARE because QUALITY OF LIFE MATTERS.

Moment Phone Lenses – $110

As you probably know, I don’t really recommend bringing a separate camera while traveling unless you’re a serious photographer. Phone cameras are fine. If you’d rather not shell out $1200 for the new iPhone, you can get some fun new effects with special lenses. Some of the clip-on lenses of the past were not that great, but these are high quality. I recommend the telephoto lens, since the electronic zoom on a phone is often not quite enough.

Lectrofan White Noise Machine– $30

My recent tour groups all seem to agree, a white noise machine makes travel better. This is some kind of underground movement that I didn’t know existed, white noise machine enthusiasts, but their enthusiasm is infectious. Hotels do tend to make mysterious noises, even under the best of circumstances. I once stayed in a haunted hotel room and had to sleep with headphones to block the noise. This machine could have come in handy. This particular model has the added bonus of being a Bluetooth speaker as well.


Cashmere Wrap – $130

I am always cold, and never colder than on a long flight. Since packing light is always a goal, cashmere is a staple of my packing list since it is warm, soft, and light. A good, basic cashmere sweater should already be in the closet of all travelers (Men’s here and Women’s here). An additional piece for shoulder season or winter is a great wrap. You know my feeling about scarves, and particularly in Italy at this time of year, leaving the house without one will get you many disapproving looks. A wrap like this can be a scarf, a pillow, a blanket and anything else your origami skills can imagine. A great travel companion.

Packable Travel Hat – $20

The one thing in my bag this year that got the most compliments was a hat. I couldn’t believe it, I kind of hate hats on me, but everyone seemed to agree that this one was great. I like how it easily rolls up and doesn’t look squished when i unfurl it. A sunhat with a wide brim like this provides a nice spot of shade for not just your head but your shoulders too. The band also serves to cinch the rolled up hat together, making it compact to tote in your daybag.

Royal Robbins Discovery III Skirt – $50

If I could pick one piece of clothing I wore most this year, this is it. I bought this skirt in a very light beige, and it has not failed me. It’s light, has POCKETS, is a bit stretchy for big meals, looks sporty but can be dressed up, and comes out clean no matter how I abuse it. My only complaint is that it looks a bit wrinkly occasionally, but otherwise i love it.


Tom Bihn Large Zip Top Shop Bag – $65

The gear from Tom Bihn just keeps ticking. I have bags that I’ve used for a decade and they look and work just as they did when they were new. My current favorite bag is a packable shopping tote that zips up on top. I used it as a shopping bag at the market in Arles in August, and stuffed it with sheepskins and cognac on my way home from Romania in October. Since it zips, this can be your spare bag to check with all of your treasures, and it is much more durable than other hideaway bags on the market. This is a must.

Tom Bihn Icon Bag – $75 (sadly this has been retired but the Cafe Bag is Sarah’s new favorite!)

At long last, a new and highly functional unisex day bag! Finding the perfect day bag is almost impossible, but this new design is the right size, shape, and capacity for most people. It is also good looking and well priced, so you can bet it will be on my Christmas list this year. Add in the little accessories, like the key straps and pouches, and you might just stay organized.

Stocking Stuffers

Travel Watercolor Set – $15-30

One of the great pleasures of my year has been to take 20 minutes out of each day for painting. I just do little postcards, it’s fairly simple and low energy. But that small amount of time taken out of each day is the perfect meditation in the chaos of travel. Bonus: paint on postcards and mail them home to your friends!

Ethique Hair Sampler – $16

Solid toiletries can save you space, weight, and hassle at the airport since you can avoid the whole “liquids bag”. This little sampler of shampoos and conditioners is a fun gift, and the bars are enough to last a few showers, which is nicer than a huge bar that can get slimy when you move it from place to place.

World Travel Adapter Kit – $20

After traveling with my kiddos this summer, one thing become clear: There are never enough outlets. I’ve started bringing one of these handy multi outlets with USB ports so I can charge my phone, headphones, and laptop simultaneously, with room to spare for the kids’ Kindles.

First Aid Kit – $10

Yeah, I know this isn’t sexy, but every traveler you know actually needs this or something like it. I always carry a little first aid kit, and I charge it up with extra helpful items like duct tape and safety pins. It might seem like the most unsexy gift you’ll ever give, but I can guarantee you that someone will thank you when they fall down the escalator at the Louvre or scrape themselves while snorkeling in Thailand.

Folding Travel Hangers – $10

This suggestion comes from a reader and wow, what a good idea. There are usually never enough hangers in any room, and these would be especially helpful for hanging wet stuff in the bathroom to dry.

Phone Tether – $20

You have no idea how many people i’ve seen lose their phones. They drop them, leave them, or in one case, have had the phone stolen right out of their hands. A handy wrist strap and tether is a great idea to keep your phone from falling into a canyon or a thief’s hands.

Power Bank – $30

With all the electronics we carry these days, backup power is essential. This tried-and-true power bank is not sexy but does the job. It can recharge a phone a few times and holds a charge for days. It was fantastic in parts of the world where outlets were scarce, like the Sahara Desert.


Art is a great gift to give a loved one. You can buy my linocut prints at my Etsy shop, and I also do custom linocut and watercolor paintings using your cool travel photos, just ask.

Looking to support artists in Venice? They could really use it right now. My friend Stacy Gibboni paints gorgeous abstract paintings that are a good investment. Another artist in Venice, PlumPlum Creations does similar work to mine, and can be bought online.

Looking for more ideas? Check out my Amazon shop for links to all of the gear I use.

Happy shopping everyone, and if you have a cool idea to add to this list, comment here or on my Facebook page. Buon Natale!

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a tiny commission from your purchases when you use these links. Thanks for supporting your local blogger and her growing kiddos!

Sarah Murdoch

This post was written by Sarah Murdoch, founder and director of Adventures of Sarah. Sarah has been guiding around the world for 20+ years, after catching the travel bug while studying in Italy in 1995. Between guiding she is also a journalist, travel guidebook writer, occasional architect, and full-time mom to Nicola and Lucca. Click here to find out more about Sarah.

One Comment

  • Alice eller says:

    Thanks for the great suggestion for a smart phone tether. I hadn’t been able to find anything to work with my otterbox case, but this looks very promising. Appreciate your gift ideas !!

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