People who travel light have different needs, and finding useful travel gifts for them can often be a challenge. The secret to success is that it must be a unique, lightweight and useful travel gift. While this may sound like an impossible challenge, it’s not.
As a person who always travels light, I can offer a few suggestions. I practice what I preach, as I just returned from nine weeks travelling to five countries in South America (including a cruise) with only carry only luggage.
The more we travel, the less we bring. We are very selective, and test out many products before we find ones that make the cut. What you will find here are the best of the best. From unique travel gifts to purely functional items, it has taken us years to find what we believe to be the best gifts for travellers.
Whether you travel light or bring the kitchen sink, the products here are our best recommendations updated for 2019. We have firsthand experience with all of it except our wish list at the end.
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Our Recommended Useful Travel Gifts for 2019
Table of contents
- 1 Our Recommended Useful Travel Gifts for 2019
- 2 Best Luggage Scale
- 3 Olympus Tough TG-5 Compact Camera
- 4 Lightweight Packing Cubes
- 5 Emergency and First Aid Kit
- 6 Noise Cancelling Headphones
- 7 Mirrorless Camera and Travel Camera Accessories
- 8 Cool Camera Straps
- 9 Portable Espresso Machine
- 10 Fitness Tracker
- 11 Our Essential Electronic Accessories for Travel
- 12 Best Sleeping Bag Liner and Microfiber Towel
- 13 Packing Light Check List
- 14 My Wish List of Useful Travel Gifts
- 15 Which are your favourite useful travel gifts?
Best Luggage Scale
A portable luggage scale is one of the most valuable items we have. Travelling light, we never check more than one bag for the family, and often go just carry-on. In today’s world of charging exorbitant fees ($50-$200) for overweight luggage, being able to monitor while packing is invaluable. The Etekcity Digital Hanging Luggage Scale measures in either kilograms or pounds and has precision accuracy up to 50kg (110 pounds). Importantly, it adds only 57 grams (2 oz) to our weight load, a small sacrifice to make to save huge penalties for being overweight. Allow for the 57 grams if you’re packing it in your luggage. This is the best luggage scale we have seen.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Compact Camera
Sometimes, great things really do come in small packages. The Olympus Tough TG-5 is all that and a bag of chips! It’s a compact point and shoot designed for adventure. Olympus made it waterproof, shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof, and dustproof. It’s a tough little camera perfect for any sports and it can shoot in high-resolution RAW stills or HD 4K video, if desired. Best of all, it’s a camera for everyone. Automatic settings allow anyone to capture great shots or, use one of the special presets for people, motion, indoors, nightscapes, scenery, underwater, or close up. Click here to see some of the underwater shots I have taken on the TG-5.
For the more advanced photographer, there is an aperture priority mode with the ability to override the default exposure levels. Plus, the RAW output allows photographers to recapture the colours that are sometimes lost from underwater shots, or do any other edits. We have had the TG-5 on our last two travel adventures and have been really pleased with the results both underwater and on land. (I still shoot most landscapes and large-scale telephoto shots on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 mirrorless camera (see below). However, I love my TG-5 for scenery, people shots, everyday photos, underwater, and street photography.)
Lightweight Packing Cubes
eBags packing cubes make travel organization easier, packing quicker, and now, we rarely lose things. I’ll admit, I thought they were a silly extra at first. Then I gave them a try. Today, I wouldn’t travel without them. Hubby and I each pack two: one for our clothes, the other for undies and pajamas. Plus, we use one for our emergency kit and another for electronics. We have an older model of these, and they are still in great shape. These are super lightweight, weighing only 227 grams (8 oz) for the entire set. They are appreciated and useful travel gifts for friends or for yourself. ⇒ Compare prices by shopping directly from eBags
Emergency and First Aid Kit
We wouldn’t travel without a portable emergency and first aid kit. It doesn’t need much, but ours always has at least basic first-aid supplies (bandages, gauze and tape, antiseptic ointment, anti-itch cream, and tweezers) and over-the-counter medication for a headache, sore throat, fever, and diarrhoea. To be honest, we make our own kit and store it in one of the small or extra small packing cubes above. However, many people prefer a premade one, and this small first aid kit from Amazon.com looks complete for minor injuries.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you haven’t tried these yet, you are really missing out. They are perfect for travel, especially on the plane. I have no idea how they work, but I don’t need to. I simply put them on and block out the rest of the world. The music is clear and perfect, and life’s distractions are gone. Plus, they pair wirelessly with my phone. They are available as headphones or earbuds.
Mirrorless Camera and Travel Camera Accessories
About three years ago, I switched from a DSLR to mirrorless technology. I am currently shooting on an Olympus OMD Em5 Mark II. The image stabilization system is one of the best. What I gave up was weight, as my new camera with all its gear weighs significantly less than my former DSLR. I couldn’t be happier with my choice.
The travel camera accessories I carry include:
- Olympus 14-150mm lens: While I have several lenses for different purposes, this is my favorite for all around shooting. It is equivalent to a 28-300mm full frame lens. It is a perfect lens for indoor scenes to sports and landscape photography.
- Tenba Messenger DNA Camera Bag: I looked around for a while before discovering the perfect camera bag for my mirrorless camera. Weatherproof, easy and quiet to open, secure, and with compartments for all my camera gear, accessories, business cards, and enough personal items that I don’t need to carry anything else for an afternoon out. It even has a secret spot for a Kindle.
- Sirui Carbon Fiber Tripod: I have one model down from this one, but the reduced weight of carbon fiber would have been a better choice. The tripod is quick to set up, has a ball mounted head, and upward folding legs, which make it more compact for carrying. I found it to be the perfect trade-off between super lightweight and steady enough for long exposure.
- Variable Neutral Density Adjustable Filter: This is the secret to deep rich color and smooth flowing water. As it requires a longer exposure, a tripod is needed.
Cool Camera Straps
Available in a huge variety of colours and patterns, the designs I own are the Woodstock and the Navajo. Of course, my Olympus mirrorless camera came with a perfectly adequate strap, but I wanted these for several reasons. First, let’s face it, they are colourful and fun. Secondly, this scarf camera strap is soft and fashionable. As a person who frequently wears scarfs, it is the ideal product. And third, and this only matters in certain destinations, they make my camera a bit more generic. Having the strap that says OMD tells knowledgeable thieves that I have an expensive camera around my neck.
Personally, I prefer the Woodstock scarf strap as it’s soft, comfortable, and holds the weight of my camera and largest lens with no problems. In contrast, the Navajo strap is similar in weave and stiffness to my original Olympus strap, and is now being used on Sarah’s Canon 70D DSLR, a heavier camera.
Portable Espresso Machine
If you know us at all, then it shouldn’t surprise you that we include something to do with coffee. This Minipresso espresso maker is what I bought Jeff for his birthday last year. It has travelled with us since our adventure to Dunedin. It’s the perfect gift for any traveler who is a coffee snob. It’s super easy to use, self-contained, makes a delicious espresso, and clean up is quick. The built-in espresso cup and scoop make packing easy. It weighs only 295 grams (10.4 oz) and is one of the more fun travel gifts we recommend. Please note: you will need coffee beans and access to boiling water.
I am not one to run out and get the latest fad item, but I have to say that I love my fitness tracker. I have the Fitbit Alta HR and it has made a difference for me, especially when I am busy writing and lose track of time. Every hour, if I haven’t walked at least 250 steps, it gently vibrates to remind me to get up and move.
The Fitbit does have some strong competition out there. Here are what appear to be three of the best options.
Our Essential Electronic Accessories for Travel
As bloggers and photographers, sometimes it feels like we have more electronics than clothes. When we travel with carry-on luggage only, our laptops, Kindle, smartphones, and camera gear are nearly half our total weight. To keep them going, and backed up, there are a few additional essentials we carry:
- Universal travel adapter: One adapter to allow us to plug into electric power anywhere in the world means we don’t have to worry about electric availability when we travel. We use this robust, top quality adapter that lasts and doesn’t fail when we need it the most.
- USB flash drive stick: This tiny stick can act as my travel back up, especially for photos. I like the retractable port, name brand, and 128GB data size. A 256GB stick is available for memory hounds, but I find the 128GB is cost-effective for our on-the-go backups.
- Power bank: Traveling, I need to be able to keep my phone charged as it works overtime for me as a 3G router, GPS, phone, and social media hub. This power bank is small yet a critical piece of our gear.
- Multi USB charging cable: Preferring to carry less, we were thrilled to find a single, high-quality tool that can charge all our portable electronics (phones, Kindles, tablets, etc.) despite them having different connectors.
Best Sleeping Bag Liner and Microfiber Towel
You may be wondering why we carry sleeping bag liners since we stay in hotels almost exclusively. Several reasons; first, the silk fabric keeps us warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Secondly, it is smooth and soft against our skin, something that hotel sheets don’t always offer. Third, it is great in long car rides, and finally, sometimes hotels don’t always live up to their ratings. On a rare occasion, we have arrived to find bedding that is a bit questionable. For us, this usually follows Murphy’s Law as we have arrived late at night, the front desk is closed, our keys have been left for us, and we have no other options. Having our own sleeping bag liner to crawl into is quite useful, comforting, and healthy. Plus, it folds up to a tiny size adding only 140 grams (5 oz) to our total weight.
Similarly, we carry a microfiber towel. Also small and compact, it is a quick dry companion for unplanned beach stops, unexpected rainstorms, or just washing up. Antibacterial, our towel tends not to smell bad. Considerably smaller than fluffy towels, it folds easily into a mesh carry bag. It’s available in three sizes, ours is the medium size, but if I were shopping today I would get the larger one.
Packing Light Check List
Packing light is an art that we have mastered over years of travel. It starts out with a plan and a list. Our packing checklist is available for free. Simply subscribe to our newsletter (also free and loaded with great travel tips), and I will send it to you immediately:
My Wish List of Useful Travel Gifts
Every year there are new things I would like. Last year, the Bose noise cancelling headphones appeared on this list. Now, they are an invaluable addition to my travel accessories (see above). This year, my wish list includes:
- Hammock: for that rare moment when I rest, and it even holds two people.
- Infinity Pillow: Looking at it, I am not sure why this one is so comfy, but the reviews are great.
- Drone: This one has lightweight, foldable arms. It has follow-me, altitude hold, and one key / smart return to home. Note: If you are getting a drone for travel, be sure to check if it is legal in the countries you are visiting.
Which are your favourite useful travel gifts?
This page is part of our travel planning resources series.