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10 Gift Ideas for Travellers & Backpackers

What do you buy for a close friend or loved one who is heading off across the borders of a map?

In the ideal world it would be cash – no seriously, cold hard cash. It takes up no space and without doubt will be used. Backpacks are easy to fill and have limited space, especially with all those unnecessary items we pack convinced we’ll use but never do. But I get it, cash is a faceless gift and although very practical, is impersonal.

I personally travel with a 65 litre backpack which is too big, but it’s an old friend who has accompanied me on my adventures for 15 years and I am loathe to replace it. I’ve seen the most hardened of backpackers hitting the dusty trails with as little as 35 litres so you need to be careful when buying travellers gifts. Especially when you consider we will be hauling packs from bus to train stations, up flights of stairs and along hiking trails.

Gifts for travellers

Here are the top gifts that have been bought for me, or by me and won’t take up precious pack space, yet hugely practical:

Games Kit / Pack of Cards
Hands down one of the best gifts I have ever received, but sadly long gone now. It was square in shape, 4 x 4 inch x 1 inch thick and had all the pieces for draughts, backgammon and chess. This faithful gift travelled with me for many years before finding a new home in a hostel in Valparaiso, Chile where I left him on the breakfast table. So much enjoyment for so many travellers from one present – as I rolled out of town I’m sure I heard the sound of a unicorn dying!

Travel Games Set

Travel Speakers
Another brilliant present bought for me by two Colombian’s when I worked as a tour guide in Egypt. I love my music and never travel without my iPod and headphones, but when I’m chilling in my hotel room I prefer music to fill the space. Small speakers that fold in on themselves are ideal, they take up very little space and plug directly into an iPod. Keep in mind they don’t need to wake the neighbours, just background noise when waiting for a bus or over a few drinks at the beach at sunset.

Travel Speakers

Sewing Kit
I know what you’re thinking, boring and cheap right…but ridiculously practical and I always find on long haul trips my tiny little sewing kit comes in handy. Plus it doubles as a needle for splinters! Keep in mind when you’re buying for someone, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, it needs to be useful, something they haven’t thought of themselves and can fit inside a shoe meaning it takes up zero space!

Travel Sewing Kit

Club together to buy a gift
If a few of you are buying for one person, don’t bother with the surprise angle, just ask them what they want. Perhaps you can all contribute towards a jacket they’ll wear for most of their trip, a backpack which will last for years, or an iPod which is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Point It Book
This book is amazing. It is tiny and literally has a thumbnail picture inside of everything on the planet. If a different language is spoken or the traveller is terrible at learning new words in strange languages, they just open the book, point and everyone understands what is happening. Simples!

Point It

Point It


Silk Sleeping Bag liner
Generally if you need a silk sleeping bag liner you are using a sleeping bag, which means you are staying someone of a lower standard to what you’re accustomed. The feel of silk is a touch of luxury, stops you from sweating, perfect to separate you from the bed sheets and keeps you cool on hot summer nights when an overhead fan only circulates warm air. I love mine with a passion!

Sleeping bag Liner

Universal Bath Plug
Ok it sounds like a joke gift but this little treasure has earned its place in my backpack for years! I find when I travel on a budget, there is always a bath and always a sink…but never, and I repeat never a plug. It is frustrating, especially for someone who loves lounging in baths or washing his clothes in them as I do. It will cost you about £4 and I promise you this, it will fill the void in your life.

Universal Bath Plug
Universal Bath Plug

ITunes Vouchers – long bus rides get boring
If the traveller in question is a music fan as I am, an iTunes voucher will take up absolutely no space. When they get sick of the music on their iPod (which they will) or hear local tunes they like, they can be downloaded ahead of the overnight bus ride. This gift gets a huge thumbs up from The Kiwi Has landed!!!

Phrase Book
A pocket-sized phrase book is always a good gift…if the person you’re buying for is likely to use it; you will have a better idea of this. Keep it small, able to slip into a pocket and if used, can change the entire travel experience, it did for me in South America.

Waist Money Belt
I personally hate using these but a lot of people will. I did like the belt (it is an actual belt) with a zip along the side where you can roll your money in and keep it safe. Doesn’t take up any space, keeps your cash safe and keeps your trousers up. I once stuffed my belt full of money and travelled through two other countries before I realised which resulted in a terrible exchange rate, but I felt a whole lot safer using it!

Money Belt

And because 10 is never enough, here is another:

Local currency
Although all airports have money exchanges and bank machines, sometimes it can remove the pressure by having enough local currency for a taxi, evening meal and hostel when finding your bearings in a new city. Where to exchange money differs in every city and we all hate being ripped off, so having the luxury of being able to speak to a local at the hotel, as opposed to feeling under pressure at the airport can help dramatically. It doesn’t need to be a lot, and sometimes just £5 for the first local beer is the perfect gift. I was once given half a packet of cigarettes and E$5 Egyptian Pounds as a tip which at the time I wasn’t happy about. However, as I was completely hungover I took a taxi home which cost exactly E$5 and I smoked cigarettes along the way!

So these are my top 11, I tried for 10 but these are things I will generally take travelling and actually use! Remember, the amount of money you spend isn’t key, it’s how useful these items will be. If in doubt, take them shopping and say you want to buy them something small, cheap and practical that reminds them of you!


1 Comment

  1. January 16, 2015 / 10:49 am

    Great blog btw – especially sleeping on silk – great tip!

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