General Travel Tips

Great Gift Ideas for Travel & Photography Lovers

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It’s that time of the year!

The countdown has begun and instead of wracking your brain for just the right gift, check out the ideas below.  I know you’ll find something perfect for the travel and photography lovers on your holiday list.

Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down Jacket for Men & Women $69.90 – $79.90

Uniqlo’s ultra light down jacket is probably one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’m easily chilled and this light as a feather coat is perfect alone or as a layering piece. I even wore it to bed when I was camping in Mongolia and it was extremely comfy. I fly with it in case the air conditioning is out of whack, and when stored in its own pouch it doubles as a pillow.

Little Passports  (Prices vary by subscription)

I heard about this on NPR and had to check it out. Founded by two mothers, Little Passports subscriptions were created to ignite a child’s desire to learn and discover the world. Themed adventures cater to specific age groups and include an initial Explorer’s Kit with its own signature suitcase filled with maps, games, a luggage tag and fun projects that will keep them busy for hours. Each month thereafter, your child will receive a new box focusing on a new theme. Subscriptions can be purchased on a monthly ($13.95/mo), 6-month ($13.95/mo), and 12-month ($11.95/mo) basis. How cool is that?!

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: Elephant Fostering Program   Min $50.00 / year

On the outskirts of Nairobi, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is home to over 80 orphaned and injured elephants expertly cared for until the day they can be reintegrated back into the wild as with some 200 elephants before them. You can help and give a unique gift by fostering one of these wonderful creatures on behalf of someone you love. You choose the elephant from a list of profiles and the recipient will receive an adoption certificate, monthly updates with photos, links to the elephant’s “Keeper’s Diary” for daily calendar entries, and priority status (by appointment only) in Nairobi if she’d like to visit her trunked bundle of joy in person. Click on the video above to learn more but be warned, you may end up wanting one yourself.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera (Black)  $55.65

I don’t own this baby…..yet. On my recent trip to Mongolia I regretted not having an instant camera with me. A hard copy of a photo is a great way to say ‘thank you’ and show your appreciation for time spent when photographing locals. A friend let me try her Fujifilm camera recently and I loved it. It has an intelligent flash, automatically adjusts the shutter speed for available light and has a timer for selfies. Film is sold separately.

Eagle Creek Pack It Specter Cube Set , White/Strobe, 3pc Set ~ $38.04

Compression packing cubes are not the sexiest gift in the world but something every traveler should have. They are an excellent way to keep things organized while on the go. I pack my bottoms in one cube, my tops in another and a third I use for my undies and socks.  This set by Eagle Creek includes four different sizes and is available in a wide variety of colors.

TravelSmith Travel Tank   $38.00

When I travel simplicity is key. I keep my colors neutral with maybe a pop of color left to a scarf or some other accessory. For space reasons I pack clothes that perform multiple duties. This one-size-fits-all tank is perfect in a myriad of situations. It can be worn casually with jeans, layered under a shirt or dressed up with some jewelry and a skirt.

Coffee Table Books

Much of my inspiration for travel and photography comes from the internet but there’s nothing like the experience of sitting on the couch and thumbing through a great coffee table book to get my creative juices flowing. Before every trip, I sit down and do just that.  I own all the books I’ve listed here and I love them. Each has a different vibe depending on what you think will float your loved one’s boat.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs: Standard Edition  $37.84

McCurry is considered one of the best photographers in the world. He worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries as well as a travel photographer for countless editorial and personal projects. His very large, beautifully printed retrospective of his most iconic photos is absolutely gorgeous and looks rather impressive on any table.

Humans of New York  $18.07

While Stanton’s photography skills are just so-so in my opinion, his talent for pairing his images with just the right quote is unrivaled—though many have tried. His real gift is getting people to share their very personal stories. New Yorkers will be especially intrigued since the photos are taken all over the five boroughs, but the stories presented are heartfelt and universal and anyone would find them enjoyable.

Before They Pass Away   $108.90 (Large Edition)

Like McCurry’s book, Before They Pass Away is a showpiece. The large edition is massive and heavy but spectacular. Nelson’s portraits of tribal cultures are absolutely stunning. Not only do you get immersed in the people he’s photographed but in the cultural traditions and environments in which they live.

 Vivian Maier: Street Photographer  $32.74

I first became aware of Vivian Maiers watching a riveting documentary on Netflix entitled Finding Vivian Maier.  An unknown, eccentric nanny recluse, Maier left behind thousands of negatives upon her death that were never seen or printed. Enter John Maloof, an academic searching for historical images of Chicago at an estate sale. What he found was a treasure trove of incredible street photography from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and discovered a woman who was as mysterious in life as she is in death. After seeing just a few of her images on TV I purchased the book before the film was over.

Mpow Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Built-in Remote Shutter,Adjustable Head,Fill Light,Fits for iPhone 7 Plus  $21.99

I’m not a selfie fan but I do use the Mpow stick to take photos from above, below or anywhere the stick will go that I can’t. I also like to use it to steady my iPhone when shooting video. When compact, it fits in a coat pocket and the Bluetooth remote shutter makes taking photos and video really simple.

Lowepro 36657 Passport Sling III Camera Case, Black  $39.99

A fellow travel blogger turned me on to the original version of this camera sling by Lowepro. The III looks even better with a more ergonomic internal design and adjustable padding. (Version 1 is fixed.) If my bag wasn’t still in tiptop shape I’d get this in a flash.  I use the sling predominantly for street photography when I’m carrying one or two lenses max . The III has a tablet pocket, an expandable compartment that provides 30% more space, and interior zip mesh pocket for smaller items like keys, CF cards, lens clothes, etc. Outside pockets are great for maps and a water bottle. If you want to take it on the road the inner padding can be removed and flattened to pack.

Anker PowerCore 10000, One of the Smallest and Lightest 10000mAh External Batteries, Ultra-Compact, High-speed Charging Technology Power Bank for iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and More  $23.99

Smaller than a deck of cards and very light, this Anker portable charger keeps my Apple 6S or iPad juiced up for hours and  compatible with Android devices. It comes with its own cord and travel pouch.

Borrowlenses Gift Card    $10 and up


God knows camera equipment isn’t cheap but companies like Borrowlenses lets photographers rent equipment they wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise buy. For example, shooting African wildlife is most successful with a long lens but they’re way too expensive for a hobbyist like me. With Borrowlenses, I can use high quality equipment for a fraction of the cost. It’s also a smart way to play with a camera or lens before committing to a purchase and they ship anywhere in the country.  For photography lovers, a gift certificate is probably something they wouldn’t think of but would be thrilled to receive.

The Roost – Collapsible Laptop Stand       $74.95

This saved my life. Ok, that may be overstating it but it really helped me a lot. I rarely travel without my computer and The Roost collapsible laptop stand has been instrumental in alleviating neck and shoulder cramping. It holds my computer screen at eye level so I’m not forced to look down to use it.  The Roost weighs almost nothing, is adjustable, and packs easily. There’s also an optional case (sold separately) that holds a keyboard, mouse and The Roost in one sleek package.

L.L. Bean Adventure Duffle $39.95 – $69.95

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For African safaris, the small planes that fly into the bush don’t allow hard sided luggage or bags with wheels, hence I’ve become enamored with the very affordable, Adventure duffle from L.L. Bean. It’s classically designed, tough as nails, roomy, easy to store and very well priced. I used the large green duffle in Mongolia and I was able to fit all I needed and a down sleeping bag, inside. There are styles with wheels too but they’re more expensive.

UE ROLL 2 Volcano Wireless Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Waterproof) $86.94

Waterproof, shockproof, lightweight,  the Ultimate Ears Roll 2  Bluetooth portable speaker delivers 360 degree sound. The disc shape is ideal for a purse or carry on bag and comes with an attached bungee so that you can strap it to something or hang it from a shower head. It charges with a micro USB and can pair with up to two Bluetooth enabled devices at a time.

Affordable and awesome Stocking Stuffers

Water Resistant JJC MC-CF6 Memory Card Hard Case for 6 Pcs CF Cards With lock $9.95

JJC MC-SD12 Water-Resistant Holder Storage Memory Card Case for 12 SD Cards (Black) $8.30

Can’t do much with today’s digital cameras without memory cards and if they become damaged or lost, well, it’s not pretty. I like these hard cases because they’re easy to find when I’m fiddling around with an overstuffed bag.  They keep my cards organized, are water-resistant and offer a higher level of protection than soft cases. They’re available in SD, CF or a mix of the two.

UltraFire 7w 300lm Mini Cree Led Flashlight SK68 Poccket Torch Adjustable Focus Zoom Light Lamp $7.49

Another favorite item: I own a few of these flashlights.  I keep one in my carry on bag for long flights in case I need to find something in the dark, and another stashed in my camera bag for when I’m shooting at night. The beam is bright and adjustable, plus there’s a clip to make sure it stays put.

Altura Photo Professional Cleaning Kit for DSLR Cameras and Sensitive Electronics Bundle with Refillable Spray Bottle  $8.99

No gear is complete without a lens cleaning kit. After sand in the Sahara, storms in Cuba, dust in Africa and wind in Mongolia, mine has gotten plenty of use. It includes: Lens Cleaning Pen System + High Quality Lens Brush + Air Blower Cleaner + 50 Sheets Lens Tissue Paper + Handy Empty Spray Bottle + 3 Premium MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloths.

Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle $16.95


Water bottles are a must for most adventure travel but can be awkward to pack. Or are they? I love this Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle. It takes up little room when folded yet is plenty big for 22 oz of water when filled.


Simran SM-60 Universal Power Strip 3 Outlets for 110V-250V Worldwide Travel with Surge/Overload Protection $16.67


I take this 8″ strip everywhere when I travel. It’s in my carry on bag and often in my purse when I know that I’ll be out all day. There’s a version with only two plugs and USB ports but I like this three plug style because I can charge two Canon camera batteries at once. With the two-plug style the chargers are too big to sit side by side. I also like the short cord because it gives me some wiggle room when outlets are positioned in odd places with obstructions. Plus, and take my word on this, you’ll make a lot of friends at an airport when there’s only one plug at a gate and you whip this baby out. On the technical front there’s overload protection and a reset button.

Moleskine Volant Notebook (2.5 x 4) $4.06 for a set of 2

I don’t journal in the classic sense, I use my voice memo on my iPhone to record my thoughts about an event or a place and listen to it later when I’m writing my blog. But I always have a small notebook with me to capture random thoughts, details such as street names, names of animals, subject quotes, etc. when it’s faster to do so or my voice recorder isn’t appropriate for the circumstances. This moleskin journal has lined, acid-free paper and is small enough to fit in a fanny pack or coat pocket.

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(FYI- I have not been compensated for any of these recommendations.)

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59 replies »

  1. Susan, thanks very much for these great ideas. I’ve been following your blog for the past 6 months and love your photography, posts, and Instagram account. We just ordered the Little Passports for my nephew as a birthday gift via your link and I’ll definitely be checking out some of these other ideas.

    • Marielena – Thank you very very much for your kind words and support of my work. I can’t express how honored I feel. Thank you. Would love to hear what your nephew thinks of Little Passports once he’s had a chance to settle into it. Have a great day and thank you again. 🙂

  2. I’ve been thinking about those packing cubes- have you seen any that are transparent? I hate opening and closing all of them when I’m looking for one shirt

  3. Thanks for all of these ideas. I am going to look into those duffel bags since we need to replace luggage. I am also going to explore that little passport subscription thing for my youngest kids.

      • I need to research it a bit more and see if it has enough stretch for my 7 and 9 year old boys. I definitely like the idea of it though. And the bags I think would be great for our road trips as soft sided bags are a bit more flexible for stuffing in the trunk of the car.

Would love to hear from you!