If you’re looking for gifts that are essential for travel or photography lovers passionate about exploring the globe and capturing the world around them, you’ve come to the right place. Every item is something I use and recommend to my friends and family. They’re products and services every adventurer will thank you for and actually mean it.
(This post contains affiliate links. If you buy products using the links below, I receive a small percentage of the sale with no cost to you.)
The list is separated into three sections
Essentials Gifts for Travel Lovers
Aiwa Prodigy-1 Earphones
Months ago, I received an email from the PR people representing Aiwa’s Prodigy-1 earphones to ask me if I’d be interested in trying them out. Sure, I said. But I won’t write about them unless I genuinely like them. They agreed. After using the earphones on multiple trips (I have a podcast habit), I think they’re great. I used Bose in past but the sound with these is substantially better–richer, fuller, more sound surround-ish. It’s a bit of a struggle to get the earphones to stay in–I find inserting and twisting works– but I’m addicted to the audio quality and noise reduction so I deal with it. The case looks nice but it’s a disaster. It’s too rigid which means if you want to store the earphones inside you have to meticulously roll up the cord in a tiny coil as if they were brand new. I trashed the case and use my old Bose circular pouch (which I love) to carry my Aiwa around. That said, I still think they make a great gift.
My Charge HubPlus Portable Charger
This is another device a company sent to me to test drive. Packing a portable charger is a must today and I’m always on the lookout for models which make my life easier. I’ve used it for a couple of months now and I really like it. It’s sleek, compact, and the integrated cords (I don’t have to worry about forgetting mine) is a great feature. I can charge my phone at least 3 times with MyCharge before having to recharge the device. Another nice touch: When you plug it into the wall you can simultaneously charge other devices too.
Foldable Packable Travel Backpack – 35L
It’s always a good idea to have an extra bag in your luggage if you need it. Souvenirs anyone? I’ve used this foldable large backpack to carry towels and sunscreen in the summer and extra layers and gloves in the cold. It’s not for serious hiking but for a few miles carrying a little wine, bread, and cheese? Divine.
This saved my life. Ok, that is an overstatement 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 pain as a result of hunching over my computer by holding my computer screen at eye level. 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 pouch.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set 3Pk
Speak to almost any ardent traveler and I bet you they’re using packing cubes. They’re ideal for keeping your clothes sorted, organized, and streamlined. I use three cubes to separate my undies, tops, and bottoms. I especially love them when I’m faced with a multi-stop itinerary–packing and unpacking is infinitely easier.
Cabeau Fold ‘n Go Travel and Throw Blanket Plus Compact Case
When I get on a plane, especially for an international flight, I like to bring things that will make me as cozy as possible. Not just comfortable, but cozy. There is a difference. The former is physical, the latter is emotional.
Cut to the Fold N Go Blanket and Travel Case, which I found running through JFK one morning picking up last minute essentials (water, lip balm, granola bar) for a 16-hour flight to South Africa.
I am always looking for products that make a flight in coach easier but I rarely find anything that makes me happy. For once I was in luck. On my way to the cash register, I absentmindedly squeezed the Cabeau and it stopped me in my tracks. COZY! The fleece is so soft I want to make sheets out of it. It triggered that same “snuggly” feeling you get when you hold an armful of clothes fresh from the dryer.
I use the blanket in the case as a pillow for my lower back because that’s where I tend to get sore on long flights. The shmooshiness of the Cabeau gives me the perfect amount of support without pushing me too far forward. I can’t tell you how many pillows I’ve tried along the way, and I HATE those inflatable concoctions – just not comfortable in my book.
The blanket is dreamy too, big (60 x 36) and soft – and did I mention that it was cozy?
UPWADE Outlet Travel Power Strip
I won’t be without a mini power strip. It’s probably the one thing other than my phone I always have with me when I travel. I like this model by Upwade because it has two widely spaced international outlets which provide ample room for those pesky wide plugs that come with cameras and other devices, as well as four USB ports. The cord is a little longer than I need at 5 ft but I’d rather have it longer than too short. At 6 inches in length, it fits in any purse or carry-on bag.
Ceptics International Worldwide Travel Plug Adapter 5 Piece Set
A lot of people like universal cubes that contain every adapter known to man deployed by a series of sliders, and while I appreciate the concept, I’ve never found one that doesn’t break almost immediately or size-wise didn’t annoy me. Too clunky. This 5-piece set is great because I can cherry pick what I need and plop it into my Think Tank case (see below) which I pack into my carry-on. I use the case that comes with it to keep all the adapters together at home; I rarely take the whole shebang with me.
Dream Essentials Escape Luxury Travel and Sleep Mask with Earplugs and Carry Pouch
If you can’t sleep without a mask when you travel, Dream Essentials is the way to go. Unlike the most masks the side closest to your face is contoured and padded—no smashing your eyelids. It’s far more comfortable than the standard design. The mask comes with a pouch and a set of earplugs so you’re sure to get the rest that you need.
Eagle Creek Pack-it Compression -2pc Set
I don’t use these plastic compression bags all the time — mostly during the fall and winter because they make cold-weather clothes almost flat as a pancake. They’re also great for home storage if you are lacking in space.
Athalon 29″ 15 Pocket Duffel Rolling Duffel
I don’t remember how I first found this bag but I’ve been using it for the past 5 years. It’s incredibly durable—it looks the same as when I first got it and I’m hard on my luggage. It has 15 pockets, which I love. (I like things to have their place.) The top flap has a mesh pocket for wet clothes and it collapses for easy storage.
L.L. Bean Adventure Duffle
For times when you just need a straight-forward duffle for special circumstances like small plane flights to remote locations with strict weight and structure limitations (ie.. won’t allow wheels), the Adventure duffle from L.L. Bean is the best. It’s classically designed, tough, roomy, easy to store, and priced well. I used the large green duffle in Mongolia and I was able to fit all I needed and a down sleeping bag, inside.
PureSteam Portable Fabric Steamer
THIS. IS. THE. BEST. STEAMER. EVER. I use it on the road and at home. It is so much easier (and faster) than ironing. Enough said.
Another multi-purpose piece of clothing is this triclimate jacket. The fleece inside can be worn by itself as can the outer windproof, waterproof shell. I really loved its flexibility and with the right layering underneath I was able to navigate warm days as well as frigid. One note: The silhouette of this jacket is boxier than what is showing here. I think they pulled the size in a bit to take the photo.
Gerinly oblong fashion scarf
A good travel wardrobe has pieces that are multi-purpose. Scarves/shawls are a good example, they perk up a wardrobe, keep you warm, and can be styled in many ways.
I found this lovely surfing Amazon. I wanted something that looked great but didn’t cost a lot, I’m hard on my clothes and tend to lose things so I didn’t want to invest in something expensive. When I saw this scarf, though I was skeptical about how good it could be at $10.99, I ordered one knowing I could always return it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Made of a lightweight voile, these wraps are soft and cozy and feel like cashmere, and best of all they look great. I’ve received a ton of compliments and they’ve managed to stay beautiful after a lot of wear.
Columbia’s mid-weight baselayers for men and women with Omni-Heat™ reflective technology
I’m the first person to get cold in a warm room, so when I’m on a cold-weather adventure I don’t fool around. Last year I wore Columbia’s heavyweight baselayers in -30F temps in Canada’s frigid north, but for normal freezing cold weather, say in New York City, the mid-weight is perfect. The shiny silver lining made of Columbia’s proprietary technology reflects your body heat as you move. Perfect for anyone who likes to play in the snow but doesn’t want to turn into an icicle.
Ultimate Journeys for Two
When travel bloggers want to know where to go, what’s cool or what to avoid, we ask other bloggers. It’s an inner circle with tips and suggestions I’ve always found valuable. My friends, Mike and Anne Howard of the blog HoneyTrek, have put together an amazing guide with National Geographic Books based on their own experiences and those of other travel-wise couples. If you’re in need of a little inspiration for your next amazing adventure, Ultimate Journeys for Two is where to look for a treasure trove of ideas.
For a signed copy click here
Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs
This book will inspire both the traveler and the photographer. Steve McCurry’s lush, colorful, dynamic images are incredible. The subjects in the photos seem tangible as if you could reach out and touch them or stroll down the same streets.
Amaze by Cristina Mittermeier
Spectacular photos of wildlife and indigenous peoples. Truly wonderful.
Essential Gifts for Photography Lovers
Gura Gear’s New Kiboko Camera Bag 22L
Years ago I bought the original Kiboko 22L camera bag and still use it to this day. But soon after I fell in love with the brand it was phased out when the owner acquired Tamrac. Photographers like myself bitched and moaned and I am happy to say Gura Gear is back with a new and improved Kiboko 2.0—now in three sizes: 16L, 22L, 30L.
It’s not cheap, I know. Consider it a splurge for that special person in your life (maybe yourself?) who is a real photography enthusiast. Its design features butterfly wings—two side-by-side compartments—which make it easier to organize your gear. It has plenty of room, it’s lightweight and very durable. Each side has a buckle and pocket to secure a tripod and/or a water bottle. There’s also a rain cover and a handy-dandy zippered side compartment for a 15″ laptop, plus interior and exterior zippered pockets to carry memory cards, batteries, lens cleaners and the like. (More information on my gear)
I used the 22L bag recently on a two-week trip to Africa and carried the following.
On the right side:
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens – 8 lb long lens
On the left side:
Canon 5 D Mark III and Mark IV
Canon 24 -105mm f4.0
Canon 16 -35mm f2.8
Canon 50mm f1.4
Plus assorted charges, card readers…
BlackRapid Breathe Sport Camera Strap
I love love love this strap. My first strap I bought five years ago and it rocked. What makes it so great is the padded (and breathable) shoulder strap stays put, and the camera slides along the strap for ease of use. When I’m not holding it, it hangs conveniently at my side.
Whitewall framed photo, print or gift certificate
Want to give a really personal gift? How about a framed photo or print of an original image you’ve taken?
Whitewall based in Germany will print a beautiful photo for you on a variety of materials from canvas and metal to acrylic and fine art paper. It’s easy, all you have to do is upload your file to the company’s website and follow the prompts. If you have any questions, customer service is very responsive.
I prefer Whitewall’s quality and print / frame options to other online photo companies I’ve tried in the past. Above is a polar bear image from my safari in Manitoba the company printed and framed it for me as a test of their service. I controlled everything down to the dimensions of the matting. (Pro photographers – print profiles are available.)
Delivery takes up to ten business day (though it’s usually sooner) and even though the package is being shipped from Europe, the Fedex cost is around $10.00.
If you’re not keen on giving one of your own photos, a gift certificate is a great option for giftees who need a little nudge bringing their beautiful digital files into the tangible world.
Cotton Carrier Camera Harness
For those who love to hike when they travel, the Cotton Carrier camera harness is a great alternative to a shoulder strap and more accessible than carrying a backpack. It’s balanced and comfortable and simple to use. It also sports an attached rain cover so your gear doesn’t get wet. I wore mine during shore excursions exploring glaciers during a cruise to Alaska.
MindShift Gear House of Cards Memory Wallet (CF and SD Cards)
A perfect stocking-stuffer, this foldable memory card holder does exactly what it’s supposed to do, it keeps your memory cards safe and organized. Tip: As you use your cards, flip them over so at a glance you know which ones you’ve used.
Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive
Small and thin and with its own 3.0 USB cord, this external hard drive (compatible with MAC and PC) has a permanent spot in my camera bag. If you take a lot of pictures, a small external hard drive is a wise expense. I use my drive on the road to edit photos and back up my memory cards if they are lost or damaged. The case is military-grade shockproof and waterproof and at 5.5 x 3.7 x 0.7 in, it fits almost anywhere. (Note: if have a new Apple computer you’ll need a Thunderbolt 3 adapter.)
Think Tank Photo Cable Management Case
Before I used this Think Tank bag, I kept all my chargers and cables in a Ziplock bag, and it worked. It was an economical choice but not an ergonomic solution. The square box design of Think Tank bag holds the same amount and it’s a lot easier to pack.
Design Go Luggage Travel Trolley
When I’m traveling with my big bag (See Gura Gear above) it can get really heavy and if I don’t need to lug it on my shoulders, why do it? I bought this super affordable trolley and use it for airports where standing in lines can be torture if you have something weighty on your back. It’s also great for those times where a duffle without wheels is needed.