What do you get for the traveler in your life who has everything? Better yet, what do you get one who has been everywhere? It’s easier than you think, seeing as gear is constantly evolving, be it luggage that is designed to be safer and TSA-friendliest or stylish and tech-savvy. But the real question you should be asking this holiday season is: what do you get for a person who is dying to get back out there?
Don’t worry, it will be especially easy to shop this year, because the answer is anything. We figure in any given year wanderers and adventurers are already looking to trade in their dusty luggage or outdated tech for something new and better. Now more than ever, though, when people are aching to return to their favorite destinations, more excited than ever to have no knee space in an airplane’s middle seat, your favorite travelers are eager to upgrade it all.
That makes compiling this year’s holiday gift guide a simple task, because we are recommending from our own wish lists, as well as the gear we’ve tested this year, and the results should satisfy every traveler in your life.
It’s in the Bag
Editor’s Choice: Briggs & Riley New Sympatico
What We Love about It: One of our favorite items of the year that didn’t get as much use as we would have liked was the Briggs & Riley Delve Rolltop Backpack, which is a stylish carryon for any sophisticated traveling professional. But it doesn’t fit a week’s worth of luggage, so for that we turn to the new Sympatico line, which is a reimagined yet simple update of the company’s original Sympatico line.
Available in medium and large, this expandable hardcase luggage with spinners features a matte finish to limit the damage that can be done by the luggage handlers. But most of all it just looks good. For extra gear, pair it with something from the new, limited edition Baseline Plum collection.
The Gear: Solgaard Trunk Check-in Closet and Carry-on Closet
What We Love about It: One of the things we preach when it comes to gear is the importance of staying organized. That’s why we love packing cubes so much. But what if the cubes are built into the luggage? (Cut to dramatic chipmunk.) That’s the first thing we love about Solgaard’s Trunk Check-in Closet and the smaller but equally effective Carry-on Closet. The removable shelving system makes packing in an organized fashion a snap for quick trips, especially since you can pack as you dress, from head to toe.
The other things we love about this luggage is that it is 1) made with Shore-Tex fabric that is constructed entirely from ocean-bound plastic. That’s huge. And 2) there’s a built-in USB port for charging phones and other devices. We’re always sold by the little things.
The Gear: Pakt Travel Backpack Complete Packing System
What We Love about It: If we were making a year-end ranking of the best gear we tested and reviewed in 2020, the Pakt Travel Backpack might come in at number one overall, because this is the kitchen sink backpack we’d take on a journey around the world and back. No crazy bells and whistles to write home about, just a well-built bag that was designed by a world traveler for the sake of giving us the space and efficiency for including the basics and then some.
But that doesn’t mean Pakt gear is without its frills. For starters, this crowdfunding favorite recently released a packable tote to combine convenience with a pool or beach bag, and there’s also a rain cover to keep the backpack supremely protected. But the thing we love the most that we never tire of recommending? The Pakt Packing Cubes. Yes, we think they should be called Pakting Cubes, but we will take what we can get.
The Gear: NiceSeats
What We Love about It: As recently as last year, if we’d recommended bringing your own seat cover on an airplane, even we would have admitted that was a bit much. But we know two things to be true: 1) airplane seats aren’t always clean; and 2) there’s no such thing as too safe anymore. So, now, we are not only recommending your own seat covers, but we are encouraging you to be stylish as well.
Created by a costume designer, NiceSeats comes in a variety of styles, from basic and bold colors to very cool vintage looks that take passengers back to a time when flying was as cool as it got. Most importantly, though, the material is nice (obviously) and the carry pouch doubles as your own seat storage, so you can put your most important carryon items in a clean pocket and not the airplane’s bottomless pit of germs.
The Gear: Ekster Aluminum Wallet
What We Love about It: Travel wallets have a reputation for being big and bulky, with straps that can go around the chest or waist, meant to help hide cash and passports from would-be pickpockets or just your own clumsy hands. Doesn’t have to be that way, though. Not when a slim, lightweight and durable gadget like Ekster’s Aluminum Wallet will keep your cash and cards safe while also limiting the clutter you currently keep in your daily George Costanza wallet.
Constructed with Space-grade 6061-T6 aluminum, Ekster’s latest features the Dutch company’s patented quick card release that ejects your cards and ID at the touch of a trigger. Ekster also calls it “the last wallet ever” due to the emergence of digital payments, but really we think it’s because you’ll love it so much on trips that you’ll want to use it when you’re home, too.
The Gear: Nomatic Travel Pack
What We Love about It: Professionals like bags that carry the daily basics and look good in the process. Let’s take it a step further, though, and focus on a backpack that can go from the office to the airplane, and that’s the Nomatic Travel Pack, which can expand from 20- to 30-liter capacity in order to fit a change of clothes or two and a toiletry bag, among other items.
With magnetic water bottle slots and RFID-safe hidden pockets, this backpack is loaded with bells and whistles that help maximize space without becoming a burden on the neck and shoulders. The strap design even allows travelers to switch from backpack to duffel, making this a fantastic carryon.
The Gear: COR Island Hopper Backpack
What We Love about It: Adventurous, athletic travelers need a bag that can handle all the action and still carry the necessities. The COR Island Hopper Backpack is one of many products created by a group of travelers who love surfing, exploring and seizing the moment. So, trust them when they say that their bag is not only built to last, but also constructed with Mother Nature in mind.
With a 28-liter capacity, the Island Hopper can fit clothes, shoes, your laptop, toiletries and a variety of accessories, but the clutch attributes are the water-resistant exterior and wide, padded shoulder straps that won’t bring you down when you come home with a few souvenirs.
All about the Tech-ccessories
Editor’s Choice: GoPro Hero 9 Black
What We Love about It: What’s not to love about a GoPro? This isn’t just a great gift for a traveler, it’s great for anyone who leads an active lifestyle and/or loves photography. Heck, at a time when we’ve spent so much time at home, my GoPro Hero 7 was already getting more usage than it was on my most recent trips, just for the sake of getting better at it. It’s even easier and more fun now with the GoPro Hero 9 Black.
Learning all the tricks and possibilities is the hardest part, but it’s also plenty of fun. More than ever, the Hero 9 makes live streaming on Facebook as easy as clicking a button, which you can do with your iPhone, sure, but when this is way better. Clip it easily to your helmet or chest harness with the built-in mount and take your friends and followers with you on every ride, zipline and dive. Just remember to get the underwater accessories first.
The Gear: Anker Gold USB-C
What We Love about It: What’s the value of a fully charged iPhone or Galaxy tablet? When you’re thousands of miles from home and want to take pictures of everything you see, or you simply must stay in constant contact with someone, it’s priceless. So, when it comes to buying extra lightning cables for travel, yes, you can settle for one of those five-packs from a brand you’ve never heard of. But that’s also the easiest way to learn tough lessons about bendability and durability. Instead, we recommend splurging for one lightning cable that you can rely on for years to come, like the Anker Gold USB-C.
While durability and fast charges should be your main concerns, we also like style. The Anker Gold lightning cable delivers all the swagger and eye appeal you typically get with your smart devices, making it the perfect choice for anyone who wants every accessory to be a head-turner. But don’t worry, it also does the primary job, and it’ll be a long, long time before you’ll worry about the “final bend.”
The Gear: Aukey Omnia 100W USB-C charger
What We Love about It: Like lightning cables, wall chargers are accessories for which we put price over performance. “If it’s junk, I’ll just replace it,” we say, not realizing that buying the same $9.99 plug adapter 15 times costs more than one great product. The thing you should be looking at when purchasing a charger is power, as in how much is supplied. The Aukey Omnia 100W USB-C not only takes up less space in our electronic organizer bag than most chargers, but it’s also fast and effective for a variety of gadgets.
Being able to charge everything from your iPhone to a MacBook faster is a positive for home or vacation, but when you’re at a resort in paradise and have 10,000 places to explore and one million photos to take, you can’t put a price on speed and efficiency.
The Gear: Baseus 65W Triple-Output charger
What We Love about It: What’s the biggest drawback of a charger that only handles one device? You need to bring multiple chargers. The Baseus 65W Triple-Output charger is a simple solution, as it has three ports (two USB-C and one USB-A) and therefore powers up to three devices at one time, and quickly.
Best of all, it takes up very little space in an electronic organizer bag or your carryon.
The Gear: Treblab Z2 Headphones
What We Love about It: If you fly, you should own a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Doesn’t matter if it’s once a year or every week. As faithful as you may be to your favorite pods or buds, nothing beats a pair of over ear headphones that deliver quality sound and drown out the cries, screams, coughs, burps and worse that all make the miracle of flight a little less pleasant.
Treblab’s Z2 headphones are among our favorites because, for starters, they have a battery life of up to 35 hours (blowing away those beloved pods of yours) and that’s crucial for any long flights. But they’re also lightweight and splashproof, which means they’re great for hitting the gym or jamming out on the beach, or all of the above.
The Gear: AirFly Pro Switch Edition
What We Love about It: The Nintendo Switch’s portability makes it a favorite for gamers on the go, especially for those of us who have to settle for Hyrule Warriors while we wait ever so patiently for the Breath of the Wild sequel. One of the more disappointing aspects of traveling with a Switch, though, is that the device doesn’t have a native option for using Bluetooth headphones. So, you either have to use a wired pair or you can buy wireless headphones that come with special adapters.
We don’t have enough space in our bag for that, so we prefer the AirFly Pro Switch Edition, which is compact and connects easily to our headphones or earbuds, while not affecting the Switch’s battery life or annoying the people around us. They’ll appreciate you sticking it to Ganondorf without hearing his screams of anguish.
The Gear: T-CORE Power Bank
What We Love about It: Solo travelers care a lot about saving space, especially if they’re carrying one bag. Chargers are getting smaller while becoming more efficient, and the T-CORE Power Bank is the case in point. Roughly one-third the size of an iPhone and weighing less than half a pound, this portable charger is small and thin enough for your pocket and has enough juice to charge that iPhone up to five times.
But, if you’re a generous traveler, it still has multiple ports so you can share the energy with friends or strangers who killed their phones livestreaming the pool for the fifth time today.
The Gear: Treblab FX100
What We Love about It: Thin, lightweight power banks are great, but sometimes bigger is better. In this case, the Treblab FX100 is better because first and foremost it’s a portable Bluetooth boombox that makes it perfect for everything from backyard cornhole tournaments to private beach parties.
This is an outstanding two-in-one speaker, though. Because while you’re blasting your favorite bangers, you can charge the iPhone that you’re using as a jukebox. Or, if you’re camping in the middle of nowhere, use the FX100 to charge your GoPro overnight so it’s ready for another day of ziplining and free diving.
The Great Outdoors
Editor’s Choice: Gogh Jewelry Design’s Zero Waste Charm Necklace
What We Love about It: We’ve been fans of designer and Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee Szilvia Gogh’s unique and creative jewelry since it was introduced to us earlier this year, and we’re still especially singing the praises of her Zero Waste collection. The youngest woman to ever become a PADI course director, Gogh collects and upcycles old scuba equipment and parts to use them in bracelets and necklaces, and some of the proceeds of their sale go to the rehabilitation of the crew of the MV Conception, a dive boat that sank off the coast of California in 2019.
Now, though, we’re even more fond of the Zero Waste Charm Necklace, because it’s free. During this difficult year, Gogh Jewelry Design has invited curious customers to give her designs a try by offering one of a number of necklaces for no cost other than shipping and handling. So, if you’re need of focusing your intentions, this is your best chance yet.
The Gear: Costa Ferg and WaterWoman 2 Sunglasses
What We Love about It: What really needs to be said about Costa Sunglasses? They’re as synonymous with the open water as fresh air and fishing rods, so it would be redundant to talk about the high quality, stylish designs and exceptional durability. But it doesn’t hurt to remind you.
That starts with the sunglasses so boss they named them for the, well, boss. Ferg is a classic all-day style that can go from the boat to the bar, while our other favorite style is the WaterWoman 2 (pictured), which is the second coming of Costa’s first female-focused frame. Bigger and bolder—that’s about as Costa as it gets.
The Gear: Coastrail Outdoor Oversized Zero Gravity Chair
What We Love about It: Every king or queen needs a throne, especially when the most travel you’ve done this year has been back and forth to the patio fridge to grab another cold drink. The Coastrail Outdoor Oversized Zero Gravity Chair blows a typical folding tailgate or yard chair to smithereens, from its ample tush space and comfy padding to its impressive durability and locking positions. And we’d be lying if we said we weren’t suckers for a side table with cup holder.
The Gear: Coalatree Hammock
What We Love about It: Whether lounging in the backyard or heading to your favorite state park for a few days of camping, you should own a portable hammock. The ability to pick a pair of trees and set up the perfect outdoor nap spot is simply the best. The Coalatree Hammock is lightweight and fits easily into a backpack or carryon bag, for those of us who love to have one at the beach as well. And it packs into itself, so you don’t even have to worry about bringing a second bag.
The Gear: KingCamp Camping Chair Moon Round Saucer Chair
What We Love about It: Even away from home, a king or queen deserves a throne, so you’ll need one that packs up and slides easily into a bag for ultimate portability. But don’t settle for just any tailgate chair. Cheap pretenders break easily and are woefully uncomfortable.
The KingCamp Camping Chair Moon Round Saucer Chair checks every box, including easy packing and even a cup holder, but most of all it is big and comfortable, featuring a heavy-duty steel frame can even support reckless invaders who would try to usurp your throne.
The Gear: Magellan Outdoors IceBox
What We Love about It: Nothing beats owning a great cooler. If you’ve ever hastily purchased one of those cheap Styrofoam abominations from a gas station near a stadium or beach, chances are you’ve dealt with breaks and spills, and the shame that results from dropping a case of beer. If you haven’t, we salute you.
The Magellan Outdoors IceBox Dual Open Hard-sided 20-quart Cooler is great for home or road trips, as the dual-opening lids makes getting things in and out simple, and you don’t have to worry about loose lids leading to frustrating spills in transit. But that’s just the tip of this iceberg container, because there are two built-in bottle openers, anti-skid feet (to stop it from sliding around a truck bed or boat floor, an ergonomic grip handle to take the pressure of the weight off your poor hands, and a drain plug for easy disposal of the melted ice. (I believe the experts call that water.) As if that’s not enough, the cooler is even UV-resistant so it won’t fade when it spends a lot of time with you outdoors.
The Gear: Tribit XSound Go
What We Love about It: Of the many accessories we test and review, our favorite gadget is the Bluetooth speaker because, well, who doesn’t love to listen to music outside in a serene, tropical setting? The Tribit XSound Go is one of the best we’ve found, because it has an IPX7 waterproof rating, which means it can be submerged in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes (not that we recommend that) and its exceptional battery life lets it jam out for up to 24 hours.
But we also love how simple it looks. It’s just as great on a desk as it is on a beach towel, and the minimalist button panel makes operating the speaker as simple as touching a plus, minus or triangle.
Don’t Forget the Snacks
Editor’s Choice: Tipsy Scoop Ice Cream
What We Love about It: Stop, just stop—you has us at booze-infused ice cream. Actually, you had us at coquito, a delightful coconut cousin of egg nog that comes to us from Puerto Rico. Now, though, we can enjoy it frozen and on top of a slice of pecan pie, thanks to the mad scientists at Tipsy Scoop, who have come up with some truly amazing flavors.
In addition to our Caribbean-inspired favorite, there are also Candy Cane Vodka Martini, Santa’s Cookies and Whiskey and Mango Margarita, which some people will say isn’t a holiday flavor, but we dare them to try. It’s worth noting for the sweet tooths among us, booze-infused ice cream isn’t something that can (or should) be enjoyed by the pint, so please scoop responsibly.
The Gear: Blue Chair Rum Cotton Candy Daiquiri
What We Love about It: This is a hard time for people who love to bust out the cocktail recipes for their friends and family at big holiday shindigs, because we obviously should not be hosting such affairs right now. That doesn’t mean we can’t practice with our closest loved ones, though, and it’s easier than ever thanks to creative drink cheats like Pandy Cotton Candy’s Drink Puffs. All you need is a bubbly alcohol or your favorite booze, and it’s as simple as dropping the ball into the hooch.
To test this awesomeness, we used Blue Chair Bay Rum to make a heavenly cotton candy daiquiri. It’s not our usual cup of tea, but what’s the fun of being amateur mixologists if we’re not trying new things? The result is fun and delicious, and best of all it gives us a reason to have cotton candy any time.
The Gear: Camp Craft Cocktails
What We Love about It: Like the Drink Puffs, Camp Craft Cocktails have made it easy to make a delicious, fun alcoholic beverage without spending hours and wasting booze trying and failing to make classic recipes. Instead, all you have to do is add 12 ounces of your favorite stuff to any of the creative pre-packed jars, chill for three days, add a few extras and then enjoy by the nearest pool with a few friends physically distancing friends.
We picked the Brunch Punch, which includes dried cherries, pineapples, oranges and citrus-infused non-GMO vegan sugar, and we veered from the recipe a little and once again used Blue Chair Bay Rum (hey, Kenny Chesney knows what he’s doing). Three days later, we had a jar of fruity greatness and our countertop wasn’t sticky from all the ingredients.
The Gear: Orleans Authentic Beignet Mix
What We Love about It: As much as we’d love to pack an overnight bag and head to New Orleans today and next week and the week after, it’s not very realistic right now, so our dream of having coffee at Café Du Monde every morning will keep waiting. But since we’re in the creative culinary spirit, it’s at least possible to enjoy delicious beignets anytime we want, thanks to Orleans Authentic Beignet Mix.
The Gear: Verve Culture’s Tortilla Press Kit
What We Love about It: We never got into the bread-making trend that had influencers sharing yeasty Reels for months, but we can get on board tortillas as a hobby. Turns out, thanks to the Verve Culture Tortilla Press Kit, it is pretty easy to get started down the path to understanding what goes into making one of the most important food items in the world.
It might take years to master, or maybe some culinary spirits will get it faster, but you just can’t go wrong with tortillas, since they’re used in most of the best meals that have ever been conceived.
The Gear: Chard 4-Tray Dehydrator and Jerky Gun
What We Love about It: Perhaps you’ve mastered tortilla pressing faster than others and you need a new hobby. Time for the Chard 4-Tray Dehydrator and Jerky Gun to work on making your own beef jerky and dehydrated fruits and herbs for elaborate recipes or your own craft cocktail jars. You can even remove the inner adjustable trays to make your own yogurt.
With these kinds of gifts, you might be a master chef in no time.