Travel Hacking: Best Holiday Gifts For Low-Tech Travelers

I’m an unapologetic Luddite. My colleagues at Gadling will attest to this. The fact that I write for AOL is both cosmic luck and hilarious irony given my initial reluctance to embrace the digital era.

I can’t help it; it’s hereditary. At least, that’s what I tell myself, whenever I watch my dad pecking away on my grandparent’s 1930s Smith-Corona (not a lie), or fumbling with the remote.

It’s unsurprising that when I travel, I try to keep things as low-tech as possible. It’s a matter of both practicality and part of my old school aesthetic that leads me to eschew costly devices and other gadgets. I’m also incapable of figuring out how to use them, so I look at it as less items to get stolen or malfunction.

I know I’m not alone, so I’ve compiled a list of holiday gifts for the die-hard travelers on your list who refuse to change their old-timey ways. Just remember, one of these days, us minimalists are going to be cutting-edge for being retro.

Gift card to an actual bookstore (preferably independently-owned), or travel store.
Yeah, books are heavier to lug than a Kindle or a Nook, but as a writer, I value the written word. So do a lot of people, and one of the joys of traveling for us is exchanging books with fellow vagabonds or trading in at a guesthouse or hostel.

Prepaid international phone card
Cheap, abundant, and a hell of a lot less of a hassle than dealing with Verizon overseas (in my experience). A prepaid international card is easy to purchase, although do note it’s usually less expensive for travelers to purchase cards at their destination. It’s the thought that counts.

Netbook or airbook
I may be tech-challenged, but I’m not crazy. I can’t earn a living if I don’t travel with a computer. My inexpensive little Acer has seen me through a lot of countries and fits neatly into my daypack, along with its accessories. Don’t forget a wireless mouse to go with it.
Waterproof journal
Many travelers keep journals, and some of us who travel occupationally still carry notebooks (I don’t even own a tape recorder). It’s a huge bummer, however, when the inevitable rain, beer, wine, or coffee renders covers soggy or writing illegible. An all-weather notebook is the solution.

Ibex undergarments
I used to work in a mountaineering/ski shop in Telluride, and I swear by Ibex. Their 100% merino wool, American-made boy shorts, long johns/long “janes,” cami’s, sports bras, and adorable, long-sleeve, stripey tops are the ultimate underlayers for cold weather adventures. I road-tested some items on a month-long backpacking trip through Ecuador, from the Amazon Basin to one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. I was able to do laundry exactly twice. Ibex: 1, Stench: 0. Men’s and women’s items available; they also make outerwear.

Travel scarf/shawl/blanket
Many women get cold on airplanes and long, AC-blasted bus rides. Since I backpack, I’ve found several different drapey items in my travels that pull triple duty. Depending upon what part of the world I’m in, I’ll use a soft, alpaca shawl to dress up outfits, as a lap blanket, or an impromptu pillow. In the Andes, I sub a llama wool poncho. In the tropics, it’s a pretty, airy sarong. When I get home, I have a wonderful souvenir.

If you’re buying for someone departing on a trip, any department store will have a wide assortment and price range of pashminas or scarves. Just be sure it’s a dark color, to hide dirt and stains, and that it’s made of soft, preferably natural-fibers, so it won’t absorb odors as readily. The item should be able to withstand sink-washing.

Multi-purpose beauty products
Regardless of gender, everyone loves multi-purpose travel products: more room for souvenirs! I like Josie Maran Argan Oil, which can be used as a lightweight, yet rich, face or body moisturizer, or to condition hair (use just a few drops for soft, gleaming strands). Rosebud salve comes in cute, vintagey tins, smells lovely, and soothes everything from dry lips and cracked heels to flyaways. Many top make-up brands produce multi-use products: I crave Korres Cheek Butter, which is also gorgeous on lips (all available at Sephora).

Lush makes luxe bar soaps that work on body and hair, but perhaps the kindest gift for the female adventure traveler? Inexpensive fragrance that does double duty as perfume and clothes/room freshener. I never leave home without Demeter’s Gin & Tonic Cologne Spray.

[Photo Credit: jurvetson]

6 last minute travel gift ideas for the frequent flier

last minute travel gift ideas

There was once a time when if you hadn’t finished your Christmas shopping by now, you’d be, well, pretty much screwed. But now, thanks to the ole Internet, you can order up virtual gifts and deliver them by email or print-out card with just a few clicks. And with all the free wifi specials in airports and airlines (thanks Delta, Skype, and Nintendo) you can even take care of your shopping while flying home! Here, a selection of great last minute travel gift ideas.

Travel experiences
For some, diamonds are forever. I personally prefer experiences: catching a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, taking a helicopter ride over Manhattan. Gift these unforgettable travel experiences and more with gift vouchers from online travel activity booking companies like Viator and Isango.

Priority Pass membership
Airport hoppers will appreciate access to more than 600 VIP airport lounges worldwide through a membership with Priority Pass. A standard annual membership starts at $99 with a $27 per visit additional fee.Virtual travel books
With the proliferation of the iPad, Kindle and other e-readers, big bulky guidebooks are going the way of the Walkman. Give your favorite traveler a virtual travel book, or literature from their next destination, through the Apple iBookstore or Kindle Store.

Frequent flyer miles
The travel hacker in your life will flip over the gift of frequent flier miles. You can transfer miles that you have already accumulated, or directly purchase miles as a gift. Fees for these services vary from airline to airline. At United, it costs $15 per 1,000 miles to transfer and $35 per 1,000 miles to give.

Custom travel playlists
The perfect music mix can be an excellent companion for the solo traveler. iTunes makes it easy to create and gift a custom travel playlist — Gainsbourg for a jaunt to Paris, or maybe some electrotango for a trip to Argentina. Just create a playlist in iTunes, populate it with songs, then select the “Store” menu and the “Share Playlist” option. When prompted, indicate that you want to gift your playlist, then choose how you want your gift to be received.

Gifts for others
What do you get for the guy/gal who has everything? Something for someone else. Chances are, the traveler on your list has witnessed poverty and hardship in the places they’ve visited. Kiva gift cards provide a way to sponsor micro-entrepreneurship projects in developing countries, while a donation to charity: water provides clean drinking water in poor rural areas. Both sites offer printable gift cards.

[flickr image via Max Braun]

It’s still Christmas in Spain!

Spain, spain, roscon, Christmas, christmasWell, Epiphany actually, but in Spain this is when we give presents. Christmas in Spain is a time for big meals and family fun, as well as church services for those who are so inclined. Santa passes Spain by to deal with the Anglo and Germanic countries, and Japan from what I hear. Spanish children wait for Los Reyes, the Three Kings, who come on their camels bearing gifts for good little boys and girls just like they did with Jesus all those years back.

The night before, it’s traditional to eat roscón de Reyes, the tasty donut-like creation seen here. This year my wife Almudena took some time off from astronomy to bake her very first roscón. It came out great. As usual, we ate it over at my 99 year-old neighbor’s place, and my wife’s roscón was better than the store-bought one she provided. Roscón is typically eaten with chocolate, hot chocolate. Now this isn’t your wimpy American cocoa; it’s a big chocolate bar melted down and served in tea cups! Perfect for dipping your roscón into.

Every roscón comes with a secret toy surprise baked somewhere inside. If you get it in your slice you have good luck for the rest of the year. I got the toy from the store-bought one, and my son Julián got the one from my wife’s roscón. Some mothers mark the spot where the toy is and make sure their kid gets that piece. I can neither confirm nor deny that Almudena did that.

Another tradition on January 5 is the Cabalgata de Reyes, a big parade where the Three Kings pass through town accompanied by their friends. Check out the video below to see this year’s parade in Madrid. After the parade the kids go to sleep, setting a shoe out for the Kings to leave the gifts next to. They also leave supplies for the hungry Kings and their camels. Julián left out peanuts for the camels and Baileys for the Kings. Remarkably, it was all gone the next morning! I thought of making a trail of peanut shells leading from Julián’s bed to his presents, but decided that would be a bit creepy.

The morning of January 6 is just like Christmas morning in other countries. The kids are up and out of bed early to see what those magical home invaders have brought. Since Julián was a good boy he got everything he asked for in his letter to the Kings. This was easy because he only requested four things. Ah, the advantages of not having a television! In fact, he got more than he asked for.

Now we’re off to my mother-in-law’s house because the Kings stopped there too. I have a shoe sitting in her living room and I’m dying to know what’s next to it. Although we did our shopping last minute (some traditions are universal), we made sure every shoe was well stocked. A few years back we got our elderly neighbor a Furby, which she still has and loves. Yeah, we all made fun of those things when they came out, but imagine how amazing a Furby is to someone born in 1911.

¡¡¡Felices Reyes!!!

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia
In most of the western world, Christmas and Hanukkah have come and gone, but in Russia, presents are being wrapped in anticipation of tonight, New Year’s Eve. In the days of the Soviet Union, religious celebrations were frowned upon, so Russians shifted their winter celebrating to December 31 and combining the traditions of gift-exchanging and New Year’s revelry into one night. In the Russian Orthodox church, Christmas isn’t officially for another week, with the Julian calendar corresponding December 25 to January 7, 2011.

I arrived in Moscow last Friday (western Christmas Eve) to find the capital freezing but festive, with New Year’s yolki (trees) decorated all over the city and various versions of Ded Moroz walking the streets, and now in St. Petersburg, locals are rushing home with Champagne and Charlie Brown-like trees under their arms. Nearly every public square has a large decorated tree and every store has elaborate holiday displays.

%Gallery-112268%Ded Moroz (Grandfather or Father Frost in English) is the Russian version of Santa Claus. He wears a blue (or traditional red) and white fur suit and carries a white staff. Ded Moroz originally was a more sinister figure, extorting presents from parents in exchange for not taking their children. In the Russian fairytale (and according to my Russian husband), Father Frost ruled the winter and if children were polite to him, they received gifts, but if they were rude, he would let them freeze to death. Sort of gives a new meaning to naughty and nice! These days, he brings gifts to children at parties rather than leaving them under the tree and he is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. According to the Moscow News, a Ded Moroz appearance can run 2,000 to 10,000 roubles (about $65 to $325 USD) and professional Santas might make more than 10 visits a day during Christmas week, making it a lucrative seasonal profession.

Tonight in Russia, the usual pre-New Year’s partying and indulging is going on, along with tree-trimming and presents. Be sure to stick to your resolutions and be polite to snow kings or you could be left out in the cold next year! S novym godom!

Galley Gossip: Snow globes, gifts, packing – just a few tips for travelers this Christmas

snow globes gifts1. LEAVE THE SNOW GLOBE AT HOME: This time last year I asked a TSA agent in Dallas about the craziest thing he’d ever seen. I won’t lie, the answer shocked me, which is why I won’t repeat it here. Then he then went on to complain about the number of snow globes he’d collected. For the last few years snow globes have been on the list of banned carry-on items due to the fact that they contain an undetermined amount of liquid, yet based on the number confiscated last year many people seem to have not gotten the message. If you really just can’t leave home without it, pack it in your suitcase and check the bag.

2. SHIP THE PRESENTS: It might be too late to ship your gifts to wherever you’re spending Christmas this year, but before your return flight home you might want to make a quick stop at Fed Ex. Last year on one of my flights a passenger came on board at the last minute carrying a gigantic toy train in an unwrapped box. The overhead bins were full, so there was no place to stow it. Unfortunately we had no choice but to check the train. (I hope it made it to its final destination.)

3. DO NOT WRAP THE GIFTS: Unless of course you don’t mind TSA unwrapping them to take a look inside. Wrapped gifts packed inside checked luggage are fine.4. PACK LIGHT – Trust me, there’s going to be a washer and dryer wherever you end up. Take advantage of it. By doing so you’ll be able to carry your bag on board with you and not risk having it get lost in transit. You’ll also have the perfect excuse as to why you can’t take all that crap stuff your mother in law is trying to get rid of back home with you. It also forces people to buy smaller gifts.

5. GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY: Stress makes air travel miserable, and nothing can be more stressful than running late. Remember it’s amateur week this week. Everyone and their grandma is traveling, so the lines at security are going to be long. Do yourself a favor and get to the airport early and this way you’ll be less inclined to flip out while passengers determine what goes through the machine or how to collapse the stroller.

6. BRING FOOD / BUY WATER: I’m surprised how many people don’t know it’s okay to bring food through security. Or how many people assume there’s an unlimited supply of bottled water on board. Air travel is not unlike being on the television show Survivor. It’s important to plan ahead and take care of your most basic needs. You never know when there’s going to be a mechanical, weather delay or even an ATC (air traffic control) hold in the air.

For more tips, check this out: Ticket Agents Advise Holiday Travelers to “Be Prepared”

Photo courtesy of The Killer Biscuit

snow globes gifts