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]

Holiday gifts for food (and drink)-loving travelers

gifts for food loversHoliday shopping is easy if the people on your list like to eat and/or imbibe. If they’re into travel–be it armchair or the real deal–the options are endless This year, think beyond the predictable bottle of wine or pricey “artisan” cookies and give reusable, portable, eco-friendly gifts or small-batch edibles that are the taste equivalent of a trip abroad.

As for where to get these items, look at farmers and flea markets, street fairs, specialty food shops, wineries/distilleries, and boutiques. One of my favorite spots to shop: foreign supermarkets.

For the green at heart

An inflatable wine bag is ideal for wine and spirit-loving travelers. They’re multi-use and work equally well for olive oil, vinegar, or other fluid specialty products.

A logo tote bag (preferably made from recycled materials) from a specialty food shop, winery, etc. is great for practical recipients. A co-worker recently brought me a signature navy blue number from Neal’s Yard Dairy, a famous cheese shop in London. In two months, it’s traveled to South America and across the U.S., doing time as a souvenir satchel, laundry and grocery bag, and all-purpose carry-on. When I don’t need it, i just roll it up and stash it in my duffel bag or day pack. Love it.

Gift a wine key (opener) salad tongs or bowl, chopsticks, or other kitchen utensils made from local, sustainable materials such as wood, antler, bone, bamboo, or shell. Do a quick online search or ask (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: phrasebooks) about the origins of said object. If you have any qualms about the eco-aspect, don’t buy it and let the shopkeeper know why.

[Photo credit: Flickr user noramunro]gifts for food loversDrink coasters are always appreciated. I’ve picked up woven palm versions in Indonesia, as well as purchased colorful Portuguese azuelos tiles for this use. If the country or region you’re visiting is famous for its leather, woodwork, ceramics, or even recycled metal handicrafts, you’ll probably find a nice, inexpensive set of coasters. Again, be sure they’re made from sustainable materials.

Vintage kitchenware–even if it’s not functional–can be a great gift, especially if your intended is a collector. Salt-and-pepper shakers, wine openers, cheese knives, a set of Melamine bowls: hit up antique stores or street fairs, because you’re sure to find treasures at affordable prices.

For the adventurer

A pocketknife or plastic folding knife from a famous cheese shop or winery is indispensable to hikers, campers, foragers, and DIYer’s who enjoy a good picnic while on the road. Just make sure your loved ones aren’t the type who don’t check their bags when they fly. A mini-cutting board of wood/bamboo or slate is also a nice gift.

Know someone who’s into mountaineering or other high-altitude pursuits? Coca leaf tea (or for a less effective but more entertaining option, caramels or hand candy) really works, and it’s legal.

For the locavore

If you have a friend of the “Eat local/Support family farms” variety, a gift from your travels can still fit the mold. Whenever and wherever I travel, I make a point of purchasing local, handcrafted foodstuffs: jam or other preserves, honey, cheese, candy. What I buy depends upon where I am and whether or not I have to abide (cough, cough) by customs regulations or have access to refrigeration.
gifts for food lovers
If customs and temperature aren’t an issue, consider a gift of cheese, charcuterie, or even some spectacular produce (A would-be suitor once presented me with a tiny disc of goat cheese and one perfect peach before I departed on a flight; I wasn’t into the guy but loved the thoughtfulness of his gift).

If you you’re looking for a shelf-stable product, some suggestions: leatherwood, manuka, or tupelo honey (from Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Florida Panhandle, respectively); sea salt (I love the red alaea salt from Hawaii); Argentinean dulce de leche; drinking chocolate; real maple syrup; dried chiles or posole from New Mexico; palm sugar from Indonesia; spices from India or Morocco; Spanish saffron or paella rice–look for Calasparra or Bomba from Valencia; Provencal chestnut cream; Italian tomato paste or canned sardines (canned tuna from overseas is very often not from a sustainable fishery); barbecue or hot sauce; heirloom dried beans; stoneground grits…

I particularly like to buy items grown/produced by farmer co-ops but unless they’re manufactured for export or are a dried good, beware. A jar of manjar (the Chilean version of dulce de leche) I purchased from a tiny bakery wasn’t sealed properly, and was contaminated with mold when opened. Botulism or other foodborne illness is not a thoughtful gift (although I suppose it’s better to give than receive…), so make sure you’re getting professionally packaged goods.

[Photo credits: wine opener, Flickr user corktiques; honey, Laurel Miller]

On a tight budget this year? Make your own edible gifts based upon your recipient’s interests, favorite holiday spot, or ethnic heritage. Check out the below clip for an easy holiday recipe; bonus points if you know where Moravia is.

Moravian Spice Cookie Wafers

TSA snags child’s Christmas present: Think like TSA when packing your carry on

Think like TSA when you pack your Christmas presents for your flight home. If you don’t think like TSA, your child may end up losing a gift. It almost happened to us.

In the past, I have said goodbye to a full bottle of suntan lotion and a corkscrew with a knife attached. Those were not fun to lose, but these were items that ended up in our carry on bag as we hurried. I’ve known about snow globes for awhile so I never would forget about one of those.

Still, to not be like me, don’t pack in a hurry. Sift through that carry on bag one more time. Don’t think logically; think like TSA. Items that may seem harmless to you can cause TSA’s warning bells to ring. This summer, as Scott posted, one boy lost a Star Wars toy from Disneyland at a security checkpoint.

In general, when it comes to TSA’s warning bells, I’m not one to argue, but when it came to one of my son’s Christmas presents, I went head to head with Mr. TSA Man. I tried to stay polite even though I was mad enough I could have spit.

Here’s how it went down and who won. Will a certain present be under the tree this year?

As a last minute shopping trip the day we flew out of the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico this summer, I headed to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and my favorite gift shop. There, among other things, I bought a hand-painted, flimsy bow and arrow set for my son for a Christmas present.

Because both could be easily snapped in two–the arrow was more of a stick really with merely a suggestion of a tip, I decided to keep the set in the shopping bag and use the bag as a carry on. I had “toy” on the brain. I did not have my TSA thinking cap turned on.

As soon as Mr. TSA saw the bow and arrow through the monitor of the X-ray machine, he saw weapon. Of course he would. He’s TSA Man.

TSA Man pulled the bow and arrow out of the bag.

“It’s a child’s toy.” I tried to be reasonable in my tone.

TSA Man said, “It’s a bow and arrow.”

By this time the bow and arrow was on the counter in plain sight. My son looked happy to see it. “Is that for me?” he said. There went a Christmas surprise.

“Could you remove the arrow so we could take the bow?” I asked TSA man, thinking this might be a solution to keep us both satisfied. I really liked the bow.

“No,” said TSA man.

“Why not?” By this time, TSA man was really getting on my nerves. I was trying to be helpful. He didn’t seem to care that he ruined a perfectly good Christmas present that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.

TSA Man: “Because it’s a bow and arrow.”

At this point, I may have said “That’s dumb.” I did say, “If you take off the arrow, wouldn’t it be just a bow?”

“No,” he said. “It’s still a bow and arrow.”

Recognizing the futility of the power of logic, I said, “Then I’ll check it.”

I had a carry on that the set would fit in and I’m stubborn.

I reached for the bow and arrow.

TSA Man: “You can’t touch it. I have to carry it.”

“Fine.”

I waltzed toward the terminal door that lead out of security with my carry on and with TSA Man following close behind. He handed me the child’s bow and arrow once I was on the main terminal side of the door.

Ever polite, I did say “Thanks,” although by this time I did not sound pleasant.

The bow and arrow set made it home safely. Checking it last minute cost $15 dollars–twice as much as I paid for it. Oh, but keeping that bow and arrow set was so worth it.

This is a lesson in having a carry-on you can check if need be and enough time before your flight to do a last minute check in.

By the way, there were three wooden tomahawk toys in the shopping bag as well. I guess tomahawks aren’t weapons.

The bow and arrow set is not going under the Christmas tree. My son already has it.

When you are packing, remember to think, what would TSA man think about this? If you’re not sure, check out this list of prohibited items from the TSA website. Also, here’s the information about traveling with food and gifts.

Last minute shopping gifts? Here are 10 ideas

If you’re stuck with a last minute present to buy. Here are 10 gift ideas. Most are quick and easy. Some of them don’t require that you leave your house.

Two suggestions can be found at your local grocery store. No, you don’t have to cook.

For a couple of them, all you need is a phone, the internet to find telephone numbers and your credit card.

1. A journal with plain pages. Add a pen, a pencil, a box of colored pencils, glue stick and tape in a zip lock bag. If you can find a journal with a plain colored cover with no designs, pick that one.

The idea is for the traveler’s own thoughts to fill the pages without any suggestions. The pencils say, “Create.” The tape and glue stick is for the traveler to affix any interesting item he or she picks up along the way. Ticket stubs, interesting food wrapper, a leaf, etc. . .

2. An Entertainment Coupon Book— I am so fond of these books. Buy one for your family members to get them to travel in their own city. There are restaurant deals as well as deals on admission prices to various attractions and buy one get one free tickets to certain cultural shows. Leafing through the pages is a trip of future possibilities.

My son and I just saw BalletMet Columbus’s version of The Nutcracker for half price this past Tuesday. For two excellent seats towards the back of the orchestra, I paid $32. When we head up to Cleveland, we take my husband’s parents’ book with us to the West Side Market, a food mecca that’s been around since 1902 . We’ve run into other Entertainment Book holders while standing in line at Dohar Meats, one of the many vendors with coupons in the Cleveland area book.

3. Matt Harding’s book, “Where the Hell is Matt? Dancing Badly Around the World” Harding’s book tells the story of the behind the scenes of his Where the Hell is Matt videos when he danced his silly, simple dance around the world and eventually, people danced with him. It’s moving and funny and makes one think that this is a guy one would like as a friend. Plus, Harding’s version of the world is perfect for a New Year of good cheer.

4. A gift basket you put together with local foods from your state. Think jams, jellies, sauces, chips, candy, pasta, beverages–anything and everything. Call your basket a “Taste trip of ……..” and fill in the name of the state. You can make up your own label. You don’t need to artfully make a basket either. Get a gift bag, wrap items in tissue paper and you’re done.

5. A gift basket of foods around the world. Head to the grocery store and buy an item from as many countries as you can think of. Use # 4 as a guide. This can be a “Bringing the World to You” sort of gift.

6. A gift card to a movie theater and a list of movie suggestions for what to see. With the wealth of movies being released this season, a movie gift card is perfect for offering a travel opportunity to someone through the big screen. Along with your list, add details about where each movie will take the audience.

7. Money for an oil and filter change. For people who have about everything on the planet, wouldn’t this be useful? You could add a funny item for the dashboard or a funky air freshener for the rear view mirror.

8. A membership to a museum or a zoo. Call the museum and purchase a membership for someone. I bought a membership for my dad to the New York Historical Society this way. For families, this is a great gift.

9. Dinner out. You can call a restaurant to order a gift card in someones name if you don’t have time to pick it up or live in the same city. We did this for a friend of ours wedding present.

10. A night in a hotel or at a bed and breakfast. Give someone the gift of a night away from home. The hotel could even be where the person lives. Staying in a hotel in the town where one lives is a great way for a fresh view in the New Year.