Travel health gift guide: what to get the incessant wanderer on your list

Travel junkies are a special breed. Only a very distinct personality type gets a rush from being on the road as much as possible, or relishes the discomforts and situations most people go to lengths to avoid. Homesickness is a foreign concept.

I know, because I too suffer from this malady. It started early, because I have a vivid memory of bursting into tears when I was six or seven, after we dropped a friend off at the airport.

“What’s wrong?” my dad asked. “I’m sad because we’re not getting on an airplane,” was my reply (ironic given my aviophobia, which had its onset about 12 years later).

A paralyzing fear of air travel hasn’t stopped me from roaming, however. So, whether you have a loved one who practically lives at Club Med or one actually enjoys sleeping on the ground or in janky Third World hostels rife with cockroaches…lucky you. You have a travel addict in the family or as a friend.

One experience incessant wanderers don’t go looking for? Illness or injury. While not inevitable, the more time you spend abroad, the greater the likelihood of suffering from anything from an infected bug bite or Bali Belly to…worse. But as I’ve always said, you can get hit by a bus crossing the street.

Of course travel isn’t inherently unsafe, but there are precautionary measures that minimize the odds of having health issues on the road. Below, my road-tested gift picks for frequent travelers (especially those who visit sub-tropical or tropical climes) and outdoor enthusiasts.

SteriPEN or LifeStraw portable water filter
Reasons why one of these is a worthwhile investment:

  • Saves money on purchasing bottled water in developing nations/places without potable water
  • Better for the environment (see above)
  • You can contract giardia or other nasties from improperly “bottled” water (trust me)
  • You don’t have to be out in the backcountry to have a potable water shortage; owning a filtration system is good insurance you stay hydrated and healthy, even in the city.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fauxrealphotos]Travel first aid kit
Even infrequent travelers should carry basic first-aid supplies: band-aids, gauze pads, Neosporin, OTC meds, etc.. Personalize your gift by tailoring a pre-purchased kit (REI is a great place to find different types and sizes) to suit the interests and needs of your recipient.

Wilderness first aid class
CPR or a general first aid class is a good idea for anyone, but if any of your loved ones live for backcountry pursuits or traveling off the beaten path, a WFA course can be a lifesaver–literally. Look one up in your area through the American Red Cross.

Controlled-release DEET and/or Insect Shield apparel
There was a time, several years ago, when I shunned DEET unless I was in a malarial region. Why, I asked myself, would I willingly douse myself in a pesticide? Why would I inflict said poison upon the environment?

That philosophy is all well and good until you get bitten by something harboring an infectious evil (in my case, it was sandflies carrying the Bartonella bacilliformis bacterium) that anti-malarials can’t prevent. Also note that malaria prophylaxis is not without considerable side-effects and may not protect you against certain strains of the disease. Be sure to talk to an infectious disease, tropical medicine, or travel physician experienced with actual working experience in these regions.

These days, I’m all about DEET if I’m traveling somewhere with potentially harmful biting insects, especially now that there are controlled-release versions on the market (there are various brands on the market; Sawyer Products is highly recommended). One application is good for up to 12 hours.

As for clothes, I love my Insect Shield long sleeve button-up shirt from ExOfficio. Good for up to 70 washings (after which you still have a good-looking, lightweight travel top), bug-repelling garments are treated with permethrin, EPA-registered, and free of toxic-smelling fumes.

Sun protective clothing
As you likely know, heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be serious; even fatal. In addition to a good sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat, sun protective clothing is a seriously smart idea for outdoor types. Once again, I recommend ExOfficio, or REI own brand, which will save you a few dollars.

Bear bell or spray
Google “2011 grizzly attacks.” ‘Nuff said.

What they say in the military is true: you gotta take care of your feet. Once your dogs go, you’re SOL in the backcountry or tropics. Keeping feet clean and dry (and warm, if applicable) is of utmost importance (at the very least, fellow travelers will appreciate your hygiene efforts). These moisture-wicking, stench-resistant socks are invaluable even if you’re just planning an extended trip.

Ibex woolies
Getting chilled can quickly become serious or fatal, and hypothermia prevention in the form of extra layers is key. These 100% merino wool underlayers from Vermont-based outfitter Ibex are the bomb. Comfortable, warm, moisture-wicking, and seriously odor-proof (anything that remains fit to wear in public after a month-long backpacking trip from the Andes to the Amazon–sans laundry–is a product I heartily endorse). Plus, they come in cute stripey designs as well as solids.

[Photo credit: Band-aids, Flickr user m.gifford, feet, Flickr user Cin]

Ten “must have” road trip safety products

Road trips are a fantastic way to see the country – I’ve covered thousands of miles driving to my destination instead of flying – and while the experience may lack the relaxing time on board the plane, it also lacks the hassles of trying to actually get on the plane.

When you are in the air, you can rely on the flight crew to assist you if something goes wrong, but when you are on your own covering the roads, you’ll need to rely on your own ingenuity and some technology. In this lineup, you’ll find ten “must have” products that could help you stay safe on the road.

(Photo from Gadling Flickr pool member ohad*)
GPS + points of interest

A GPS on its own isn’t enough to keep you safe. If you plan to use the GPS in an emergency, you’ll also need to know how to operate it. Don’t count on reading the manual when it is too late. There are some simple steps you can take to ensuring your GPS won’t make you lose your way. For starters – always try to keep the maps on the unit up to date. New maps will cost about $100. Learn how to enter and pick locations, and spend some time with the various detour options.

Also, consider manually adding “points of interest” to your unit. Not every GPS has an extensive database of locations, and in many units, you can download and transfer these locations yourself.

And finally, don’t consider your GPS to be the final word in your routing. If you are on the highway, and it suddenly tells you to take the next exit towards the middle of nowhere – think for a moment and decide whether the unit could be mistaken. Check out our other tips on GPS safety.

SPOT mobile satellite messenger

You think the coverage on your mobile phone is weak where you live? Try coverage in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t hard to find yourself in an area with zero coverage on any of the major mobile operators. A satellite messenger beacon is by no means a necessity for your average road trip, but if you plan to do some off-roading, or head 100’s of miles into a national park, the $150 investment may be a wise one.

These beacons can summon emergency services, relay your GPS position to friends and family, and even send messages telling people you are alright.

AAA Membership

The AAA membership is a tricky one – because a lot of people think it is a waste of money. Those are people who have never had to call for an expensive tow. The low fee of a AAA membership makes it the perfect roadtrip safety product. Not only will your membership cover the cost of a tow, AAA also offers additional services like traffic ticket assistance and check cashing.

Plus, the membership can get you some nice discounts at hotels and car rental locations.

Winter gear

If your roadtrip takes you anywhere through an area where there is a chance of snow, be sure to carry some winter gear. This doesn’t stop at a snow brush and ice scraper – it also means warm clothing, some water/supplies and anything else you need to get you through the possibility of becoming stranded.

Window hammer/seat belt cutter

This is another of those $10 accessories that could save your life. A window hammer is what you’ll need to break the windows of your vehicle should it become impossible to open your doors. If your car falls underwater, you’ll need the hammer to get out.

Paper maps

Think back to how we all navigated ten years ago – remember paper maps? They didn’t come with spoken turn by turn directions, but they also won’t let you down if technology fails you (and it will sooner or later).

On a long road trip, you won’t need a town level map, but a comprehensive major road map can be a great backup to carry in your vehicle. Combine a map with a good old compass, and you’ve got yourself a fail-safe navigation aid.


This is a personal favorite – because it has really saved me several times. For about $70, your local auto store or super store will sell you a 3-in-1 air compressor/battery booster/power pack. If you screw up, and drain your battery in the middle of nowhere, a pair of booster cables are only going to help if there is someone else around to boost you.

The portable power pack has an internal battery and its own booster cables. Simply turn the unit on, hook it up to your car and start your vehicle. You don’t always have to carry it in your car, but when you head out on a long trip, I’d recommend finding a spot for it in the trunk.

Don’t fall for those $20 battery units that plug into your car power socket – you need something with more juice than that. The added bonus of a compressor means you can keep your tires at their correct pressure, or even add some air to the spare tire, as they tend to be on the low side any time you actually need them.

Car safety/first aid kit

Often overlooked, basic safety products like a first aid kit are just as important as maps. Your local warehouse store usually sells comprehensive safety kits for under $30, containing everything you need to help yourself in a (minor) emergency. Be sure to carry a first aid kit, and to refresh it before its contents go out of code.

Products like band-aids won’t have the same shelf life as those you keep inside your home as the heat in your car will spoil them pretty quickly.

Fire extinguisher

This is another cheap product nobody should travel without. A car rated fire extinguisher won’t cost more than $20, and can be a real life saver for yourself, or others in trouble.

Don’t just carry the extinguisher – make sure you know how to operate it in an emergency. Pay close attention to the instructions, or check the Internet for video clips on how to correctly use one.

Mobile phone chargers

Help! Smoke! Fire! Car stolen! Sure – the actual risk of your car being “inaccessible” is small. But think about the hassles of not being able to charge your phone in your car. Always pack one or two backup phone chargers in your bag. Chargers are so cheap nowadays that you should have no excuse for not being able to charge your phone anywhere you are. Better yet, carry a battery backup pack which allows you to charge your phone without a power outlet.