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]

Gift cards can stretch travel funds

Gift CardsGift cards often come with bonus offers and special deals that bump up the value and make a whole lot of sense for travelers. It’s like cutting expenses by 10% or more when we cash in on some great offers being made for the holidays.

Best Western Hotels has an offer where buying a $100 Best Western Travel Card online gets a $10 bonus gift card free. With this offer, we can get a $10 Best Western Travel Card or choose from a variety of restaurant cards. This one is especially good for international travelers as it can be loaded and reloaded with the currency of the country they will be traveling to.

“Whether gifting a Best Western travel card to friends and family or gifting one to yourself for travel in the new year, this limited-time promotion offers the perfect opportunity to rack-up cash at popular retailers,” said Dorothy Dowling, Best Western’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. “With this special holiday deal, it’s more rewarding than ever before to give the gift of travel – and get $10 back in your pocket.”

Another offer that can stretch travel funds is Mastercard’s $20 gift card offer. On this one, Mastercard will send us a $20 gift card with any $200 spent online using a Mastercard. To be eligible to receive the MasterCard gift card, enroll a MasterCard card here. They need a card number to qualify online spending, and an email address to alert buyers when they have earned their gift card.

Looking to make a difference in a really easy way? We can take care of that when we fly with an offer from American Airlines. This one earns travelers a donation of $5 for every $50 travel card purchased to either Susan G. Komen for the Cure® or the USO.

10% might not seem like much but these things can really add up.

Reloadable gift cards often carry bonus offers to encourage their use. Using them on the road eliminates some of the need for cash and often translates to bonus value as well.

Starbucks reloadable gift cards are a good example. Once registered, the holders online account can also be accessed by iPhone or Android app and bonus offers are given as usage increases. Subway Restaurants has a similar program, giving a free sub with every time users add $25 back on the card.

These and many other cards make great gifts for travelers that are easy, safe and fun to use.

Photo: Chris Owen


Gift Cards and Gift Certificates

Name a cockroach after your lover: Valentine’s Day at the Bronx Zoo

cockroach, cockroachesThe Bronx Zoo has come up with a good way to show that special someone you care–name a giant cockroach after them.

The BBC reports that for ten bucks you can buy the rights to one of the zoo’s 58,000 giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and name it after that special someone who bugs you more than anybody else. The zoo says they sold 1,000 dedications in the first day of the promotion. Perhaps their tagline helped: “Flowers wilt. Chocolates melt. Roaches are forever.”

Indeed they are. They’ve been around since before the dinosaurs and they’ll probably be around after we’re long gone. The Bronx Zoo has some interesting facts about the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, like that they can grow to three inches long and the hiss they make can be as loud as a lawnmower.

They’re nutritious too. Check out our 8 bug-eating videos including two on eating cockroachs. Also check out the far less disgusting but much more educational the video below.

[Photo courtesy user Husond via Wikimedia Commons]

Airport checkpoint nabs gang with 518 stolen Wal-Mart gift cards

To balance out some of the negative TSA checkpoint stories, I’m always happy when we stumble across some positive stories from the airport. In this story, TSA agents at Nashville airport noticed something strange in the luggage of a passenger, and got the local airport police involved.

Inside the suitcase was a stash of 518 Wal-mart gift cards. When police arrived at the checkpoint, six people were apprehended, but one of the gang members managed to escape and leave the airport. According to Nashville police, the gang used the Wal-Mart gift cards to act as “carriers” for stolen credit card information, and used the cards to purchase other gift cards. The total value of the stolen gift cards purchased could be well over $10,000.

The suspects have been charged with “conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of a credit card and conspiracy to commit identity theft”. Because of the extent of their crime, Nashville police are working with the United States Secret Service on the investigation.

It just goes to show how stupid some criminals are – despite managing to find stolen credit cards, and being “smart” enough to fly all over the country to commit their crime, they didn’t realize that the airport checkpoint agents may find their collection of gift cards a tad suspicious.

Check out these other great stories from AOL Travel