Looking for travel gifts for your family or friends? You’ve come to the right place! I remember panic buying presents on Oxford Street one Christmas Eve and promising myself I’d never do it again. So apologies if you’re being forced to read this blog post unseasonably early. But with rumours of Christmas gifts possibly being in short supply this year, it might not be a bad idea to start the annual shopping drama early. And if you’re planning another UK staycation for summer 2022, I’d highly recommend buying camping equipment now before it all sells out again!
Anyway, that’s enough of my attempt at a hard sell. This compilation of travel gift ideas will hopefully inspire you to make some gratifying purchases this year. It’s easy to be swayed by adverts of colourful plastic which our kids will tire of (or break) before we’ve seen in the new year.
I’ll admit now that some of these gifts are dull but practical while others are brilliant (I’d like an inflatable kayak please). Some cost lots of dosh while others are a steal. Hopefully there’s something here to appeal to the most discerning traveller as well as your five year old intrepid explorer.
I’ve tried to include a range of suppliers in this list of travel gifts – Amazon is in here but also plenty of UK-based companies including Wiggle, Go Outdoors and Ethical Superstore. Of course, if you want to take these ideas to the actual high street and spend your pennies there, you have my full support! However, this website is funded by affiliate sales – when you click on a link and go on to make a purchase, I make a very modest commission from that sale.
Travel-related stocking fillers
These packs of cards are such a handy way of entertaining children on a long journey – trains, planes (hopefully my kids will go on one of those again one day…) and also in restaurants when they’re (impatiently) awaiting their food. Football stars, fast cars and Harry Potter characters are the current favs in our house but you can find all manner of topics covered from Great British Bakes (rather subjective that one) to pet dogs and dinosaurs.
Children’s travel journal
I know not all children will think that sitting down to write in a journal when they could be off exploring is a good use of their holiday time – my kids tend not to pick up a pencil for the duration of our travels – despite my pleas at postcard writing. However, if your children are of a more journalistic inclination, these books – full of spaces to draw, write and stick – are just the ticket.
Lonely Planet have a really good travel journal for kids. And there are also plenty of themed journals on the market so if your child only responds to something related to Harry Potter, for example, fear not!
Despite the advent of phones making even the most directionally challenged among us expert map readers, it’s still good to instil a sense of location in young travellers. The Ordnance Survey produce good old fashioned paper maps which you can personalise around your postcode or other point of interest. Great for spreading out on the kitchen table and planning your next micro-adventure.
I took some Beaver Scouts on a night hike the other day and we actually used a compass. I hadn’t used one for rather a long time so I was relieved that it was a clear evening and I had the setting sun to back up my not very confident compass-reading skills.
It’s rather refreshing to go back to basics with a paper map and a compass.
Neck gaiter or snood
I find these are so much more practical than a scarf as they don’t unravel and fall into the mud. If you’ve got long hair, you can use a gaiter as a headscarf to keep hair out of your face on a windy day. Gaiters really come into their own for me on a winter bike ride when the wind blows into my face and neck. And of course, with covid the gaiter makes a useful back up if you’ve forgotten your face mask.
Travel flower press
I just love the idea of this! My son found a four leaf clover at our local park last summer and we had a real job getting it home safely with all four precious leaves intact. There are travel flower presses on the market which are small enough to fit in your pocket so if you find something special on your walk, you can press it on the spot. Obviously, I’m not suggesting people go round picking rare orchids or other endangered species, colourful autumn leaves is more the theme here!
Green Toys vehicles
If you have a vehicle-obsessed toddler, there’s a great range of travel-related toys on offer at Green Toys – including a great yellow submarine and a sea plane, both of which you can float in the bath. We have a little ferry boat which comes with a couple of cars – it’s still played with occasionally now after many, many years of use.
Green Toys makes its products from recycled plastic and minimises packaging so although it’s a USA-based company (and so we fall down in our sustainability a bit here), it is nonetheless a good company to buy from.
One of the many reasons I’m never going to make tons of money from my blogging “career” is my resistance to promote electronic alternatives to the traditional paperback book.
I’ve written a whole article about the best travel books for kids. One of my 10 year old son’s favourite series at the moment is Adventures on Trains. My seven year old meanwhile loves the Frankie’s Magic Football series – Frank Lampard’s football-themed travels across the world – somewhat repetitive for parents to read but seemingly spellbinding for young footie fans.
Depending on whether you opt for a pricey head torch or a cheaper model, these can be a great stocking filler. I had planned to buy some for my boys for Christmas this year but I had to panic buy some this week after realising we didn’t have enough reliable torches for our Beaver Scout night hike.
There are many head torches on the market these days. I bought the Lifesystems Intensity head torch for the boys. These are pretty good value (I paid £19.99 through Amazon) and have sufficient brightness for hiking in the park in the dark – 230 lumens. They are USB rechargeable and they’re recommended by the DofE charity.
If you’re looking for a good quality product with good sustainability credentials and you don’t mind paying a bit more, I’ve read promising reviews about the Biolite Headlamp 330 which is produced by a company with a reassuringly ethical backstory.
Rechargeable walkie talkies
These are great fun when you’re on a family walk or if you’re camping and the kids want to run off and play hide and seek. Friends have also said the more powerful ones are handy when you’re skiing.
One of my best purchases during the winter lockdown of 2021 was a decent pair of waterproof gloves for each of my kids. Each day after home-schooling, we would head out to a huge patch of frozen water on a local field and spend a considerable amount of time playing on and with the ice.
I find that if my kids are outdoors in the winter with cheap gloves, they’re generally wet and useless (the gloves, not the children), very quickly – and I end up with soggy gloves in my pockets.
Let’s go fly a kite
It’s definitely kite-flying weather now. If you struggle to get your kids out of the house on a walk, a kite will make them relish those windy days. There’s usually quite a lot of running down hills involved when we fly our kite – I’m not sure if that’s the correct technique but it’s definitely good exercise.
I know, this isn’t a fun present – but it is a practical one. And if you’re heading off skiing over New Year or February half term (or you want to stock up for the future), it’s a good idea to have some of these set aside in advance. One of my friends flew to Greece recently and said she had to wear her face mask all day – airport, flight, airport, taxi – it was a long day. So it’s a good idea to ensure you have some really good quality, comfortable masks.
Travel gifts under £20
Great British map of wonders
I love the series of maps produced by ST&G. This one is filled with exciting destinations across the British Isles – perfect to give your children a sense of wanderlust about their own country. It’s packed with all the things that kids love – castles, exciting walks, festivals, beaches and lots of funny place names to make them chuckle. Perfect for all the family to plan their next staycation!
Refillable shampoo and conditioner bottles
I know, this is a rather dull travel gift idea – but the practical and eco-friendly person in your life will appreciate it! These bottles have a handy suction to stick them to the wall of your shower. I’ve had a set of these for over five years and they’re still going strong – no cracks or leaks.
Are you still buying disposable coffee cups? I know I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion. In my head I’m generally trying to remember things like spare clothes and snacks for the kids – a reusable coffee cup tends to be way down my list of priorities when I’m “requesting” my children put their shoes on and get in the car.
There are tons of reuseable cups on the market nowadays. If you want one which takes up next to no space choose a Stojo – these silicone mugs squash down to the size of the lid.
If keeping the contents piping hot is your priority, try one by Thermos – I have one of these and it’s really reliable. And unlike a lot of travel mugs, Thermos does one with a handle, making it feel more like a traditional mug!
Hanging wash bag
If you’re keen to avoid dropping your toothbrush in a puddle of mysterious murky water in a communal wash block, having all of your products safely stashed in a wash bag with a hook on it is very reassuring. It also makes everything a lot easier to find.
If you’re counting down the days until your next long haul flight, why not treat yourself to not only a face mask but an eye mask too? That way pretty much all of your face will be covered up and you’ll be able to travel incognito. I’ve never tried using an eye mask but some of my friends swear by them. Possibly the ones who don’t have children and can sit back and have an uninterrupted snooze. Do you remember those days? Nope, me either.
Electronic accessories organiser bag
If you go on holiday with an endless trail of wires and electronic gadgets, it’s handy to have a specific place to store them all. These little bags can carry chargers, USB cables, power banks and other accessories.
Travel gifts under £50
The Den Kit
If you can’t go off on an adventure, with the Den Kit you can have a little adventure in your garden. This may seem like a lot of money (£40) but during lockdown, this little kit kept my boys entertained for hours. In fact, it’s still pitched in our garden now.
Jigsaw of your favourite destination – or walk
2021 hasn’t really been the year of the adventurer, has it? If you’re worried there’s going to be a run on jigsaw puzzles at your local charity shop this Christmas, fear not – you can create your own. If you’d like to piece together your favourite place from your UK travels or some of the local walks you went on during lockdown, you can make a puzzle centred around the postcode of your choice.
This is an incredibly boring present to buy for someone – but you just need to be patient, that person will be really grateful six months later when they can find their belongings in their suitcase. Personally, I like packing cubes because I can hand them to the kids to pack their clothes in and then when we arrive at our destination they can simply pop the whole packing cube into a drawer.
Personalised passport cover
One of my friends suggested this would be a good gift. I wasn’t sure until I remembered how all my family’s passports look the same and I have to open each one in turn to find the one I’m looking for.
Portable luggage scales
Sorry, another not very exciting gift idea, but a highly practical one. If you like to pack to within an inch of your life in terms of budget airline weight restrictions, this little gadget is essential. We use our luggage scales to weigh our children – simply pop your child in a supermarket “bag for life” and lift it up with the scales.
World map waterproof table cloth
I’m still clinging on to high street shopping wherever possible but sometimes it pays to shop online – my current tablecloth world map, purchased at my local market, is woefully inadequate and my kids are always pointing out flaws in its design.
However, there are some top-notch options online. Etsy has some great designs and I’m definitely putting one on my Christmas list! When you have a good map, it’s a great way to do a bit of world travel from the comfort of your dining table.
Anker portable charger / power bank
I’ve finally got round to buying a new phone (actually, it was second hand but it works a lot better than my old model). I used to carry an Anker charger on days out when I knew my phone would give up half way through the day. They’re small and relatively light, ideal if you tend to drain your phone battery taking photographs or you need to recharge your kids’ device after they’ve overdosed on YouTube.
We use one of these when we’re camping – its perfect for everyone in our group to connect to so we can listen to each other’s music – or the FA Cup final if that happens to clash with your camping trip.
Travel gifts under £100
If you’re looking for ways to encourage your kids to hop on their bikes and go for an extended bike ride, try enticing them with a nocturnal cycle. Our kids love the thrill of cycling home from the pub in the dark through our local woods (we are rather lucky to have this on our doorstep!). There’s always a fight however as to who will get the most powerful bike lights.
We have some bike lights which are more about you being seen by road users – these are relatively inexpensive. And then we have others which will light the way in the dark. It’s all about the lumens. Also check how long the battery will last if the light is on full brightness – if you buy an expensive high lumen bike light – with 1000 lumens – and you use it at its full brightness, the battery will drain pretty quickly – but if you dim it to 600 it will last a lot longer.
Self-inflating camping mattress
This Christmas, buy the gift of a good night’s sleep for the one you love. You might not be planning a camping trip this winter but it’s a good idea to stock up on a few key camping products now whilst they’re in stock. Leave it until June and you might struggle to find what you’re looking for – summer 2021 was the year of the camping trip and there may be more years like that to come, who knows! Also, you might be more inclined to buy a decent good quality (relatively expensive) camping mattress now as a Christmas present than you will when you’re impulse buying at another time of year.
We invested in 10cm self-inflating mattresses a couple of years ago and it was one of the best camping purchases we made. I’m buying some 5cm ones for my children this Christmas.
We use the Outwell Dreamcatcher mattresses and I can honestly say they offer a really comfortable night’s sleep. When looking for a good quality self-inflating mattress, ensure there’s a minimum 5cm thickness – some have the depth of the mattress in the name but with others you need to check the dimensions.
For more camping gift ideas, see my complete guide to family camping.
Wall map with pins
The travel gift for competitive travellers. I did a stint working at a travel agency in a rather affluent area of London where some of the customers clearly booked their travel destination based on how remote and unusual the trip was – and how likely their friends were to be impressed and envious of the holiday.
Although I’m not suggesting that any of the people who read my blog are this type of traveller, I know that it can also be rather satisfying to discover just how much of the world you’ve managed to explore. And of course, it’s a great way to inspire wanderlust in children whilst giving them a geography lesson at the same time.
There’s quite a few pinnable maps on the market. And with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Pin Adventures offers maps of the world, Europe or the States, with different colours and finishes depending on the look you’re going for. There’s also a great range on Etsy to choose from.
Chances are there’s going to be many more staycations on the horizon so if you’re anything like me and your once hardy body now freaks out when you step into the UK sea, a wetsuit is a sound investment.
Travel gifts over £100
After spending time at the beach with various friends who’ve invested in an inflatable kayak, I’m starting to get a little bit interested in buying one. I’ve also noticed a lot more people using them locally on the river and at nearby lakes.
If you’re not in a hurry to return to the gym post-covid, investing in an inflatable kayak and investigating your local waterway is a good alternative.
Our friends have a Decathlon inflatable kayak which was great fun when we tried it out this summer. They live in Brighton and use the kayak all through the year.
Get Your Guide gift card
If you baulk at the idea of paying for a private guide to show you round a place of interest, think again. If you pick the right guide, you’ll get so much more out of your visit. We hired a guide to take us on a private tour of Mount Etna – we explored areas of the volcano which visitors would never be able to find. Our boys are still obsessed with Land Rover Defenders four years later.
With a Get Your Guide gift card, you can book tours in destinations across the world. There are private and group tours available and you can look for someone who has a particular speciality – be that ancient history or entertaining little visitors.
I’m utterly rubbish at this SUP business – I look on in envy as others glide around on top of the water. This sport really has become incredibly popular – no doubt thanks to the pandemic offering us more time to pursue water-based hobbies in the UK.
Dryrobes and other types of robes
Two of my friends were sporting these at the beach at May half term. I’d never heard of them before, but since then they seem to be popping up all over the place. Made from a patented fabric which is waterproof both on the inside and the outside, you can wear a dryrobe when you come out of the water without changing out of your swim wear or wetsuit – perfect for the cold water swimmer.
It’s also very good for standing in the rain in winter at your child’s football match – or any outdoor sporting event for that matter. It does look like a cross between a tent and a sleeping bag but it definitely keeps you warm and dry.
There are also various products which claim to offer a similar level of warmth and protection which you can check out on the Wiggle website. I’m not sure how they compare but I’d like to think Wiggle, a triathlete specialist site, wouldn’t sell any dud products.
For something a bit cheaper in the robe department, good old Decathlon has a range of products, from towelling ponchos for kids to performance robes for the more serious outdoor enthusiast.
I would have loved to own a Go Pro twenty something years ago when I was scuba diving and seeing amazing creatures in the water. Instead, I have one or two blurry images of a whale shark which could be mistaken for a photo of my children’s dirty bathwater.
As well as being a great underwater camera, the GoPro is remarkably robust – unlike a mobile phone, the GoPro won’t smash when you drop it on the ground – handy if you’re letting your kids near it. The GoPro is also very small (if you have giant hands you might find it too small) and it can be strapped to your head or chest if you want to film the view from your body as you’re skiing / cycling / surfing. It also has a very wide angled lens so when you take a photo, everything you see will be in the shot.
Travel gifts for young people heading off on a solo adventure
Forgive me if I come across as one of those aforementioned competitive travellers, but… when I was camping in the snow on the Tibetan Plateau and it was minus 20, I really regretted having consumed something that gave me giardia. If you’re not familiar with this particularly unpleasant virus, I’ll just mention one of the symptoms which took me by surprise – farts which come out of your mouth.
Anyway, if you don’t want your children to suffer the same fate as me, consider investing in a water purifier. There are various ones on the market depending on your budget and which corner of the world your intrepid traveller is heading off to.
If your child is heading off with a load of technology which together costs more than the price of their round the world ticket, it’s worth investing in a waterproof pouch to keep all of that tech safe and dry. Although many phones offer a certain degree of water resistance, they won’t survive a trip over the rapids if your offspring goes white water rafting. With these handy pouches you can keep food, books and other essentials dry while you’re out adventuring.
I’m sure it’s more luck than judgement that got me through some of dodgier parts of my backpacking days. If you have a young person embarking on a solo trip around the world and you’re concerned about some of the dubious places they’ll be staying in, consider sending them off with a good old fashioned door wedge to prevent any unwelcome guests.
Did you carry a giant beach towel around with you when you were a backpacker? Or did you purchase a travel towel back when the concept was still in its infancy which meant drying yourself with something akin to a tea towel?
The technology behind travel towels seems to have moved on a lot lately. You can now buy gigantic towels which fold up to the size of a postcard and actually do a relatively good job at drying your body.
I run the risk here of turning into one of those boring old people who start every sentence with “In my day…” but with good reason here. I remember in my youth having just one brand of tampons to choose from in the supermarket – and certainly nothing that could be re-used. It’s heartening that there’s such a broad range of products for women to choose from now – menstrual cups, reusable pads, period underwear as well as the giant nappy-style pads of our youth.
There’s a good range of period-related products on the Ethical Superstore website. And if you’re looking for an interesting beach read, why not try It’s About Bloody Time, Period by Emma Barnett. It’s a bit sweary so perhaps not suitable for your recently menstruating daughter but it’s a great read for the rest of us.
So, that’s a wrap! Any suggestions or feedback on this list of travel gifts? As always, let me know in the comments below.
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