Christmas gifts for travelers: Some day they may need cargo pants or a passport holder

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It’s December and you’re trying to find a way to cheer up the traveler in your family whose body this year has formed a permanent indentation in their Barcalounger. He or she hasn’t left town, let alone hopped a plane, since last winter. Christmas is the time for optimism. The new year is around the corner. So, apparently, are vaccines.

Maybe that butt will get moving again. What’s the best way to jump start it as we wait for the walls of our travel restrictions to finally fall? A creative Christmas gift will do the trick.

I’m here to help. I’ve picked up a few ideas over 40-plus years of international travel and I’m sharing them below. All 20 of these Christmas gifts for travelers are items I either use or have discovered through recent research and may buy in the future. In fact, just perusing gift lists for the traveler makes me want to take the passport out of my leather passport holder just to feel it. Speaking of which, that leather holder is included below.

I’ve listed many items and prices available on However, try finding them in your local retail stores. They had just as bad a year as you did. Amazon is about the only business that Covid benefitted or didn’t you hear about the 2 million-square-foot expansion they’re building in suburban Seattle?

Money belt

Veteran travelers all wear these but if your family member is just starting to explore the world and doesn’t have a money belt, it’s a must gift. A money belt is a flat, wide, cotton or nylon zippered pouch that clips around your waist inside your pants. I put everything in it I can’t afford to lose: passport, large bank notes, cash card, second credit card, Italian visa, train tickets. Pickpockets are a common threat around the world. The only way they can rob my money belt is to knock me out and strip me. And not even the most starving thief wants to see me naked. Available in most luggage stores or on Amazon for $15.99.

Clif Bars

Eating is always an adventure when you travel and not always a pleasant one. You might find yourself on an all-day bus ride or get stuck in an airport on a long layover. Instead of paying for overpriced airport food or dodgy gelatinous substances the locals try selling through a filthy bus window, carry Clif Bars. They’re 230-250 calories and only 2.5-6 grams of fat. They come in delicious flavors and are fairly flat, perfect for shoving about a dozen into a zip-lock bag. They also have the shelf life of Ivory soap. I carry one for every day I’m on the road. Most grocery stores in the U.S. often have promotions for $1 each.

Cargo pants

They have more pockets than a photographer’s vest. They’re perfect for pocketing your passport between airport security and departure gate, a small notebook, a snack, even a travel guide. Try not to carry anything in your hand that makes you look like a naive tourist. What sets cargo pants apart is the pant legs zip off when the weather gets hot. They’re perfect for hiking. Yeah, they’re kind of ugly but you can dress them up with nice shoes and a shirt. Blue jeans are terrible for travel. Hot. Tight pockets. Take forever to dry. carries cargo pants starting at $24.22.

Pepto Bismol and Melatonin

You don’t only need inoculations to make pre-emptive strikes on your health. Pepto Bismol are the little pink chewable pills that I take after every meal in third world countries. Your stomach isn’t used to some cuisines and diving head first can often upset your stomach. Pepto keeps you regular. In fact, sometimes you don’t have to relieve yourself for about three days, which you’ll appreciate on those 10-hour bus rides through the jungle or desert. I’ve become a huge fan of Melatonin. They’re the all-natural, mild sleeping medicine, perfect after a late-night glass of wine. It not only puts me to sleep, it gets me back to sleep after I wake for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. It’s available in any pharmacy. Supermarkets sell Pepto.  

Travel books

You always have dead time when you travel: airports, in bed, long bus or train rides through boring terrain or at night. I also make a point to read a book in a local cafe every day. It’s a good way to meet locals and get a feel for the neighborhood. Try to buy books about the destination where your family member is traveling. I read “Gandhi” in India. It made me understand what I was experiencing even more. Don’t know your family member’s next destination? Find a general armchair travel book. I recommend anything by Paul Theroux, my favorite travel writer who has a hard-edged perspective on destinations from the South Pacific to South America. “Dark Star Safari,” his overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town, is arguably the best travel book I’ve ever read.

Packing folders

They’re excellent for creating more space in a backpack or suitcase. A packing folder has a hard flat bottom with four velcroed sleeves that fold over your pile of folded clothes. They suppress your clothes into a nice, neat rectangular folder that fit everywhere. I have one medium size for my backpack and a large one for a roller bag. They also come with a handle if all you carry on a plane is a change of clothes. Eagle Creek carries them for $20.27 for a medium and $23.07 for a large.


This is the most versatile item in my backpack. It isn’t just for women. I use them, too. No, I don’t wear it out to dinner but they are great beach towels for drying by the pool and laying on the sand. You can wear them after a shower in hot climates and lounge around in them on tropical islands. Men wear them everywhere in the South Pacific. Men and women can use them to cover their skin in temples and mosques. You can cover yourself outside to prevent sunburn. Plus, they pack up small and fit into corners of your backpack. Amazon has a variety of them starting at about $16.

Merrell shoes

These are the most comfortable travel shoes I’ve ever worn. They’re tough enough for hiking and trekking, yet can be attractive enough to wear in a restaurant. They’re lightweight, cushioned and insulated. The company is based in Rockford, Mich., but they have an international look and are sold all over the world. Leave your white sneakers at home and don’t be pigeonholed as an American. Merrell’s website has hiking shoes starting at $140.

Packable raincoat

Unless he or she is going to Scandinavia in winter, they shouldn’t take a heavy parka. They’re a pain to carry when it’s not cold. Dress in layers. A good sweater and/or turtleneck is plenty warm but for added protection from rain and wind get a packable hooded raincoat. Mine from Red Ledge is insulated with a lightweight mesh and folds up into a little zippered ball I shove into the bottom of my backpack. I’ve had it for nearly 25 years. It’s gone from the torrential downpours in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest to mountain climbing in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains. Amazon has one at $26.99 and Red Ledge has them for $79.99. They don’t say if they fold into a ball but they are just as easily stuffed into the bottom of a pack.

Small journal

You don’t have to be a writer to write. You don’t even need to write a journal. But oftentimes while traveling you’ll want to take notes, impressions or describe scenes you’ve never experienced before and want recorded before you forget. Texting notes into your cell phone is too slow. Give a small pocket-sized journal which they can pull out at a restaurant or on a train ride or looking at a sunset or mountain vista. I take one everywhere and transfer the notes I jot down all day into my daily journal I write every morning. They can transfer their notes to emails or Instagram. Most stationery stores carry them. Get them with lines. It might inspire them to write a journal and, eventually, a travel blog.


Say the vaccines never arrive. The Covid curves never lower. Neither do the travel restrictions. You can give a travel gift for those stuck at home. A globe is a great decoration. It’s an excellent nearby reference tool for a quick fact check on latitudes, longitudes or bordering countries. There are more different kinds of globes available than the number of countries in the world. I  have one that lights from inside with an adjustable magnifying glass. It works as a great night light if you want to watch a movie with your regular lights out. Amazon has them starting at $29.99. But retail stores carry them ranging from Walmart to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Push pin world map

For the traveler who has been to more than a few countries and wants to show people without telling them, a push pin world map you put on your wall is a great gift. They come with pins, sometimes color coded, Stick them in the countries, regions and cities you’ve visited and keep adding to it after every trip. Mine (pictured) in my bedroom has flags pinned to all 107 corresponding countries I’ve visited. has them starting at $53 and Amazon has them for $99.

Travel plug adapter

I live in Italy where electronics are a generation behind the U.S. In February I found myself in Saudi Arabia with a dead cell phone and the “international” adapter I bought in Rome didn’t work in the desert compound I stayed at. Twice I borrowed one from someone in the tent next to mine. Get a good adapter with plugs that work around the world. According to, the best overall on the market is the Epidea Universal Travel Power Adapter. It works in 160 countries and available at Amazon for $21.

Packable duffel bag

This idea is courtesy of the Expert Vagabond blog. No. 8 on the list is a small backpack that folds small and you can pull out of your big backpack if you need an extra bag. Use it to carry souvenirs on a plane. Use it to carry your guide book and camera so you don’t look like a complete tourist while exploring a city. Use it as a day pack for day trips out of town. Use it for dirty laundry. You always need another bag when you travel and this is ideal. Amazon has them for $16.99.

Passport holder

One of the reasons I call my blog Dog-Eared Passport is my passport was always dog-eared. Some of my passports have been so beat up I could fold them in half. However, an official in the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy, informed me that some immigration desks around the world won’t accept shoddy passports. So I bought a soft but tough leather cover with plastic sleeves to slip my latest passport inside. I bought it 4 ½ years ago and my passport still looks good as new. They can be found in most luggage stores and any shops selling travel accessories.

Portable travel jewelry box

For women, I imagine this would be invaluable as jewelry boxes at home sometimes are as large as their backpack. You can also pack souvenir jewelry you buy along the way. has one that’s 4 inches x 4 inches x 2 inches for only 4 euros.


Security door stop alarm

I stumbled onto this idea for women and thought it was ingenious. It’s a battery-operated wedge that fits into the opening below a door. Jam it in before you go to bed and anyone trying to break through the door will cause an alarm to go off. Amazon has them for $13.99.

Airbnb gift card

I saw this in Travel & Leisure and hoped to get one for Christmas as well. Airbnb has put a serious dent in the hotel business and I’ve become a valued customer. I have the app on my phone. It’s the first place I check when looking at destinations and Airbnb is everywhere: 191 countries, in fact. Amazon sells them starting at $25

Swiss army knife

It’s so obvious and old-fashioned I almost forgot how handy they are. They’ve been around since 1890 when the Swiss army developed a portable folding knife for its soldiers. Today, it’s still the preferred choice of travelers. It’s a screwdriver, wine opener, scissors, can opener and knife all rolled into one small, narrow casing. Amazon sells them for $36.

Minted foil-pressed map print

Your traveler family member has a favorite city, state or country? Get him or her a beautiful, artsy map of it to hang on his wall. has them from 71 cities, 50 U.S. states and 16 countries, all in kind of an op-art aerial view. They’re sold for $33.