With the holidays only two months away and Black Friday approaching faster than ever, it’s the perfect time to start shopping for stocking stuffers for travelers.
I’ve always loved shopping for stocking stuffers, because I love challenging myself to find the most personalized, unique, useful and interesting gifts that can fit inside an actual Christmas stocking. The size constraints, along with typical price limitations, make it both challenging and rewarding to find the perfect little gifts for the people in your life.
As a traveler myself, I’ve received some fantastic travel-related stocking stuffers during past holiday seasons. As well, I’ve purchased a few things for myself that I wish I’d received in a stocking (after all, then I wouldn’t have had to pay for them!). My list is based on my absolute favorite travel essentials – small items that I use again and again, that have lasted across multiple trips, and that take up virtually no space in my carry-on luggage or checked suitcase.
You won’t find any chocolate oranges, toothbrushes or lip balm sets on this list – these fifteen items are true travel essentials that will make perfect stocking stuffers for every traveler in your life.
#1 – Swiss Army Card
The single most useful travel gift I’ve ever received was a Victorinox SwissCard Lite. My parents gave me this lightweight, credit card-sized tool as a Christmas gift more than ten years ago, and I still pack it on every trip that I take. (Plus, after hearing me rave about their gift, my mom and dad also bought their own!) Somehow, Swiss Army has managed to pack scissors, tweezers, an LED flashlight, a knife and a pen into this tiny little device that weighs less than one ounce. I find that I use it almost every day, whether it’s to cut the tags off new clothes, fill out immigration paperwork or even attack an errant eyebrow hair that was invisible in Canada but very visible in Spain (how does that happen?). Tell your giftee to toss the card in the top of their checked baggage so that it’s ready for use as soon as they land – although I’ve flown with mine dozens of times, I’d hate for someone to have it confiscated by an overly-cautious security agent.
#2 – Packable Daypack
I’ll bet you didn’t know that you could fit an entire thirty-five-liter backpack into a stocking, did you? If you have a traveler in your life you loves to pack light, you have got to get them a packable daypack, like this one by AmazonBasics that collapses into its own storage pouch, smaller than a deck of cards. There are so many good reasons to use a packable daypack. Travelers who love hiking and outdoor activities can take this out with them for the day, leaving their larger back back in the hotel, while travelers who prefer shopping can fill this up with their purchases and carry it on board the flight home. I’ve always been impressed by the high quality of AmazonBasics products, and I’ve specifically highlighted this packable backpack because it comes in two sizes and six colors, so you can gift it to an entire family of travelers.
#3 – Bluetooth Headphones
Sleep can be hard to come by when you’re traveling. In a hostel, you’re constantly faced with people checking in late, people checking out early and travelers who snore. Even in a hotel, there’s often noise from the street or from other rooms. Enter the Bluetooth headphones. I recently bought my first pair of Bluetooth headphones – the Anker SoundBud Curves – and can’t believe how travel-friendly these are compared to traditional headphones. These headphones sit securely inside your ear, blocking most of the outside noise, and stay securely affixed whether you’re sleeping on your back or side (… or if you’re out for a run!). They come with three different sizes of earpieces to fit every ear, and the sound quality is great. Travelers can pop these in and fall asleep to the sound of their favorite music or meditation app, without being caught in a tangle of cables and cords. (According to the FAA, Bluetooth headphones are approved for use on flights too!)
Speaking of not getting robbed, a retractable cable lock is one of the most unexpected, but also most useful, stocking stuffers for travelers. Much like my SwissCard Lite, I haven’t left home without my retractable cable lock since the 1990s! This is one of those travel accessories that I didn’t know I needed until I received one as a Christmas gift. Basically, this lock contains a two-foot cable that you can pull out just a few inches, or all the way, depending on what you’re locking. I typically use my retractable cable lock to attach my backpack or suitcase to the shelves in a hostel’s luggage storage room or to the luggage rack on board a train or bus. With the lock securing the bag and my carabiners securing its zipper, I don’t have to worry about someone grabbing my pack in a crime of opportunity.
#5 – Locking Carabiners
Did you know that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) pays almost one million dollars per year to passengers whose bags are damaged during security screenings? And that’s just one security organization in one country… think about how many bags are being damaged around the world! When I first heard that statistic, I vowed never to lock my luggage again. I’d rather let a security screener have easy access to the contents of my checked bags than risk having them cut the zippers off or rip my bag open. And this is where locking carabiners come in. Whenever I travel, I carry several different sizes of locking carabiners with me. Locking carabiners don’t need a key or combination to be opened. Instead, you need to spend two or three seconds twisting the locking mechanism to release the clasp. These two or three seconds are long enough to deter petty thieves but short enough for a real security screener to open quickly. I use mini locking carabiners on the zippers of my checked luggage (and even my daypack when I’m in questionable situations, like on an overnight bus) and I also carry a few full-size locking carabiners for other jobs, like clipping wet running shoes to the outside of my backpack. (Take note – the carabiners I’ve linked to are not approved for rock climbing or other outdoor activities!)
#6 – Travel Wallet
I’ve talked about my travel wallet before, and I’m here to recommend it again. After I took my RFID-blocking tri-fold travel wallet on a seven-week trip to Europe, I loved it so much that I made it my everyday wallet now that I’m back home. Available in thirty-four colors, this wallet is the perfect size for traveling or for slipping into your handbag on a night out. It can fit a hardcover or softcover passport, three credit cards, a driver’s license and a hotel room key, along with a week’s worth of cash and coins. The material is resistant to scratches and stains, and the clasp is totally secure. Unless you know your giftee’s favorite color, I would suggest choosing one of the metallic neutrals as a stocking stuffer for a female traveler, and one of the non-metallic neutral shades for a male traveler.
This is the only item on my list of stocking stuffers for travelers that I haven’t personally used. However, the Lifestraw Water Filter has more than 7,000 Amazon reviews and I have seen dozens of other travelers using this as part of their travel hydration strategy. Basically, the LifeStraw is a large straw with a built-in water filter that eliminates 99.999% of waterborne bacteria (like salmonella), protozoa (like Giardia) and microplastics. This allows travelers to fill their water bottles from rivers, streams, waterfalls and questionable water fountains without having to worry about getting an upset stomach (or worse). A single LifeStraw can filter 4,000 liters of water and will automatically stop working when its filter has reached the end of its lifespan. If you’re shopping for Christmas gifts for adventure travelers or outdoor enthusiasts, the LifeStraw should be one of your first purchases.
I talked about my portable battery charger in my post about Amazon products that I took to Europe. And as I mentioned in that post, I was so happy with my portable phone charger that I bought two! There are tons of different portable phone chargers for sale on Amazon. Obviously I haven’t tried them all, but I have used this particular model and I can highly recommend it. This little charger fits into your back pocket (or your evening clutch) and holds enough power to charge an iPhone 7 three times. For travelers who use their phone as a camera and map, this keeps you charged all day, and all night, long. There are two USB output ports, so you can charge your phone and tablet (or camera, or eReader…) at the same time, and this model also features a little USB flashlight that has turned into a lifesaver on more than one occasion. Plus, it costs less than $15!
Laundry is one of the biggest inconveniences on an extended trip. Unless you’re regularly staying in rented apartments, your access to reliable washing machines and dryers is limited. That’s why I always carry laundry soap sheets when I travel for more than a week. Laundry detergent sheets are slightly larger than a postage stamp and feel like rice paper. They dissolve in water, creating just enough bubbly cleaning liquid to fill a standard hotel sink. To do a load of travel laundry, you just soak your clothes in the soapy water for a few minutes, gently agitate them, then rinse thoroughly. The whole process takes less than ten minutes! This package contains fifty lightly-scented laundry sheets (enough for several multi-week trips) inside a secure, water-resistant plastic container. Be careful when buying these online – what appears to be different colors on Amazon is actually different products (including hand soap, shampoo and body wash sheets, if you’re interested).
I am embarrassed to admit that I own dozens of different one-ounce travel bottles. Why do I own so many? Because it took years for me to figure out that typical travel bottles are more trouble than they’re worth. They take up too much room, they are prone to spilling and you always end up with product in the bottom that you just can’t get out. As soon as I switched to travel-sized squeeze bottles, my toiletry troubles disappeared. Now, none of my skincare and haircare products go to waste, and I can fit more products in my toiletry case as my squeeze bottles become empty. There are many different types of squeeze bottles for sale on Amazon, but this particular set of six is affordable, spill-proof and BPA-free.
#11 – Travel Utensil Set
Even though I’m the kind of traveler who always fits in a five-course dinner (with wine pairing, of course!), I rarely travel without my three-piece travel cutlery set. I own the exact set that I’ve linked to: a simple knife, fork and spoon inside a zippered neoprene case. When I rode the Trans-Siberian Express I used this set every day to eat packed meal on board the train, and when I traveled to Europe I used it during hikes and picnics. This is so much more eco-friendly than relying on disposable cutlery. Since this utensil set is available in a wide range of colors and fabrics (though I do strongly recommend the neoprene) it’s another good option for an entire family.
What’s the worst thing that can happen when you’re traveling? Losing your passport? Getting robbed? Missing your flight? No! It’s using crappy hotel soap and shampoo! There are so many beautiful travel toiletry sets with high-quality skincare and haircare products. One of my favorites is from Burt’s Bees, and comes with hydrating facial cleanser, deep cleansing cream, hydrating day lotion, milk and honey body lotion, coconut foot cream and shea butter hand cream. That set only costs $10, by the way. For haircare, splurge on a salon-quality Frederick Fekkai travel-sized starter set with fortifying shampoo, conditioner and deep-conditioning hair mask in TSA-friendly bottles. It’s not the cheapest set on the market, but it is absolutely one of the highest-quality haircare brands releasing travel-sized minis.
Do you know someone who is still traveling with handfuls of different power adapters? When a trip takes you across multiple continents, juggling multiple adapters used to be par for the course. Now, however, simple universal power adapters can be plugged in anywhere to safely charge all of your personal electronics. This model works across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa, and can be used to charge cameras, phones, tables and other handheld electronic devices (you can also use it to charge your portable phone charger!). Make sure your giftee knows that this stocking stuffer for travelers is only an adapter, not a converter, so they need to make sure their electronics are dual-voltage.
In the age of social media, there is something magically evocative about writing in an actual travel journal. It almost takes you back to the days of the Orient Express, when travelers had all the time in the world to record their musings on paper. For years, my personal travel journal of choice has been an extra-small Moleskine notebook. Personally, I follow the “page a day” model in which I write a brief summary of each day on a single page (occasionally needing to write on the back as well) – where I went, what I did, who I met and, of course, what I ate. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of more than a dozen of these notebooks in different colors, and they’ve proven to be an invaluable tool when a friend asks me for a restaurant recommendation in Dubrovnik or a sightseeing suggestion in Berlin.
A new addition to the list in 2019, based on my eight-month trip around the world (I’m currently on Month #3!) is an awesome inflatable travel pillow. I’ve traveled with bulky, cumbersome, beanbag-style travel pillows on previous trips, but I decided to try out an inflatable pillow for my current journey, and I am sold! I love how little space it takes up, which means I can keep it on hand in my purse or daypack to access any time I might want a little neck support (for example, when I was camping in a yurt in Uzbekistan, or on an overnight flight from San Francisco to Taipei). I recommend that you chose a travel pillow with its own carrying case and a baby-soft outer fabric, like this travel pillow from PureFly.
What was the best travel-related stocking stuffer that you’ve ever received? Let me know in the comments!