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The Best Gifts For Travelers (In A Year With Very Little Travel)

Having created five UPROXX Travel Gift Guides now, we’ve got some gift recommending experience under our belts. A few of those years, the guide ballooned — turning into sprawling, maximalist wishlists. This time around, it’s quite the opposite.

As we looked at the gifts that best suit travelers at the end of a year filled with very little travel, we decided against recommending every cool, travel-adjacent thing we could think of. Money is tight for many people and, frankly, perhaps the best present you can offer heading into 2021 is a trip. A Hipcamp certificate, a boutique hotel stay, a visit to a cabin where wifi doesn’t exist — it’s tough to argue with the gift of actual travel as the quarantine winds down.

That said, we did come up with 10 products, from stocking stuffers to… the exact opposite of that, which earned our highest recommendation. These are items we’ve tried, tested, and fallen in love with. Gifts that feel in line with the year that was — when resilience and sturdiness were perhaps the two most important qualities and being able to navigate the world on your own felt like an absolute necessity.

As you’ll see, price wasn’t the key factor here. From top to bottom, quality was the central focus.

Vibes Silicone Earplugs

Amazon

Price: $17.95

I probably don’t need to wax philosophic about earplugs for too long. But I do think that these are a vital stocking stuffer.

Why? Because any traveler knows that your headphone batteries will eventually die, as will your phone, and you’ll want to zone out a little. Or you’ll be at a hostel and find a world-class snorer sleeping on the other side of a paper-thin wall. Or you’ll want to surf in cold water without having to fight to get water out of your inner-ears all trip.

Earplugs are useful, is what I’m saying, and if you have a passionate traveler in your life, they’ll be glad you got them these.

Buy Vibes Earplugs here.

Books For Travelers

Uproxx

We picked this year’s travel books for three very specific reasons:

Island Zombie is a thoughtful reflection on isolation, resilience, natural wonder, and living in the moment. Written by the contemporary artist Roni Horn, it’s the sort of book you find yourself returning to often — to ponder, to explore, and to be inspired. In fact, this book is more like an art project that you want to page through at random than a straightforward “travelogue.” Not only does it venture deep into the author’s obsession with Iceland, but it has something unique to say about why humans love to travel in the first place.

Buy Island Zombie: Iceland Writings, By Roni Horn for $35 here.

America The Beautiful is a reminder that our big brawling nation is more than its political landscape, more than its capitalist obsessions, and more than its constant media-world ouroboros. America is raging seas and towering pines. It’s white sand beaches and frozen lakes. It’s undulating hills and swaying kelp beds.

In a year in which it felt so easy to categorize our citizens into “either/ or” binaries, this book adds nuance, texture, and beauty back into the conversation of what “America” actually means.

Buy America The Beautiful: A Story In Photographs, By National Geographic for $28.72 here.

The Open Road is the travel guide any vanlife vagabond would be thrilled to receive. It’s full of road trips. Better yet, they’re all here, in this country, where people will need your tourism dollars the second travel is given the “all clear.”

This entry from the cult-beloved Moon Guides is useful, engaging, and nicely put together. A coffee table volume that will actually get read. If the traveler in your life doesn’t want to get overly cerebral about it all and just wants to get on the damn road already, this is your pick.

Buy The Open Road: 50 Best Road Trips in the USA, by Jessica Dunham for $27.99 here.

Tribit Storm Box Micro

tribit

Price: $49.99

You could say a lot about this speaker, but… you probably don’t have to. It’s enormously loud for its size, the battery lasts a long time (6-7 hours during our tests), and it has an automatic shutoff — vital for travelers who forget minor details like powering down their electronics. Also, it’s water-resistant, which is a huge perk.

In short, this is the speaker the traveler in your life needs in their pack when they finally hit the road again — landing in that sweet spot where size and durability meet performance. Also, as we start to veer toward some pretty spendy items, this one is exceptionally affordable.

Buy a Storm Box Micro here.

Vallon Howlin’ Tortoise Shell Sunglasses

Vallon

Price: $110

As utilitarian as this list is, it had to have at least one item that would make you cooler just off appearance alone. One entry that throws a vibe. These ’70s style aviators — which feel like they could be worn by Paul Newman, James Dean, or Eartha Kitt — are exactly that, making them the perfect pick for the style-conscious road warrior.

It’s not just the vintage design that we like here, either. The Vallon shades feature polarized lenses and come with a forest green elastic strap that plugs seamlessly into the sunglass arms and looks far less dorky than a sunglass strap has any right to look. Meaning perhaps the traveler you gift these to won’t lose them right away and then have to resort to buying bedazzled knock-offs on a street corner in Bologna then having their retinas burned because of the terrible lenses.

Buy the Vallon Howlin’ sunglasses here.

Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L

Peak Design

Price: $129.95

There are a few defining factors for a good travel duffel:

  1. Durable. Like metal-zippers-thick-canvas-stiff-frame-quadruple-stiched-straps type of durable.
  2. And…

Really that’s it.

Ultimately, the traveler in your life wants something they can bang around and have no fear about. A bag they can jam into overhead compartments and throw into truckbeds. Something with zipper teeth so sturdy you feel like they’ll outlast your own chompers.

This is that bag. It’s tough. It’s functional. It has a few pockets and a strap that’s heavier-duty than a squad car seatbelt. The fact that it actually looks cool is just an added perk.

Buy the Peak Design Travel Duffel here.

Grand Canyon Polaroid Camera

Park

Price: $160

There’s been a Polaroid camera on this list for a few years running now. Design-wise, this ’70s throwback honoring the Grand Canyon is probably the coolest Polaroid we’ve highlighted yet, plus part of the proceeds go to supporting America’s National Parks. But the point of a Polaroid is always the same: Immediate photo gratification.

Being able to take photos and see them right away was neat in the middle of the last century, back when it represented the furthest reaches of camera tech. It’s even cooler now — when so many photos are lost to the cloud, never to be displayed or looked upon. It’s a tangible object in an almost-completely digital industry.

In all of the travel world, there is probably no gesture so widely appreciated as taking a few polaroids and handing them out to the people you meet. If you buy this for a traveler, you’re essentially purchasing them an easy way to connect with others on the road. And that’s a gift that’s sure to be appreciated.

Buy the Parks Project Grand Canyon Polaroid Camera here.

Beats By Dre Studio 3 Wireless Headphones

Amazon

Price: $349.95

We have to be discerning about headphones in this gift guide. Because good headphones — and the Beats Studio 3 are very good — create a private world for the listener. And private worlds, on the road, keep you from connecting and experiencing the places you’re at. You can get so focused on the auditory experience that you miss out on the other senses.

And yet… how many of our favorite memories are deeply entwined with music? How often has just the right song — played while staring out of a plane or bus window — helped us to process our adventures? So while headphones on the road can be misused, they are vital.

Having tested a lot of headphones over the years, we’ve landed on these for nailing the balance between price, utility, and pure performance. The sound here is clean, crisp, and captures the highs and lows well enough to truly transport you. Better still, the noise-canceling feature is what we would describe as “baby crying two rows up and you’re still blissed out”-quality. You need that when traveling.

But the greatest perk of these headphones for travelers is the battery life. The charge on these lasts. We’re talking like 20ish hours of listening. That means you can get through two monster plane rides and a few bus trips without a recharge. Good travel gear is all about making things easier for the traveler while increasing their enjoyment, the Beats Studio 3 nails that balance.

Buy Beats Studio 3 Headphones here.

Mission Workshop The Rhake Weatherproof Laptop Backpack

Mission Workshop

Price: $370

Let’s be very clear. If you’re buying a $370 backpack, that thing needs to last. Not a few years, either. We’re talking a decade.

We didn’t test this bag for a full 10 years, but we did try to beat the sh*t out of it in the time we had. Really give it a pounding. Yanking the zippers, submerging it in the bath, showering with it on, and trying to literally pull it apart. It definitely held up. Especially the waterproof aspect.

It should go without saying, you don’t need to buy this for the resort-focused traveler in your life. Not even for the average backpacker. This is a straight-up tactical go-bag for people venturing into the wild and bringing expensive equipment along with them.

If you know someone who fits that description, they’re going to like this. Every aspect is highly thought out for someone taking truly expensive tech into situations where shelter isn’t guaranteed. Yes, $370 is a lot for a backpack. But as anyone who’s ever slid down a ravine while simultaneously worrying about whether their gear was going to be irreparably damaged knows, peace of mind is worth paying for.

Buy it here.

Nikon Z 5 Mirrorless Camera + Nikon School Online

Nikon

Price: $1,199.95

Just like there are a lot of people with photos stuck on the Cloud that they’ll never view, there are a lot of photos shot on DSLRs that will never be edited. And when you get three or four years down the road from a trip and you still haven’t imported the files into Photoshop, you start to wonder if lugging a massive camera around for weeks at a time was really worth it.

Having been a lot of places and taken our share of pictures, our team votes: It’s not.

Not unless you’re really passionate about photos or trying to make it your livelihood. Otherwise, we’re in an era when an all-around camera can get glossy-magazine quality pictures without requiring its own bag, various lenses, light meters, tripods, etc. Better to use that and actually experience your trip, than allow a whole adventure to be dictated by camera paranoia. (Seriously, will you actually take a dip in that hot springs knowing that you’ve got $5K in gear sitting a few feet away? Or will you be left tinkering with your toys on the sidelines?)

The Nikon Z 5 Mirrorless is the best “all-arounder” that we’ve tested. It shoots video and full-frame photos. It’s durable, it’s compatible with the whole line of NIKKOR lenses, and — best of all — you don’t have to be a pro to use it effectively. (But also, you can be a pro, it holds up to that level.)

Another perk: Right now Nikon is conducting free online photography classes, so whoever you give this gift to can actually learn how to make the most of it.

Buy the Nikon Z 5 here and check out Nikon’s Online School here.

Super73-S2 Electric Motorbike

Super73

Price: $2,445

So it comes down to this. The big-ticket item — a $2500 electric bike. That’s a serious investment. Though, to be fair, it’s less expensive than literally dozens of designer bags featured on Neiman Marcus. And it’s about half of a Williams Sonoma espresso machine. Can purses or coffeemakers zip your beloved around from place to place, existing in a sort of legal gray area in which it’s somehow all good to go 28 MPH in a bike lane on what amounts to a one-person Tesla with pedals?

We dare say not.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that having some options when the world goes to shit is vital. So we’re not afraid to throw our support behind a gift that 1) offers the kinetic thrill of travel without burning fossil fuel, 2) gets people outdoors and away from crowds, and 3) helps folks clear their heads when life in quarantine has them feeling stir crazy.

So why this bike, in particular? We’ve tested a few electric bikes now and the Super73-S2 has the perfect balance of range, speed, comfort, and price for the traveler. It can be taken on the road as part of a #vanlife rig or used as the sole-transport for a camping trip near home. It’s a monster on trails and doesn’t have any superfluous pieces that feel like they might rattle loose.

Sure, this is a splurge, but it’s one that the traveler in your life will remember and love you for while they’re buzzing through the badlands or cruising down a grassy path to an abandoned surf break. It’s not just a gift for travelers, it literally the gift of travel. It also looks badass — like a vintage dirtbike — which is something your giftee probably cares about (even if they don’t admit it).

Buy the Super73-S2 here.

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