There are currently about a million and one travel gift guides out there, aimed at finding the perfect present for your gap year pals. Is mine going to be any different? Well, I’d like to think so.
If you’ve got a friend (or son, daughter, distant relation), who is mad on travel, or about to depart on a long-term trip, this will be perfect for them. I’m (metaphorically) on the road right now (OK, I’m actually in a cafe), so I can recommend stuff that I’ve personally found useful at some point in my four-odd years of travel experience – or stuff that I’ve been really jealous of other people for having. I’ve done my best to put a couple of more original ideas in there as well.
Anyway, it can’t hurt to make it a million and two, right?
Read on for some of my recommendations (based on experience) for your gap year guy or gal.
If you’re looking for that one awesome present of the year, then take a look at some of these ideas.
Sadly, I have never owned a GoPro. I’ve already got a DSLR, and I thought it would be beyond daft to bring two cameras (plus smartphone) away with me, so I have yet to purchase one myself. However, almost everyone you meet on your travels has one version or another, so it wouldn’t be right not to recommend them!
The latest and greatest version is the Hero 5 Action Camera. This version has a two-inch display, so you can see the pictures you’ve just taken (making it a little less hit and miss than other models!). Another good thing about this one is that the camera itself is waterproof up to 10 metres, so you don’t need to worry about buying a case for it.
The Hero Session is a cheaper alternative, which is also the smallest and lightest version GoPro have come out with. It’s dead easy to use: there’s literally only one button – it would be hard to mess up. However, the likelihood of taking pictures of your own confused face at first is high. Similar to the Hero5 Action, the unit itself is waterproof.
If the person you’re buying for already has a GoPro, you could always get them one of the many accessories that go along with it, from chest strap, to head strap, to floating mount. Then again, you can always just get them a shoelace or something to tie it onto their hand…
Though the invention of the GoPro has probably seen a reduction in interest for the good ol’ DSLR, I still think they are a great investment. I’ve had mine for three years now and it’s never failed (even though I lost the lens cap on a beach in Peru, just under three years ago). They never fail to take great-quality pictures, and this is immensely satisfying even if you never leave automatic mode.
If you’re buying for someone who isn’t already into their photography, I’d choose the Nikon D3300 as a good entry-level camera. It’s recommended in multiple tech blogs out there, and is basically a better, newer version of my faithful D3100 that I’ve had for a few years. If you don’t like the look of that one, there are plenty of similar options available!
I like these so much that I got one, lost it in my first week in South America, then got another one (this time managing to keep hold of it). They are quite simply the best e-reader out there, coping well in all light conditions. They’re light, durable, and the closest thing to a book that isn’t an actual book.
My favourite thing about Kindles is that you can get loads of books for free, which appeals to the budget backpacker in me. Sadly this only works if you’re a bit of a geek like I am, and love all the old classics.
Amazon have also come out with a new, slightly cheaper model recently, so it might be worth taking a look at that too – though I can’t personally recommend it!
I probably wouldn’t recommend having an iPad and a Kindle to lug around on a trip, but if you don’t take a laptop with you, then an iPad is an incredibly useful substitute. The more recent ones are pretty powerful machines, and often can pick up WiFi better than smartphones.
They’re good for listening to music, browsing the internet, using social media and (especially if you don’t have a Kindle) reading books. If you’re travelling, probably the best option would be the iPad mini or an iPad air – purely from a space- and weight-saving point of view. If it’s going to be used instead of a laptop, it’s probably worth getting the 32GB version (or even more storage), so you can continue to use it when it gets filled up with junk.
If the person you’re buying for already has an iPad, one useful accessory that you can get is an iPad keyboard – even more perfect if they’re going away laptop-less. There are different keyboards for different models, so check out this one for the Air and this one for the Mini.
One of the simplest but best options out there is the gift of a subscription. When you’re away, having access to music, films and books can be a real comfort – especially when you don’t have to dip into your own precious cash to do so! There are loads of different companies you can subscribe to, but here are my top suggestions:
Relatively new onto the scene, this is Amazon’s latest bright idea. For a monthly fee of £7.99 you can subscribe to get one audiobook each month. It’s ideal listening to pass the time on long-distance bus journeys, while you’re hiking, or during boring farm work (that’s its current use for me).
If you want to test it out before you commit to buying it, click here to get a 30-day free trial. I’ve just started mine and it’s pretty great – I’m listening to Bill Bryson’s Down Under, and although the narrator does a terrible Yorkshire accent, it’s been a life saver during long days on the farm (did I mention I’m in Australia?)
They have more than 200,000 titles to choose from, and all you have to do is download the app to listen on whatever device you choose. Sound good? Check it out here.
Music can be a lifesaver when you’re travelling. It can help block out the snores of your dorm-mates, while away the time during long stints on public transport, or push you that bit harder on your bi-annual run, when you decide that the backpacker life is making you fat.
The great thing about Spotify Premium is that it’s unlimited, so you can listen to as many albums, artists and songs as you like. You can download their curated playlists, or create your own, and with Premium you can make them available offline. For students, it’s only £5 a month (and for the rest of the world it’s £10 – still worth it in my opinion).
You can get a free 30-day trial of Premium or you can currently get 3 months for £0.99 – so if I were you I’d grab that deal while you can!
Ahhhh, Netflix. Without its timely invention, how on earth would we procrastinate from real life for hours on end?
A Netflix subscription comes in at £5.99 a month for the basic package (one screen at a time), and in my opinion is totally worth it. Alternatively, you could always get a premium subscription (four screens) and just give your traveller the password to access it – so everyone can enjoy!
Of course, the downside to this is that it very much depends on where in the world you are travelling to. Some places won’t have good enough WiFi to make use of it; other countries might have a fairly poor selection of shows to watch. Then again, maybe it could be considered a good opportunity to get an insight into the local culture by watching some local favourites – who doesn’t love a bit of Bollywood?
I recommended them in last year’s Christmas list, and I’m doing it again this year. I just LOVE them. I was very upset when I had to finally consign mine to the bin just a few weeks ago, and I will be getting some more as soon as I feel I can justify it.
I personally prefer the classic two-strap brown ones (yep, the ones that mum and dad wear), but there are loads of different sorts.
These are the one travel item that EVERYONE has cottoned on to recently, aaaand of course I am the same. Because they really are so useful. You can divide up your stuff into sensible compartments, and it makes it a whole lot less time consuming when you have to panic-pack because check-out time is fast approaching.
I’ve actually got two sets myself, but I’d really recommend the Rhino Tough ones. They are colour-coded, so you can easily see which one you’re aiming for, and they are very durable – unlike some that are on the market.
My Anker battery pack has genuinely improved my life while travelling no end. Having to find a charging point in a hostel is such a faff, and they are never near the beds, so a battery pack is one of the most useful items you can take with you.
They have a number of different models – the price varies depending on the amount of power that they have. This is the one I have: it charges a device about 6 or 7 times, and has two USB ports so you can charge more than one at a time.
It may seem a bit old fashioned, but a penknife is still a really useful multi-purpose item to have around when you’re travelling. Shoutout to my little brother for getting me one before I left – it’s actually come in really handy, albeit mainly just to open bottles of beer!
The one I have is the proper Swiss Army type, in wood (very classy), but you can also get the classic red ones. You pay more depending on how many different tools you want, so have a browse for the one that best suits.
If you’re after something small, there’s still loads of useful things you can get for the travel lover.
These are a necessary addition to anyone’s luggage when travelling. Ice-breaker, boredom-buster, drinking companion – they have so many uses, and at minimal cost!
If you want something to add to make this a bit more of an interesting present, why not get them a book of card games? They can either take it with them to read on the flight, or swot up before their trip so they’re prepared to teach fellow travellers some entertainment. Check out the hefty tome, Card Games for Dummies, or for a more travel-friendly option, the Collins pocket-sized Card Games. Even better, you can buy both of these on Kindle, making it no hassle to carry round at all!
A bit of a boring gift, I’ll grant you, but both of these are absolute staples for staying in hostels around the world. Late night arrivals, snorers, couples doing things you don’t want to know about in the bed below – all these can be blocked out with a good set of earplugs and a blackout eye mask.
I like a plain, simple black eye mask like this one – which comes with ear plugs – but you can also get fun (/creepy) ones that have eyes on and things too…
If you want a fun, budget version of a pen knife, look no further! The wallet ninja is a kind of multi-tool that fits perfectly into your purse or wallet. It’s got multiple different uses, from screwdriver, to the ever-crucial bottle opener. And, importantly, it’s TSA-approved, so safe to carry on flights (unlike penknives – put those in your checked baggage, folks).
I’m about to hit you with an extremely predictable list of wanderlust-worthy books that have got my feet itching, but I genuinely love every one of them – so please don’t judge!
Wild was one of my favourite reads for making me feel like I could do anything if I was determined enough. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of it, but in a nutshell it’s the story of a broke, depressed girl who gives herself a kick up the arse and hikes the incredibly challenging Pacific Crest Trail, all by herself. It’s awesome.
Eat, Pray, Love is a huge cliche of a book, but I first read at a time where huge cliches were right up my street, so I remain fond of it. While the beginning part is a bit too wishy-washy for my liking (she has some sort of divine epiphany, bleurgh), the rest of the plot and the description of the places she goes is enough to make anyone want to book a plane ticket.
Another one that, perhaps strangely, made me want to get outside and climb a few mountains, was Between a Rock and a Hard Place. This is the story that inspired the (somewhat gruesome) film 127 hours – but what the film misses out is all the great outdoors-y stuff before the ‘incident’: hiking and swimming and challenging yourself to the extreme.
I’d also heartily recommend pretty much any Bill Bryson book for a humorous look at travel to various different continents. What a guy he is. A Walk in the Woods was the book which first sparked my love for travel writing, and I’m currently listening to Down Under on Audible, as I mentioned before. I’ll forever be upset that by the time I got to Durham University old Bill was no longer the Chancellor there.
Finally, always worth a mention are the Lonely Planet destination guides. These are useful sources of information for wherever the gap year takes you, with everything from budget to luxury recommendations (though I’d always go for the ‘shoestring’ versions). Especially if its someone’s first time travelling, these are a great starting point.
Hopefully this list has sparked a bit of inspiration about what to get for the imminent gap year traveller. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions!
Note: some (but not all!) of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you click them and then purchase something from Amazon. Don’t worry though, this comes at no extra cost to you – and it would make me and my backpacker budget very happy if I get even a few extra pennies to my name!