With the holidays coming up, consider how some of your presents might do double-duty in terms of preparing your traveler (or yourself!) for an adventure. Here are my recommendations for some gear to consider to make the journey safe, easy, and fun.
When I was in fifth grade, I signed up for my school’s trip to Washington, DC. I asked for a black Samsonite suitcase for Christmas, and I used it until college! If your traveler doesn’t already have it, luggage is a practical and meaningful gift.
You can really go all-out with all the special features available in suitcases today (some even have internal luggage scales and GPS tracking!), but the elements that I consider to be most important are sturdy wheels and zippers and lots of pockets. If you’re buying a new piece of luggage, I might consider choosing a unique style or color. People are way less likely to accidentally walk off with your stuff from baggage claim if it’s in a lime green suitcase!
If you don’t need a rolling suitcase, a backpack especially designed for travel can be useful. I like the ones from PacSafe, which have some additional anti-theft features.
A day bag specifically designed for travel is also a big help. Although I am strongly in favor of traveling light, there are some things that you will always want to have with you on a day-to-day basis: cash and credit cards, your phone, an external charger, your passport. I’ve been using baggallini bags for years and have had good experiences with them; many of their products have anti-RFID material to prevent your information from being stolen, and I particularly like the interior pockets that let me securely store my passport.
If your family already has the larger pieces of luggage that you are going to use, luggage tags are a great option. I always worry about the paper tags that they give you at airport check-in are going to get ripped off. A unique luggage tag is also a great way of personalizing your bag and making it easier for you to visually identify as it’s rolling down the lane at baggage claim.
International flights can take a lot out of you! For our trip, it’s important for students to use that time to sleep because once we land, our tour begins! (We won’t be going to the hotel for a nap.) A travel pillow, blanket, and eye mask can make the time above ground much more comfortable (and they’ll probably come in handy on our bus and train rides as well).
Smartphone Camera Lenses
Personally, I don’t want to lug a camera around in addition to everything else that I need when I’m travelling. Fortunately, cell phone cameras usually take great-quality photos and are up for the job of documenting adventures! You can even improve their capabilities with some lens adapters which can give you extra zoom or a wider angle. There are a number of inexpensive cell phone camera lenses available on Amazon, but Moment makes some that are a bit sturdier (and pricier!).
There is something really special about holding a piece of paper in your hands and knowing that it has traveled around the world from someone you love just to get to you. A set of stationery gives student travelers the excuse to sit quietly for a few moments and really think about all they are getting to see and experience – and the recipient of their letters gets a souvenir too!
A Travel Journal
Like a letter or a postcard, a travel journal has a little extra magic because when you leaf through the pages, you realize that it was actually there, with you, literally across the world. There are all kinds of specialized travel journals, but even a plain, sturdy notebook could become an important keepsake.
Scrapbook Materials/Picture Frame
You know that this is going to be the experience of a lifetime, and while your pictures will look fabulous on social media, there is something special about having a hard copy. I personally really enjoy creating scrapbooks because I can put in all of the extra little items that help me to remember the trip – boarding passes and ticket stubs and brochures and maps. But a picture frame is also a nice way to make sure that you keep one special moment from our journey close to your mind.
Adapters are an absolutely essential piece of travel gear! You can get country-specific ones, or you can get a James Bond-style universal adapter. I think that it’s always nice to have more than one just in case you forget one at a hotel or to lend to a friend.
You will absolutely not be able to be able to get through the day on a single charge on your cell phone. In addition to draining more quickly because of all of the pictures that you will be taking, cell phone batteries also can lose their charge in cold weather (something that we don’t have a lot of experience with in Texas!). I would invest in a sturdy, quality charger – I have been through a handful of the cheap ones that inexplicably stop working when I need them the most!
Finally, you can’t go wrong with some spending money for mementos! There will gift shops at virtually every stop we make with lots of cool stuff. I’ll tell you a little bit more about my philosophy on buying meaning souvenirs closer to our trip (but in sum, less is more and buy local), but there will undoubtedly be some tchotchke or doo-dad that catches your eye and your heart.
If you want to make it a little special, go ahead and exchange the money into the local currency. In Houston, I think that the best place to do that is either your bank (call ahead and tell them how much you need so that they can order it) or at the currency kiosk in Memorial City Mall. (The rates at the desks in the Galleria are not advantageous.)