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Friends giving and opening Christmas presents next to Christmas tree
chika_milan | Adobe Stock

7 Terrible Travel Presents, and What to Give Instead

Most frequent travelers have likely gotten a few terrible travel presents from well-intentioned friends or family. I’ve received some I didn’t use at all, and others I felt guilty enough to try out, only to have them take up unnecessary packing space.

Terrible Travel Presents to Avoid

Thoughtful travel gifts are usually the most useful and touching presents, but there are some basics to avoid. Here are some tricky travel presents I tend to avoid gifting, and other items to consider instead.

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Avoid: Money Belts

Close up of person putting money and passport in money belt
Michael O'Keene | Adobe Stock

Maybe at one time these were a high-tech travel accessory, but those sad money belts and pouches that dangle on a shoelace-looking string should become a thing of the past. Instead, consider money-hiding travel presents that look a little bit sleeker.

Give: Hidden Pocket Clothing

Man buttoning a blue Bluffworks blazer

Clothes with secret pockets show you put a little bit more thought into your travel gift. For men, this Bluffworks Blazer has 10 hidden pockets and is perfect for frequent business travelers. For women, there are plenty of travel dresses with pockets to choose from if you know what she likes. Or for something simpler, this handy Infinity Wrap Scarf with a zipper pocket can stealthily hold money and a passport or cards.

Avoid: A Suitcase

A yellow suitcase, a blue suitcase, and a striped tote bag sitting in a blue room
Pixel-Shot | Adobe Stock

Unless you’re very familiar with what kind of luggage your recipient likes, a whole suitcase can be among those travel presents that are hard to nail. It’s usually a purchase that will be heavily used for years to come, and is therefore a pretty big decision to make for someone else.

Give: Multipurpose Bags

The Matein Travel Laptop Backpack in grey

Bags that are multi-purpose, like a versatile backpack, make for better travel presents. The Matein Travel Laptop Backpack is a unisex option with plenty of pockets, a laptop compartment, a built-in charger, and a sleek design that makes it perfect for the office, business trips, and your weekend travels.

Avoid: Ill-Planned Airfare

Over-the-shoulder shot of person looking at a booking confirmation on their phone
Przemek Klos | Adobe Stock

Booking a surprise trip might seem like a romantic travel present to gift a significant other, but making someone wake up at 5 a.m. for a flight or trek to an inconvenient airport might be a forced commitment you didn’t consider in your excitement. Airfare is usually nonrefundable, after all.

Give: Airline Gift Cards

Southwest airlines gift card

Consider an airline gift card for a reliable low-cost carrier, like the Southwest Gift Card—so your recipient can take care of the finer details before pouncing on a deal, or so you can book later on together.

Avoid: A Passport Cover

A tan passport cover next to a keyboard, mouse, and compass on a wooden desk
ezstudiophoto | Adobe Stock

Covers for passports have always perplexed me as an unnecessary accessory that annoys security agents and highlights your most important and at-risk travel document. Passports should be tucked into a secure place, not made bigger and harder-to-stash by a map-printed leather sleeve that says “wanderlust” on it. Most document checks at border patrol will require you to remove it anyway.

Give: Anti-Theft Bag

Arden Cove Waterproof Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bags in cream filled with travel documents, cash, and a passport

Arden Cove’s Waterproof Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bags will do a lot more to protect your passport from damage or theft. They’re also stylish, yet durable enough to wear on most trips. The bags come in mini (6.5 by 4.5 inch) and full (8.5 by 6.5 inch) sizes, featuring a light chain strap and plenty of internal pockets. Arden Cove also offers stylish wallets that transform into a belt bag: a great option for those who’d appreciate being able to wear their travel organizer on their waist, like an ultra-chic fanny pack.

Avoid: Shoes

Close up of man trying on dress shoes from a new shoe box | Adobe Stock

Like suitcases, shoes are a big decision to make for others as travel presents. Unless you know the exact brand, size, and style the person wants, it’s better to leave the trying on and selecting to them. Don’t guilt someone into exploring a new destination with sore feet.

Give: A Scarf or Hat

Woman wearing a blanket scarf, drinking from a mug, and reading a journal next to a lake
Marina Andrejchenko | Adobe Stock

If you’re not close enough to be gifting them shoes, a cozy scarf or hat is a safer bet. Soft Merino wool or cashmere options will get a lot of use, like this unisex option from Dalle Piane.

Avoid: A Neck Pillow

Blue classic neck pillow on top of grey suitcase
Pixel-Shot | Adobe Stock

Flimsy neck pillows don’t do much for sleeping on the plane and take up unnecessary bag space if they’re not able to deflate. Even a more high-tech neck pillow can fall flat as a travel present—do you want your giftee to think of you every time they’re uncomfortably trying to get some sleep in a packed plane cabin?

Give: Mini Humidifier Diffuser

The Picni Essential Oil Diffuser on a wooden table

Something versatile and relaxing, like a mini humidifier diffuser, is a more thoughtful option for aiding sleep. The Picni Essential Oil Diffuser is an affordable and packable option for travel and works via USB cable that can connect to a power bank, laptop, and more. This diffuser even doubles as a gentle nightlight with seven LED color options, perfect for navigating an unfamiliar hotel room during a midnight bathroom break.

Avoid: Luggage Tags

Grey bag with yellow and blue luggage tags, sitting on a bright blue table
wittayayut | Adobe Stock

The only luggage tags I want on my suitcase are the cheap-yet-durable plastic ones that will no doubt get ruined by bag handlers and airport conveyer belts. That’s not exactly something you should be giving as a gift. Higher-end leather ones are a kitschy lost cause, in my opinion, especially if and when they end up traveling through inclement weather.

Give: A Travel Journal

Close up of person writing in a leather journal
uinmine | Adobe Stock

Aim for something that won’t get thrown onto a suitcase and forgotten about. Consider a leather-bound travel journal if the recipient enjoys writing or could simply use a nice notebook to jot down some of their favorite travel memories. Journals are also great for keepsakes like tickets and photographs: Your giftee will think of you every time they store some new travel memories.

Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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