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What Not to Buy the Traveler on Your List

If you’re still looking at gifts for your holiday list, travelers are both easy and hard to please: easy, because you know one of their main interests; hard because they usually have pretty fixed ideas about what they want and don’t want. Nevertheless, I’ll wade into that thicket with my own list of suggestions.

What Not to Buy

Holiday season travel publications are full of travel gadget gift suggestions—many electronic. Despite heavy promotions, I hesitate to recommend them. All the tech-minded travelers I know have fixed ideas about exactly what they want in electronics, cameras, and such. Unless you’re filling a known “order,” you could go seriously wrong. And many such items appear to be designed with the aim of looking cute in a display ad or a store rather than being truly useful. Even low-tech “travel store” gadgets are risky. Most travelers probably already have what they need and don’t need yet another voltage converter, travel alarm clock, or neck pillow.

The Current ‘Big Thing’

This year, e-readers may well be the gift of choice for travelers—at least those who don’t already have one or an equivalent tablet computer. Entry-level prices have broken the $100 barrier, and top-of-the-line models peak at under $400. The main choice you have to make is between formats: Amazon’s Kindle and some others display on an “electronic paper” background that really does emulate paper and is easy to read under just about any light; many others use more conventional LCD displays, which aren’t quite as easy to read but may offer color and additional functionality. They’re great gifts for anyone who likes to read books while traveling. Buy from Amazon, an electronics store like Best Buy, or even Wal-Mart.

Other Big-Ticket Ideas

If your travelers are heading for a foreign country where English is not the primary language, a good introductory-level computer-based language program could prepare them to communicate more effectively, or an advanced option could hone existing skills. Check any software outlet.

If your travelers are heading for Europe or Japan, a railpass might be just what they want. Most passes have an extended post-purchase use “window,” so you don’t need to know exact dates. Buy from Eurail, JR Pass, or any travel agent.

If you know a destination your traveler might like, go to a few of the “flash sale” coupon sites, where you can buy vouchers for upscale hotel and resort stays, valid for many months with specific dates to be arranged later. Check Living Social, our sister site SniqueAway, Voyage Privé, Yuupon, or others.

If you have some excess frequent flyer miles, you can have your airline issue awards in the names of the recipients. You may have to book a tentative itinerary, but most award trips are valid for a year and can easily be rescheduled.

Road warriors—especially if they use one airline most of the time—might be overjoyed to receive an annual membership in that line’s airport lounge club program. Prices range from $300 to $500 a year, direct from each airline.

Inexpensive Options

If you know where your travelers are heading next year, guidebooks and maps are no-brainers. Head for a good bookstore or log onto a few online book sites. If they’re dedicated European train travelers, the summer edition of the Thomas Cook European Timetable is invaluable for itinerary planning, available from online bookstores. (Sadly, Cook no longer issues the companion worldwide edition.) Foodies would love a Zagat guide or full-year subscription to Zagat’s online service.

If they haven’t decided where to go next, a subscription to a travel magazine can generate lots of ideas. My preference is Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, but the upscale slicks are also great.

If you know they need luggage, consider a roll-on suitcase or duffel. And, at least in my view, lightweight trumps sturdiness and durability.

Readers, still blanking on what to buy your well-traveled loved one? Check out our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide.

Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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