What we (and other traveling families) ACTUALLY want for Christmas

What we (and other traveling families) ACTUALLY want for Christmas

Curious about the best Christmas gifts for full time travelers? We have less space and more specific needs than you may realize!


Traveling full-time as a family sounds like a dream, and, in a lot of ways, it is. We get to explore new places, foods, and cultures as a family while escaping the commercialism and rat race of our home country.

We love sharing such amazing experiences together, but life as a full-time digital nomad is not always easy. We don’t have a permanent place to call home, we have to constantly make and then leave new friends, we may get sick while traveling, we miss certain things about home, we get on each other’s nerves, we aren’t always in a “traveling” mood, and we’re stuck with only small bags of personal items.

Luckily our families and friends in the United States are understanding and empathetic about our challenges. We get more support than we do slaps when we need to vent, which is more important than they realize.

What people seem to struggle to understand, though, is how limited our luggage actually is.

Our family travels with one 20″ carry-on suitcase and one small backpack each. In those bags we carry all of the clothes, shoes, and toiletries we need to live in a variety of climates and cultures. We also have lots of electronics to record our travel memories and continue to work on the road plus small souvenirs we collect along the way.

For many first-world airlines the size of luggage is more important than the weight, but regional airlines in developing countries operate differently. Around the world we’re commonly confined to small bags weighing less than 7kg (around 15 lbs).

That’s not very much.

So what gets left behind? Our laptops or camera? Nope. Our tennis shoes? Nope. Our toiletries? For the most partClothes? All the time. Souvenirs? Practically nonexistent. 

The point: We don’t have very much space and can’t carry around anything that doesn’t serve 10 uses.

One of my love languages in giving and receiving gifts, which I know I got from my family. My mom has always shown us we were on her mind by getting us trinkets for no reason, and my siblings have done the same thing. They are incredibly generous and I appreciate and understand the sentiment so very much! Unfortunately it’s just not appropriate now that we’re traveling light, and I feel like a jerk for telling everyone not to buy my son presents.

But honestlyI’d rather be a jerk to our extended family than to my son, who doesn’t fully understand why he has to choose between an unexpected gift and his one beloved stuffed animal because we can’t get ride of bulky, necessary things like his shoes or jacket. Believe me, I’m going to avoid breaking his heart at all costs. We’re trying to teach him to value experiences over things, anyway, and that’s already hard enough. 


So what can you give us for Christmas? What do we really want?

Read on to find out the best Christmas gifts for full-time travelers.

christmas gifts for full time travelers travel christmas gifts travel gift guide


1. Experiences

This is by far the best Christmas gift full-time travelers could receive. We’re traveling to experience new things, after all! Often traveling families are trying to save money while traveling, since flights, hotels, and meals out add up. This means that sometimes “fun” stuff, like expensive experiences, gets pushed aside.

It would be both meaningful and supportive to give someone the gift of a fun experience they either never thought of or considered out of their budget.

One way to gift experiences is through Get Your Guide, the world’s leading experience organizer. Get Your Guide offers incredible, authentic experiences hosted by locals in almost every country around the world. If you know where your loved one is planning to go and the sort of thing he or she is interested in doing, then a quick search on GetYourGuide.com for Christmas gifts is really easy!

You can read a synopsis of each tour offered, what they include, and reviews from recent travelers. The best part is that you can cancel or change Get Your Guide reservations within 24 hours of the experience starting, so if Suzy ends up preferring a hot air balloon ride to a photography walking tour it’s easy to switch things over!

Buy Travel Experiences at Get Your Guide here.


2. Donations in their name

People willing to leave the comforts of home usually end up with a hefty amount of empathy and love for the cultures they travel around, even if they didn’t leave home with that attitude.

A sincere way to gift from the heart is to make a donation to a local charity or world project in your traveler’s name.

One personal favorite is Heifer International. Heifer International allows people to “buy” (or contribute to buying) animals which will support a small community. They have the “teach a man to fish” philosophy and have local support staff around the world ready to teach people in struggling communities how to care for and use chickens, goats, or even cows to enhance their daily lives and provide a community-wide income. Heifer International has been my charity of choice for over a decade, and I still tear up every time a thoughtful family member hands me a H.I. card saying what has been donated in my name. I mean, being a small part of an entire family or group of people actively making their lives better…. what a wonderful feeling!

Donate in someone’s name through Heifer International here. 


My newer favorite is Rescue Gifts. Rescue.org is an organization using donations to further the lives of people in developing countries by providing educational opportunities, health packages (including life-saving baskets for laboring moms and newborns), birth control, small business training, etc. It’s just wonderful. I’ve given gifts from Rescue Gifts to The Woman Who Has Everything (aka my Mom) and my siblings promptly recognized that I had won that year’s Most Thoughtful Gift award. It’s true.

Give the gift of life through Rescue Gifts here. 


3. Reusable Goods

One thing we see a lot of while traveling is trash. Trash, trash, and more trash. Trash is being thrown into the ocean, dropped in piles on the street, floating in rivers, and stuck in animal’s muddy pastures. I’m personally shocked at how much plastic packaging is used in Asia, for instance, with an almost complete lack of public trash cans or recycling bins!

We just don’t need something wrapped in plastic, placed in a box, covered in paper and stickers, then placed in a bigger bag. It’s almost no surprise the remnants of what you actually wanted are floating down the street.

Resource conscious travelers are more interested in saving the planet than using disposable products. One way to support them is to buy reusable goods they actually need and will use (because we have almost no space, remember!)

Here are our favorite reusable travel essentials:

1. Reusable Metal Straws

Since most water from developing countries isn’t safe to drink, travelers are left to buy bottled or canned beverages everywhere we go. These bottles or cans are often dirty, which leads to either using a plastic straw (torn out of a plastic wrapper) or a napkin to clean the opening. Travelers can help cut down on the use of plastic by using their own reusable metal straws. This pack of straws is great, since the straws come with a cleaning brush, carrying case, and colored silicone tips to make drinking more comfortable and differentiate for users. While I wouldn’t carry all 8, a set of 3 would fit perfectly in my day bag!

2. Microfiber Towel Set

A towel set isn’t a very glamorous gift, but it’s one full-time travelers will use all. the. time. Our reusable towel set came with a large and small size, and we use both for different occasions. The full towel comes with us on beach or water activity days, and the small is perfect to keep in my day bag when washing our hands in public places. They are quick drying, lightweight, and antimicrobial. Believe me, your traveler will love this.

3. Reusable Tote Bag

A lightweight, reusable tote bag is one of a traveler’s best friends. It can keep hiking shoes separate from clean clothes in a suitcase, be used on grocery or shopping trips, take dirty clothes to a laundromat, or be used as a day bag instead of a purse or backpack. Here’s where you can make a traveler’s Christmas gift personal: turn an old t-shirt into a reusable bag, or buy one from their school alma mater or similarly meaningful place. Reusable tote bags are literally everywhere, so you easily make it special!

4. Reusable sandwich bags

Sandwich bags are so underrated when traveling! We use them to keep toothbrushes clean when traveling, to save foods we use when cooking in a rented kitchen, and to pack snacks for hikes and day trips. This set of 3 reusable sandwich bags are BPA, Pthalate, lead, and PVC free and easy to wipe clean. I’m seriously hoping this set ends up in our stocking when visiting home!


4. Make a photo book or scrap book of their travels

If your traveler sends you post cards or e-mail updates regularly a great Christmas gift would be to compile them in a scrapbook. My mother-in-law told us she would be keeping post cards my son sends from each country we visit, and I can’t wait to see the finished album at the end of our trip!

Since most modern day digital nomads keep pictures on social media, it’s easy to pull images from Facebook or Instagram to add to add to a photo book. It may seem like an antique concept to some new age travelers, but the value of a physical keepsake can never be exaggerated. When you have almost no space for souvenirs pictures become the most important memory from travels!

Make a photo book from pictures posted online through Mixbook here


5. Gift cards to outdoor supply stores

I know gift cards don’t portray the personal touch most people want at Christmas, but the fact that you assume your traveler knows what he or she needs better than you do will convey a lot of sincerity.

Trust them to pick out their own shoes, athletic pants, backpack, etc. from an outdoor supply store like REI. Chances are their old gear is starting to get too used or they realize they actually need something different but are too practical or cheap to spend the money to upgrade their gear.


6. Treats from home

If you’re sending a Christmas care package abroad you can’t go wrong with throwing in some goodies from your home country! When I first spent four months in Cambodia I craved Twinkies. I never would have eaten them when at home in the States, but the came to represent everything I wasn’t able to find in Cambodia. When I came home I warned my mom I wouldn’t be getting in the car to leave the airport unless she had Twinkies with her.

Now my son and I both love Oreos. We’re able to buy them abroad, but they are very expensive and never taste the same as they do at home. Even though it’s an expensive thing to do, my sister has sent us an American package of Oreos in every birthday care package. It’s something I don’t need from her, which makes the gesture even more special.


7. Re-stock toiletries

Toiletries seem like a boring gift, but it’s one of the things travelers can actually use. I only carry the bare essentials when traveling because we don’t have space for things like toothpaste, shampoo, and body soap which are easily found abroad. What’s not easy to find abroad is deodorant, sunscreen, moisturizer, and some makeup.

When you’re traveling to beaches and spending most of your time walking around reliable sunscreen and other products is something everyone needs.

When I go back to the United States every 6 months I stock up on my old favorites: Dove deodorant, Neutrogena moisturizer, and Aveeno sunscreen. I can find substitutes abroad, but domestic brands are really expensive around the world and are often inferior products. When it comes to skin and care you can’t be too careful!


8. Gift cards to favorite restaurants or places when visiting home

Food is sacred. As amazing as it is to test new cuisines from different places, your old favorites never go away. When visiting home one of the first things travelers will want to do (whether they admit it or not) is go to their favorite restaurants! Personally, I have a list of 10 different restaurants I have to have in the 3 weeks I’ll be back in the United States and I’m not ashamed to admit that three of them are national chains.

A gift card is a sweet way of inviting someone to relax at home. If your traveler is still on the road at Christmas, opt for an e-card. Knowing they have the perfect excuse to indulge in a favorite once they’re back home is enough to get someone through the inevitable bouts of homesickness.

Buy discount gift cards from other people here


9. Amazon Prime membership

Many people give up their Prime membership when traveling because they are no longer using the service for regular online shopping. What travelers may not realize is that Amazon Prime is still worth it when traveling.

  • Download Travel Books: The #1 reason we still use our Amazon Prime membershp when traveling is to access free travel books. We are able to access tons of options from Amazon’s digital library and download for free to our devices. Not only does this enhance our travels with the best tips for the places we visit, it’s a great way to save on space from hard copy books! Purchase Amazon Kindle Unlimited for your traveler so they can access even more books and audio programs for any device.
  • Listen to Music: You can still access Amazon’s music database when traveling. We love looking up music genres or famous artists from the regions we are currently travelling through, which really helps strengthen our experiences. It’s also great to download your standby favorites straight to your phone to have something to listen to while staring out a train window for hours on end. Purchase Music Unlimited for your traveler here so they can access even more music on the go.
  • Watch Movies: Amazon’s collection of original media is still available around the globe. They are becoming an entertainment powerhouse, and are constantly releasing new programs. Using Amazon to watch movies and TV abroad is a great way to stay up-to-date on entertainment back home without having to pay for additional streaming programs.
  • Send Gifts Back Home: We love the option to use our Amazon Prime membership to send special gifts to loved ones back home. Just because we’re traveling doesn’t mean we don’t love and remember our friends and family. We want to remain a part of everyone lives, but sending packages from abroad can be pretty unreliable!

Give the gift of Amazon Prime here


10. Souvenirs they’ve forgotten

No, you can’t get that hand-knotted rug from the Tibetan refugee center unless you’re actually in Nepal, but other souvenirs can be easily found online!

  • Country Flag Stickers: Our family, for instance, collects flag stickers for each country we visit. This is a common souvenir because travelers showcase their stickers on their luggage like a badge of honor. Sometimes it’s hard to hunt down the stickers or we forget, unfortunately, and our collection is left incomplete. If you keep up with your full-time traveling family’s travels you can find stickers for each of their visits and gift them a complete collection. They can use the ones they still need for their suitcase or choose to use them to decorate a mirror back home or travel scrapbook.
  • Country Patches: Country patches are popular for the same reason flag stickers are. Full-time travelers stitch them to backs or jean jackets as a point of pride to remember and showcase their adventures. But, again, we can’t always find the ones we need. Make your own collection as a Christmas gift so your traveler can choose how to use them later!
  • Scratch-off Travel Map: We were gifted a scratch-off travel map before our around the world trip began and we’ve kept it with us ever since. We roll it up tightly so it doesn’t take up much room, and pull it out to put on the wall of temporary homes. It’s a nice reminder of where we’ve been and where we want to go, and helps our son visualize our travels.


11. Massage, pedicure, or other health service

We walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk. Then we rub our feet, change shoes, and walk some more. Traveling is hard on your body! We want to get out and explore each new place as much as possible, and that requires a lot of energy and puts a lot of pressure on your muscles and joints. That jump from a limestone karst into the emerald ocean of Vietnam was incredible, but it hurt my back!

What we don’t always make time for when traveling full-time is self care. If your traveler is coming home for the holidays then plan an afternoon for you to both get a massage or pedicure together. That way you both relax and rejuvenate while spending quality time together! If your traveler is staying abroad for Christmas an internet search should turn up spas near their temporary home.

This suggestion is definitely not limited to female travelers! Most men and children we meet while traveling get massages all together. Believe me, there is no gender stigma when it comes to taking care of yourself on the road!


12. Digital games and books for kids

Full-time traveling kids rely on devices. We aren’t bad parents, this is just how it goes. We use a Kindle for schooling, books to read, games (both educational and entertaining), watching movies on plane rides, to play music to fall asleep to, and more. The amount of space we save by letting our son use a Kindle is amazing, and we don’t feel guilty for it at all. This is just one of the sacrifices we made by traveling full time.

You can support full-time travel families at Christmas by giving an iTunes gift card for digital games or books for kids, or buying an educational membership for them. There are apps that teach math, reading, science, and other subjects  which makes parenting and teaching while traveling much easier.

And don’t hold it against parents for handing over a device to children when traveling. Screen time isn’t going to kill them, and we just don’t have a lot of other options.


13. Roku

A Roku is a portable device which plugs into the USB port of any TV. Using a Roku allows viewers to access additional movies and TV shows from a variety of content providers. Because a Roku is so small this is a great Christmas present for travelers who miss regular TV broadcasting!

We let our membership to Hulu lapse but still have Amazon Prime and Netflix. These are great when we want to watch something on our personal devices or stay at an AirBnB with a smart TV, but sometimes those aren’t the best options. Our apartment in Thailand, for instance, doesn’t have a smart TV so my husband bought an HDMI cord to project content from his laptop to the TV. It works, but it’s kind of a pain to hook up and can only be used with his computer (not mine.) 

As an added bonus for traveling families Roku allows access to tons of original Disney content when you’re overseas!

Buy a portable Roku unit here


14. Cash

When all else fails money is always appreciated. If your traveler is staying abroad there is no thoughtfulness lost if you send some funds over PayPal with a note that you want them to use it for a nice meal, hotel, spa treatment, etc. Traveling is (obviously) expensive, and even daily needs like ubers and laundry services really add up! There’s nothing wrong with some extra money your traveler can use to get by.

This is my favorite gift for my son, actually. He has way more fun when we tell him we’re going to a night market and he has $10 from Grandma to spend on whatever he wants (as long as he understands that toys will have to stay when we leave the country or replace other toys in his bag). 

Picking out your thing can be so fun, especially if there’s a local spa or shop a traveler has been wanting to try but never seems to get around to. Don’t worry, when it comes to buying Christmas gifts for travelers there is no stigma in moolah.

Related: Here are things full-time travelers actually need


I hope you follow these suggestions on the best Christmas gifts for full-time travelers!

I know you miss your full-time traveler and you have spent the entire season thinking of something fun and special to gift them, but keep in mind that Christmas gifts should be for the receiver, not the giver. Putting some thought into what your traveler actually needs and wants instead of something they might like under other circumstances will show a level of understanding and support they’ll truly appreciate.

Traveling is hard sometimes. We have fun but hate being away from loved ones, and knowing we have your support makes such a difference to us. Show that support by not wasting your money on things we can take with us or use. Don’t make us be the bad guy and have to say “No” to every toy or piece of clothing we receive. That’s no fun for anyone!


Doing some holiday shopping for your favorite traveling family? Pin this article to save our list of Christmas gifts for full time travelers!


Christmas gift guide for travelers! Here are the best gift ideas for travelers in 2018! #Travel #TravelTips #GiftGuide #Christmas #TheObriensAbroad


The Best Holiday gift guide for travelers in 2018! Here are the best gift ideas for travelers! #Travel #TravelTips #GiftGuide #Christmas #TheObriensAbroad