Inventive Holiday Gift Ideas for Travelers on a Tight Budget

Your guide to getting through the gifting season

gift ideas for travelers

People are always looking for great gift ideas for travelers. But how should we travelers give back?

How do travelers handle gift-giving when we’re away during the holidays? How do we manage our gift budget when we’re trying to save money for travel?

And how can we politely explain to friends and family that all we want for Christmas is cold hard cash or a gift card to our nearest outdoor outfitters?

Keep reading for some great…

Holiday Gift Ideas for Travelers on a Tight Budget

People are always looking for great gift ideas for travelers. But how should we travelers give back?  How do you travelers handle gift-giving if you're away during the holidays? How do we manage our gift budget when we're trying to save money for travel?   And how can we politely explain to friends and family that all we want for Christmas is cold hard cash or a gift card to our nearest outdoor outfitters? We answer all that and more in our Traveller's Guide to Holiday Gift Giving!

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Gift Ideas for Travelers Who Are Away During the Holidays

Give something back

When we first knew each other, Stephen used to pack up a Christmas box to send to his family across the country and his family would pack one up to send back to us. The postage cost more than the gifts!

After we moved to England, we decided this ridiculous practice had to end. Instead of buying a present for each family member, we chose relevant charities and donated charitable gifts in their names instead.

Everybody loved the “gifts” and during the next few years, many of our family members adopted the practice.

Tips on picking a charity gift

Instead of choosing something that appeals to you, think about your gift recipient. Are they passionate about education? Do they love animals? Are they an avid environmentalist? Choose a charity that speaks to their passions, not yours.

Another option is to choose a charity that operates in the country you are visiting. That way, you can give a meaningful gift to the community where you’ll be spending the holidays.

If you really can’t choose, you can always give a gift card from Global Giving and let your giftee choose their own charity!

Rock-Paper-Scissors Children's Fund

Your holiday gift donation could buy a bike for a girl in Vietnam.

If you want our recommendation, our current favourite is Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund who bring music, art and bicycles to underprivileged kids in Vietnam.

A perfect gift for the musician, cyclist, or artist in your life!

Give an experience

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If you need to get a “real” gift for someone, think about giving them an experience. Experiences provide more enduring happiness than material goods so if you want to make your giftees truly happy this Christmas, give them an experience.

A movie or iTunes gift certificate is ideal if you have nieces and nephews at home. For grown-ups, grab tickets to a local play, concert, or broadway show. Or give them tickets to a tourist attraction in their area… chances are, as local residents, they’ve never or rarely visited some of the most impressive sights in their region.

You could also sign your giftee up to receive a monthly delivery of a local veggie box, cheese of the month, or wine or beer of the month. Or sign them up for a magazine subscription you know they will love. As an extra bonus, each month when they receive their gift, they’ll think of you fondly.

Buy local

If you really must give a physical token of your love, look for local shops in the country you’re visiting that support a foundation. In Sri Lanka, we discovered Embark where all the proceeds go to rescuing local dogs and cats. In Hoi An, Vietnam, gifts bought at the Lifestart Foundation shop help disadvantaged Vietnamese people become self-sufficient.

embark sri lanka

Buying gifts at Embark helps street dogs in Sri Lanka!

You’ll have to think way ahead to make buying and mailing gifts home an affordable option. It can take around a month to send a box overseas, so if you’re reading this in December, you may already be too late!

Send an IOU

If you can’t afford the postage for a gift box (who can?), then you can always send a heartfelt apology and a promise to take your giftee out for drinks or dinner as soon as you get back.

Budget Gift Ideas if You’re Saving for Travel

The holidays can drain your travel savings faster than you can say lickety-split. So arm yourself with some budget gift ideas now before you discover your Paris fund has been eaten up by ol’ Saint Nick.

Throw a white elephant party

Instead of giving a special gift to each of your very many friends, throw a white elephant party. Invite everyone over and ask them to bring a small gift and a festive dish for a potluck. That way you’re not stuck paying for all the refreshments and you don’t have to splurge on multiple gifts.

Plus, you have an excuse to party it up with your pals at the most wonderful time of the year.

Here’s a whole website dedicated to the art of the White Elephant Party →

Draw names

When I was in my early 20s, my family decided that the nightmare of buying gifts for all the various siblings and spouses in our family had gotten out of hand. We instituted a name draw for the adults in the family. Limiting our giving to a single gift meant we all saved cash, time, and holiday stress.

Rudolph raised our Christmas spirits today.

It’s the holiday spirit that counts!

Throw a non-commercial Christmas

One year, I suggested we all exchange hand-made gifts instead of commercially bought gifts. I wanted to save money and the planet at the same time. Family members showed up with homemade granola, infused olive oils, and some tasty Christmas baking.

(Unfortunately, I liked this idea better than most of my non-domestic family, so we never did it again. But if you come from a craftier bloodline, maybe it will work for you!)

Here are some great handmade gift ideas →

Go on an adventure

You’re an adventurer, so why not convince your family that this year you should take an adventure instead of spending cash on gifts? Book a winter camping trip and have fire-roasted turkey hot dogs for Christmas dinner. Or rent a few rooms in a B&B for a couple of days of family fun.

If that’s too expensive, you could all volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless charity for the holidays, forgoing gifts and donating to the charity instead.

Give your time

If your family and friends are like mine, they more money than time. If you’re saving for travel, give your time as a gift. Offer to babysit or do some gardening or maintenance work in lieu of buying a gift.

What to Ask for if You’re Downsizing for Travel

Who knew that gifts can be a burden? But they seriously can.

Stephen and I got married in Canada while we were living in England. Our gift registry was carefully selected to ensure that all the gifts we received could fit into a suitcase. Even so, a few people went off-list, giving us the burden of figuring out how to transport beautiful but bulky and breakable gifts overseas.

If you’re downsizing for travel, here are our tips to prevent unwanted gifts from ending up under your tree.

Be honest (and do it early)

Reach out to family members asap, before they buy you something you don’t want or need. Explain to them that you don’t want any more “stuff” in your life and that you would be happy to receive no gifts or consumable gifts instead.

Be warned, some people may be offended by the request (but they’ll get over it). Trust me, I’ve been there.

Make a list

To make it easy on the people who won’t take “no gifts” for an answer, make a list of gifts that will help you on your trip (or at least won’t hamper you).

Cold hard cash is nice, but you could also suggest:

Just because you’re half-way around the world or saving every penny for your travels doesn’t you have to be a grinch. Getting creative with your gift-giving will help you find the best gifts without breaking into your travel budget.

  Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

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