15 Travel Gift Ideas for $50 or Less (2016)

Great Travel Gift Ideas for $50 or Less - GreatDistances / Matt Wicks

Like it or not, the 2016 holiday season is now upon us, and many of us will soon be trying to find ways to complete our holiday shopping list without hollowing out our bank accounts and without subjecting our loved ones to feelings of extreme disappointment.  If you’re like me, you’d also prefer to never set foot in a shopping mall during the months of November nor December.  Well – we’re here to help, with an array of practical, economical travel gift ideas that you can buy online and ship in.  I consider the below great travel gift ideas for travelers of most any age.

Note:  I realize that at this point in time, the shopping links below are best geared toward shoppers from the United States.  I hope to get a handle on linking to merchants abroad at some point, but we’re not there just yet.  Kindly search and purchase your products from your preferred vendor if my links don’t serve you.  Thank you!

Travel Gift Ideas for $50 or Less – 2016 Edition

#1.  LED Headlamp


A good headlamp is an absolute necessity for any traveler or backpacker, no matter if you’re hiking in the backcountry or just trying to pack your bag in a dark hostel dorm in the early morning.

Brands like Petzl, Black Diamond and Princeton Tec all make good quality headlamps, and it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive one available.  About $30-40 US gets you a good quality general-use headlamp without breaking the bank, that just about anyone would appreciate.

REI:  Headlamps (multiple options)REI:  Headlamps – How To Choose

#2.  Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker



JBL Clip 2

It’s fun to play your music aloud for others while you’re on the road, and a rechargeable bluetooth speaker makes this possible without adding a ton of weight or bulk to your bag.  Sometimes you just need to jam out without your headphones in, after all.

I personally favor speakers that are about the size of a hockey puck, no larger – for example: the JBL Clip 2 (pictured above) or JBL Clip give good sound in a small package, at around $50 US.  iHome also makes a number of small bluetooth speakers that sound good and pack small, at around $25 US.  Try this one (pictured below) for a less expensive option to the JBL models.


iHome iBT72

#3.  Water Filtration Bottle

In places where the tap water isn’t healthy to drink, most travelers have to purchase bottled water for consumption.  But by running tap water through a water filtration bottle, it becomes safe to drink.  This helps travelers cut down on the waste and expenditures associated with purchasing bottled water, and is a highly convenient way to hydrate while on the move.

Both of the below options should run you a little less than $50 US.  I personally have used the Clearly Filtered bottle for several years now and am still quite happy with it, and regularly recommend it to fellow travelers.

Clearly Filtered:  Stainless Steel Filter Bottle


Clearly Filtered Stainless Steel Filter Bottle

LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle with 2-Stage Filtration – 22 fl. oz


LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle

The way these bottles work:  you fill your bottle with water from a tap or a clear, non-salty source like a mountain stream, and suck the water through the filter.  That’s it for the end user.  No waiting on purification tablets to dissolve, no klutzy use of additional peripherals.  Simple as that, and highly recommended!

Obviously the science of these bottles is a little more complex than that, but I won’t bore you with that for now.  Feel free to check out the bottles more in depth via the links.

#4.  Rechargeable USB battery


It seems that not a soul hits the road without a smartphone these days, and heavy usage of said device for photos and data makes for additional power needs.  It’s not always convenient to plug your phone in to a wall outlet in the middle of busy travel days, so I recommend carrying a rechargeable USB battery along in any travel kit.

$15-25 US gets you a USB charger with between 6,000 – 10,000 mAh of power, which is a nice balance of available power vs. bulk/weight – probably enough to charge your smartphone 1-2 times.  I recommend Anker brand based on my own use of their products.

Anker Astro 6,700 mAh Portable Charger
Anker PowerCore 10,000 mAh Portable Charger

Couples may opt for chargers rated at 20,000 mAh or larger, which often have dual USB ports for charging multiple devices at once.

#5.  Hanging Toiletry Bag


I have become a bit of an evangelist of the hanging toiletry bag over the years, due to the fact that most budget lodgings, especially in less developed countries, never seem to have any useable amount of bathroom counter space upon which to set your things.  The ability to hang the bag solves said problem immediately.

LL Bean:  Personal Organizer Toiletry Bag, Medium
LL Bean:  Personal Organizer Toiletry Bag, Small

The LL Bean personal organizers are not made of “ultralight” materials, but they’re well made and will last for years.  I generally use the medium size, which was given to me as a holiday gift by my mom some years ago.  Thanks, Mom!

Manufacturers other than LL Bean make similar hanging bags, which should serve the same purpose.

#6.  Microfiber Camp Towel


If you’re planning travel that involves stays in budget lodgings like guesthouses or hostels, a towel is not always provided, so it’s wise to bring your own.  A microfiber camp towel packs down much smaller than a conventional towel, and also dries a lot faster.  Most camp towels run about $15-20 US.

Camp Towels (multiple @ REI)

Though some travelers can get by with smaller, I recommend buying size Large (around 36″ long) or Extra Large (around 54″ long), as they’re not much bulkier than the smaller models, but provide a fair amount more absorbency.  Plus, anything smaller will not be long enough to wrap around one’s waist.

#7.  Colorful Leather Luggage Tags


Colorful leather luggage tags are a nice touch even on the most beat up backpack or rolling bag.

Buy your traveler brightly colored tags and make your bag much easier to recognize at airport baggage claims, and/or much easier to describe to baggage handlers / customer service when said bag goes missing!  “It’s a black bag with bright pink (or green, orange, whatever) luggage tags” is much more descriptive than “it’s a black bag,” after all!

No need to spend over $10 US for a pair.  I use the below at present.

Travelambo Genuine Leather Luggage Bag Tags

#8.  Moleskine Notebook


There’s a certain tactile joy of the traditional Moleskine notebook, with its hard cover and elastic closure.  The pocket size serves as a companion to many a shoestring backpacker and jetsetter both.

Moleskine Classic Notebook, Pocket, Ruled, Black, Hard Cover (3.5 x 5.5)

The 3.5″ x 5.5″ size is great for note taking and journaling, but if your traveler is also an artist, you might consider going with a bigger size.

#9.  Lightweight Dry Sack


These things weigh very little and take up very little space, but are great for momentarily waterproofing electronics in downpours, or for taking personal effects into wet environments like diving boats on choppy seas!  They’re great little gadgets to have along, accordingly.

Eight to thirteen liters of volume should be enough volume for most travelers’ purposes.  The below cost $15-20 US.

Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack – 8 Liters
Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack – 13 Liters

Traditional rubberized dry bags are more durable than these nylon units, but they’re also considerably heavier.  I tend to opt for the above due to their packability.

#10.  Dr. Bronners Organic Liquid Soap – Travel Size


Use it as soap or shampoo in the bath, or even as laundry or dish detergent.  It’s safe for use in campsites as well (which is not true of many types of soap and shampoo).

Many people swear by this stuff, and if you haven’t tried it, it’s not much of a gamble at $3.50 US per 2 oz travel bottle (a small enough size for a for a carry-on, per TSA regulations).  Dr Bronners also offered in a larger 4 oz bottle for those that check their bags.

#11.  Titanium Spork


I love my titanium spork and don’t leave for any trip without it.  Whenever there’s a shortage of silverware, my spork is always there for me.  This applies to road trips (where I so often tend to subsist off things like cups of yogurt and avocados straight from the shell), cooking/eating in under-stocked hostel kitchens, and of course while hiking and camping, where this spork becomes my primary utensil.

Light My Fire Titanium Spork

Said spork should set you back about $10-15 US depending on the vendor from which you buy it.

To be sure, the “knife” edge of this thing is pretty useless – but the spoon and fork work fine.  Also – the plastic model of the above is the same design, but will snap in half if put under pressure. The titanium one will survive just about anything.

#12.  Small Pocket Knife


I find multi-tools a bit too heavy for long trips, and tend to carry a small pen knife instead.  I recommend the below, which weighs next to nothing and costs very little, but offers a sharp two-inch blade.  You should be able to pick this little knife up for around $10 US.

Gerber LST Fine Edge Ultralight Knife

 #13.  Hydration Reservoir


If your traveler is also trekker and they don’t yet own a hydration reservoir, get them one.  And if they already have one, know that these things wear out over time, and they’ll eventually need a replacement.  I carry the following:

CamelBak Antidote Reservoir – 2 Liters

A two-liter reservoir should safely fit inside most any internal frame backpack, and also in most smaller day packs that accommodate reservoirs.  Two liters off water is generally a suitable amount of water for hydration on many day hikes a traveler may encounter (or at least a good starting point).

I’ve used my reservoir for big things like my trek up Africa’s 2nd highest mountain, but also small things like riding my bike in the park while I’m home.

#14.  Ultralight Compression Sack

gift-ideas-for-travelers-ultra-sil-compression-bagCompression sacks are a traveler’s best friend for cramming more crap into less space.

I use and recommend the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sacks, which weigh almost nothing but are surprisingly durable, even when cinched down to the maximum.  Yes, they are surprisingly expensive for what they are, but they work well, and I haven’t found a suitable alternative at a lower price point yet.

Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sack (multiple sizes)

The 10-liter and 14-liter models are probably safe bets as gifts, and serve well for compression of clothes or lightweight sleeping bags.  The 6-liter and 20-liter models may be a little too big or too small for generalized usage, depending on the traveler.

Sea to Summit also makes waterproof versions of the same compression bags at a slightly higher price point.  If you expect rather rainy, wet conditions, these might be just the thing.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Dry Sack (multiple sizes)

#15.  Merino Wool Socks


I hated receiving socks as Christmas gifts when I was a kid, but at the time I didn’t realize that those socks could be made of amazing materials like merino wool.

Merino wool socks stink less and wear better than cotton, and generally don’t need to be washed as often as their cotton counterparts, which means you can carry fewer socks when you’re on the road.  Oh, and they’re not itchy!

My favorite brand of merino wool products is Icebreaker.  Smartwool, Wigwam and REI (among others) also make good quality merino wool socks.  Expect to spend around $10-15 per pair (yes, they’re expensive compared to regular socks, but they’re worth it!).  For gift giving, opt for socks with a medium or heavy padding.

Merino Wool Socks (multiple types @ REI)

Happy Holidays!

Thanks for checking out my travel gift ideas for 2016!  If you’re curious about the rest of my packing list (including my photography gear), check my Master Packing List for Independent Travel and my Photo Gear List for Travel.


  • I like the Titanium Spork gift idea but I don’t like eating yogurt or avocados. What other foods can I eat with this spork? Please be specific and show your work.

    • Matt Wicks says:

      On Black Friday, GreatDistances.com will be dropping a 22-minute, high-resolution video piece up on the many, many uses of titanium sporks. I was trying to keep it a secret, but I can leak at least this much on the project for now. Relatedly: is your monitor at least 4K resolution? If I can help with anything else, just let me know.

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