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Trips can produce memories for a lifetime, which makes the gift of travel one of the most meaningful you can give. It’s also one of the most complicated. Here are some options to consider.
How to buy a trip
Purchase a ticket now: Your first inclination may be to pick a destination and buy a ticket. But unless you know the recipient very well, this can be a dangerous move. Do this only if you have heard the giftee say, “I really want to go to London in the second week of February for four weekdays.”
Purchase a ticket later: This makes lots of sense; simply hand your loved one a card telling them what you’re giving them then make good on the promise later when the two of you have time to map out the journey.
Suggest destinations: Think about your budget, the kind of places your loved one would like to see, and the time of year they are free to travel. Many desirable destinations have good prices year-round, but if you can fly in winter (while avoiding expensive spring break periods), you can travel for a small sum. Here are some suggestions:
Domestic: Denver, Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and often Seattle and San Diego
Europe: Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin and in recent months, deals to London and Rome
Buy a gift card from the airline: Carriers like American and Delta sell both traditional plastic cards shipped via delivery service or virtual gift cards that arrive via email. Alaska sells certificates. All work the same way: You book a flight online but instead of using your credit card you punch in the card number or certificate code. Cards come in a variety of denominations with Southwest’s going for as little as $10, Alaska starts at $25, Delta’s minimum is $50.
Buy a gift card elsewhere: We’ve seen Southwest cards on Amazon and advertised by Walmart.
Look for hotel and flight deals: Check out airline vacation packages for deals, which are fairly common for Hawaiian destinations and popular resorts like Las Vegas and Caribbean islands. In some cases you can find package deals where the airfare is essentially free. But before you buy, try to break down the package price and see if you can do better on a search site for airfares and one for hotels; you might find a better overall deal on your own.
Paying for the trip: If you have an airline-branded credit card or another card that allows you to rack up miles or points, but sure to use it. You might as well both benefit from your generosity.
Give the gift of cash: The problem here is cash can quickly disappear into boring things like food and rent, but there’s no denying it’s always the right size, always the right color. You can however personalize it. Some suggestions:
Put cash in a new travel bag (it does not have to be expensive)
Put cash in a card decorated with a destination you know he or she will love
No matter how you do this, travel is a forever gift — thanks to the memories that will last a lifetime.
Flexible travel gift ideas
If you're looking for an open-ended present, consider an American Express gift card. Available in denominations from $25 to $3,000, they come with a small surcharge of $3.95. These prepaid cards don't have any foreign transaction fees, making this perfect for the international jet setter in your life.
Don't like the idea of a cash-based present? Try an airline gift card. They are available in many denominations and if your friend is hard to pin down (like most explorers) this is a great way to let them do their thing, while still offering an adventure.
Another great option for a daring traveler in your life is an around the world (RTW) ticket. They can range anywhere from $1,200 to $10,000 or more, depending on the carrier and number of stops you'd like to take. Buying RTW tickets can be fairly complicated, so check out this guide.
Practical travel gift ideas
Have a backpacker in your life? Consider building them a kit of travel essentials. My mom has made these for me before various trips and I must say, there's something special about opening up a nicely packed, well-procured bag of all the goodies you'll need on the road. I'd recommend including Dr. Bronner's biodegradable soap; a high-end headlamp; a door stopper, some packing cubes, a SKROSS world adapter and, if you're feeling extra-generous this amazing portable espresso coffee maker.
If you're friend is more interested in the great outdoors than urban environments, consider an engraved Swiss Army Knife. A family friend gave me a Victorinox for my high school graduation and years later, it is still one of my favorite, and most trusted, items.
For the fashionista-inclined, a leather passport holder is a beautiful, practical present. I love these Kate Spade ones. This is the kind of gift that a person would never buy for themselves, but will end up using for a lifetime.
Luxe (and efficient) travel gift ideas
Have a frequent flier in your life? Consider signing them up for TSA PreCheck. If they’re anything like me, the idea of signing up for yet another thing can seem momentous. But if you get the ball rolling, the first hurdle is crossed.
If you've know a world traveler who seems to have everything they'd ever need, consider gifting them a PriorityPass. For $99 a year, this card gives access to over 1,000 airline lounges worldwide for $27 per visit. They'll think of you every time they snag free WiFi and a snack before their flight.
Explorer travel gift ideas
If you know someone who is interested in adventure, but feels overwhelmed with the idea of planning a trip by themselves, consider gifting them a travel tour. These packages have come a long way since the days of your parents and offer tons of options for millennials, from wildlife focused tours in Eastern Africa to trips focused on eating your way through Mexico. A few of the more well-known operators include Contiki and G-Adventures.
For those interested in domestic destinations, consider a Amtrak gift certificates for anywhere from $5 to $1,000. While European train trips might steal the headlines, sometimes there's nothing better than exploring the good old US of A.
Wanderlusting travel gift ideas
Nothing beats an old-school guidebook. If your traveler is planning a tour of an area like Europe or the Caribbean, I’d recommend the Lonely Planet regional guides. Although they don’t offer a lot of specific advice on museums or walking tours, they have some of the best recommendations for restaurants, bars and hotels. My favorite part is that the important locations are mapped visually with icons, so you can see which neighborhoods are the most appealing. Despite all of our technological advances, these maps still beat using a combination of Hostelworld, Google Maps, Airbnb and Trip Advisor to discover upon arrival that your accommodation is really, really far away from the coolest attractions.
If someone is interested in travel, but doesn't know where to start, consider photographer Laura Austin’s “SOLO: A Guidebook To Traveling Alone." This stunning 76-page tome is part-travel diary, part-photo journal, and will inspire some serious solo travel.
This scratch-off-the-world map is a perfect blend of whimsical and braggart. Replete with country flags and a map, voyagers can scratch off every place they've been, until the whole world is revealed.
These articles present general information and are for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal, financial, medical, or other professional advice.