Best gifts for first time travelers – perfect for gap year or first vacations

Getting gifts can be hard at the best of times, but what about for first time travelers? If they are heading off on adventures they don’t want gimmicks or tat weighing them down. And they probably haven’t managed to figure out quite what they need yet either. Other gift guides focus on people who travel a lot and they assume they have everything. This one is focusing on the best gifts for first time travelers!

My daughter did her first solo trip this past year so Christmas was spent getting ALL the travel related gifts!  I think almost everything we went for was received really well and useful when she travelled so I wanted to write up what gifts I recommend getting someone who loves is traveling internationally for the first time.

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You’ll find these are pretty good general gifts but if you’re buying for a history obsessed traveller (or for yourself!) you might want to also head to our history experiences gift guide for some more ideas.

Read on for my best gift ideas for first time travelers and gap year explorers. I’ve split the gift ideas in to different sections to make it easier to navigate.

collection of items that are good gifts for first time travelers
First time travelers will love these gifts that will make their first trip epic!

Travel inspiration and fun gifts

Travel inspiration books

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Books to help guide a first time traveler are a great idea and this one was particularly well received and the tips really helped her plan. While we can tell people all the tips we have, sometimes just finding them out themselves is better!

The Solo Travel handbook is good for anyone who might head off on their own and another one that she liked was The Big Trip – good for anyone planning a long journey or gap year

Travel guide books

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If you know where your intending gift recipient is headed to in the next year or where they are lusting after going then a guide book for that country or city could be good.  I quite like to have a physical copy of a guide book for the planning phase of the trip – sometimes I don’t always bring it with me though.  The little pocket city guides like this one for New York City are great for putting in your suitcase and taking with you though.

Travel journal

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Somewhere to plan trips, write about trips or just to keep all of the receipts and leaflets you collect on vacation is a great gift idea.  There are so many around from just plain journals, leather bound, or specific notebooks to help plan.

Scratch off map

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A scratch map is a really popular gift these days – so much so that there are a number of companies making them.  We actually got our first scratch map when we travelled in our camper van – we got a small travel sized one which our kids loved scratching off as we went in to new places.  We since got ourselves a much bigger poster sized map from Luckies of London and I love looking at it and reminiscing about where we’ve been and where I can scratch off next!   There are so many kinds you can get – a platinum edition like the one in the picture, a classic one or even one where you add pins instead of scratching them off!

Cork globe

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On a similar vein to the scratch off maps is this cork globe – I haven’t got this one myself but I saw one while in London and I love the idea of it.  It would be a great addition to a desk or travel themed room to remind where you’ve been.  They are quite small so not too overwhelming in size and come with different coloured pins to add once you’ve been somewhere.

You can see this one on Amazon here

Toiletry gifts for travellers

Travel toiletries

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When thinking about what to take in a toiletry bag often you might consider mini versions of standard products.  What makes a nicer gift though is something like the nice shampoo bars from Ethique which I’ve been trying this year.  They are great because they don’t take up your liquid allowances and can be perfect for if you’re just travelling with a carry on – make sure to get a tin for it too so it doesn’t get messy.

Another idea to save on liquid allowances are toothpaste tabs – a perfect stocking stuffer!

Travel toiletry bag

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A perfect travel wash bag might depend on your gift recipients trip style and length but having something specific that you use just for travel is great.  If you know they travel with budget airlines and carry on only then a clear toiletry bag like this one is essential!

Essential oil roller ball kit

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Essential oil blends are great for those who like to use more natural aids for stress or sleep.  We got my daughter these ones from Tisserand last year so she could help sleep when she needed it and have energy for those times too – she really liked them!  They are a UK company and you can buy them from Amazon UK here.

A similar product available in the US is this essential oil roller set.

Practical gifts for first time travelers

Decent rucksack

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I spent my youth carting around a rubbish rucksack and it was definitely not good on my back. Getting a gap year traveler or someone going away on their first trip something really decent is a great idea. I didn’t want it failing on her or being frustrating to pack.

We loved the Osprey rucksacks and I loved that they had a smaller version for women and a larger one for men. They do different sizes but we got the 40 litre one to allow her to go carry on only on her first trip. They are incredibly good quality and will last a lifetime I’m sure!

You can see the one we got here.

Digital luggage scales

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Something small enough to fit in your case and small enough to be an extra gift for a travel lover is a set of digital luggage scales.  We got our daughter these and it made her feel so much happier that she could weigh her luggage before setting off for the airport so as not to get hit with extra charges.  I think they’ll get used a lot!  You can see the ones we got here.

Passport sleeve

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Notice I don’t say passport cover here – although they can be nice there’s nothing worse than going through the airport motions and having to constantly take your passport out of its cover.  A passport sleeve on the other hand, like this one from Stackers(UK), gets protected and is easily removed using the tab featureir?t=bartsgoa 21&language=en GB&l=li3&o=2&a=B07WZSYQDT.  It’s stylish and had pockets for your tickets and perhaps a travel credit card so you don’t need to be using your purse all the time.

A similar one is the US is here.

Luggage tag

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Something small and inexpensive that shows the recipient that you know they love their travel would be a nice luggage tag.  The world is your oyster with all the fantastic designs that are around.  Plain and stylish like the ones above or maybe a character tag like Disney?

Gadgets that first time travelers will love

Cable Tidy

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With all the different gadgets that we can bring on our travels, a way to organise them is essential!  This will fit a number of cables, memory cards and even a hard drive all in one space so you won’t forget them.  It’s not too big either and sits nicely in a suitcase or some travel on luggage. With all the gadgets that young people and first time travelers normally bring – this is essential!

You can see this item on Amazon 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=B07NS6K5LH 

Power bank

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My parents bought us a travel power bank like this one and it’s been a life saver for a number of times so it makes a perfect gift.  One like this will charge a number of different items and also has enough charge for multiple uses.   We loved it so much we made sure to get one for our daughter’s first trip too.

I’d recommend the Anker brand of power banks for sure and it feels like it will last a while!

Foldable headphones

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These House of Marley headphones are great for people who don’t like to use the in ear type.  Of course they are a little bulkier but I like these as they fold up as well.  They are bluetooth so no worry about cables which is great when you’re on a plane or train and the battery lasts a really long time too.

I bought these for my daughter last year because of their eco credentials – it’s difficult with new tech but the company is good and they use sustainable and eco materials.  They are so good that my husband soon after bought a set and then I also got one too!  We all have different colours so we don’t get mixed up!

You can see the latest price of these headphones here.

Kindle or e-reader

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I love my Kindle and have had it for a number of years now – it really helps if books and reading are another passion!  Many guidebooks are also available as e-books now so having one can be really useful.

We’ve tested out other makes of e-readers too – my kids both have a Nook but I’ll admit I just love the ease of being able to buy ebooks on Amazon and them arriving seamlessly.

I keep waiting for mine to break so I can upgrade it to a Paperwhite version but it’s still going strong!!


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ir?t=bartsgoa 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=B07WSRXMS8For travellers who might love a bit of adventure or even who want to take underwater videos and images then a GoPro is a great idea for a gift.

We got one for my daughters birthday this year and for us it was quite hard to decide which one to go for as I knew nothing about them – I’d advise reading the reviews and checking the spec before buying.  Most need a case for underwater photography too so factor that in.

This is the latest GoPro – but some older models might suit.

External hard drive

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For anyone who loves to take photos on their holidays, and especially for people like myself who rely on those photos not being lost for their business, a hard drive is essential and IMO you can never really have too many!  Having one that is small and can be taken away with you means you can store a copy of your photos so you are less likely to lose them.  This is the one I bought my daughter last year and she loves the bright colour of it (you can get a few different colours) and it’s a good make that is reliable and sturdy.

Eco friendly gift ideas for travelers

Most young people who are traveling for the first time also are very conscious of the planet and so these eco friendly options will appeal to them too.

Reusable water bottle or coffee cup

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We’ve had many water bottles over the past few years but I have to say that since we started investing in good quality metal bottles I’ve felt like we didn’t need to keep buying them!  I’ve just got myself a Chilly’s bottle in a perfect small 260ml size which is just right for when I’m travelling on my own (they do 3 different sizes – the main size is 500 ml and has the most designs available) and the quality of it is excellent, I know it’s going to last a long time AND look good after lots of trips.  You can see it on Amazon here.  

My US readers might want to check these out which are similar and have good reviews.

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I don’t drink coffee that much so tend not to use them when travelling but my daughter has had her eye on either the KeepCup or the new Chilly’s mugs (UK) which would be a great gift option.

Reusable cutlery/straws

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For those who like to self cater when travelling, just like to buy food to take back to the hotel room or want to cut down on cutlery from cafes when out and about then some reusable cutlery would be a great idea.  Many options come in a cloth roll or a container and they’d make a great gift.

Alternatively, do as we did and use some old mismatched cutlery and some scrap fabric and make one!

For those less handy with a sewing machine this is a product that gets good reviews.

Foldable rucksack/bag

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Avoiding plastic bags is something that can be a bit harder when travelling so having something extra that you can use if you happen to buy more than you intended (no?  just me?) can be a lifesaver.  I always have small reusable shopping bags with me but a backpack like this one would be good especially if you’re walking around a lot.

Gifts for new travelers when you are stuck!

Gift certificates

The perfect idea for anyone who is really hard to buy for.  Go for a general store gift certificate like Amazon or maybe buy something travel related – there are some ideas below:

Amazon gift certificates

Get Your Guide gift card (travel tours and tickets) gift card

Southwest Airlines gift card

Airbnb gift card

Pin for later!

Best gift ideas for first time and gap year travelers for Christmas, holidays and graduation
Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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