Video: Great gifts for travelers

By Travel columnist
updated 12/19/2005 2:02:36 PM ET 2005-12-19T19:02:36

Finding the perfect gift for travelers is not an easy task. What do they really want? What do they really need? What gift will bring a broad smile to their faces, and what will wind up in the trash?

After decades of traveling, I still find something every year that I secretly hope someone will give me for Christmas. In recent years, the goodies have tended to be high-tech. Thank goodness for iPods, which serve up music without the bother of CDs and cassettes. Also, good earphones, which block out the noise of jet engines and trains, and high-tech clothing, which keeps you warm and dry and packs well.

Here is a list of some of the best gifts for travelers this year - everything from a $1,000 GPS system to a $3 card for coffee that works at almost every airport in the country.

Links to all of these products can be found on our gift page.

1. A GPS system. Two of the top manufacturers of GPS systems in the United States are Garmin and Magellan. Those who fly or are pilots are very familiar with Garmin, the company that powers many of the GPS systems in airplanes. Those who have rented cars from Hertz and have used the NeverLost system have been Magellan users, whether they know it or not. Both Garmin and Magellan make excellent units.

Garmin offers its tiny new StreetPilot i5, which is only about 2-inches square. It works right out of the box and is amazingly simple to use. Though the screen is small, the display for arrival time and distance to the next turn are large enough for drivers to read easily, and the sound is excellent for hearing the driving instructions. This unit retails for about $500. Other StreetPilot units cost even less. The unit with a black-and-white screen, for example, costs only about $325.

Garmin also has other products, including a GPS system that is integrated into a Palm Pilot. This unit is called the iQue and it can be found at prices ranging from $300 to $500 depending on the retailer and what sales and promotions are in effect. Try to purchase a unit with preloaded maps. The loading process can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a powerful computer.

Magellan’s GPS systems have flashier screens and displays, and they tend to be a bit larger to accommodate them. The RoadMate 800 comes preloaded with North American maps and includes an MP3 player and a photo viewer. It costs about $1,000. Magellan also makes the RoadMate 360 with preloaded maps and touch screen technology that sells for between $600 and $700 depending on the retailer. The simpler unit, the RoadMate 300, costs about half as much as the RoadMate800.

2. IPod automobile adaptors. One of the breakthrough products of recent years is the iPod. Both Belkin and Monster Cable have created adaptors that allow you to play an iPod through a car radio. The complete system includes a charger that powers the iPod while it is in the car as well as an FM transmitter; the transmitter sends a signal that is picked up by the car radio so the music can play through the car stereo system. Both companies make units that work well, but be sure to purchase both the power adapter and the FM transmitter. The Belkin TuneCast II has both pieces and retails for about $50, or you can buy the transmitter alone for about $40.

3. Anything Gore-Tex. Even adventurous travelers hate to get wet, so anything made with Gore-Tex is a sure bet. Gore-Tex fabrics are breathable, waterproof and pack extremely well. The extra $50 you will pay for a Gore-Tex product is almost always worth the additional cost. Gore-Tex products — including jackets, pants, raincoats, shoes and more — can be found in many quality sportswear lines such as L.L. Bean and at most outdoors stores.

4. Noise-canceling headphones. Again, several manufacturers make these systems. Two top-of-the-line products are made by Outside the Box. Their Solitude headphones come with large ear cups for excellent sound and cost about $200; the Plane Quiet headphones are cheaper ($55), sleeker and easier to pack, but don’t block out noise as well. Both headphones are available at

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5. Traveling workout kit. Years ago, doctors and physical therapists discovered the benefits of exercise with big elastic bands for patients recovering from joint operations. Marriott Corporation has teamed with health and fitness expert Michael Sena, creator of the Traveling Trainer Total Body Fitness System, to offer the Travel Trainer for $49.95 on its Web site

6. Travelpro luggage. Every traveler needs good luggage. Travel totes are currently the most popular bag sold by Travelpro, the manufacturers of the luggage that flight attendants and pilots prefer. This luggage is guaranteed and built to last for thousands of trips and many miles of rolling to and from airports and hotels. Purchase luggage online from

7. The L.S.D jacket. No, not that kind of trip; the L.S.D. stands for “Lightweight Shelter Device.” Here is an almost totally waterproof, breathable jacket that weighs only 3.1 ounces and packs down into a molded plastic case the size of a pack of cards. Offered by Brooks Sports for $85, it is a great gift for any traveler who wants to be ready for changes in the weather.

8. Niche guidebooks. Buy your friends guidebooks about something they love. My books, “Ski Snowboard America and Canada” ($24.95) and “Ski Snowboard Europe” ($21.95), are perfect for skiers and snowboarders, if I do say so myself. They not only help snow enthusiasts make their vacation plans, but also fan the fires of their imaginations. There are many wonderful travel books about golfing, mountain biking, fly-fishing, sailing, rock climbing and other outdoor sports, too.

9. Photo transfer gizmo. Belkin makes an ingenious piece of equipment, USB Anywhere, that allows travelers to download digital photos from their camera to a hard drive or flash drive without a computer. This frees up more storage space in the camera and, at $39.95, is far less expensive than buying a couple of memory cards.

10. Magellan’s travel catalog. A treasure trove of gifts for travelers, this is the place to go to order inflatable neck pillows, secure wallets that tuck into your pants, and luggage locks that can be opened by TSA officials. Magellan also carries those watches with two time settings that many international travelers like to have.

11. Starbucks card. This card is a great gift for anyone going through airports in the United States. (Is there any major airport that doesn’t have a Starbucks?) The card makes it a zip to get a cup of java. Plus, Starbucks has designed some nifty Christmas-decorated cards that will look good poking out of the top of the stocking.

Happy holidays, everyone, and may you get as good as you give!

Charles Leocha is nationally-recognized expert on saving money and the publisher of Tripso. He is also the Boston-based author of "SkiSnowboard America & Canada." E-mail him or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Leocha's forum.

Charles Leocha is the author of “Ski Snowboard Europe” (World Leisure, $21.95).


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