Hold the Louis Vuitton luggage set and the Christian Louboutin Travel Slippers. Unless you’re the sort who regularly shops Neiman Marcus’ Christmas Book — $160,000 2009 BMW 7 Series, anyone? — this is probably not the year to go hog wild on the holiday shopping.
Instead, this may be a good time to think small when shopping for the travelers on your Christmas list. Smaller items, after all, mean less hassle when packing (not to mention fewer fees when flying), while slightly older, less feature-laden models can provide excellent quality at lower prices than their next-generation replacements. Your giftees will still be grateful, and you may still have enough money left to get yourself something, as well.
In an era when airline blankets are either nasty or non-existent, the Comfort Travel Blanket ($20) from Eagle Creek will shield your favorite flier from both germs and frigid conditions. At 10 ounces and 59 x 36 inches, it’s compact, made of comfortable micro fleece and packs into itself to make a pillow. Best part: It features a zippered pocket that will hold an eyeshade, iPod and other small necessities of modern-day air travel.
The ergonomic (albeit grandiosely named) Ultimate Travel Pillow ($27) from TravelRest offers a different approach to airborne slumber. Unlike traditional kink-inducing pillows, this 27-inch-long inflatable head rest can be tethered to your seatback and snapped to your seatbelt to provide support from your waist up. When it’s time to deplane, simply deflate it, roll it up and snap it to your carry-on bag.
There are hundreds of external iPod speakers out there, but few pump out more sound from less space than the Orbit MP3 237 ($40) from Altec Lansing. About the size of a can of tuna, it projects distortion-free sound across 360°; works with a wide variety of MP3 players, CD players, laptops and phones; and will run for up to 24 hours on three AAA batteries. (Just don’t set it up on the plane, OK?)
The Quik Pod DSLR ($50) is an intelligent alternative to taking self-portraits by holding your camera at arm’s length. As the bigger, newer version of the original Quik Pod, this extendable/collapsible monopod adjusts from 18 to 53 inches; will support cameras up to eight pounds; and comes with a wrist strap, carry bag and gel pad for bracing. It even features a small, built-in mirror so you can position it correctly and stop cutting off your subjects’ heads.
GPS units don’t have to be complicated or cost an arm and a leg. The new BackTrack personal location finder ($60 at Amazon.com ) from Bushnell simplifies the process with just two buttons, a compass-like digital screen and the ability to geo-tag up to three locations. When it’s time to return — to the car, to a hotel in a strange city — push a button and the unit will provide the distance and direction to the appropriate spot.
If you’ve got a few hundred dollars to spend, it’s hard to beat the appeal of a good pair of active noise-canceling headphones. If not, Comply’s NR-10 High-Tech Noise Reduction Earphones ($70 at Amazon.com) offer an affordable alternative. Combining compact size and body-heat-activated memory foam, the earbud-style headphones offer passive noise reduction of up to 29 dB.
Want to see where your favorite travelers have been recently? Make it easier for them to share their photos with a wireless SD card from Eye-Fi. Available in 2 GB (SD-compatible, geo-taggable) and limited-edition 4 GB (SDHC-compatible) sizes (both $130), the card can automatically beam photos to a home computer and to any of more than 20 photo-sharing and social-networking Web sites.
Named one of TIME Magazine’s Gadgets of the Year, the Canon PowerShot A590 IS packs a lot of performance into its $150 suggested retail price. The 8.0-megapixel shooter features a 4X optical zoom, image stabilization and 19 shooting modes, including Canon’s new Easy Mode format, which controls everything for you. Better yet, several online retailers are selling it for less than $120.
If big things truly do come in small packages, the Flip Mino video camera ($180) offers simple, stylish proof. Weighing just 3.3 ounces, this pocket-sized unit will capture up to 60 minutes of video that you can then upload to your computer via an integrated USB connector. There are no videotapes, memory cards or batteries to buy, although if you feel like splurging, the company just released an HD model for $230.
Finally, if you can’t figure what your intrepid explorer wants or needs, consider giving them some extra incentive to get out there with a travel-related gift card. Hotel gift cards from Travelocity.com, for example, are available in increments of $25, $50, $100 and $500 and can be used at 55,000 hotels around the world. Play your cards right, and who knows, maybe your giftee will invite you along.