Top Picks For You

Fodor’s Holiday Gift Guide 2016: Gear & Gadgets

A popular mantra recited by grandmas everywhere declares that “there’s a lid for every pot,” and we happen to think it’s a philosophy that applies as well to holiday shopping as it does to the dating game. Instead of getting frustrated and overwhelmed by trying to find the perfect gifts for the important people on your list, just think of it as matchmaking. Do they enjoy travel? Then look for gadgets and gear to add a little comfort and fun to their travels next year. Don’t sweat it; there really is a lid for every pot (and a phone charger for every traveler) on your list! —Jacinta O’Halloran

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Luggage Scale and Charger

It happens every time. You’re sure your bags are not overweight. Almost sure, that is. You ditch your sneakers in the hotel and add more to your carry-on. You smile a little too pleasantly at check-in. Security is watching you. You hold your breath, silently curse those locally woven textiles and handcrafted clogs weighing down your bag, and ready your credit card to pay the exorbitant overage fees. Rewrite your airport script and skip the stress at check-in by keeping tabs on your luggage weight with the AirScale 2-in-1 Luggage Scale and Power Bank.

Why we love it: Easy to use and accurate, this compact tool is a traveler’s best friend, allowing you to avoid excess baggage fees and also to stay charged on the go. The scale weighs up to 88 lbs. while the power bank can recharge your phone (two cycles) at twice the speed of most chargers on the market.

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Round Beach Towel

Our first reaction to the sudden trend of round beach towels this past summer was of course towels should be round. We’re hoping brownies, beds, and sofas will follow suit/shape, but for now are happily gifting pretty circular beach towels (70 inches diameter) to all the sunbathers on our lists. Etsy vendor Mandala Life Art Shop hand prints their beautiful patterns (using vegetable dyes) onto organic cotton or cotton-terry fabric. Why can’t shopping for bathing suits be this easy?

Perfect for: The beach babe and beach bum; honeymooners; the picnicker on your list. 

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Universal Adaptor

What do you need in a travel adaptor? A compact design, worldwide functionality, and durability to really go the distance with you. Flight 001’s beautifully designed 4-in-1 Universal International Adapter has all this plus an added advantage—a cute and colorful Lego-like design (color coded to make it easy to find the right plug for over 150 countries) that you won’t overlook when leaving your hotel.

Perfect for: This quality, works-everywhere, not-ugly adapter is an excellent gift for the round-the-world traveler

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Off-the-Grid Communication Device

Whether you’re off the grid in Alaska, lost in the crowds at Bonnaroo, or just trying to avoid exorbitant roaming charges when you travel, GoTenna Mesh lets you communicate free without cell or Wi-Fi service wherever you are. The compact, lightweight, weatherproof, and maybe even travel-changing gadget relays text messages through your phone and other GoTenna users to allow you to send and receive text messages and share GPS locations anywhere in the world.

Perfect for: Active travelers who are often off the grid. Also good for the friend moving to a place prone to natural disasters/cell outages. Because these are sold in pairs (or sets of 4), these make a great gift for newlyweds or family members who regularly travel together. 

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Stylish Charging Cable & Battery Pack

Imagine having to use your actual brain to settle the heated debate about which destination the Griswold family was visiting in “National Lampoon’s Vacation”? We’re all lost without our phones, especially on the go, so it makes sense to travel with back-up juice to jump-start your electronic brain. Native Union’s 2-in-1 Jump Cable doubles as a charging cable and a portable power booster in a compact and clever design that also means your cables won’t be tangled in the bottom of your bag. The brilliance of this combo is that you can use the charging cable as your everyday charger for your phone, and after it has topped up your device, it charges itself so you’re always ready to remind everyone that the Griswolds were on their way to Wally World!

Go for broke: Upgrade your gift with Native Union’s Jump Cable Special Edition which features a quality leather pouch and black nylon cable.

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Wearable Sleeping Bag

If you’ve ever considered cutting arm and leg holes in your sleeping bag to make it more appropriate for night-to-day wear (we’re not judging) or for walking your dog in a New York City winter, you’ll want to outfit yourself in a Poler Napsack. It’s the sleeping bag you can wear, or as we like to call it, the sleeping bag you never have to take off. Available in a variety of fun colors and patterns and in reversible and pile-lined styles, this hooded sack-meets-jacket has a chest pocket for your phone and pockets for your hands and with zippers at the arms and a cinch at the bottom, so it easily goes from campfire to tent and couch to bed!

Perfect for: Campers, hikers, tailgaters, festival-goers, world travelers, and Netflix-bingers.

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Pocket Printer

Smartphones may have made it so much easier for us to capture all the beautiful moments of our travels and to inspire immediate jealousy on social media but sometimes sharing virtually is just not the same as a tangible photo that you can stick on your fridge and enjoy every time you get a snack attack. Sounds old-fashioned, we know, but you really can’t be accused of being old-fashioned when the printer is a Polaroid ZIP Mobile Printer. Pocket-size and ink-free, it pairs wirelessly to any smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Also, Polaroid’s app (available for iOS or Android), allows you to instantly edit and print 2” x 3” color photos.

Go for broke: Get the photogenic moments printing immediately and safely by packaging the Zip Printer with a pack of polaroid paper and a protective case.

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Slick Toothbrush Subscription

Sure, a cheap plastic half toothbrush folded into its flimsy sleeve does the job on the road, but it also does little to ease the discomforts of being away from home. While the Quip toothbrush is not designed specifically as a travel toothbrush, its portability, battery-powered operation, and included travel cover that mounts to any smooth surface makes it an elegant upgrade to your travel kit. The Quip has a simple design (available in brushed metal or plastic) with a soft-bristle head that vibrates in a single pattern, and a 2-minute timer that buzzes three different times to get you to switch the area of your mouth you’re brushing. Best of all, Quip sends you fresh heads and supplies every 3 months, including optional home and travel toothpaste, so that good oral health becomes effortless wherever you are.

Perfect for: A unique and practical gift—and upgrade—for a frequent traveler, student, and anyone on your list with teeth!

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Keep the Peace Machine

We’ve all had those nights in hotels: You’re getting up early for a meeting but your neighbor is pulling an all-nighter. You’re traveling with a toddler who will destroy your tomorrow if she doesn’t sleep tonight. The person in the next room is hard of hearing and talks, watches TV, and even sleeps at full volume. The only solution is a little white noise. Marpac’s Rohm, a portable electronic sound machine, creates a soothing, consistent sound environment for sleep, privacy, or concentration.

Why we love it: Its small size, USB charging convenience (cable included), and included lanyard for hanging or easy handling makes it perfect for travel. Our Mama Editors say this is a really good gift for a traveling family.

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Waterproof Wireless Speaker

For many of us, vacation has a soundtrack. Whether we’re lolling by the pool to Nina Simone, playing beach volleyball to Van Halen (helps to have someone reminding us to “Jump!”), or having breakfast on the patio to Norah Jones, music is an integral part of the experience. There are many Bluetooth speakers on the market, varying in price and quality, to ensure your life’s soundtrack is uninterrupted wherever you go, but if you’re looking to gift a product with high-quality sound in an attractive, portable package, consider the Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II.

Why we love it: It fits easily in your bag; it’s waterproof; it has a battery of up to 8 hours and charges via USB; and it pairs easily with your devices (voice prompts!). Also, it lets us stream “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat from a range of 30 feet.

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Packing Kit

Several companies offer compression bags to help us avoid baggage fees but SpacePak’s bags offer maximum punch for your pack and the best quality and compression. Their gift-worthy Essentials Kit includes a Spacepak Clothes bag (compresses up to two weeks’ worth of outfits); Spacepak Undergarments bag (keeps unmentionables organized and out of sight at security checkpoints); and Spacepak Toiletry bag (a hanging Dopp with space for full-size toiletries). Favorite feature: both the clothes and undergarments bags have zippered compartments to separate your clean pieces away from dirty laundry.

Perfect for: The chronic overpacker on your list.

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Custom Ski Goggles

Whether you’re shopping for the beginner snowboarder just graduating from the bunny slopes or the more advanced rider exploring black diamond terrain and practicing midair maneuvers, the gear matters. SunGod’s custom Revolt goggles are not just beautifully designed, high quality, lightweight, and affordable (which, of course, matters), but they also have fully interchangeable and replaceable parts and a lens construction that optimizes clarity and contrast in all conditions. They’re also just cool, which makes you cool by default for gifting them.

Why we love it: SunGod’s website makes it fun to play with colors and designs, so you can mix and match your lens, frame, and strap until you find the perfect design. Also, individual goggle parts can be easily swapped and replaced if you want to change up your look or lens tint options on the slopes next season.  They also make sunglasses!

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Multifunctional Phone Case

If you know someone asking Santa for an iPhone 7 this year, be a good elf and make sure they also get a new protective case—preferably one that makes that smartphone even smarter. Otterbox are the go-to for protective cases, but their latest version—the Otterbox Universe—ups the case-game by keeping your phone safe (and slim) while allowing you to click different lifestyle-enhancing accessories (sold separately) into it. From camera lenses and tripods to dashboard and bike mounts, memory expansion modules and battery packs, OtterBox’s mobile accessories platform allows you to customize your life around your case instead of the other way around.

Go for broke: Make this gift the gift that keeps on giving by adding a few fun accessories to the case. We love the slim wallet and the wireless speaker to provide added volume to music, videos, and phone calls.

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Lightweight Breathable Jacket

Being active in fall and winter can be a cold, wet, sweaty, windy, frustrating business, but it’s also exhilarating and rewarding. Ignore the elements and focus instead on connecting to nature and exploring your physical abilities by gearing up with Columbia’s OutDry Ex Gold Down Jacket. It’s constructed with a high-tech breathable fabric that keeps wind and rain out but still allows air flow and moisture wicking so you’re never clammy and uncomfortable. It’s the perfect gift for the adventurer on your list.

Why we love it: It’s a puffer jacket—with a special Heat Seal technology to keep you toasty—but it’s super lightweight so it won’t weigh you down, whether you’re hiking up a mountain, through an airport, or around a city in cold and wet weather. 

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Just Swell Bottles

A water bottle may seem like a boring and basic gift and that’s because it is . . . if you gift a boring and basic water bottle. So don’t. Instead, choose from Swell’s latest line of bottles (not just for water), which are so pretty they may actually lead to increased hydration if only so you can keep flashing your shiny new accessory. Made of non-leaching and nontoxic stainless steel, Swell bottles keep your drinks cold for 24 hours and hot for 12, and are available in a variety of sizes and designs. Of course, we love the Destination and Resort collections, with images inspired by Waikiki, Sundance, Aspen, and Jackson.

Perfect for: That person on your list who still buys plastic bottles. There’s a design for every aesthetic, so this may be the gift you can give to just about anyone on your list.

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Flattery-Will-Get-You-Everywhere Bag

Forget turning to that dishonest “mirror mirror on the wall” in moments of self-doubt and instead get your positive affirmations from this Hey Handsome shave kit bag. It never lies—we tested it!—and its sturdy, waterproof fabric and quality construction (love the leather handles) means his beauty potions, and inevitable leaks, are contained at home and on the go . . . even if his ego isn’t.

Go for broke: If you really love the shaver in your life (or you just want him to stop stealing your moisturizer), fill this cool shaving bag with Owen and Fred’s You Dirty Dog premium grooming essentials, which includes face wash, shave cream, and aftershave moisturizer.

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Mini Umbrella

A quality umbrella is a great gift because it’s the kind of thing we never buy ourselves despite the fact that we have all sent multiple $5 umbrellas to the umbrella graveyard (the shame!) and we’ve all been caught in a sudden downpour with a suddenly transparent white T-shirt (the fame!). Davek’s buy-once-use-forever umbrellas (they have an unconditional lifetime guarantee) are engineered to withstand the storm, combining style with quality materials and construction. The Davek mini is a super-compact design—less than 7 inches when closed—and the perfect just-in-case umbrella to stash in a handbag or suitcase without adding weight or bulk.

Perfect for: That friend planning a trip to rainy destinations like Ireland or Seattle next year. 

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Mini Steamer

No more closing your eyes and holding your breath as you place the stained base of that unevenly heated hotel-room iron on your favorite outfit. Travel light and crease-free with Conair’s compact and effective Travel Smart 450 Watt Dual Voltage Garment Steamer. Weighing just 1.2 lbs. and with features like dual voltage (stay chic/crease-free in Paris!) and a detachable lint and bristle brush, this little tool is a breeze to use and a must for the frequent traveler on your list.

Why we love it: It has an 8-foot cord that allows you to move about the room to where your clothes are hung. Also, it works just as well stashed in your desk at work as in your carry-on bag on the road.

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Multitasking Charger

We’re all about multitasking tools for travel, but only when they effectively streamline what we have to pack without compromising our experience. Combining three travel necessities in one, Belkin’s Travel Rockstar Battery Pack, Charger, and Surge Protector is an example of an effective multitasking tool for the modern traveler: it is a mobile battery pack to charge tablets and smartphones, a surge protector to protect your gadgets, and a dual-outlet wall charger to double your charging options.

Perfect for: the travelers with several gadgets to charge at once or your on-the-go sister who never calls because her battery is always low!

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Travel Sheets

So nobody likes to think about allergens, scratchy sheets, or—heaven forbid—bed bugs when they travel, but sometimes it’s hard to keep those thoughts from ruining a vacation. While Allersac sheets, designed to be washed and dried at high allergen-and-mite-destroying heat, may seem unconventional, they’re a thoughtful and comfortable gift.

Perfect for: The traveler who reads a million reviews, scanning for the worst before booking a hotel room (and then sleeps in the bathtub).

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Passport Wallet

A little organization can make life—especially life on the go—a lot easier. While we haven’t found a way to stop ourselves from packing too many what-if outfits when we travel (e.g., what if we get invited to a gala on a yacht while we’re there?), we have found that taking a minute to at least organize our travel essentials makes for less iffy moments at airport security and customs. Bellroy’s All Conditions Essentials Pocket is a fully waterproof leather wallet (with lots of slots) sized to keep a passport, smartphone, the included micro-pen, as well as boarding passes, money, keys, and cables all at hand.

Perfect for: This works as well for the neat freak as for the traveler who can never keep track of his ID/boarding pass/passport. Good for the active traveler who will appreciate the waterproof aspect. It’s also just a good quality and useful gift for that difficult-to-shop-for person on your list.