Telecommuters and travelers are notoriously difficult to buy gifts for. Since their work and lives are often on the move, space is at a serious premium; perpetual travelers and country-hopping telecommuters carry little but the essentials. Any physical gift a traveler receives, for example, will need to replace another object in that traveler’s already fully packed luggage.
Buying gifts for travelers and telecommuters can feel like a puzzle: how do you pack the most sentiment, the most usefulness, or the most fun into the smallest amount of physical space?
Giving a traveler or telecommuter a gift is even more complicated than simply selecting the right thing. If shipping internationally, for example, a gift-giver should be cautious about sending new and expensive items, as customs regulations can vary from location to location. And while the best gifts are often a surprise, it can be better to coordinate some gifts beforehand when working across international borders.
The upshot is that if you do find the right gift for a traveler or telecommuter, it’s one they’re likely to treasure for some time. In a minimalist lifestyle where one’s possessions are largely pared down to what one can carry, even a single hooded sweatshirt can evoke enormous feelings of fondness. And the provenance of an item often matters more than the item itself: who gave it and why are laced into a gift’s value just as much as its functionality.
Whether you’re looking for a gift that’s sentimental, practical, tech-oriented, or just plain fun, we’ve compiled some suggestions to help you find the right thing for that tricky traveler or telecommuter on your gift list. To get brainstorming, read on.
For the confident gift-giver, a backpack is a natural choice to give a long-term traveler or telecommuter. It’s perhaps the most essential item they’ll carry, the one which houses all the rest. But travelers are understandably very particular about the bag they carry on their back: in addition to being fussy about the fit, there may be a strong emotional bond to the bag’s faded coloring or small tears.
Still, it’s hard to argue with a top-of-the-line, eco-friendly Osprey. It’s generally best to stick within carry-on limits (40 liters), but if you want to be cheeky, check out the model of the backpack they already use—and buy them the latest version. Don’t worry, they’ll break it in, and before long, it’ll be the new favorite.
A veteran traveler or telecommuter might already have this one covered, but a reliable international data plan is essential for those who intend to live and work on the road. The standard offerings of most carriers in the US are akin to highway robbery once one ventures outside American borders.
Android users could benefit from a Google Fi subscription, which includes mobile data in over 200 countries. Apple owners might prefer a mobile hotspot like the Skyroam Solis X, which offers international data in more than 130 countries. Both options save travelers the hassle of changing SIMs in a foreign country.
An easy way to delight a traveler is to help them take something bulky and precious and replace it with something light and durable.
Laptop stands are essential for the traveler or telecommuter, but sometimes they’re bulky and too heavy to carry in a bag where every extra ounce is felt. The Nexstand K2 stand, however, is both highly adjustable and extremely lightweight, making it an easy carry for everyday use. And a true traveler will never forget their microfiber towel, which can absorb four times its weight in water and still dry about 80 percent faster than a cotton equivalent.
If you want to really dig into the possibilities for lightweight staples, check out the Ultralight forum on Reddit, where minimalist packing is measured in ounces and is practically a competitive sport.
Even the most Luddite of literary travelers will admit to the benefits of converting a paper book collection to digital after spending some time abroad. They may already have the Kindle app on their phone, but a dedicated e-Reader will have a more pleasant visual field and dimensions that better mimic the look and feel of a book.
The Kindle Paperwhite is lightweight, easy on the eyes, water-resistant, and, most importantly, separate from the buzzes and whirs of other internet-connected mobile devices. If you think they’d prefer something untethered to the Amazon ecosystem, Kobo offers a well-reviewed line of alternatives.
The latest smartphones have incredible cameras, but they have the unfortunate side effect of making older models’ photos look way out of date. A dedicated camera, however, is cheaper than a smartphone upgrade: the Hero line by GoPro offers small and powerful cameras that won’t break the bank. They also benefit from being solely dedicated to taking stunning photos and videos, with features like stabilization, waterproofing, and 360 audio. Getting a traveler a GoPro isn’t just giving them a camera—it’s giving them all the photos and videos they’ll take with it.
The world is loud, and it’s even louder when you’re on the go. Whether working in a busy cafe, trying to sleep in a popular hostel, or just catching a transatlantic flight, noise-canceling earbuds are one of a traveler or telecommuter’s most cherished possessions.
Over-the-ear headphones are often hot and bulky, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are subtle and lightweight; Bose also makes versions optimized for sport and for sleep. For many back home, noise-canceling earbuds are just a nice thing to have; for travelers and telecommuters, they’re essential.
Giving a traveler a physical book is like giving them both a homework assignment and an extra weight to carry around. But a digital book will be something they can carry effortlessly and return to again and again.
For years, it was a rite of passage to read On the Road, or The Beach, or Eat, Pray, Love while traveling, and Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding is still considered a classic text in the long-term travel community. But if you’d like to shirk tradition, consider books on minimalism, or guides to places that your traveler or telecommuter hasn’t yet been (expect a postcard in the future).
And even if they aren’t an avid reader, they might enjoy experiencing the books in audio form through an Audible subscription.
App subscriptions tick a lot of boxes when it comes to gifts for travelers and telecommuters: they’re lightweight, they’re practical, and they can even be sentimental. Subscriptions to Duolingo can help your traveler or telecommuter learn the local language, and also provide the opportunity to stay in touch while doing so through the app’s friends feature. Signing them up for a digital version of their hometown paper can keep them in touch with home, even from across the globe, while more international-minded publications, like The Economist, can help them stay abreast of news that’s not tied to a single geographical region.
Just be careful with subscriptions to geo-blocked apps like Netflix: the offerings on Netflix, when accessed in Germany, are not nearly as interesting to the American viewer as one might hope.
When traveling or working abroad, the number one question someone is likely to be asked is this: where are you from? Services like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and MyHeritage offer personal testing kits that can help a traveler or telecommuter answer that question with a startling level of accuracy. We already know that they have the nomadic gene inside them; the question is how far back does it go?
The answer can not only help them connect to the distant past but their current family members as well.
People who travel and work abroad are always looking for an excuse to talk about the people and places they miss the most. An alumni sweater can not only keep a traveler warm, but also give them a sense of nostalgia and belonging to the concept of home. A jersey or a shirt from their favorite American sports team or band could take on new significance in a foreign country where their names aren’t as readily known. You can even go nearly weightless by getting them a custom sticker they can slap on their laptop lid or water bottle. And by helping them broadcast their love, you’re also helping a traveler or telecommuter find someone else who feels the same.
The best gift you can give your friend or loved one abroad is you. Yes, it will be more expensive than most other gifts and require some logistical hurdles, but it might be one of the only instances where you can give yourself a vacation and call it a gift to someone else.
It’s probably better to coordinate with your giftee in advance, but you can still impress them with your travel-planning skills. Expect to be quizzed on how you got from A to B: did you use Momondo in incognito mode with a VPN to compare the best airfare deals, or did you hustle Genius deals on Booking.com to find the perfect place to stay?
Careful, or you might end up becoming a long-term traveler or telecommuter yourself.