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.
Telecommuting started as a counterculture option for startup employees in California, but in 2022, it’s the preferred norm for the majority of Americans. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 60 percent of the workforce works from home part- or full-time.
While most people report feeling less connected to co-workers, working from home comes with many perks: no commute, easier work-life balance, and the ability to work in athleisure or pajamas. While skeptics predicted that the work-from-home trend would wane in the wake of the first years of the Covid-19 pandemic, the research shows that work-from-home is here to stay.
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.
Here at Busted Cubicle, we’re experts at knowing the office needs of telecommuters (since we’re all in that camp). 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.
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’s or telecommuter’s most cherished possessions.
A noise-canceling headset is a must for telecommuting friends or family members to make calls and participate in video conferences. Bose and Apple AirPods are coveted headphone essentials. Alternatively, for those who need absolute silence, airport tarmac-style earmuffs are an affordable alternative and send the strong non-verbal signal: “I’m busy.”
Laptop accessories make great gifts for telecommuters. They help boost productivity by making it easier to stay organized and comfortable while working from home.
Laptop cam covers are cheap and cheerful and protect telecommuters and their loved ones from unwelcome video hacks. Laptop keyboards and trackpads are designed for form over function, so an external Bluetooth keyboard and an external Bluetooth mouse are essential for creating healthy ergonomic alignment in the shoulders, wrists, and neck.
External monitor displays give the gift of expanded screen real estate. This can be especially helpful for preventing eye strain, working on multiple documents, and having multiple applications open consecutively. The Dell UltraSharp Monitor is compatible with Macs and PCs. Yoga teachers can consider a mini projector. An Apple iPad can double as a second display.
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.
Know a telecommuter who leaves the house only to go visit the chiropractor or massage therapist? Help your telecommuting friend or family member improve their posture with a standing desk. Excessive sitting is the new smoking, and more people are realizing the postural and other health benefits of standing while working.
Standing desks can often be adjusted to seated or standing height and help to improve posture, reduce fatigue, and even boost productivity. Brands such as Uplift Desk and Varidesk sell a variety of desktop surface stands or adjustable furniture on four legs. As well, IKEA sells fixed height and hydraulic desks that can be raised and lowered electronically or with a hand crank.
Office decor isn’t just about making a workspace appear attractive. An aesthetically pleasing home office helps improve concentration and be more productive, according to tidiness expert Marie Kondo, author of the global best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. A shoji shade doubles as a room divider and a pleasant background for video conferencing. An entertaining plant pot provides humor and a healthy home for air-cleaning plants.
And framed photos are always a must: Printique, a photo printing company affiliated with New York-based camera retail giant Adorama or Shutterfly, will make prints or wall art of your favorite people and out-of-office memories.
Let’s face it: most office workers don’t have the best posture. Poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain. So, why not give the gift of a good office chair? A quality office chair will help improve posture and reduce back pain. Plus, it’s a great way to make sure your telecommuter friend or family member is comfortable while they’re working.
Herman Miller Aeron Chair is the Corvette of office chairs and offers a traditional armchair with supportive and breathable mesh. For those who want to explore alternative designs, Gaiam Classic Balance Ball Chair and ergonomic kneeling chairs help telecommuters firm and tone while they type and talk.
Why get a music streaming subscription? For those who want quick access to premade “work focus” playlists, ambient background music, or supercharged tunes to get through a sleepy afternoon, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Amazon Music can turn a suburban bedroom into a concert hall or dance club.
With meal kit subscriptions, subscribers get fresh, pre-portioned ingredients delivered to their door to make delicious, home-cooked meals. This is an excellent option for those who want to cook at home but don’t have the time or the know-how to shop for and prepare ingredients themselves. Meal kit subscriptions offer flexibility, variety, and options to meet dietary preferences. Subscribers can usually skip weeks or cancel without penalty. Daily Harvest provides smoothie delivery, Blue Apron is famous for quick meals, and Hello Fresh is the most popular meal kit in the United States.
There are many benefits to using artificial intelligence (AI) writing assistants, the most obvious of which is that they can help people write faster and more accurately. AI writing assistants can also help improve writing styles and to find information that will help with your writing. Most assistants offer free services, but paid-for services have expanded features for more productivity.
For example, Grammarly corrects grammar and allows people to write more concisely, as does Wordtune. For designers, a Canva subscription opens up thousands of templates to help the creative designers in your life finish projects faster so they can spend more time with loved ones.
Closing the laptop is the equivalent of leaving the office and signals that: it’s time to focus your eyes on anything but a screen. Instead, give the gift of health and recreation with a gym membership. Working out helps reduce the stress of working from home and offers telecommuters a change of scenery. While many prefer a neighborhood walk, gym memberships offer consistency, convenience, and exercise opportunities that aren’t weather-dependent.
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.
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.
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.
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.