Business and leisure travel have rebounded ferociously from pandemic shutdowns, with planes and airports as crowded as ever. That means your favorite frequent flyers, serial vacationers and road warriors are probably back out there traveling. This holiday season, you can help make their lives easier with these perfect gifts.
This is the last installment of my 2022 Gift Guide series, but if you have any of the following on your list, I’ve got the info you need: Gifts for Golfers, Gifts for Skiers and Snowboarders, Gifts for Foodies/Gourmets, or the Year’s Best Option for Booze Gifting.
Best New Carry-On: In recent years airlines have launched many anti-customer policies, and one of the biggest was the elimination of free checked baggage on domestic flights (with a few rare exceptions such as Southwest). To make matters worse, they’ve been losing/misplacing luggage at a higher than usual rate, all of which means a much bigger impetus to go carry-on only, or at least carry-on the bare necessities. A traveler’s best solution is to go with the maximum legal carry-on, and the best-in-class is the new Ozone 40-liter 2-wheel carry-on from Osprey.
Osprey has long been one of the world’s best quality luggage, backpack, duffel and adventure gear makers, and everything comes with a lifetime guarantee. I have a rubberized checked rolling Osprey duffle I’ve use for ski trips for many years, my wife and I both use Osprey technical backpacks for hiking trips, and now I use this ultralight roll aboard carry-on, which is the lightest of its size on the market today, period, but does not make a ingle sacrifice for weight. It hits the maximum allowable overhead size but with more interior capacity than many competitors, has a great telescoping handle, oversized wheels for superior rolling, a re-engineered ultralight aluminum frame that can take abuse, a protective laptop sleeve, ample organization pockets to keep essentials at-hand when you’re onboard, and included Travel Sentry ID to help you reconnect with your luggage should it go astray. Lighter, better and lifetime guaranteed – you can spend more but you can’t get more. ($280)
Best New Organized Luggage/Best Luggage For Cruises: Four-wheel polycarbonate suitcases changed travel for the better and have become the most useful forms of checked luggage out there, with lots of capacity, protection and ease of movement in a light package. The big problem is when you get where your going, they are not hotel friendly, very few places even have luggage racks that can accommodate them, they often end up on the floor open, or somewhere else closed, making access annoying. For this reason, the new hot trend is 4-wheelers with built in organization, but many of these still go with the lay flat orientation that makes little sense.
The one exception I’ve found is the Check-in Closet from Solgaard ($355), which also comes in a smaller carry-on version – you guessed it, the Carry-on Closet ($295). It looks and functions just like the 4-wheel hard sided roller you already love, but has a well thought out built-in shelf system unlike any other for easy access without unpacking, and is usable from a much smaller vertical footprint. It’s even got a cool expandable flip up pocket at the top that hooks onto the extended handle when you’re in your room for even more accessible storage. It locks with two clasps instead of a 270-degree zipper almost all others use, which opens with the push of a button, much easier to actually open and close. The design is brilliant, but they also didn’t skimp on details: 360-degree double wheel sets for better rolling and durability; built in TSA lock; and waterproof high-quality polycarbonate shell with 10-year warranty. I fell in love with this luggage almost instantly because it solves so many problems, but it is especially excellent for anyone who regularly goes on cruises, where storage is even more limited and if you do unpack, there’s usually no place to keep empty luggage.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones: Nothing is more indispensable for enjoying the actual flight than good noise cancelling headphones. These block out the too-loud conversations, the folks talking on their phones, your seat neighbor and the general mechanical noises, while letting you enjoy your music, podcast or movie with the best possible sound, even for Hollywood blockbusters. I watch movies and TV in them but also wear them unconnected from media to sleep better, and have not flown without noise cancelling headphones in over a decade. The best style for both active noise cancellation (passive is a waste of your time) and sound quality is over the ear models, and you also want true wireless to avoid the tangle of more cords. If you want headphones for running, go with in-ear, but for flying these are better. Among all the popular brands I’ve found German high-fidelity audio specialist Sennheiser to consistently have the best of all worlds, audiophile music quality, all the enhanced movie sound effect technologies, great active noise cancellation (ANC), full phone features and battery life and features aimed squarely at travelers. The latest and greatest for travel is the flagship Momentum 4 with an amazing 60- hours of battery life while using ANC – enough to fly to the Pacific Rim and back without recharging. ($350)
Ultimate Travel Shirt: Clothing for flying requires a fine balance. You want to look neat but be comfortable, you need to be prepared for widely varied temperatures on and off planes, you ideally want something wrinkle free, and you want something that doesn’t smell even if you’ve worn it for two days and slept in it overnight on a trip around the world. I fly a lot and also specialize in coverage of outdoor and active gear of every ilk, and I’ve found the perfect solution is a 100% merino wool tee from ultra-high quality merino specialist Icebreaker out of New Zealand. These are not just t-shirts, they are luxury technical garments (which is why they run eighty bucks) that are super comfortable, drape well, stay fresh, and merino has natural wicking, temperature regulating and anti-odor properties. They go from casual to elegant – when I fly business class, I wear it under a blazer (I usually recommend dark neutral solids, gray, black, navy, that go with anything). They are also extremely durable and hold up wash after wash for years. I have a stack of them in my closet and every time I fly, I put one on for the outbound and pack one for the return. The best bet is the Merino Tech Lite II, which comes in many colors and both men’s and women’s cuts. It is stretchy, cozy, breathable and the traveler’s new best friend. ($80)
Best Travel Flask: Every time you board an international flight, you see people picking up bottles from the Duty-Free shop. But what do they do with that booze when they arrive? A good flask is a lifetime gift that can serve many purposes when traveling, internationally or domestically, and there’s an awesome brand-new option from one of the best specialty brands out there, High Camp Flasks. It’s the Torch, and Men’s Journal called it “The most sophisticated flask we’ve ever seen.” It’s smaller and thinner than the other models, better for travel, but still holds a generous 6-ounces.
Historically, most flasks have been poorly designed, and are hard to fill, hard to drink out of, very hard to clean – or all of the above. The Torch has an ingenious screw off bottom so it’s a cinch to fill – no funnel required – and easy to clean. Like all other High Camp flasks, it is made of virtually indestructible and food safe 18/8 surgical steel, is double-wall insulated (hot or cold), has a cover that doubles as a classy, sizable tumbler for easy drinking and is magnetized for easy attachment, and you can even add ice. It comes in four impressive colors, copper, gunmetal, British racing green or stainless. ($99)
Smart Luggage Tracking: Ever since airlines started struggling to deliver and keep track of luggage, I’ve been putting a Samsung Smart Tag in each of my checked bags (Read more in my feature “8 Travel Tips For Surviving The Summer Of Airline Meltdowns Without Losing Your Luggage”). Fortunately, since I’ve been doing this my bags have never gone astray, but I get peace of mind as soon as I turn my phone on upon landing and see that they are in the same airport as me.
I got this idea from Jason Deegan, managing editor at Golfpass.com, the digital arm of NBC Sports and the Golf Channel. Jason explained that on a trip from California to Hawaii he arrived in Kauai without his golf clubs. Because he had put an Apple Airtag tracker in his bag, he could see that his clubs were in the Honolulu airport, not having made the connection. But the airline could not locate them on their own, so Jason showed them his phone, and they were able to find them in some storage room where they potentially could have languished for days, weeks, or forever. Instead, he got them sent over on the next flight. In this vein, Stephanie Reynolds, spokesperson for Tile, an Airtag and Smart Tag competitor, told me, “We’ve had customers tell us that airport officials often don’t have any info about their luggage, until they show them its location on the Tile app and then they are able to retrieve it for them.” These tiny little devices, the size of a key fob, make great gifts for travelers, you can use them to track anything, checked luggage, stolen luggage, carry-ons, high price electronics, keys and they are inexpensive, around $18-$28 each depending on whether you buy one or a multi-pack. You just need to know whether the recipient uses an Apple phone (Airtag) an Android phone (Smart Tag) or with Tile it doesn’t matter.
Custom Recognizable Luggage: Another way to make it easier to retrieve your luggage at the carousel – and help the airline find it if it goes missing – is to have it be distinctive. I’ve seen an astonishing number of travelers grab the wrong bag off the carousel, check the name tag and put it back, because most luggage is black. If you can’t even recognize your own bag, how can you expect an overworked baggage handler to find it? When the airline loses your luggage, you fill out a form describing it, and pretty much everyone puts down “black 4-wheel roller.” But even if you don’t care about any of that, most people who travel a lot want nice luggage, luggage that is high-quality and looks good, and that is where ROAM comes in.
ROAM is a direct-to-consumer made-to-order luggage company that lets you custom design all sorts of bags online, and they are premium pieces of very high quality (I have several pieces and love them). You can do a hard sided 4-wheel spinner with each half a different color, contrasting wheels, trim, wheels, handles, etc. hundreds of thousands of permutations, and you see yours a mile away. If you put down “half red/half-blue roller bag” on the lost luggage form, it immediately narrows the search, and at the very least, you can see your bag come out no matter where you are standing, making it less likely that an opportunistic thief or confused fellow traveler will grab it, which happens more than you might think. And for a travel gift, who doesn’t want something truly distinctive they can call their own? 4-Wheel spinner carry-ons and checked bags in four sizes from $550-$650, plus backpacks, duffels and more.
For The Adventure Traveler: Three types of travel that have been booming in popularity since pandemic lockdowns eased are camping/National Park roads trips, active travel (hiking, cycling, trekking, rafting, etc.) and Bucket List adventures, such as safaris, ruins, exotic locales, etc. In all these cases, clean water can be an issue, and while there are a lot of products for purifying water on the go, none beats the Grayl Purifier. It’s so easy to use that your giftee won’t just take it to the Himalayas – it also works for those prone to frequenting bargain hotels, hostels or sketchy roadside food stands, here or in less developed nations. It looks like a regular plastic water bottle (BPA Free) you’d take to the gym, but has a fitted insert with filter. You pull it out, fill the shell (from a faucet or dunk in a stream), put the insert back in and push down.
That’s it, eight seconds, one push, and the ion exchange (binds pathogens including viruses, protozoa and bacteria) and activated carbon filter (chemicals, heavy metals, odors, flavors) leave you with instantly pure, drinkable water, anywhere in the world – no more pumping, waiting, chemical taste or batteries. The results exceed the Environmental Protections Agency’s standards for drinking water, and the filters are NSF 42 + 43 certified, removing 99.99% of rotavirus, norovirus, hepatitis A, E. coli, salmonella, dysentery, giardia, cryptosporidium and amoebae while also filtering microplastics, salt, chlorine, benzene, chloroform, lead, arsenic, and chromium. There is the 24-ounce GeoPress ($100), the 17-ounce UltraPress ($90) and the brand-new addition, the UltraPress Ti ($200), made of titanium instead of plastic, which means you can even cook in it.