Holiday gift ideas for the traveler on your list
It’s time again to think about holiday gifts for travelers on your list, so here are my suggestions, updated for 2019. My overarching guideline for a great gift is to arrange some extravagance — petty to major, depending on your budget — that you know the traveler would enjoy but probably hasn’t already arranged and wouldn’t otherwise arrange.
It’s easy to come up with ideas for a traveler who already has a trip planned, with specific dates and places. For a baseball fan heading to Los Angeles, for example, get Dodgers tickets; for a theater buff headed for New York, London, or Las Vegas, get show tickets. Depending on musical tastes, check to see what concerts there are in a primary destination: rock concert to jazz to symphony to opera, you can probably find something that fits. For someone headed for a resort, consider a spa treatment. If you know the flights, arrange a VIP “meet and greet” and limo transfer at a destination airport. If you know a destination hotel is already reserved, organize an upgrade to a suite.
If your traveler has no immediate travel plans, consider something that could enhance the travel experience anywhere, anytime. I have two primary choices here, each with a lot of flexibility. My top choice, at least for a traveler who already isn’t in a program, is to arrange access to an airport lounge. Priority Pass (prioritypass.com) provides access to a wide range of lounges — a mix of airline and independent. Annual membership costs $429, with unlimited no-charge visits to more than 1,200 lounges and airport restaurants worldwide. If that’s overkill, LoungeBuddy (loungebuddy.com) arranges one-time lounge entry at a worldwide network, starting at $25 for a visit.
My other primary choice is to give an actual trip. Perhaps the easiest way is to buy a hotel or resort coupon from Groupon (groupon.com) or LivingSocial (livingsocial.com/ travel), which usually covers a two- or three-day weekend at a leisure-oriented hotel or resort. You can find lots of options starting below $100 per night for a couple. The big advantage to these coupons as gifts is that they’re typically valid for a period of several months, so you don’t have to try to guess your traveler’s exact schedule. You can almost always find something within easy one-day driving range from about anywhere in the U.S., or you can concentrate on one of the popular destinations such as Las Vegas or Orlando.
I remain a contrarian about those lists that focus on gadget “stocking stuffer” gifts: luggage, clothes, money belts, passport and credit-card wallets, chargers, foreign plug adapters and similar items. My take on those is that most travelers already have the gadgets and accessories they really want, and most “stocking stuffer” travel gifts quickly become “drawer stuffers.” I also exclude “cash equivalent” travel gifts — buying something the recipient has already specified as wanting, paying part of an upcoming trip, buying a railpass, a gift card or otherwise making what amounts to a direct cash contribution.
I don’t mean to say you should totally ignore the terrific deals available on electronics and tech gear during the holiday shopping season. The critical element in finding a great tech gift is knowing exactly what sort of device your traveler would really use on a trip that doesn’t duplicate something they already have. Many travelers these days need no more than their regular phone or tablet to keep up with emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook and such. But an avid book devotee might love a Kindle or other e-reader, and someone who needs to do serious word processing and spreadsheet work might love one of the new laptops with 14- and 15inch screens that weigh just 2.5 pounds.
As we learned in “The Music Man,” getting the right gift is easy, but “Ya gotta know the territory” of your traveler. So get to it.
Tickets to a Broadway show are an ideal gift for a theater buff headed to New York City.