Not all those who wander are lost - but I'll be disappointed if I don't get lost frequently!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas Gifts for First-Time Backpackers - Part 1

Today I'm taking a quick break from recounting my African Adventures, in order to address a question which I thought warranted some attention. A family friend has two daughters who will be jetting off on their first overseas adventure in 2013, and yesterday she was asking me for some advice:

"Christmas is coming up, what can I get them as presents that will help them out in their travels?"

Good question.

There are the popular gifts, perhaps the more obvious items: backpack or luggage case, digital camera, money belt, a day pack (that can connect onto your larger backpack), a guidebook or a travel towel. All important items for a young traveller, but probably the first things purchased (or about to be) by the prospective backpacker.

Then there is the stuff that nobody tells you about beforehand, or if they did you would dismiss it as pointless or weird, that the value is only truly appreciated once you've had a few weeks out backpacking. The items that you enviously watch your dorm buddies use, wishing that you had thought to bring one too.

So after a little bit of a think, I came up with a list of travel items that would make the perfect Christmas present for the first-time traveller. And here is part one of my list of possible presents that your daughter, son, brother, sister or friend will love you for once they hit the road. And all with plenty of time to get before Christmas!

Some of these things may have the recipient looking at you sideways, trying to smile as they wonder why on earth they would get that for Christmas, but they will thank you later.

Gift Ideas - Part 1

1. Packing Cells and Stuff Sacks

An absolute god-send when I discovered these handy little items. My backpack used to be a mass of clothes and other articles all mixed together. No matter how careful I was, as soon as I had to dig around a bit for a particular item, the neat rolls of clothes reformed as bundles of rags.

Nowadays, I roll shirts into the blue cell, skirts and dresses into the red one, underwear and bras into the green one and miscellaneous items like swimwear, scarves, and sarongs into the black one.... You get the picture! Hey presto, I know exactly where everything is and it is a breeze to zip up my pack.

Mesh stuff sucks come in handy, too. I shove all my dirty clothes into one of these, so that they don't float around amongst the clean clothes. I can also double it as a washable delicate laundry bag, perfect for protecting my bras from hostel washing machines.

While they're not "Oh my god!" exciting, packing cells make an ideal present as they are something that a young traveller may not have thought of themselves. Starting from around 15 AUD at travel stores, they may also be something that's on the wishlist but has been crossed off due to budget reasons.

2. Toiletry Bag with Hook and Mirror

Ok, so most people are already going to have some type of bag for their toiletries. But are they going to have one that they can hang up in the shower cubicle when there isn't a shelf to sit it on? Or that they can hang off the bunk bed and use to do their hair or make-up in the dorm room? (There never seem to be mirrors in dorm rooms).

People are always commenting on how handy my little toiletry bag is, especially if I happen to be putting on mascara with it hanging off a tree or a tent. It has seen a few countries and continents now and is getting rather tatty, but it has done me proud.

Toiletry bags are found in practically any shop that sells toiletries, but the ones more suited for backpacking or extended travel are usually found in travel and outdoor stores. You can find a bargain one for about 10 AUD, or spend more than fifty on a flash one with all the bells and whistles. All in all, a very practical present. 

3. Mini Textas

I started travelling about two years ago now, and since then I've always had at least one permanent marker on my person. My favourite is a pink mini 'Sharpie' texta that lives in my handbag.

I've used it to label my food in hostel fridges, write the address on parcels sent home, mark power cords and adaptors so I know which one is mine in the tangle of identical white iPhone cords, put my name on water bottles and stamp my ownership over books, CD's and T-shirts as required. Not to mention leaving my mark on the famous wall outside Abbey Road, and a message of peace and hope on the walls dividing Belfast.

Leaving a message on the Peace Wall in Belfast
At only a few dollars for a multi-coloured pack, the mini markers are perfect to keep throughout your gear: One in your backpack, one on your key ring (some brands have this handy feature), one in your day pack, one in your handbag..... They also make a fantastic stocking stuffer for Christmas.

4. Action-Adventure Camera

I'd never heard about these until a few months ago on my African trip.

Yes, there are some compact cameras out there that are shock proof and water proof, and you can take them for a swim or keep in your pocket when you go skiing, but they aren't in the same league as these action-adventure cameras.

Strapped to your helmet while you are battling through grade five rapids, coming with you as you free-fall a hundred or so metres on a bungee rope and capturing the look on your face when you realise you survived the jump. Take it with you to sandboard, ski, surf, scuba, skydive or snorkel. These cameras can go anywhere and capture anything.

Not many cameras can do that.

Far from being a stocking stuffer, this one is the main event when it comes to presents. Don't expect to fork out less than a couple of hundred dollars for one of these. But if your loved one is a little adventurous, this gift will truly be appreciated when they hit the road and discover their inner adrenaline junkie.

This video shows exactly what is possible with one of these beauties:

5. Headlamp

Worth their weight in gold. Truly.

I've lost count of the times when a headlamp (aka head torch) has been required: Reading in bed, stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night, being able to get ready in the dark for an early morning flight without waking the whole dorm, see just what I'm eating when sitting down to dine under the stars, read bus timetables on a dark street.... The list goes on.

Like any torch, what you pay is what you get. For most people though, a basic headlamp will suffice and set you back somewhere around ten to fifteen dollars. Look for them in outdoor and camping stores, keeping an eye out for the ones that have high-beam (for finding your way in the dark) and low-beam (for reading in bed). 

Is Your Christmas List Sorted Yet?

Hopefully you've now got a few ideas for what to get your first-time traveller for Christmas... but if not, I have a few more useful things on my list which will follow up in Part 2 very shortly. Stay tuned!

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