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

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas Gifts for First-Time Backpackers - Part 2

Struggling to think of gift ideas for a friend who is about to set off on an overseas adventures?

Not sure what you can get a first-time backpacker for Christmas that will have them praising your genius once they hit the road?

Confused about what to get a person, who far from having it all, will only be taking the bare minimum with them, carried on their back?

Last week, a family friend had this exact problem: what to get her daughters for Christmas that would help them out on their travels in the new year.

After thinking about it for a while, I came up with a list of gifts that fit the criteria of being a practical present  with some thoughtfulness behind it, as well as covering stocking stuffers up to the more expensive 'main event' presents. Hopefully Part 1 of the list gave you a few ideas, and here is Part 2 to really get Christmas sorted:

6. Power Board and Universal Adaptor

These days I always seem to have half my backpack taken up with electrical gadgets: smart phone, compact camera, notebook computer, dSLR camera.... And I'm not alone. Many other people have more gadgets than I do. Tablet computer, hair dryer, straightener, mini camcorder, e-reader. The list seems to be constantly growing as we travellers adopt gadgets that we are finding it harder and harder to live without!

All of these gadgets require a power source to use or to charge their batteries. This is where the problems start. 

You are sleeping in an eight bed dorm room, sharing the room's measly four power outlets with seven other people, all with their own myriad of  devices that they also need to charge. You therefore have a struggle on your hands to even get a go at using one of the power sockets, let alone charge both your laptop and your camera.

Solution? Take a power board from your home country and use an adaptor to plug it into the local supply. That way, when you do get your turn at that single socket, you can charge all of your gadgets at once.

Most of us have a power board lying around at home, but they can be found in practically any shop that sells anything electrical for just a few dollars. International adaptors* can be picked up at most travel gear stores, as well as at airports for around ten to fifteen dollars. A power board doesn't sound like a very exciting gift at all, but put a bow on it and trust that you'll be thanked later!

*Country specific adaptors are the most common. But if you are planning on travelling through countries with varying plug configurations, universal adaptors may be more convenient.

7. Multi-Pocket Coin Purse

The older I've gotten the larger my purse seems to have grown. In my early teens my wallet was palm sized and fit a few cards and photos. By the time I was at university, my little wallet had been replaced with a monster of a purse, half a foot long and stuffed with who-knows-what.

When you're backpacking, you don't need to take your library card, retail store membership cards or those pesky little 'get seven stamps and get a free coffee' cards with you. All you'll need is one or two debit/credit cards, your student card, possibly some back-up ID (like a drivers license, saves you taking your passport out clubbing), and your travel insurance details card (see below). And of course, money.

This will all fit neatly into a coin purse (Unless you go to a country like Malawi where the largest denomination note is equivalent to about one dollar).

My coin purse struggles to contain all that Malawian Kwacha.
Dealing with multiple currencies is also hard to keep organised. This is where the multi-pocket feature comes in. When I'm using different currencies, I keep the one that I'm currently using (say, the Hungarian Florint) in one side of the coin purse. Everything else - dollars, euros and pounds - stays on the other side. That way I can open the purse and know I will be getting out the right coins and notes. Then when I next cross a border, I spend a few minutes sorting the mix of currencies and put the new lot into the 'in use' pocket. Ta-da! Life just got a lot easier.

Go to any clothing and accessories store, and you're sure to find a collection of coin purses starting from as little as a few dollars. Get one with a cool design that suits the style of your friend, and they'll probably keep using it when they get back from their travels!

8. Silk Sleep Sheet

This is one item that you can live without, but in certain situations makes life a lot more pleasurable. These situations are:

  • Dirty hostel bed linen - it's not often this happens, but when it does at least you know there is a layer of fine-weave silk between you and that suspect stain.

  • Bed bugs - the fine weave of the silk prevents bed bugs getting into your cocoon of a sleep sheet and biting you during the night. 

  • Hot weather - on a hot night in a stuffy dorm, the fine silk will keep you covered without smothering you in heat (if you're like me, you can't sleep if you don't have some sort of covering over you).

  • Cold weather - in colder climates, using your sleep sheet as well as the provided linen will give you that little bit of extra warmth. Keeping warm is about layers, so even a layer of silk can help.

  • Sleeping bag hygiene - washing sleeping bags is difficult, especially if they're made of down and you're constantly on the move. A silk sleep sheet will put a barrier between you  and the bag, one which you can wash much more easily. 

Silk liners come in at about sixty bucks or more a pop from travel and outdoor stores, about two or three times as much as their cotton cousins. But I think that the extra money is  worth it for the compactness of the silk (two or three times less weight and bulk to carry around). This is a gift that your backpacker will be able to take with them on their travels all over the world and love you for it.

9. Binoculars

Going on safari is an amazing experience, and while I was in Africa earlier this year I went on quite a few: viewing game from the back of safari vans, boats, landcruisers, our overland truck 'Jozi' and even on foot. Wherever we went and whatever animals we saw, my binoculars came in very handy and added so much to the experience. I could see the animals much more clearly with my nocs, especially if they were hidden in the undergrowth or off in the distance.

When backpacking through cities and towns, binoculars might not be used very often apart from the odd bit of people watching from afar (that sounds a bit creepy!). However, when out doing any kind of wildlife watching activity they will hardly move from in front of your eyes. Wildlife is just that - wild. And unless you are extremely lucky, each animal is not going to walk right up to you and stand there so you can get a good look at it. That's why whether you're after the Big Five in Africa or polar bear spotting in Alaska, your nocs will be your best friend.

A lot of the same science goes into making binoculars as it does camera lenses, so it makes sense that camera guys know what they are on about. Mine are 8x32 magnification, which means they do a great job without getting too large to carry round. In fact, they are the perfect size to keep in my camera bag. I'm not sure how they do it, but by paying a bit more (around $220 for my pair), my binoculars pick up light really well. So even when I was watching game just after dawn or under low-light conditions in the rain (mine are waterproof, too), I could see the animal a lot more clearly. In fact, it looked like it was bright and sunny!

This rhino was a long way off, and my 300mm zoom could only get me this close. With my nocs, I could see the rhino much more closely and with much better light. 

Again, like everything else in the world, with binoculars you get what you pay for. Cheap ones start from about twenty dollars and from there they head up into the hundreds then the thousands. Travel stores do carry them, especially in the cheaper end, but I bought mine from a camera store. A great Christmas present for animal-lovers or people planning on chasing wild game in their travels.

10. Travel Insurance

As every travel book and site out there says, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel!

While it's more than likely you'll be absolutely fine on your trip, things can start to add up if you're not covered with travel insurance. Let's not even worry about covering material items like phones and cameras - they're nowhere near as important as the health of a traveller.

The most important aspect of travel insurance is the medical expenses cover. Depending on the country, a few stitches can cost you hundreds of dollars. If you're seriously ill or injured (say, in a vehicle collision or white water rafting incident), the bill can rack up to tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are horror stories out there of parents having to mortgage their homes to pay the medical bills of their kids overseas. The girl in the video below had medical bills of more than $50,000 but luckily her insurance covered these.

This is where parents can really help out with their kids first overseas trip with a Christmas present - helping them choose the right travel insurance to cover their needs and putting some money towards it. 

It's really important that you read all of the fine print of the travel insurance. Many people don't realise that many common travel activities such as bungee jumping and skydiving aren't covered by lots of the insurance policies out there. It can take time to sift through the policies out there to find one that will cover you for everything you are planning on doing. There are some activities that are nearly impossible to find cover for, such as off-piste skiing. It's also impossible (well, I haven't found one yet) to find a policy that will cover an incident that was caused due to you being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Pointing these things out to the first-time traveller and making sure they are covered before they head off may be the best present you could ever give them. 

Christmas Gifts for the First-Time Backpacker? Sorted!

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