If anyone understands travel, it’s Santa Claus. Every Christmas Eve he races around the world quicker than someone using up their Air Miles before the expiration date—then before he knows it he’s back at the North Pole, jet-lagged and worn-out, with his feet up and a cup of cocoa by his side, wondering how his long-planned travels were over almost before they started.
So who better to provide perfect gifts for a traveller than Santa? Well, a traveller’s friends and family, for one!
After all, the greatest pleasure in gift giving is the smile on the recipient’s face when you’ve nailed their wants perfectly. The old adage “It’s better to give than to receive” may be an effort to get people to be more thoughtful and generous, but let’s face it—anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of unbridled elation from a loved one knows it really is the best feeling in the world. So whether Christmas, Hanukkah, a birthday, graduation or just-because, how do you gift give for the avid wanderer in your life?
The Gift of Travel
I understand that in general giving the gift of travel is not always easy. First there’s the cost. Most travel’s not cheap. Even a weekend in a hotel can be pricey, never mind spanning the world or exploring a continent or two. But if you can afford it—you know, for those once-in-a-lifetime-gift occasions—and you really want to give a mind-blowing present, there are ways to make it happen.
If you have the budget, know your loved-one’s tastes exactly and their life-schedule, then buying them travel is relatively easy. Alas, not many of us can tick all three of those particular boxes on any given day, and missing just one makes actually giving travel somewhat tricky.
For example, your partner has always dreamed of attending the annual Baby Jumping Festival in Castrillo de Murcia in northern Spain (yes, “El Colacho” is a real event that dates back to 1620 and involves grown men in costume leaping over newborns reclining on a mattress in the middle of the street!); or of Oaxaca, Mexico’s yearly Night of the Radishes (also true: I never joke about travel!).
You’ve checked the costs, raised the funds, booked the accommodation and bought the airline tickets. You give the gift—perhaps with a bouquet of fresh radishes in the case of Oaxaca!—and watch your partner’s face light up, only to see it quickly dim and tears fill their eyes as they realize they can’t travel on those dates—it’s the annual team-building weekend at the office and missing it jeopardizes not just career prospects but possibly their livelihood.
As we all know, many travels are non-changeable and non-refundable. To switch an airline ticket for a different date generally costs money at best, and is impossible at worst.
The same applies to tours. Before buying any trip from a trip company or tour operator make sure the recipient can actually go on those dates. If the concern is a work conflict, covertly contact your partner’s boss before booking to clear the dates. Making that contact can actually be part of the fun—most people like to be in on a surprise, and all the subterfuge adds to the excitement.
Once that’s taken care of, there’s another concern to consider before locking in that gift: is the recipient ready to go?
Are They Ready to Travel?
If the trip will be a few months away, there’s little more to worry about. But if it’s a closer departure, make sure they have—or have plenty of time—to get a valid passport or any necessary visas, and if the destination is somewhere tropical, all the right travel immunizations. (You need special vaccinations for certain destinations.)
If you’re not absolutely certain that’s all in order, it’s probably best not to give them an actual trip on specific dates; but you can still grace them with the gift of travel.
You could present them with a bag of toonies with “Travel Fund” written on the outside—though they might just stick them in random people’s parking meters in fits of wanton benevolence. Credit card gift cards can also work; but again, they might blow it on something completely unrelated—which is fine, unless you really have your heart set on giving them travel.
Fortunately, some travel companies and tour operators offer their own custom gift cards that enable you to give travel, which allow recipients the freedom to pick their own destination and dates. If gift cards are not mentioned on their website, it’s worth calling directly; an operator may be willing to open a travel-fund credit for someone to be used against future travel.
Besides the holiday season, travel gift cards are great options as graduation gifts or wedding registries—just think of that cute couple who wants guests to contribute to their Räbechilbi Turnip Festival honeymoon fund (held every November in Richterswil, Switzerland, don’t you know!).
If you are giving someone an actual trip, always be cognizant that even if the flights, accommodation and sightseeing are paid for there are always incidental costs—and those little things can quickly add up. Free trips can become costly without taking that into consideration, and that can be embarrassing for you, the well-intentioned, goodhearted gift-giver! Make sure you never give someone a gift they really can’t afford to receive.
The Gift of Gear
If actual travel is beyond the budget, there are plenty of other gifts for the travellers in your life, though again not all come without specific thought required. Travellers—especially outdoors and adventure travellers—tend to be very particular about their gear. We all have our favourite bags, rain jackets and boots. And it doesn’t matter if there’s more duct tape on the bag than original fabric, or if the rain jacket smells like a nest of sleeping hamsters—they’ve been to the ends of the earth with us and woe-betold anyone who tries to come between us and them! We’re loyal to our gear, and until our gear fails us or shuffles off its mortal coil, long may the relationship reign.
That’s not to say that any gift of gear would be unappreciated; just that it can be a bit of a minefield!
Under any circumstances, the best gear gifts are clearly the ones someone wants or needs. If you’re not sure precisely what someone wants or needs, the next best thing is to buy someone an indulgence that they would never buy for themselves.
So think about picking up those merino-wool longjohns they just couldn’t justify splurging on, or the titanium Spork to replace their plastic one, or the 700-lumen headlamp instead of their usual 30-lumen one (…but remind them not to look directly into the light, ever!). Chances are anything that qualifies as a luxurious basic would likely be greatly appreciated.
The Gift of Knowledge
Finally, successful travel is all about knowledge and preparation. The better you know your destination, the more you get out of the experience. So whether the avid traveller on your list is a worldwide-wanderer or more of the armchair variety, you can always give them more information.
Guidebooks, travel literature, bird and wildlife guides, photo books—whether of the digital variety or the genuine bound type—are always appreciated by travellers as sources of information, inspiration or merely entertainment.
And of course—you can never go wrong with a gift subscription to Canada’s best in adventure travel.
- Simon Vaughan is Outpost’s Senior Editor & Special Travel Advisor