It’s been a(nother) year, has it not? Time to treat your favorite traveler (or yourself -you’ve earned it) with gifts to make them say “I never thought of that” or even “I wish I had!”
Each year, I request pitches of items released in the last year or so; this year I received about 200. After careful culling, I request samples (and return postage) and consult with other travelers to come up with the final list.
Sign of the times? This year’s list features a lot of gifts to do with things to drink: coffee, wine and things to hold them. Other items help you repel insects, find your stuff, catch a fish, drive Route 66, work out or sleep easy. And there’s something for virtually any price range.
Wishing you and yours safe and happy holidays and the hope that we all – finally – reach a new normal in 2022.
Puffin Drink Wear
We didn’t think drink koozies needed an update, but Puffin’s “drink wear” sure showed us. These Oregon-designed parkas, lumberjackets, life vests and more dress your bottles or cans in style, and they’re as practical as they are adorable, down to their tiny, working zippers and snaps. For bottles: sleeping bags, naturally. From $12.95, puffindrinkwear.com and at REI and other retailers.
Aervana Travel Wine Aerator
Now you can leave the fancy decanter at home and have your favorite wine taste like it should. This beautifully designed, battery-powered aerator sits on top of your bottle and uses a simple, high-tech pump to remove tannins and sediment at the touch of a button. It’s so fun to use that your entire party will probably want to try it, and when you’re done, it packs into a handy 6×4.5-inch carrying case that can easily fit into a handbag or backpack. $79.95, www.aervana.com
Insect-repellent scarves and wraps from Shoo for Good
Hate bug bites, but also hate the smell, stickiness and ick factor of bug sprays? Shoo for Good’s elegant, oversized scarves, wraps and throws start with fair-trade, sustainable cotton, hand-spun by Ethiopian women artisans using traditional techniques. Then the textiles are treated with a WHO- and EPA-approved insect repellent. The result? The garments create sort of a force-field around the wearer, designed to remain effective for over 70 washings. Plus, a portion of the sales proceeds goes to provide bed netting to families in need. From $140, www.shooforgood.com
Jogo coffee straws
Inspired by filtered bombilla straws that the Guarani people of Argentina use to drink yerba mate, inventor Joey Jones decided to try out the same concept for coffee – and it works! His Minnesota-based company became one of the most successful coffee ventures in the history of Kickstarter. The base of the pencil-sized Jogo straw is a fine filter that keeps the grounds in the cup while you sip through a silicone mouthpiece at the top. Pour hot water over your favorite ground coffee, stir, wait, add cream and sugar to taste, and bingo: a great cuppa with only grounds for waste. And JoGo donates 5 percent of its profits to a nonprofit working with indigenous and tribal communities. Not into coffee? The straw also works with cocktails or juices. $24.95, jogostraw.com
Coffee in a Tea Bag from Wildland Coffee
Instant coffee is convenient, sure, but the flavor: bleh! Launched in spring 2021, Wildland puts ground coffee in teabag form, sealed in airtight packets. Just add hot water, steep 5 to 8 minutes, and you have a cup of yum. This San Diego startup sources its beans from sustainable, ethical sources in Brazil, and it calls the flavor profile of its medium and dark roasts “full, creamy body and sweet flavors of chocolate, caramel and nuts” – a light roast is on deck for 2022. These tea, uh, coffee bags bring fresh-brewed taste to the great outdoors or when hotel or airline coffee just doesn’t cut it, and from grounds to packaging they’re completely compostable or recyclable. $33.25 for 20 teabags, www.wildlandcoffee.co or Amazon.
A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66
Get your kicks – and punts, bunts, swings, slap-shots, three-pointers, etc. – on Route 66 with this travel guide from sports writer Ron Clements. The book highlights sports along the 2,000-mile Mother Road from Chicago to LA, through venues (stadiums to museums), great moments (pro to high school) and personalities like the towel man of St. Louis. And don’t worry, Clements also highlights roadside attractions from mid-century motels to a giant rocking chair, Cadillac Ranch and the world’s largest ketchup bottle. $25.95, Imbrex Books and other retailers.
Workout cards from Joker Fit
Sure, you could get your favorite workout fan a Peloton, but they can’t very well pack it in their suitcase, can they? That’s where Joker Fit comes in. These decks of workout cards, so low tech the company calls them “no tech,” are themed from Core Blast to Beast Mode and filled with exercises requiring no screens, special equipment or iffy hotel gym facilities. Heck, you could even use them at home; just shuffle and go for up to an hour-long workout. One 21st century touch: a suggested Spotify playlist with each deck. $14.99 per deck, $39.99 for a bundle of three decks, jokerfit.com
Never again will you have to say “hold my beer” while trying to reel in your catch. Invented by a vacationing Oklahoma firefighter who found himself with too few hands while fishing in knee-deep water, the Chill-N-Reel is a hand-reel fishing device attached to a can cooler for your brewski or pop. Since its debut last year, over 130,000 anglers have gotten one. $12.99, chillnreel.com
Yeah, we know: Apple doesn’t need our help. But how can we ignore a device this useful? Introduced spring 2021, put one of these nifty, 1¼-inch, 0.4-ounce, waterproof discs in anything that’s likely to go missing – wallet, handbag, backpack, dog collar – then easily locate them using the Find My function on your IOS device. And the price includes custom engraving with initials or emojis. About the only drawback: if you want to attach them to something, accessories are extra (boo!) but can be kinda chic (like Hermès key rings – hooray!). $29 each or $99 for four, www.apple.com
Trtl Sleep Mask
And for when you’re finally ready for some shuteye – but still want to keep an eye out for the kids or the flight attendant – the innovative sleep mask from this Scottish maker of travel sleep goods (its name is short for Travel Refreshed Travel Light) lets you peek without jarring yourself awake with bright light. Lift the blackout panel to see through what amounts to a dimmer shield. Plus, the cushy-comfy foam construction sits away from your eyes so you can blink with ease. Sold with carrying case and ear plugs. $34.99, global.trtltravel.com