20 Great Gift Ideas for the Aspiring Travel Writer
Becoming a successful travel writer requires spending a lot of time on the road, often with little time for preparation. And of course it goes without saying that you’ll be moving light and fast, so checking a bag is out, and you’ll need every item of gear to be supremely useful, unquestionably reliable, and stylish enough that you won’t be embarrassed when you land that coveted interview with the foreign minister.
Through thousands of miles living, working and writing on the road, this is the gear that our travel writers have found to be the absolute must-haves. Any one would make a great Christmas gift for an aspiring travel writer, or a frequent traveler of the business or leisure variety.
This piece of kit hardly needs an intro. At first, I just kept novels on my Kindle to browse on boring journeys. Now I get all my travel guides loaded up on here before I set off – much lighter than carrying around loads of books and easily searchable, too. I even put PDFs of my draft articles on here to read through, edit and show to others. I’ve got the keyboard version, which although slightly bigger, is much handier for adding notes to your literature – good for quick reference when you’re in the back of a tuktuk trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be going!
Even travel writers need inspiration sometimes, and National Geographic has always delivered on that promise for me. This brand new, beautifully-produced book makes a great gift for anyone who loves to travel. The full-color photos on nearly every page will have you drooling over far-off landscapes so gorgeous you’ll sometimes ask yourself if such places really exist. Meanwhile, short vignettes by some of the best travel writers in the world, including Pico Iyer, Bill Bryson, and Gore Vidal, will keep you smiling.
This is another little gadget that I don’t use regularly, but it did come in pretty useful when I was driving and camping around New Zealand. Trying as I was to avoid pricey campsites with such luxury facilities as power sockets, this little beauty helped me keep my phone and camera charged each day by collecting the sun’s rays through the windscreen as I drove along.
For me, a great laptop is all about battery life. After I’ve watched a film on a long bus journey and uploaded the day’s photos, I still want to be able to write notes from the day and edit my blog. For days at a time in South America, I was racing through Bolivia to Brazil and taking buses instead of staying in hostels for the night. Few would argue that Apple products offer the best battery life and my beloved MacBook Air consistently delivers the promised 5 to 6 hours between charges – a boredom fighter and fantastic work aid.
For travel writers, each year’s edition of The Best American Travel Writing is kind of like the Oscars for travel writers. It’s a glimpse at the state of the art in travel writing, an opportunity to inspire, learn, laugh, and be humbled. It’s also just pretty darn good writing. The perfect gift for anyone who has ever turned down a sketchy-looking alleyway in a foreign country because, well, it was a sketchy-looking alleyway in a foreign country.
I only pack one backpack when I travel, which means my hiking boots, emergency snacks, and underwear float around in one big compartment. Not cool. SeatoSummit garment bags changed all that. I tried them out on a trip to Portland and was able to keep my clothing clean, folded, organized, and away from my dirty shoes and clementine oranges.
I adore this piece of kit. When you’re horse riding through the fields of Uruguay, or atop a camel in the African desert, a million thoughts are racing through your head and you can’t put them on paper until the experience is over. I like to clip this onto my shirt and describe what I see and how I feel so that later I can listen to the recording and jot down notes.
I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart, and there’s something romantic about jotting down notes on the crisp pages of a Moleskine that makes me feel forever on the trail of Hemingway. Plus, the smart black leather cover also does well at reminding me to get on with work rather than play!
I lugged a tripod around India with me for two months before handing it over to another friendly traveler in a hostel. I simply didn’t use it and although it folded up pretty small, when I’m out exploring for the day, it’s just another piece of kit in my day bag. However, my boyfriend found this neat camera extender with which you can you can take great snaps of yourself without the need to fiddle around with timers or find a suitable ledge to rest your camera on. We got some great pictures of us nicely framed in front of famous sights such as the Angkor Wat temples. And at half a kilo it won’t weigh you down.
The three golden rules of travel writing? Back up, back up, back up. I’ve lost work before and nothing feels worse. You’ll need to keep all your documents saved in more than one place, especially if you’re carrying around a laptop or netbook desirable to thieves. I’ve been using this LaCie external hard drive for the last couple of years, keeping it separate from my laptop at all times to minimise the chances of losing all my work in one fell swoop. This model is fantastically practical thanks to its thick rubber edging, and can even survive a drop down a canyon (it was a small canyon, but a canyon nonetheless!) – so there’s no doubt it’ll withstand the beating that it suffers in my backpack.
The numerous fans of The Wild Places and Mountains of the Mind will be thrilled to learn that Robert McFarlane has a new book out, and like its predecessors, The Old Ways is wowing critics and readers alike with McFarlane’s unique and genre-defying storytelling. Who ever said that travel writing had to read like, well, most travel writing? MacFarlane shows that subject matter should not be a hindrance to achieving literary genius.
When I’m camping out in the woods or spending the night in a town without electricity, this little flashlight casts the perfect amount of light to write notes by at night. I’m now on my second one, having left the first one with a family in the mountains of Northern Laos. Once I realised they had to do a day’s walk to the nearest town to buy batteries, I understood why they found this gadget so magical.
What makes the Olympus PEN E-P1 camera the best bet for travel writers is that the camera body is lightweight and discreet, but still takes beautiful photos. The extended battery life allowed me to shoot hours of HD video and hundreds of still shots in Belize’s Mayan villages with zero access to electricity.
Osprey bags are well known for their durability, which was extra important when I had to carry my entire life on my back while I travelled throughout Belize for three months. Rips, tears, or broken zippers weren’t an option – and they weren’t an issue.
A yoga mat is my one essential non-essential when I travel. I’ve used it as a makeshift bed in Paraguay and for actual downward dog stretching in Cabo, San Francisco, and Belize. To transport the mat most effectively, I roll it very tight, secure the top with a rubber band, and insert the bottom into the exterior pocket of my backpack designed for a water bottle.
Headlamps are the ultimate hands-free device. In Paraguay, I used my headlamp every night on my way to the dark latrine. In Belize, I put it to good use exploring wet and dry caves. And I can’t forget all those nights it illuminated my travel journal as I wrote down my latest stories.