Farewell gift for a traveler?
July 5, 2009 3:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a 20-something friend who's leaving on the 22nd of this month, he plans on traveling for a whole year throughout Europe and South America. I want to get him something that is useful/meaningful for the journey, any ideas? For example: A watch? A Compass? (good or bad?)
posted by pixxie to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
An empty journal or six.
posted by clearly at 3:56 AM on July 5, 2009

Extra big SD card for his camera. Check that you get the right brand, of course. (like the journal idea also)
posted by titanium_geek at 4:04 AM on July 5, 2009

A memory card for the digital camera to upload photos automatically/wirelessly to flickr?
posted by ttyn at 4:04 AM on July 5, 2009

A Leatherman
posted by bunglin jones at 5:11 AM on July 5, 2009

a sink stopper
posted by billtron at 5:44 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I appreciated my packing cubes every day because it made packing and unpacking much faster and easier. You can get them at many outdoors stores.
posted by atmosphere at 5:54 AM on July 5, 2009

2nding a journal. I went traveling for only three weeks last summer and was surprised how much I'd forgotten when I got back and flipped through my journal.

Calling cards are also practical, but I'm not sure how you'd get those in advance unless you know which countries he's going to...

If he has a group of friends that he's not going to see for the year, you could do what my friend did before she left to go teach English in Peru for ten months: she got an empty notebook, put a friend's picture on each page, and asked them to write/draw/staple/do whatever they wanted to their page. It was pretty neat when it was all done, and probably helped with the little pangs of loneliness that inevitably set in when you're away for so long.
posted by AV at 6:19 AM on July 5, 2009

Games! Specifically, a deck of cards or a mini backgammon set. I have made SO many friends by learning games and teaching the ones I knew. Cheap, easily replaceable, and not impossible to play with someone who doesn't know a lot of English; also hard to play alone, so you've got to make friends! There's even a mini non-magnetic Scrabble set from the 80s which is AMAZINGLY portable but is hard to find; here's one.

Also, Skype credit means he can use Skype to call any phone at home for low prices (prices based on where you're calling to, not where you're calling from, so all calls to the US from anywhere are €0.02 a minute) without having to carry a card. Wal-mart (and maybe other places) sells gift cards.
posted by mdonley at 6:29 AM on July 5, 2009

A small sketchbook together with a traveling set of watercolor paints - or just a pen, some ink and a brush. If he complains that he cannot paint explain that it is the process rather than the finished result which is important (and that he will improve with practice).

A Spanish language CD course.
posted by rongorongo at 6:59 AM on July 5, 2009

moleskine journal. (i should say "journals") i don't write much but its astounding i DO write whilst on foreign trips.
posted by chasles at 7:24 AM on July 5, 2009

Small Shortwave radio.
Swiss army knife.
Pen drive it a linux distro on it for booting from in dodgy internet cafes.
Seconding the mini backgammon or chess set.
A deck of cards from his home town. Also useful fro writing contact details on and passing on, makes for a memorable calling card.
posted by gergtreble at 7:25 AM on July 5, 2009

You could also pay for a years subscription for a Flickr Pro account.
posted by gergtreble at 7:28 AM on July 5, 2009

Best answer: A watch with a luminous dial and an alarm is good for those early morning trains/flights. The compass is good for when you emerge from a train station/underground discombobulated. The journal is good provided it is lightweight and small. But then I like browsing stationery stores when I'm travelling and buying them as I go along.

billtron, I had one of those sink stoppers once but it didn't work in bathroom sinks because the drain is too near the edge of the bowl. Get a wad of kid's plasticine and wrap in saran wrap and mold to fit.

The funniest thing I saw someone travelling with was a miniature atlas. Turns out, every day a question popped up that would be settled by consulting that atlas. In that line, a good Michelin map of Europe, SA.

And if you're feeling really generous: a Kindle, loaded up with favorite books.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:34 AM on July 5, 2009

He may already have this covered, but I think the best thing you could for him is make sure he has shower shoes and a small medical kit (especially OTC pain reliever and meds for the full spectrum of tummy troubles). I cannot stress enough the importance of shower shoes.
posted by Eumachia L F at 7:40 AM on July 5, 2009

a towel
posted by newpotato at 7:41 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing journal
posted by nihraguk at 8:06 AM on July 5, 2009

A nice leather-bound journal, or if leather won't work a sturdy but nicely bound paper journal.
A nice Parker cartridge fountain pen -- simple, ten bucks, great fun to write with, easy to get ink carts. An old girlfriend, a writer, gave me this pen fifteen years ago and it's still chugging fine, a real sweet line, ten bucks or fifteen max, goes great with that journal.
A small LED flashlight; costs almost nothing, weighs less than it costs, very handy.
If he's got a windoze or intel Mac laptop, consider a MagicJack USB dongle unless he's a Skype person -- plug into USB anytime you've got high-speed connection, call anywhere in the US free, and he can set it up with whatever local number he wants and can be called free there. Costs forty bucks which includes first year free calls, and it's not only for travel, it's the telephone I use here at home also. It's pretty much bombproof in my experience, sturdy, has voicemail, everything else, it's cool.

He's probably already got a journal; the Parker pen and the bitty flashlight are winners, have him check out the MagicJack before you buy it, if you're willing to spend forty bucks.

And make sure he's got some good pain pills, hopefully something like vicodin or like that, a scrip in his name, cuz when he falls and messes himself up and he's in outer Mongolia or whatever and the only doc around is a witch doctor and he's got to deal with this real pain, he'll really be glad he's got something heavy duty on board. This one ESPECIALLY if he's into hard climbing, wild mountain biking, etc and etc. Don't leave home without them, I damn sure don't.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 8:07 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

A tidy sum of cash.

If you don't want to do cash though, Rick Steves' Europe Through The Back Door Packing List might be useful to go through, for you and for him. From that list, the things I found most useful or reassuring were: money belt with steel cable in the belt part (hard to cut through), flashlight, and earplugs. A small care kit with several of those items might be good too.

(I would not get him a Swiss army knife, as useful as it is, since he might not want to check his backpack in all the time, and the airlines are still nervous about knives on board.)
posted by thread_makimaki at 8:11 AM on July 5, 2009

More than one person has said that when going to other countries and meeting people for the first time, it helps a lot to show them i) pictures of your family, and ii) a map of where you are from. Can you make a convenient package of maps and photos for them?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:21 AM on July 5, 2009

Depending on if he likes a nip of booze everyonce in a while, how about a small flask? Granted, they'd have to stow it on flights, or empty it out, but on long bus/train trips, it could be nice to have. Special added bonus, your friend could fill it up with the local firewater of whatever place it is they're passing through.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:42 AM on July 5, 2009

I think you should introduce him to a host of helpful websites, i.e. dopplr, booking sites, local versions of craigslist. where exactly is he going?
posted by krautland at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2009

A keychain compass may, at some point, be very handy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:48 AM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for the insightful input! Here's a list of the countries that he plans on going:
Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Turkey, Argentina, Peru

gergtreble: He already has a Flickr Pro account, although it is a very good idea.

TWinbrooke8: A watch like this perhaps? http://www.casio.com/products/Timepiece/G-Shock/G1000_Series/product/G1000H-1A/
posted by pixxie at 10:00 AM on July 5, 2009

If you want more ideas see the packing checklist at onebag.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2009

In my limited travelling experience:

No expensive looking watches. (It will make him a target)

A pocket sized notebook of blank pages was invaluable for times when I didn't understand the language well enough (especially numbers, which can be tricky).

Sink stopper, yes, but sometimes the big "universal" ones were too big.

An ALL fabric passport holder for around his neck or waist. Most have metal zippers which are very inconvenient at the airport. I used mine to hold my passport, transit visas and cash.

Calling cards are a good idea. If I were doing it today and had a little extra money I'd print up some MOO mini-cards with pictures of my home region. But then he'll have to carry them around, which, if he's backpacking, he might not be into.

HMMV, but silk long underwear were great. Sink washable, and packed down tiny.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2009

I'm not familiar with Casio brand but it looks sturdy. Another thought: ease of changing the time when passing to another time zone. My current watch requires tweezers to effect that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:36 AM on July 5, 2009

I travelled for about 6 months (Australia, Southeast Asia), and the things that came in handy most were:

money belt (tell him to keep his memory cards in here)
skype credit - for calling home, and calling various places around town - most internet cafes support skype
notebook + pen
an assortment of books - I'd trade my read copy in for a new-to-me book. you could start him out with one

Things that I brought with me and rarely/never used:

compass - I suppose I have a pretty decent sense of direction, but this just didn't come in too handy - but it was keychain-sized small, so not a major burden.

mini-tripod - Just because I love night photography, it came in handy a few times - I figured it could be useful for taking photos of myself, but for the most part I ran into other travellers who were happy to take a photo for me.

Skype credit, notebook, and earplugs (get some with a case) would be my top choices.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:10 PM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: I know he also likes to read, mostly fiction. Got any suggestions? Thanx!
posted by pixxie at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2009

No specific book recommendations. Something that takes place in the areas he'll be visiting. A book like Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson for example. Not my favourite Bryson book, but focused on Europe.

This wouldn't really be for the trip, but might be something he's interested in seeing before he leaves or when he gets back A Map For Saturday - it's a documentary on a guy travelling around the world for one year.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:45 PM on July 5, 2009

A fake wallet, filled with pictures of you and his other friends/family, or business cards of his favourite restaurants back home?

Really really good hiking shoes, I bought a pair of waterproof scarpas that have served me well in the galapagos, Sth America, Europe and are really useful back home as well.

Perhaps a small GPS pre loaded with maps for where he is going? I know I was jealous of a traveler I met in Slovenia who had a GPS pre loaded, we rented a car in a group and it was so easy to find places to go that way.
posted by Admira at 3:38 PM on July 5, 2009

I recently spent a month backpacking through Europe and I think that one of the best purchases I made was my Chaco sandals. They were ridiculously comfortable even for rather strenuous hiking trips. I think I actually wore those more than my walking shoes.
posted by sciencemandan at 9:06 PM on July 5, 2009

I really enjoyed reading Bill Bryson's A Mother Tongue when I was in Germany.

Another nice gift would be to get him a Flip digital camcorder and set him up with a way to share footage with his friends and family back home.
posted by billtron at 4:47 AM on July 6, 2009

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