Gifts for 18 yr old nephew about to travel then start university
February 25, 2014 1:01 PM   Subscribe

My nephew's birthday is coming up - this summer he will be travelling by rail in Europe with friends then starting university (degree in Chemistry) in September. I want to get him two birthday gifts - one for each. My first thoughts were something like a decent stationery set or laptop bag for college, and maybe a multi-language phrase book (if such a thing exists) for his summer adventure. But these seem obvious and I would appreciate more ideas before I go shopping. If it were you, about to turn 18 and excited about the future, what would you appreciate? [we are in UK and he will be studying here]
posted by Hugobaron to Shopping (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A nice (but not ostentatious) travel bag/container. Backpack or laptop bag kind of thing. Well made items like that are generally not something an 18 year old thinks about spending money on. I really like stuff, a "gear pouch" from there sits inside every bag I ever carry.

I'd say a couple notebooks (like moleskine/field notes kind of things), and nice pencils/pen is safe, and close to what you already thought of.

And, as a gag, a box of condoms.
posted by DigDoug at 1:08 PM on February 25, 2014

He'll likely be staying in ratty cheap hostels, which are great fun but can get grueling. For a break, perhaps a gift certificate to a nice hotel or guesthouse on his itinerary.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:10 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

My parents gave me a (Makita, multi-torque) cordless drill for college. I still have it. Best gift they ever gave me. Of course, I did ask for it, but it's been incredibly useful and a part of my self-image as a useful person who solves her own problems.
posted by amtho at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does he have a good travel/camping backpack? Those are great!
Plus, in college he can use it to carry laundry.
posted by Neekee at 1:29 PM on February 25, 2014

I don't think any 18-year-old with access to Google is going to actually find much use for a phrase book. It's hard to go wrong with a high quality multitool for anyone who is going to be travelling.
posted by Jairus at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Building on amtho's idea, my father assembled a tool box and a car emergency kit for me, which made me feel grown up and was extremely useful.

I like the moleskin idea. You could pair it with some kind of gift card for emergency snacks during his trip. (Does this work across Europe? Starbucks? Some other multi-national thing?)

If you go the backpack route, I'd do a gift certificate or go with him to pick it out, since it's the sort of thing that he might want to pick himself. (I was given a massive one that I couldn't actually carry once filled)
posted by chocotaco at 1:32 PM on February 25, 2014

A toolbox is a nice going to college gift.
posted by mermily at 1:35 PM on February 25, 2014


The rest of it is just more stuff to drag to school or on vacation. Money lets you travel light, and it's used around the world.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mother didn't let me go to college without a can opener. A decent stapler is surprisingly expensive. I gave my brother a three-hole punch (two-hole for you, I suppose) when he started college.

FWIW, my mother still has the towel my grandad bought her that she took to university in 1972.

Lonely Planet does do multi-language phrasebooks. (I don't think that's such a bad idea. I don't have a smartphone, though.)
posted by hoyland at 1:39 PM on February 25, 2014

I don't think any 18-year-old with access to Google is going to actually find much use for a phrase book. It's hard to go wrong with a high quality multitool for anyone who is going to be travelling.

You'd be surprised. The last time I traveled to a non-speaking country in Europe I thought I could rely on google translate and some other apps...and there were plenty of times where I didn't have service or wifi. A phrasebook would have been so helpful!

When I graduated high school, someone got me a really fancy pen. Something about it made me feel so grown up.

Also--a really good towel is good for traveling AND college!
posted by inertia at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2014

I thought I could rely on google translate and some other apps...and there were plenty of times where I didn't have service or wifi.

There are downloadable foreign-language dictionaries, phrasebooks, and language quiz apps, as well as maps and travel guides -- I found this incredibly useful. Having the French word for stomachache available on your phone could be very helpful, and it's just nice to not have to rely on the cloud all the time (which is expensive and uses a lot of energy).

I recommend Collins apps for French.

So, if it's possible to give a gift of apps like that (gift card is obvious, but doing the research to find really good ones can be part of the gift), could also be very nice for traveling.

If he's going to be backpacking, you might also consider some kind of lightweight solar charger.
posted by amtho at 1:50 PM on February 25, 2014

Leatherman Skeletool


Clark's Desert Boots (they have great range: comfortable as hell and fit for urban hiking and posh clubs)

I like idea of getting him a towel, but the best towel you could get for a kid traveling around like that would be one of the smaller towels you get at a hotel (how you acquire this is up to you). No need for a large, fancy towel, they take too long to dry and you want to pack as light as possible.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:50 PM on February 25, 2014

Maybe a portable safe? Probably more for college, as he won't want to lug it around during his travels.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2014

N-thing a multitool. My dad gave me a Victorionox knife at about that age, and I still use it fifteen years later. Must haves: blade, can opener, bottle opener. I like scissors, too.
posted by momus_window at 3:44 PM on February 25, 2014

You might consider getting a little picture dictionary book like Point It for the travel component.
posted by gudrun at 7:42 PM on February 25, 2014

For travel:
Money! With a note about using it to treat yourself to a room or a nice dinner.
--I'm a big fan of this basic knife.
--All the talk of towels made me think of the nice, thinner cotton Turkish towels or sheets. Like these. These seem much more useful for traveling (they dry faster and pack smaller) and might be good for a dorm too.

For school:
-Laptop bag or backpack idea is good, but he also might want to have some say in choosing it. Gift certificate or joint shopping trip?
-A portable external hard drive, USB powered, like these.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:28 PM on February 25, 2014

If he's hauling a laptop around with books? Maybe a rolling backpack, so he doesn't get back strain. I use one by Targus that's fantastic at my school.

For travelling? A Hostelling International yearly membership, if he doesn't have one. I'm 44, and I renew mine every year, as I still like hostelling. Might want to check with him, though, to make sure he doesn't have one already. It saves you a couple of bucks/pounds/what have you per night at the HI hostels, but that saved dough adds up. A membership card can also get you discounts at various places.

If he has a particular tea or coffee or snack he likes, maybe send some of that with? I know that tea bags especially are light weight. I've been to some places with absolutely horrible tea/coffee, and it made me grateful that I brought some of my own.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:01 AM on February 26, 2014

For people going to university my parents always bought something like a kettle or toasted sandwich maker.

It used to get slightly quizzical looks but the general feedback was that, once the recipient got to university, they realised how useful something like that was.

Especially when you have a group of friends, coffee granules, some milk that is only slightly out of date ... but no ability to boil water.

(I made a lot of friends at uni with toasted ham and cheese sarnies)
posted by mr_silver at 4:48 AM on February 26, 2014

A great thing for travel is an external battery for phone etc. Here's one with links to others. Also good for making friends on the road. People will appreciate the extra juice when they really need it. And, it's likely something he won't buy for himself. It may also come in handy later during school.
posted by Gotanda at 5:49 AM on February 26, 2014

Best answer: Best travel gift I ever got was a travel towel - but definitely not a regular towel, one specifically made for travel that is quick dry and not too big.
posted by mosessis at 5:49 AM on February 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas everyone.

Result: I bought him a weekend travel bag, a quick-dry travel towel, some light vintage notebooks, and a portable Bluetooth speaker. He was pleased!
posted by Hugobaron at 2:14 AM on March 3, 2014

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