Gift for a first-time, multi-month European traveler (from the US)?
November 23, 2016 9:26 AM   Subscribe

What is a useful, minimal gift for a first-time European-traveling couple from the US?

My girlfriend's brother (practically my brother at this point) and his girlfriend are leaving in a few weeks for a multi-month trip to Europe. This kind of trip is a first for both of them - he traveled to India for a week, but with a family member and at a young age; she hasn't ever been outside the US.

They're leaving their jobs, packing light, traveling by train, don't have a specific itinerary, and no return flight booked. Their plan is to do mostly Central and Southern Europe.

I want to get them a gift that will be helpful on their journey. I don't know exactly where they'll be so guide books or a hotel stay are out.

Any suggestions from veteran travelers?
posted by AutoPilot83 to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Multi plug adapter.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:26 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Edit: they probably have most of the basics, like electronics adapters. But that's a really good idea.
posted by AutoPilot83 at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2016

Do they have a good backpack or sleeping bag yet? If they want to take flights within Europe, their airlines' carry-on size is different from the U.S. Keep that in mind if they don't want to be checking bags. I guess sleeping bag is only useful if they're hosteling.

Small multi-tool is always useful. I have this one and have brought it on planes in my carry on.

Light travel towel is also useful. These can double as blankets for picnics/beach.

Otherwise, giftcards at REI or Airbnb?
posted by monologish at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2016

-Agreed on multi-plug *with* USB ports for charging their phone, camera. Example
-Same theme, a USB portable power pack
-A money holder with the various currencies across Europe
-Passport holder (large enough to hold boarding passes)
-iTunes or Google Play credit with suggestions for various apps to download on their phones for travel (e.g. currency converter, TripIt for itinerary planning, city guides, etc.)
-Flight-approved toiletry kit (clear, small-sized bottles for liquids) with travel sizes of products they like, or re-usable travel bottles so they can fill their own.
-Sleep kit, a nice eye mask and ear plugs

Sounds like a fantastic adventure :)
posted by artificialard at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2016

Back when I did this, sleeping bags were discouraged at the nicer hostels, but a sleeping bag liner or set of sheets with pillowcase was needed. The reason behind this was that people would wash the liner, but full on sleeping bags were full of nasties. So, do they have sleeping bag liners? If they are travelling as a couple, though, they may not be using hostels.

The sleep kit with eye masks and earplugs is a good idea.

For apps, I have iTranslate and it is pretty awesome.
posted by TORunner at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2016

- Seconding a really nice backpack (with support for your back, and maybe even a detachable daypack - seriously! - so useful)
- A set of packing cubes, some good shoes, small binoculars for outdoors + the inside of churches, a toothbrush sanitizer
- Maybe an inflatable pillow (don't do the travel pillows, I hated mine after two months but couldn't bring myself to get rid of it)
- A Go-Pro could be awesome. Maybe a portable speaker? A new pair of headphones, or a really well-recommended book.
- A nice set of medium-sized moleskines, and good pens? An Instamatic and some camera film, but it depends on your people.

Heartily recommending Rick Steves' app & podcasts and CityMaps2Go! They were essential to my enjoyment of the trip.
posted by a good beginning at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of the suggestions mentioned (USB port adapters are the best, as is local currency!) Other ideas:

- Packing cubes make backpacks so much easier to manage on trips like this! I think it would be difficult to pick them out on behalf of someone else, but you could get them a gift certificate for somewhere like eBags.

- Something that would help them to stay connected or document their trip. For example, depending on their willingness and ability, you could buy them a domain name and blog through and help them install Wordpress app on their phones. Or simpler, storage on a photo sharing site or Dropbox.
posted by beyond_pink at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2016

A picture dictionary. I believe Amazon sells it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Most people have the electrical adaptors, but a nice add might be a portable power strip - we have one similar to this one, and it's super handy because you don't need MULTIPLE adaptors for your charging needs. I also 1000% support packing cubes.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2016

Just read that they don't have return flights booked.

It's likely fine, but there's a tiny chance they'll be hassled at the airport for not having an exit date. Schengen region limits U.S. visas to three months. I flew to Spain with a one way ticket a few years back. My friend had bought me a $20 flight to UK from the Schengen region just in case, which I printed out and didn't think much of. I got hassled at the U.S. airport for not having a return flight. I showed them the ticket to UK, which showed I was flying out within three months, and they ended up letting me go. I mean, I don't know what would've happened if I didn't have that, I proooobably would've been able to make it through, but still. It's was $20, and I was very thankful.
posted by monologish at 9:43 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ooh, a rechargeable battery bank could also be a lifesaver if they're reliant on phones. I know a couple of times when I was desperate to take just this *amazing* photo at the end of the day, but I was at 1%, so my phone couldn't do it for me :'(
posted by a good beginning at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

ok, cool!

Now I'm thinking a package with some small things in it: sheets/blanket/towel, pens and notebooks, earplugs/eyeplugs (?), and maybe some Euros :)

I don't know how reliant they'll be on phones, but might be using theirs for photography - a rechargeable battery is a great idea.

They've been working out the EU visa stay problem and seemed like they had a good plan (running out of the area for a few days, then coming back).
posted by AutoPilot83 at 9:52 AM on November 23, 2016

If they're traveling light, that means they're doing laundry. Sink and shower laundry sucks. Laundromats and wash & folds are often difficult to find. Get them a Scrubba wash bag. Also consider a quick dry travel towel - which will dry their laundry, dry themselves, serve as a blanket or shade, etc.

Maybe a small/multiport USB power block/power bank/bluetooth keyboard, too. I travel internationally with just a small carry-on backpack and those are almost always with me unless I'm forced to carry a laptop or chromebook (which I'd avoid doing as they're usually not worth the weight) - in which case I'd leave the block and keyboard at home.

If you want expensive, consider a small camera with a big sensor as even the best smartphone cameras aren't good enough, especially at night. The go-tos in this space are the Sony RX100 (any version) or Canon GX7 or GX9. I carry around an Olympus e-pm2 and two prime lenses (a 40mm and 90mm equivalent), but I'm thinking about switching that out for a Ricoh GR. Photo backup can be an issue - I use android phones that take micro sd cards, and move the sd cards back and forth from camera to phone and backup with google photos.

Oh, connectivity - if they don't already have unlocked phones, they should (so they can get SIM cards in-country), but a better way is to be on T-Mobile or Project Fi, which allow for very cheap or even free international data and text.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:56 AM on November 23, 2016

For the cautious traveler, a Datablock USB adapter for safely charging your devices from untrusted USB ports.
posted by zamboni at 9:56 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're allowed 90 days out of any consecutive 180 days, i.e. the 90 days doesn't reset the minute you leave the Schengen Zone.
posted by hoyland at 9:59 AM on November 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

My husband and I recently got back from a similar three month trip (but not to Europe). The things that were the most invaluable were:
-multi-port USB charger, like this one
-packing cubes and a separate laundry bag
-Kindles (or other e-reader)
-a portable, foldable keyboard (we brought an iPad but no laptop) -- they are going to want to spend time on trains writing emails and booking hotels and researching the next place, and a keyboard makes that so much easier
-if your friends are taking a good SLR camera (I hope they are!), a couple of extra memory cards and batteries and battery charger for redundancy
-a good international data plan -- we switched to t-Mobile just for their international service, but you could get your friends a pre-paid European SIM card if they aren't otherwise set for international data or phone service
-leak-proof water bottles
-a clothesline

We had friends who did a similar thing who absolutely loved these inflatable hangers, but it'll depend on if your friends plan on doing mostly hand laundry or using laundromats.
posted by alligatorpear at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2016

Oh, and if they're planning to stay in hostels, ear plugs are a very good idea, as are some flip flops for showering, some good luggage locks, and a small padlock.
posted by alligatorpear at 10:05 AM on November 23, 2016

They've been working out the EU visa stay problem and seemed like they had a good plan (running out of the area for a few days, then coming back).

Maybe your gift could include some pointers towards official EU information because, uh, this isn't how it works and is illegal. The actual European Commission website is a good place to start.

For earplugs, I've used all kinds and the best are Howard Leight Max (e.g.), by a long way.
posted by shelleycat at 10:05 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I know lots of people have already said it, but seriously packing cubes are the one thing I won't leave behind no matter what the trip, provided I'm using a backpack. They are so useful and they make the backpack experience so much easier.

I also like carrying a Leatherman Mini but you'd need to check whether they're planning on taking any flights without checking luggage.
posted by kadia_a at 10:24 AM on November 23, 2016

A Swiss Army knife, and a phoney return ticket out of their first port of call
posted by Kwadeng at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2016

I like to have a lightweight hanging toiletry bag. I once thought it was unnecessary, but it's really handy in hostel showers and for making me feel at home anywhere (once my toiletry bag is hanging up by the bed, I'm comfortable). I use a free toiletry bag from an airline, but this one looks like it would make a nice fancy gift.
posted by a sourceless light at 10:51 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are ton of practical recommendations (guidebook with rippable chapters, roll flat water bottle, good travel bottles for shampoo, travel clothesline, drain stopper for washing clothes, toiletry bag with a hook), but presumably they've done these already. I'd vote for better earphones.
posted by cnc at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2016

Winter is coming - get each of them a HeatTech or silk undershirt and pair of tights so that they can walk around outside all day comfortably when sightseeing. These weigh hardly anything and will double their wardrobes (easy to handwash & dry every night), so they won't need to drag along bulky sweaters.

And a few other ideas:
Earbud splitter so that they can listen/watch things together
Deck of cards
posted by veery at 11:10 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

This kind of question comes up here quite regularly and I am always amazed at the amount of Stuff people recommend! Half of the point of a trip like this is letting go of Stuff! Don't get them anything expensive or imbued with a shirt on of personal meaning. They need to be able to lose it or break it and not be bummed. I think earplugs and an earbud splitter would be a nice combo.

(I agree that they should probably come up with a better solution for the immigration issue by the way. The European continent is in the throes of a migration crisis. Breaking the law deliberately right now would be hubris)
posted by bimbam at 2:57 PM on November 23, 2016

A couple of Crumpled Cities: They are the lightest maps in the world: indestructible, soft and waterproof, they can be crumpled, squashed and crushed into a ball. What’s more, the more battered they are, the better they look.

My friend had one in Berlin and I was so jealous when it started raining and neither of us had an umbrella -- she had a map!
posted by ipsative at 3:53 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Flip flops and a sarong for down-the-hall bathrooms, a chamois or one of those Japanese quick-drying towels (the size of a hand towel), a reliable collapsible umbrella, a couple bandanas which are for wiping off wet or dusty seats, a napkin for meals, ends tied together for an impromptu pouch, head covering for dodgy motorbike helmets, etc etc., some small combination locks for their backpack zippers.

For hand washing in a sink, a wad of moldable plasticine (kids clay) wrapped in some thin plastic wrap for a sink stopper and a baggie of laundry soap. I have a clothes hanger made out of plastic-coated wire and carry a couple clothespins and some plastic twine (don't know what people call it but you can find scraps anywhere to knot together to form a clothesline)
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:54 PM on November 23, 2016

The app is invaluable for European travel. Offline walking, driving, and transit directions, and super detailed maps.

A portable wifi hotspot that they could just stick a SIM card in could be handy if they don't have unlocked phones or international data plans.
posted by ohkay at 4:14 PM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

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