Christmas gift for traveler who loves the nitty gritty details of travel plans?
December 10, 2007 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I need a good, creative Christmas gift idea for my dad. He's really into travel by air and rail--not the vehicles themselves so much, but their schedules, the logic behind putting a particular model on a particular flight, etc.

My dad travels constantly (domestically and internationally), and since his college days (when he was a team manager for football, lacrosse and soccer) he's gotten an inordinate amount of pleasure in figuring out (and scheduling) how he's going to get from place to place: finding the best way to do it, and understanding the reasoning behind the way the system works. He loves drawing up itineraries (even if the most exciting thing on them is an irregular flight number) and executing well-made plans.

This is the kind of thing that really gets him excited--how can I parlay this into a really good Christmas gift?

I live in New York (in Astoria), so stores in the city (in addition to those online) would be lovely.
posted by ocherdraco to Shopping (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You may want to visit the Transit Museum Store.
posted by Miko at 12:58 PM on December 10, 2007

Would he like a game that involves this? Is he the type to play a game on a PC, or does he have a willing partner/crowd to play board games with? (I can find specific suggestions if yes)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2007

Miko's comment made me think of Transit Maps of the World, a really cool book that came out a few months ago (I own a copy).

Or, visit a model railroading store. There's an entire subsect of model railroaders who get involved in the hobby because they like dealing with the logisitics end, and maybe someone at the store could show you some of the stuff involved in that end of the hobby and possibly suggest a gift in the process.
posted by drezdn at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2007

second LobsterMitten if he has any interest in games

On the same topic, my family loves the board game 10 Days In Europe. The gameplay involves re-arranging destination cards to plot a trip through Europe. Its more about luck than strategy, but its very fun and nearly everyone that can read a map can play it.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:07 PM on December 10, 2007

You could get him Railroad Tycoon.
posted by delmoi at 1:08 PM on December 10, 2007

Best answer: A subscription to the Thomas Cook European and Overseas Timetables, which are published monthly and feature every train in the world, or just about. A few hundred dollars, but he'll go crazy for it.

You can also buy vintage printed airline timetables on eBay - he'd probably love some from defunct airlines.

[/timetable lust]
posted by mdonley at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2007

If there’s a particular line or branch he loves or uses frequently you may want to search eBay for some old timetables and schedules. I found some for the branch line near my house (rails recently removed, soon to be a rail trail – we hope) from the 1800s.
posted by bondcliff at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2007

Best answer: The Flight Guide for the area he flies into/out of most often sounds perfect. Also, along the theme, Commercial Pilot Prep Test (for learning about what's going on in the cockpit or the rules of the air), Science from Your Airplane Window, Aviation Weather, AOPA's Airport Directory. For railroading, this Railroad Atlas of the United States Vol 1, was just published. From The New Yorker: Surely one of the most appealingly eccentric publishing ventures of the year, this volume of maps was begun by Carpenter, a railroad enthusiast, more than a decade ago. Using colored inks to represent the various local rail companies, he has set about drawing by hand—down to the last coaling tower—the 254,037-mile United States railroad network as it was in 1946.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Lobstermitten: Board games, yes, computer games, no. In that vein, burnmp3s, 10 Days in Europe sounds great—particularly as my family enjoys board games.

mdonley, the Thomas Cook timetables and vintage timetables are perfect for my dad—I just need to make sure he doesn't already have the TC.

drezdn: I'd thought about that book—is it just subway maps and the like or does it extend to larger train systems and other kinds of travel?

Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions, folks—and keep 'em coming; I might be set for his birthday and father's day at this rate.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: cocoagirl! These are amazing.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2007

Transportation themed boardgames at Ticket to Ride or Age of Steam could be up his alley. Age of Steam needs a minimum of 3 players, so Ticket to Ride might be a better bet, since that can be played with 2.
posted by fings at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2007

A subscription to ExpertFlyer.
posted by grouse at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2007

Hehe, I have spent many an hour searching out gifts for pilots and enthusiasts in my life. I'm getting to the end of usable gifts and will probably have to up the ante soon.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:47 PM on December 10, 2007

What about an antique pocket watch, like the kind used in the past by railway conductors? Maybe you can find something like this, or a reproduction in the same style.

Or, you could go with a newer model. Recently, Northern Rail issued 3,000 digital watches to its employees. You could get him something similar to the one they they use.
posted by buka at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2007

Best answer: Ok, here's a summary of some of the major and good train boardgames. Other people may have different takes on this, and it's well worth checking out reviews at

On the Underground is a wonderful one. Players compete to build private rail lines among the existing stations of the London Underground. A little peg-man moves from station to station riding whatever rail line will get him there with the fewest transfers and the least walking; players get points by predicting where to deploy their train tracks to lure the passenger onto their lines. A lovely game and quite straightforward once you've played a couple of rounds. (Rules are a tiny bit confusing at first.) Good for 2-5 players and plays anywhere from 30 min to 2 hours. Not a ton of fiddly calculation, but enough to keep the logistics guy happy. The math of it can be done on an intuitive visual level (unlike some train games that involve a lot of money and stock certificates, where you really have to get the arithmetic right) -- this means non-logisticsy family can still enjoy it. I would recommend this game to just about anybody who has the attention span for a game over 1 hour. I've had a great time every time I've played it, with mixed groups of boardgamers and intellectually interested non-boardgamers. That link above has pictures of the board, and reviews etc. It's just a winning, well-designed game.

The Ticket to Ride series is a fan favorite. In the first game, plain Ticket to Ride, players collect sets of colored cards, which they can use to buy railway lines of that color. They try to build a railway network across North America to connect to lucrative destinations. It's a very simple game, absolutely anybody can play, you don't have to pay close attention in order to have a reasonable chance. Less thinky than 'On the Underground", more luck but still not completely luck-determined. Plays in around an hour. This is one of the most popular board games in the world right now. There are a number of other versions which introduce various complexities and different maps; I'v heard the Europe one is better than the original US one (more complex).

Roads and Boats is supposed to be great in the much-longer game category. It's about 4 hours, but it's supposed to be a very well-designed game.

Heavy (2+ hour) games I've heard recommended but haven't played:
Age of Steam

Railroad Tycoon is a boardgame version of a popular computer game. It is HUGE - requires a big table, has lots of cool realistic pieces. You build railroads to exploit resources in North America. As a strategy game I find it to be fun but not elegant, but then again I'm not a huge train buff. The train pieces might be fun enough to make it for the right person.

There is a genre of games called "crayon rail" games, in which the board is a map with regularly-spaced dots on it, and players pay fees to "build track" by drawing crayon lines from dot to dot across a continent, connecting lucrative cities and avoiding other players' lines. For example, Lunar Rails is one of these set on the moon. There are versions set in the US, Britain, India, Japan, and other places, look through that list to find ones of interest. These games are pure logistics, "what's the cheapest way to get a load of coal from Kentucky to Chicago and a load of steel from Pittsburgh to LA, given the lines I already have?" calculation. There is little head-to-head player interaction (combat, or screw-the-other-guy). Some people love this aspect and find that it makes for a pleasant not-too-competitive gaming experience, other people are frustrated by it and refer to these games as "multi-player solitaire".

The 18xx games (games with titles like 1830, 1856, 1841, etc) are quite long and quite math-intensive. They are train games, but are fundamentally about the business side not the transportation logistics side -- they are about stock-market manipulation. I mention them only on the off chance this might appeal - they are mathematically very interesting, so he might enjoy that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2007

This isn't really a gift, but make sure he's got a copy of Google Earth on his computer; my dad is very similar to yours, and his new favorite thing to do after a flight is to map out the path on Google Earth, and compare what he saw from the plane to what's on the satellite images.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 3:42 PM on December 10, 2007

My logistics-guy partner seconds the recommendation of On the Underground and Railroad Tycoon, and possibly crayon rails. He also recommends Power Grid, which is not about transportation alone, but is about managing complex logistics (supplying power plants) and is the best logistics game he's ever played. It's the most popular game of the last few years among gamers looking for a more thinky non-combat game.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:51 PM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, hive mind. Off to do some Christmas shopping.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:09 PM on December 10, 2007

Nthing Ticket To Ride.
posted by krisjohn at 8:30 PM on December 10, 2007

Thanks for all of these ... I'm not the OP, but my dad's very similar. I've bought him a few of these for Christmas already. Excellent thread all around.
posted by Capri at 7:23 AM on December 11, 2007

I wonder if a major airport, airline or train company would be willing to give him a private tour...
posted by s77v at 5:31 PM on December 12, 2007

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