Another year, another gift guide. How is it 2018 already? Weren’t we just dancing to Prince’s seemingly prescient “1999”? Nevertheless, here we are, and you’re in need of ideas. So, as a writer who focuses on the three things that bring joy to her life — travel, wine, and coffee — I’ve curated this list from either items I can’t live or travel without, or ones I’d love to receive (if my Secret Santa is reading this, skip to the end.)
Swap your home for a castle in Tuscany.
Sick of AirBnb’s growing fees or VRBO and HomeAway’s new minimum $400 “service fee”? Take matters into your own hands by home swapping with other folks around the world. The caveat – you need a property someone wants to swap for theirs. Naturally, it’s more useful for people living in expensive hotel cities like NYC, San Fran, L.A., and Seattle, or in vacation destinations from Florida, California, to Jackson Hole. But it’s fun to scroll the listings and daydream. You never know – someone in Palm Springs may need to visit their cousin — or the football hall of fame — in Canton, Ohio.
What’s great about HomeExchange is that they have 65,000 active members in 150 countries swapping primary and secondary homes, apartments, rental properties, timeshares, B&B and hotel guest rooms, yachts, houseboats, cottages, tree houses….really, anywhere you can sleep. Exchanges don’t always have to be simultaneous, especially if you’re eyeing someone’s second home. Pick up a yearlong membership for you and one for your sister, and start planning your summer holidays.
This Talia backpack goes everywhere with me.
Obsessed is what I’d call my enthusiasm for Osprey. First, their products come with a lifetime warranty – a huge selling point. Second, they earn further loyalty by manufacturing both men’s and women’s sizes (I’m short). Third, bags are well-constructed and have enough versions boasting assorted bells and whistles, that it feels like you’re getting a custom bag.
To that effect, I confess to owning an Osprey pack for every occasion. And other people have noticed. “How many backpacks do you have?” Well, at least three.
First, for commuting around the city on a bike, I have the Radial which features a helmet hook, integrated kickstand, and lanyard for quick access to keys for unlocking your Citibike. (Radial 34, $180 on sale at Amazon for $125.)
Second, for toting a change of clothes (in case of lost luggage) and camera gear (in case of TSA thieves) on an airplane, I carry the 24/Seven Series which also features the integrated kickstand that prevents it from tipping over when digging around inside. (Talia, $150 on sale at Amazon for $87.)
The third pack is for for mid-length trips and shorter hiking treks, since it comes with a removable front pack and is super-comfortable for extended hauls on foot. (Fairview 70, SRP $200.)
Turkish towels in multiple colors make great travel pillows, blankets, and beach wraps.
I picked up on the idea of traveling with a towel a few years ago when I snagged a few of these colorful, inexpensive textiles in an outdoor market in Provence. Ever since, I’ve stuffed one into my carry-on. Why? They can be rolled up for a plane pillow, lower back support, or used as an extra blanket on that cross-country flight United Airlines thinks isn’t long enough to merit one. They can be tossed around your shoulders on chilly nights. On a roving beach vacay or hopping from lakes to rivers in the summer, they provide a quick dry solution. And when your AirBnB’s towels are crunchy, dirty and just the worst – you’re also saved. While one can find them in markets around the world, I recently discovered a company called Case + Drift that sells them online in cute, gift-ready packaging. Pair it with the Drift Wet Bag ($40) for last minute swims or sweaty gym clothes or just to carry your towel.
The Champion wristlet is perfect for travel.
I discovered this brand only a few months ago, but ever since, I’ve taken my wristlet on multiple trips. In the past, I carried my passport in a separate holder, shoved somewhere in my oversize purse, but as airlines clamp down on excess on-board baggage, carrying a purse isn’t always an option. Enter the wristlet – it’s essentially a large wallet that opens like a book with a bronze zipper, and features a strap allowing it function like a handbag without being detected by a gate agent as my third carry-on. Inside the soft Italian and Argentinian leather, come two zippered compartments that help me keep paper currency and change separate. I can even slide my phone inside, as well as all my credit cards. And if I do get side-eye from that hawk dressed in a United uniform, it’s thin enough to slip into the top of my backpack or suitcase.
Allbirds loungers are great travel shoes.
A simple wool shoe that looks like a cross between a loafer and a cozy indoor slipper has become my go-to travel footwear of the year. I take them everywhere because they’re great for going through security at airports, sliding into on planes, and walking around cities. I’m not the only who has noticed, either. The brand, based in San Francisco but founded by a Kiwi, launched in early 2016 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $100,000 for a different shoe called the Wool Runner. Silicon Valley became a fan, generating a lot of buzz and great write-ups in notable publications. But the slip-ons are best for travel because they are light, comfortable and don’t require socks. Pictured the dark grey version, preferable since they won’t show dirt.
VinGardeValise packed with Tuscan wine.
Hands down the best personal wine transport system I’ve used, this durable suitcase carries up to 12 750 ml wine bottles tucked snug inside dense closed-cell foam cutouts. The hard polycarbonate exterior feels tough and practically indestructible. After a dozen trips, it shows little wear and tear. When packed to its limit with wine, the case typically weighs in at between 43 to 50 lbs. — just making the cutoff for most airlines’ overweight baggage. It has a TSA-approved lock and straps to tighten and secure your precious contents. Lately, I’ve used the VinGardeValise as my solo piece of checked luggage. I leave the foam inserts on one side for up to six bottles (or olive oil, honey, spirits, etc.), and use the opposite well, with inserts removed, to pack my belongings. This bag has been around the world without a single drop of wine spilt.