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Christmas Presents Your Volunteer Will Definitely Want For Their Trip

Posted by Jen King on 12/18/19 3:05 PM

ILP Adventure

Looking for a few last minute holiday gifts? We've gathered up ideas right from the people who are traveling of what they wish they were getting for Christmas.

If you know someone who is getting ready for their ILP trip, your Christmas just got easier because we've got a bunch of ideas for you. Stuff their stockings or add another present under the tree with these gift ideas.

We put together a guide with a lot of tips for parents of ILP volunteers.
Take a look at it here!

We've grouped gifts together by price to make it easier for you as you are looking for ideas.  Happy shopping and Merry Christmas!

Gifts For Travelers Under $10 

These are inexpensive, useful, and make great stocking stuffers!


Your volunteer is going to miss their favorite American snacks after a month or two in a foreign country. I mean, it's exciting to eat the local food in a new country, but the novelty starts to wear off and comfort food from home is like gold after awhile. A gift box full of their favorites it's an easy win! Protein bars, Cheezits, candy, drink packets, and just-add-water foods like oatmeal, hot chocolate and mac and cheese are great things to add to their stocking. Here's a  list of foods we love to take!

Travel Sizers

Travel size containers are a winner. Your volunteer can fill these small bottles up with the essentials and then buy bigger bottles of what they need once they get to their final destination. These are an affordable and great option of clear containers. I also love the ones you can find in Target's travel aisle. Or have you ever used Rowme before? They have really cute things for really, really affordable prices - like these pink travel bottles.


I'll fess up ... I have a bag that I just throw all of my makeup and misc toiletries into. I'm never not pulling everything out, looking for that one thing that is inevitably at the bottom on the bag. You know? 

An organizer with multiple sections, zips, and clear sides would be an awesome gift for any traveler.  I love this one and this one, both under $7.

Catching ZZZs on the Flight

Block out the light and catch some rest on a long flight with a sleep mask. Here is a simple one you can't go wrong with. While we're talking about trying to catch some rest on a long flight, ear plugs are an essential solution to that problem. You can find lots of options at drug stores like Walgreens.

Waterproof Phone Pouch

Especially for (but not limited to!) volunteers who will be going to places like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Thailand, and Costa Rica a waterproof phone case is so nice to have. Newer iPhones do have better water protection, but it is still possible to damage them. Mostly though, I like the strap feature so that if I'm out swimming, I can make sure to tie it around my wrist in a way that it's not so easy to just drop my phone and lose it to the ocean floor.

A pouch like this one from Joto, though inexpensive actually does work great. I can atest to it - I was a little nervous to trust my phone with a little $7 case, but I'm so glad I did because I was able to take my phone into the water while swimming in the Thai islands and get incredible photos and videos. I also loved keeping it in my backpack for anytime it started to rain and I needed some protection.

You can also find more expensive options if you're looking for higher quality. Lifeproof is a great brand.

Travel Games

Games can be a lifesaver on long layovers or even nights in country when they're hanging out with their group. Decks of cards are always fun (Uno, Face cards, Phase 10) and simple small games (Catchphrase, Bananagrams, Spot it!) are a great stocking stuffer.

Did you see that the card game Dos recently came out? It's a newer version of the classic Uno and it'd be a fun one to surprise your volunteer with. 

Microfiber Towels

This is one that most people don't think about until they're traveling with someone else who has one ... and then they're seriously jealous. Having a towel that packs up small and dries quickly is a major plus when you're on vacation, traveling around and living out of your backpack for a week. They pack up so small that this can be a stocking stuff, but would also make a great gift on its own. Find lots of options and colors on Amazon.

Gifts For $10-$30

iTunes Gift Card

Gift cards are an easy way to let your volunteer choose what they want.  Personally I use Spotify, but even I would love an iTunes card. Why? For the movies.

Many times the WiFi just isn't quick enough to stream a movie on Netflix (or maybe they're on a train without WiFi) ... this is when a downloaded movie from iTunes will save the day. With an iTunes gift card I would download as many of my favorite movies as I could so that I'd have some entertainment to get me by when I'm on a long train ride or if too many people in my group are on the WiFi at the same time and it's running to slow for Netflix.

Fanny Pack

This is the go-to for most volunteers right now, instead of a purse, for carrying all the essentials like your money, chapstick, phone, etc. Target has a selection right now with a whole mix of styles. I'm into the classic black though or you can't go wrong with Patagonia.

If a fanny pack isn't really your style, they might like a money belt instead. Again, I love this simple black one.

Compression Socks

These are actually really incredible for anyone who's about to take a long flight (especially if it's their first one ever and don't know what to expect). Have you ever been on a 10+ hour flight and got off the plane feeling so swollen that your feet barely fit in your shoes? The elevation mixed with salty plane foods tend to do a number on our bodies, but if you pull on compression socks before you get on the plane you'll notice a huge difference.  I've flown quite a bit but when someone gifted me compression socks my travel life was changed for the good.  Find lots of them on Amazon.

Travel Size Blanket

Your volunteer is going to be traveling quite a bit during their semester. ILP volunteers often travel to nearby sites on the weekends, plus they've got vacation time throughout the semester. That means lots of time on buses, trains, and planes. Even in really humid places like the Dominican Republic and Thailand, they'll be freezing on the air conditioned buses unless they've got a sweater or blanket.

I love travel sized blankets the can be really compact, not taking up so much space. You'll find lots of them on Amazon, but this one in particular has really great reviews.

Portable Phone Charger

Keep a phone charged while on the go! Portable chargers are AWESOME to have while traveling. If your phone battery is getting low, simply plug it into the charger and you're golden, even if you're on a train where you can't get to an outlet. I personally love the charger by Jackery; it's compact, and gives my phone 4-6 full charges while I'm on the go. I never pack for a trip without it.

ILP Shirt + Sweatshirt

Did you know you can order some ILP merch online? Just head here and make your order. We can ship it to you!

Screen Shot 2019-12-18 at 7.15.18 PM

Spotify Premium Subscription

We love the Spotify app for music and we know your volunteer does, too. There's a free version, but as a traveler you really want the Premium subscription because you're able to download your music. This is really important because there will be times (starting with the flight) when they will not have WiFi or even data, but they'll still be able to listen to their music anyways!

The best news is that they often have a trial period where you can save quite a bit.  Spotify also has a family plan for $15/month, so it's a gift for them ... and for you!  If you don't care about having Spotify and your volunteer is a student, check out their student plan for a measly $5 a month (plus extras!). 

Travel Adapter

Is your volunteer headed to Europe? Outlets are different there which means your volunteer will need an adapter to make their cords work. There are a wide variety of adapters available and many of them have multiple plug ins for all around the world. 

My favorite one though is by Apple. Call me bias but I love their simple design.

Teaching Supplies

Volunteers are asked to bring the supplies that they'll be using in their lessons for the semester. Usually what happens is everyone in the group brings about 1 suitcase size full of supplies and then stores them in a common area where they can be shared, so that there's more variety to go around. Things like paper and glue for arts and crafts, or balls and balloons for gym are great. There's also a "store" where the kids get to buy a prize with tickets that they've earned in classes, so small inexpensive items like little journals, bouncy balls, etc are great to bring.

To be clear, we do recommend that volunteers get most of these items donated. They don't need to be new, so many volunteers have saved so much money by family and friends who have graciously donated items they're not using. But it's also nice to have newer supplies as well. Things like a packet of construction paper would be a really great gift.  Or maybe head to the dollar store and grab a basket of small toys for their students. They'd love it.

We have more info on what supplies are helpful to have and how to get them for free here.

Travel Journal

A semester abroad is full of unforgettable memories that your volunteer will want to remember forever. Gift them a journal to write their thoughts in, tape pictures, in and document their time abroad. Target has some really cute + affordable ones!

One of my favorite travel journals that came out this year, designed by an Instagram famous family of travelers, is a little bit more ($45) but packed full spots for keepsakes, plus journal prompts. It's such a rad journal that it's definitely worth a mention. Check out The Adventure Journal here.

Volunteer abroad LDS

Gifts For $30-$50

Water Bottle

Your volunteer definitely needs a water bottle during their ILP semester. In pretty much every country you can't drink the water, so ILP provides clean, filtered water at their home ... the best thing to do is fill up your water bottle before you leave for the day. We love metal ones instead of plastic because they last the entire semester. (Plastic ones tend to get moldy in humid countries especially).

My personal pick is the Hydroflask. It keeps water cold (or hot!) for 24+ hours which is major when you're on your ILP trip, out and about for most of the day. Definitely worth the investment. Actually I think it's most people's pick because every girl I know owns one. And I'm asking for another one for Christmas because you can never have too many colors right? Here's the website to look at your options, but you'll also find other colors and designs at resellers like Amazon and REI.

A little tip: While the Hydroflask brand is definitely cool to have, if you're on more of a budget you can find a similar quality water bottle at Costco. We also love Cotopaxi's version, the Agua Bottle.

Volunteer abroad LDS

Wellness Kit

Okay hear me out for a second. This isn't one of those really "fun" gifts ... but it's going to be majorly helpful. When packing for an ILP trip I go buy over-the-counter medicines for just about any ailment that I might get while I'm abroad. You'll be able to to find medications in other countries, but they're often brands that you're not used to and often in a language you don't understand. When I'm sick, I don't want to walk over to the nearest store. I just want to reach into my bag and pull out a medication that I'm already familiar and comfortable with.

We're talking basically everything you'll find walking down the aisles near the pharmacy. Aids for bug bites, colds, stomachaches, headaches, sleep aids, nausea and car sickness, the flu, etc. Think Ibuprofen, Emergen-C, Benadryl, Pepto-Bismol, Dramamine (of ginger tablets do the trick), DayQuil ... anything you normally use at home.

An AMAZING gift would be a kit full of medicine, plus helpful items like band aids, bug spray, sunscreen, chapstick, lotion, and essential oils if you're into that kind of thing.

Packing Cubes

These are the perfect gift for an organized traveler. They fit right into your suitcase, in zipped cubes helping keep everything in its place. You can find lots of them on Amazon for an even more affordable price, but we're obsessed with the designs at To & Fro bags (plus we love supporting small businesses - the owner is a past ILP volunteer!). If you decide to go with a To & Fro bag it's a little too late to get it in time for Christmas, so you could just print out a photo of what you bought and slide it into an envelope. They're so cute that I think that they're worth the wait.

ILP adventure

Gifts For $50-$100


Honestly I rarely buy clothes as a gift. I just think it's too hard ... I mean everyone's style is different (and constantly changing) plus you have to deal with sizes and things fitting.

But the thing is everyone still wants clothes. I asked on Instagram what our volunteers wanted for Christmas for specifics to add to this post and so many people said "swimsuits" "shoes" "dresses"! So, clothes are on the wishlist for sure. But I think the best route is to go with a gift card.

Grab a gift card and let them buy what they actually want. They'd love a gift card from places like Roolee (a Utah based boutique), Target (of course) and Old Navy.


Headphones are an absolute must while traveling.

I love my Apple Airpods (I have the cheaper ones, not the Pro, and they're still awesome) but there are lots of options on the market now that are even more affordable if that's more up your ally.  This post has great suggestions and we've also got a guide to our favorite headphones here.

Audible Subscription

An Audible subscription gives your volunteer access to audio books (which are awesome while traveling!). A monthly subscription is $14.95. Grab your volunteer 4 months of books for $60 and they're set for their semester travels.

Sign up here.


Is your volunteer more of a reader than a listen-er? Go with a Kindle. Personally I love holding an actual book and turning actual pages, but it's just not that realistic when you're traveling because you're trying to save on space and weight as much as possible. A Kindle allows them to have multiple books for the same amount of space. Buy one here.

You might want to consider throwing in a gift card so that they can also purchase e-books. But it's also possible for them to download some free books on sites like this one.

Tevas or Chacos

Especially if your volunteer is going to a warm country, they'll want a pair of nice sandals they can use for everyday use as well as hiking and outdoor activities. Volunteers have said Tevas and Chacos are some of their favorites. 

A little tip: Check out Sierra Trading post for great deals on these typically higher costing (although quality) brands. You can often sign up for their newsletter for an extra 10% off.

Semester abroad ILP

Backpacks + Suitcases

When I'm packing for an ILP trip, this is my favorite setup: two rolling suitcases that I can check on the plane, one larger backpack that I can put in the overhead bin, and one small backpack that will fit under my seat. Here's why: 

Rolling Suitcases

Most volunteers take 1-2 rolling suitcases to check on the plane. I was lucky enough that I had friends who lent me suitcases which saved me some extra cash, but I was constantly worried about something happening to the luggage or banging it up, so if it's possible to have your own that's handy. If you're wanting to stick to a budget, you can find some killer deals at Costco and Walmart.

A large backpack

Volunteers will have vacations where they'll be traveling around and basically living out of their bag for a week (or sometimes even longer). When you're running from plane to taxi and hauling your stuff up the stairs at a hostel or even carrying your bags across the sand when you booked a beach front Airbnb ... I prefer backpack over rolling suitcase for times like that.

Stick to something that is about 35-50L (this is the size of the backpack in liters). They can usually take it on the plane as a carry on and not worry about checking their bag at that size.

You can get a decent backpack on Amazon for about $60 but there are also quality packs that are worth the splurge that will last you for years to come. 

This one's more on the expensive side, but I'm a huge fan of my Thule Landmark bag because it zips open like a duffle bag (so you don't have to dig down through the top of your bag to find something at the bottom). I also love their simple design. I use it just about everywhere I go and the quality is there, so the added cost was worth it to me. I got the 60L bag because it is actually 2 backpacks in one: a 40L and a 20L bag that zip together. I'm a pretty minimalist packer so the 40L works great for me for most travel trips, but for such a small price I got the small backpack that I can use for day to day things.

Cotopaxi is another favorite. Emily, who works in our office, said she took her Alpa bag on her recent trip to Russia and highly recommends it (it also does that thing where it unzips like a duffle bag and it's a major plus). It's also a bit of a splurge, but it's one of her favorite things and really held up well for all the layers and things she needed to pack for a cold weather semester. Or, if you're looking for something a little more lightweight the Luzon is another rad bag.

Read our blog for more recommendations!

A small backpack

It's really, really nice to have a small backpack that you can use everyday. When you're an ILP volunteer, you're often carrying school supplies to class that you're going to use in the lesson that day. Or you're walking around a market and want a small backpack to hide all the things you're buying. They just come in handy so often.

Fjallraven Kankens have been a running favorite for quite a long time now. But any day bag will do. 

International Language Programs

Gifts For $100+


Your volunteer will need a passport no matter where they go abroad with ILP. If they don't already have one, this is the perfect gift! They'll need to be apart of the process to actually get their passport so it can't be a complete surprise, but maybe slip $145 cash into their stocking to cover their passport costs.

International Data Plan

Having data on your phone plan isn't required for traveling (because ILP volunteers will have access to WiFi) but it's very helpful ... and bonus, you can keep in touch with them no matter where they are.

ILP worked out a deal with T-mobile to help our volunteers who wanted a more affordable international data plan. You can read about how it works here and just give us a call if you'd like to purchase one for your volunteer's Christmas! (801) 374-8854


A lot of volunteers do just fine with their smart phone as far as photos for their semester go, so if you're on a budget I'd probably skip this one.

But if you love photography, you know what a major gift this one. I love a GoPro when I'm traveling, especially if you're heading somewhere you'll be doing fun things that are a little more active and adventurous like Uganda, Vanuatu, or Nicaragua. GoPros start at $199 right now.

DLSR cameras are going to be a prime gift, if you're looking for something like that. One volunteer that loves photography got really specific and said Canon 1DX Mark II with a Canon 85mm f1.2 L lens ... this would be a seriously nice gift. If you're new to the world of DSLR's, I'd talk to your volunteer first to see what they're looking for. This post also has a great list of starter options.

Polaroid Printer

Instead of buying a Polaroid camera, check out this amazing printer. It syncs up to smart phones and prints any picture into a Polaroid. And it's travel size. We love having the ability to have a digital copy and a cool Polaroid. 

Donating to their ILP Program Fee

Help your volunteer out by taking care of part of their program payment to go abroad with ILP. We know they'll love and appreciate that! 

Bonus, donations for your volunteer made directly to ILP will be tax-deductible for you. To make a payment, just give us a call at (801) 374-8854. We accept debit and credit card payments (there is a 3% surcharge fee) or if you want to avoid the surcharge fee and pay via your checking account, just have your account and routing number when you call. 

If you're not sure how much they still have due or want more details on how much would be helpful, email accounts@ilp.org and we can give you more specifics.

ILP adventure

Want more information about ILP and what your volunteer will experience during their semester volunteering abroad?

We work with college-age volunteers, but we know so many parents who want to stay involved in the process. Our directors would love to talk to you if you have more questions about how our program works, where your volunteer will be living for their semester abroad, and anything like that. Let us know. 

This page will give you a glimpse at how our program works, so start here.

  ILP Adventure How it all works




Topics: Get Ready For Your ILP Trip, For The Parents


We are ILP, a Utah based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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