Looking for a few gifts for a travel lover? Or even for yourself? We talked to the travelers we know about what they're asking for Christmas, graduation gifts, birthdays, and more — here's the complete list!
If you know someone who has a lot of travel plans for the coming year, or even better yet, is getting ready for a volunteer trip through International Language Programs, your gift shopping just got easier because we have a bunch of ideas for you!
We put together a guide with a lot of tips for parents of ILP volunteers.
Take a look at it here!
To make this even easier for you, we've grouped gifts together by price, so you can see exactly what we recommend that is within your budget. All of these are very practical and helpful on trips, so no matter what you choose, your traveler is sure to love them!
Heads up: this post has affiliate links (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we earn a small commission). Just know we only share products that we ourselves have used and loved, that other volunteers have recommended, or that we think would be pretty useful!
Gifts For Travelers Under $10
These are all inexpensive, useful, and make great stocking stuffers!
If you're living abroad for a semester, you are going to miss your 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 when the novelty starts to wear off, comfort food from home is like gold. A gift box full of their favorites it's an easy win! There are a handful of American brands that are common and easy to find in other countries like Snickers and Lays potato chips, but many things are either impossible to find or very expensive. Protein bars, Cheezits, sour candy, peanut butter, drink packets, and just-add-water mixes like oatmeal, hot chocolate, or macaroni and cheese are great things to add to their stocking. Here's a list of foods we love to take!
These really come in handy for travelers. Many ILP volunteers just purchase bigger sizes of things like shampoo and conditioner once they arrive in-country to save on luggage space, but they'll be doing a lot of overnight trips during their semester as they travel around. It's so nice to just fill up these travel-size bottles for those excursions.
Amazon has really cute sets that claim to be leakproof (with good reviews). I also love the ones you can find in Target's travel aisle.
Waterproof Phone Pouch
I'm going to just star this one as a no-brainer, top pick for a gift. I never go on a trip without mine!
This really is essential for volunteers who will be going to places that are hot, humid, and close to the coast but is a great idea for any traveler to have. Newer iPhones are water resistant, but they're not waterproof. I love having the option to throw my phone into a sleeve for that added protection. I always keep one in my backpack while I'm abroad because you never know when you'll need it — I even pulled it out once when we were caught in a heavy rainstorm in Thailand biking home from the grocery store. The strap feature is also nice so that if you're swimming you can just tie it around your wrist so that it doesn't slip from your grasp and fall to the ocean floor.
A pouch like this one from Joto, though inexpensive actually does work great (at least it did for me, and it has thousands of good reviews on Amazon). I was a little nervous to trust my beloved iPhone with a cheap $8 case, but I'm so glad I did because I was able to take my phone with me on a boat trip in the Thai islands. When everyone was jumping off the boat for a swim in the cove, I didn't have to worry about whether my camera was going to be safe on the boat — I just had it with me and ended up getting my favorite photos of the entire trip.
You can also find more expensive options if you're looking for higher quality. Lifeproof (now owned by Otterbox) is a great brand and has options under $100.
While we're talking about water accessories, we've got to mention dry bags. When volunteers have a beach day, they always have things like their phones, cash, ATM card, camera, etc with them. It's so tempting to leave those items tucked, hidden under your towel while you and your group wade out into the water for a swim, but just about every semester items get stolen that way. It's all too common. We always, always recommend volunteers bring their items out into the water with them to prevent that from happening. But of course, that means you need a good, safe way to do that so that not only do your items stay dry but also so that you don't accidentally drop them and lose them to the ocean floor.
We're big fans of dry bags for the solution to that problem and there are so many options that come in multiple sizes. We like these "fanny pack" versions that strap around your waist. This version is handy for larger items. But this one is the best deal because they even throw in that Joto phone case that we love as well!
This is one that most people don't think about until they're traveling with someone who has one — then they're seriously jealous. Having a towel that rolls up really small and dries quickly is a major plus when you're on a vacation that includes traveling around and living out of your backpack for a week. Find lots of options and colors on Amazon, like this one.
Games! There's a lot of downtime for volunteers, everything from long layovers to even just normal nights hanging out with their group at home, and it's so nice to have things to do. Classic card sets are always easy to travel with (Face cards, Phase 10) and simple small games (Catchphrase, Bananagrams) are all great stocking stuffers.
Have you heard of Left Right Center yet? It's such a fun (and super easy) game for large groups ... and it's under $10! Everyone has a certain number of plastic chips to start with until eventually, the chips all end up in the pot, and the last person standing wins the entire pot. A really fun twist though is to swap those chips with something a little more enticing to win, like candy or even cash.
Ligretto is another fun card game for groups — it's really fast-paced and one of those games where although you start out sitting around a table, you'll be jumping up and racing for the win at the end.
Werewolf is also a fun one if you have at least 7 people. It's such a good travel game because you can play it anywhere! If you've ever played Mafia before, it's a bit like that.
This one is a pretty unique idea, but I'm a big fan of Washi tapes for a lot of reasons — it's basically fun colored tape that is sticky enough to act like tape, but resistant enough to peel off easily as well. There are a million ways you can use it, but as a traveler, I especially love them for marking up and tagging my journal in fun ways. Maybe it's a little extra, but I love highlighting special days like a weekend trip out to the beach that I loved and want to remember in my notebook. It's also nice to use as a more decorative version of tape to hang pictures from home on the wall next to your bed with no damage. I like the pastel colors of this Washi tape set (with 12 rolls).
One thing I never thought about bringing on my first semester abroad with ILP was printed photos from home. Sure I had them on my phone, but I wish I had a few printed ones. I love every minute of my trips living abroad (and all the ups and downs that came with it), but I just remember those first 2 weeks when the culture shock of living in a new country was setting in and everything felt unfamiliar. Any comfort-type items you can bring that would help your new home feel a little more like "home" can be so helpful. Maybe that's a small blanket or even your pillowcase — those things are going to be provided, but again it's just having that familiarity from home. Literally everything is going to feel so new and foreign at first while you're living in a new country, that even something as small as having your normal pillowcase can make a difference. Or maybe it's something as simple as having a photo of your family on your dresser.
I love the 4" Square Prints and the Tiny Square Prints from Parabo Press. The quality is so nice! I've printed so many photos from my trips this way, but I also love this as an affordable and thoughtful gift idea. If you have someone heading out for a semester abroad with ILP, think about printing photos of their family and friends that they can display around their room or toss into their journal or scriptures as a bookmark. They even have a cute wooden block that you can add on that would be great for displaying photos. And make sure that you sign up for their emails because several times a year they'll do a flash sale where prints are totally free if you just pay shipping!
Artifact Uprising is another favorite company with similar printing options and great quality. So cute!
You're on your feet so much while you're traveling! You'll be walking all day, and if you're in a hot and humid location you're going to be in sandals and playing in the sand. You're going to have tired feet!
Gifts For $10-$30
I'm guilty of throwing all of my small miscellaneous makeup and personal care items into one bag, so I'm the first one to tell you from experience how nice organizers can be. An organizer with multiple sections, zippers, and clear sides would be an awesome gift for any traveler. It's not usually something you'd think to buy for yourself, which is part of what makes it such a fun gift! This one from Amazon is so good.
These little wallets would be a great stocking stuffer! It has pockets for not only a passport, but also airplane tickets, cards, and room for so much more. It's an easy way to keep all of your important stuff together — just make sure you're keeping it in a safe place (I like to just pop mine in my fanny pack so that it's attached to me at all times).
Thread Wallets are so cute too! They're a bit more of a splurge than the $10 Amazon one we linked above, but there are so many more designs to choose from and we love the lanyard option. And bonus, if you're in the Provo, UT area like we are, you are supporting local.
This is another gift idea that I'd star as being an especially useful item. I can't go a day without mine! It really is the go-to for many travelers right now, instead of a purse, for carrying all the essentials like money, chapstick, phone, hand sanitizer, etc. The cult favorite has been The Everywhere Bag from LuluLemon — they just restocked for the holiday season, but honestly, it sold out over and over last year so if it's in stock when you're shopping and you want it, don't wait! It's also the most expensive option though.
This bag from Amazon is a prettttttty good dupe for the Everywhere Bag, so if you're looking for an alternative I'd start there. Plus, there are more colors to choose from! I'm in love with Brixley Crossbody Slings — they are so cute and at a great price point too. Or if you love bright prints, you can't go wrong with these fun ones from Patagonia.
This might not be as fun as getting a fanny pack, but hear me out. These are actually really incredible for anyone who's about to take a long flight. 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 combination of high elevation mixed with salty plane foods tends 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'm quite an experienced traveler and have been on many flights, but when a friend gifted me compression socks ... not to be dramatic but my entire world shifted.
I just pull them on at the gate under my sweats before I board the plane, wear them for the entire flight, and pull them off in the bathroom at the final airport and I feel so much better. There are tons of options on Amazon, but I like these.
Portable Reading Light
Are you a reader like me? When I can't sleep on the plane I like to pull out a book ... but it's often during times when it's supposed to be lights out. The same thing goes even when I'm just at home and don't want to be rude to my group that I'm sharing a room with while they're sleeping.
Personally, I love to go camping at home and that has turned me into a big fan of headlamps (like this one from Black Diamond) — it's just a battery-operated light that sits on a band that goes around your head. Oh and these can just be a good item to have on hand anyways for situations like the power going out (which definitely happens in many of our Humanitarian countries).
There are also little portable reading lights that clip right onto your book and are even cheaper than headlamps. Either way, it definitely beats trying to balance my phone in just the right spot so that the flashlight hits my book.
This one is by far the highest rated on Amazon, but just know that it needs batteries. They also have a rechargeable option that is just a few dollars more though! And here's another rechargeable one that looks good.
Portable Charging Bank
An absolute must. Taking all the pictures and videos will drain your phone battery faster than anything else! Portable chargers are so awesome to have while traveling. I can't tell you how many times I was out all day on vacation taking a million videos and didn't have a place to charge so I just wasn't able to use my phone until we got back to the hostel that night.
It's so easy to just carry a charger in your bag and when your phone battery is getting low, simply plug it and you're golden. You can be charging while walking around ruins in Mexico. I'll never travel without one now.
Anker is really one of the top brands for portable chargers on the market right now — this slim style is such a good and affordable one for travelers. But this one from iWalk is really killing it with the reviews too (and you get 2 for the same price as Anker), so that looks like a good option as well.
Another techy item. It really depends on the country you're going to as to whether you need this or not, but if you're headed to Europe you'll definitely want an adapter. If the outlets in the country you're going to are different than where you're coming from, you'll need an adapter to be able to plug in. There are a wide variety of adapters available (that post has recommendations) and many of them have multiple plug-ins for all around the world. My favorite one though is by Apple. Call me biased but I love their simple design.
ILP T-shirt + Sweatshirt
Did you know you can order some ILP gear online? Our t-shirts and sweatshirts are made of the comfiest material, so your volunteer might even want one of each! Just head here and make your order. We can ship it to you!
ILP 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 teaching supplies and then stores them in a common area where they can be shared, that way 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 or all of these items donated. They don't need to be new and so many volunteers have saved a lot of money thanks to 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 pack 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 Phone Tripod
This is such a handy gift. It gives tourist vibes, but handy nonetheless. Instead of asking a stranger to snap a picture of you and your group, you can just set up this tripod instead. I especially love the wrap-around-legs which means you can easily pose this guy on trees, park benches, stop signs, etc. You can either set a timer on your phone or use the remote. This one is very popular on Amazon (and a fav for some volunteers).
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 (even some for around $10!).
If you're wanting to splurge a bit though on a gift — one of my favorite travel journals, designed by an Instagram famous family of travelers, is a little bit more ($45) but packed full of 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.
Gifts For $30-$50ish
For The Flight
You want to watch a movie on your flight but you only have wireless headphones — here's a quick solution. This little guy has a 3.5 mm audio jack so you can plug it into the airline's screen and pair it to your headphones via bluetooth.
Metal, Insulated Water Bottle
Another absolute must! We don't have a required packing list for ILP volunteers, but if we did ... this would be #1 on the list.
You will want a really good water bottle. It doesn't have to be expensive, but you'll want one of those metal, temperature-regulated ones that are really popular right now. It's more than just trendy though because when you're living in a humid area, the plastic bottles actually get moldy after a while (yuck!).
In most countries around the world, you have to drink filtered water. We make sure there is a supply of filtered water at your house so that you can fill up before you head out for the day, so all you need to do is bring a water bottle!
Stanley cups are all the rage, so parents, if you want to have the best gift on Christmas this is bound to be it. Amazon carries some Stanley cup options, but if it was me, I would grab one of these 30 oz, flip-top lid, with a carrying handle ones from their site. Personally, I like 30 oz size because 40 oz can be pretty heavy to carry around all day, but it's also enough water to hold you over for a while too. I also like the flip-top lid so I can throw it in my backpack and not worry about spills.
We also have rad, designed ILP water bottles! We worked with a local designer who created a beautiful print that is etched onto your bottle, specific to ILP adventures and so unique. You can also find generic brands at places like Costco too.
Brush To Clean Your Straw
Oh and while we're talking about water bottles, it's a great idea to bring one of those brushes that are good for cleaning out the straw portion of your bottle. Some bottles have really short straws that are just built in, but it can be tricky to really clean your straw well without a brush. A lot of straws are made of plastic, and remember that is the first place that mold will want to grow. Best to just periodically clean it out to be safe. They're really cheap on Amazon.
This isn't one of those really "fun" gifts ... but it's going to be majorly helpful. In pre-departure training, ILP volunteers hear us say over and over, "Be your own pharmacy". What that means is that we recommend bringing all kinds of remedies in your bag with you. You will absolutely get sick while you're living abroad, it's just a normal part of travel (and life in general right?). It is possible to find the medicine you need while you're abroad, but you'll be so happy that you already have it, right when you need it, rather than having to go to the store and ending up with a brand that you're not familiar with in a language you might not speak.
We're talking basically anything you'd find walking down the pharmacy aisles: Aids and remedies things like for bug bites, colds, stomachaches, headaches, sunburns, sleep aids, nausea, the flu, diarrhea, etc. Think hand sanitizer, Ibuprofen, Emergen-C, Benadryl, Pepto-Bismol, Dramamine (or ginger tablets do the trick), DayQuil ... anything you normally use at home. An amazing gift would be a kit full of medicine, plus other helpful items like band-aids, bug spray, sunscreen, vitamins, chapstick, and lotion.
You're going to be traveling quite a bit during your semester — that means lots of time on buses, trains, and planes. It's so nice (and comforting) to have a little blanket of your own that stuffs in your bag. Even in really humid places like the Dominican Republic and Thailand, you'll be freezing on the air-conditioned buses unless you've got a sweater or blanket.
Our top pick? Goosebumps make an amazing gift! They have the softest swaddle blankets that come in a ton of the cutest designs. The best part is that they are so big but still wrap up small making them easy to travel with. Take it from one of my friends who called them "life changing". The large swaddle size is ideal.
If you're looking for more budget options though, this one on Amazon has really great reviews.
Disposable + Film Cameras
I was gifted a disposable camera like this one before my last trip to Hawaii and I'm not kidding when I say we had so much fun with it! The best part was getting the film developed after we got home and being so surprised, remembering the moments we took the photos. I love the waterproof ones too.
If you love the look of film images and have a little more of a budget to put towards it, look into non-disposable cameras. They will come with a higher price tag since the cost of film is not included in the price like the disposable cameras, making it an additional expense. The potential quality of your image is going to be much better though!
My pick is half frame cameras because you basically double the images on your roll (so instead of 36, you get around 72!). This one looks like it's perfect for traveling with — small, point-and-shoot (meaning really easy to use), and so cute! Don't forget film and batteries.
Polaroid cameras have also been pretty popular in recent years, and you get your photos instantly (vs paying to develop them later).
An Audible subscription gives your volunteer access to audiobooks so that they can listen to books right on their phone rather than carrying around the physical version. A monthly subscription is $14.95, but the first month is free. Grab your volunteer 4 months of books for about $45 and they're set for their entire semester.
Sign up here.
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 (here's one with high ratings) for an even more affordable price, but we're also obsessed with the designs at To & Fro bags (plus, we love supporting small businesses and the owner is a past ILP volunteer!).
Gifts For $50-$100
Honestly, I rarely buy clothes as a gift. I just think it's too hard since 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", and "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. Here's our list of places to get cute and comfy dresses for even more store ideas.
Tevas or Chacos
I've tried both and not to take sides but ... I really prefer my go-to Tevas. I have friends who love their Chacos though so your best bet is to actually go into the store and try them both on. Either one is a quality option! You can also find similar knock-offs on Amazon and save a bit.
We had so many movie nights when I was volunteering with ILP, but it was 7 girls huddled around a laptop in order to make it happen. It worked, but I love the projector idea so much more. And ILP groups that have had one usually say they were so glad they did!
There are some pretty high-quality (and expensive) projectors out there, but you really don't need to spend a lot in order to find one that will do the job and still be a lot of fun. One group used this mini from Meer and loved it. They said it was small and that they used it every night in Costa Rica!
If you're considering a projector for your trip, here are a few tips to think about:
1 — The WiFi in other countries can be a bit slower than you're used to at home, especially if you're headed to some of our Humanitarian countries. If you're able to download any movies and shows before you go (rather than streaming while you're there), that's a great idea.
2 — Another reality in many of our Humanitarian countries is that power outages happen. It's really nice to have a projector for those times, but only if it can hold a charge for the duration of a movie or can be charged with an external power bank (so look for those features before you buy).
3 — Streaming services that serve copyrighted content like Netflix, Hulu, etc don't always work great with projectors, but there are workarounds. It's a good idea to try it out before you go abroad. With the Meer projector, it does work fine as long as you're playing from your laptop (instead of your phone), but just make sure you've got the right cord in order to plug your laptop in! You may need to purchase that separately.
4 — Depending on the country you're going to, you may need a converter to handle the voltage.
Personally, I love holding an actual book and turning real 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. Kindles can be so nice to have access to multiple books for the entire semester. The newest releases are going to be the most expensive, but you usually find ones that are just a couple years old for 1/3 of the price of the newest ones on Amazon.
Having the Kindle is just the first part though, you also need to have e-books. You might want to consider throwing in an Amazon gift card so that they can purchase some. But it's also possible for them to download some free books on sites like this one, or even rent them from your local library. And if you're buying a new Kindle, sometimes they throw in a free trial of Kindle Unlimited too.
Backpacks + Suitcases
When I'm packing for an ILP trip to go live abroad for 4 months, 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 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. You don't need anything fancy, but something like these from Walmart is what you're looking for.
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 beachfront Airbnb, I prefer a backpack over a rolling suitcase.
Stick to something that is about 35-50L (this is the size of the backpack in liters). They can usually take it on international flights as a carry-on 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.
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. I have a friend who took her Alpa bag on her semester abroad in Europe 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 this blog post for more recommendations!
A small backpack —
It's really, really nice to have a small backpack that you can use every day. 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. Cotopaxi and Fjallraven have both been running favorites for quite a long time now. But any day bag will do.
Gifts For $100+
Your volunteer will need a passport no matter where they go abroad. If they don't already have one, this is the perfect gift! They'll need to be a part of the process to actually get their passport so it can't be a complete surprise, but maybe slip $165 cash into their stocking to cover their passport application fees.
Having a set of headphones is an absolute must while traveling. There are so many options in a wide range of prices though, so the biggest question is whether you want to splurge or save.
I love my Apple Airpods (I have the cheaper ones, not the Pro, and they're still awesome). I'm also a big fan of Beats — these are both a splurge but man the quality is good. You can also find good alternatives in the $100 range. This post has great suggestions for all price points.
I would say most volunteers just take all of their photos with their phones, and that works great! You absolutely don't need to spend extra on buying a new camera in order to have great photos. But if you love photography, you may want to bring a camera with you. We always say, if you use something a lot at home, chances are you'll wish you had it while you're abroad too.
DLSR cameras are going to be a prime gift if you have a volunteer who wants to get more into photography. If you're new to the world of cameras, this post has a great list of starter options. My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel — it's more a budget-friendly version of the nicer cameras and I loved having it for my travels. Keep in mind that you can often get great deals buying used! Check out apps and sites that let you buy + sell online locally like Facebook Marketplace. I actually just sold my Canon Rebel on Facebook Marketplace and they got it for half the price of what it would cost new in the store, so that's a great way to save.
GoPros can be so fun, especially if you're going somewhere a little more active and adventurous like Uganda or Nicaragua. GoPros start at $300 right now.
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! Helping to sponsor a semester abroad is such a meaningful and unique gift for high school grads (and for college grads, too).
Bonus — donations for your volunteer made directly to ILP will be tax-deductible for you. To make a payment online, just head here.
If you're not sure how much they still have due or want more details on how much would be helpful, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can give you more specifics.
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.