Forget the myth that travelers are hard to buy for.
Yes, it’s true: we don’t prefer things with mass, especially items that have to be stored, moved, or later taken to Goodwill in a stealthy manner. But that doesn’t mean that we are hard to please.
On the contrary. As long as you don’t contribute any additional grams or ounces to my backpack, anything you purchase is fine with me — especially if it supports a good cause.
What Are Good Gifts for Travelers?
My family tends to qualify gifts as things with weight, preferably square so that they can be wrapped and easily inserted into the puzzle Tetris-like beneath a decorated tree. These objects often come from Amazon, and on rare occasion, via frantic, last-minute trips to the mall where cortisol flows aplenty.
Sometimes gifts are well-meaning gadgets marketed less to actual travelers and more to the loved ones of travelers desperate to find a gift for their wayward hippie offspring. I really can’t remember the last time I needed a crushproof, BPA-free, boiled egg carrier all that much.
Backpacking travelers, on the other hand, are usually trying to avoid those easy-gift atrocities such as appliances that make weak coffee from single-use plastic cups.
Intentions are good. Everyone means well. My family sees a sweater to wear somewhere civilized. Meanwhile, I see a woolly garment that somehow involved the deaths of at least two orangutans and the sweat of Chinese children.
But good karma and Kiva loan credit are hard to wrap — so here are three affordable, sustainable, good-cause gift ideas for backpacking travelers you know.
I proudly own all three of these items. Full disclosure: they do have some mass and a little weight. But at least none of the gifts below involved the flogging of orangutans.
That’s a victory for all parties involved.
Traveler Gift Idea #1
Help Grandmas (and their Village) in Northeast Thailand
The hand-woven scarves made by the Thai grandmothers of the Radical Grandma Collective are no joke. They’re heavy! You can almost feel the gnarled-hand arthritis and hear the gossip and songs being woven into each one as traditional looms clack.
No factories. No child labor. Just some really amazing humans who want to stop their village from becoming polluted due to greed.
Even if you or your intended recipient aren’t into scarves — I’m not — these make incredible throws, runners, or tasteful decoration. I proudly display mine when I have a place to do so.
The Radical Grandma cause is legit. I know some of the people who began this initiative. This is money well spent to help a village in Isaan, Thailand, fight the powers that be. This video tells the amazing story of these strong women. Heroes.
Traveler Gift Idea #2
Support the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
The second gift choice is one that I’ve enjoyed for years now. The annual calendar put out by the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, Wisconsin. It’s been a “thing” since 1988.
Although paper calendars are archaic throwbacks now days, just one notch above crudely scratching a legend into a cave wall, these are beautiful works of art loaded with cultural factoids that will make any world traveler salivate.
And, as expected, the cause is good.
The photos for each featured country are impressive, but my favorite detail is how each day is marked with obscure holidays for cultures and religions from all over the world. Hindus observe 39 religious holidays per year compared to the 12 official ones observed by Christians. Knowing what’s going on in other parts of the world tantalizes any traveler at home planning the next trip.
The money raised from these calendars goes to a host of good causes.
Traveler Gift Idea #3
Give the Refugees in Europe a Voice
I first interviewed Sallie Latch in 2010; she was 77 years old at the time and had been traveling or living abroad practically all of her adult life. She’s still out there doing what she can to change the world and make it a better place. What an inspiration!
After years of online friendship, I had the honor of meeting Sallie in Bangkok in 2017 (photo at the bottom).
When she heard that humans were suffering, she ran to Greece and conducted interviews with the refugees arriving there. She released a very professional, moving (you can’t keep your eyes dry) book, Hear Me, containing the interviews.
This isn’t your usual, self-published, cringe worthy creation. One of her paintings adorns the cover. Small images are dotted throughout. The book is heavy, well bound, and makes one hell of a gift for someone who wants to hear what these humans fleeing hard times have to say.
Hear Me gives them a voice that they didn’t have before.
Buy a copy of Sallie’s book to support her hard work (Amazon link)
These are my best two “good cause” gift ideas for world travelers. They’re easy on both giver and recipient.
And if you want to send a gift of the more material variety, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link (like the book link above) when making your book or other holiday purchases. I get a tiny commission — maybe enough to buy my RPCV calendar this year!