I don’t believe people will ever make Christmas only about spending time with those they love, I think gifts will always be a part of it, so I began to write this post because I wanted to draw attention to products made or sourced by small business owners, inspired by the Small Business Saturday movement that takes place today. It began to spiral out of control because I wanted to include some of the things I love that I often get asked about in emails and on FB and I have worked with some really wonderful companies this year who have let me test some incredible products and I wanted to include those as well. And then…it started to get a little, long. And now it’s an epic[ly long] gift guide! I hope each listing is clear but if not, feel free to email me. Items denoted with a ‘ * ‘ mean I received a product for testing or was given it by some other means, such as by winning a contest.
A few of these are affiliate links and that means if you click through and actually buy those products, I will make a very small percentage of that sale. It’s another way I earn an income from blogging and I appreciate your understanding that with grace but please know that I didn’t make this post for the purpose of sharing those links.
And now that we’re over the nitty gritty, let’s get to the list. Stay tuned to the end, it wouldn’t be a true gift list if there wasn’t a gift for you too!!! 🙂
For the Photographer
The Essential Guide to iPhone Photography $19.99 – This book, created by my talented friend Misho, is just as the name suggests: essential. It’s the bible of knowing how to get the very most out of your iPhone as a photographic tool. I wish I’d written this book first but once his came out, I realized that even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to do quite as good a job so now I refer people to this book when they ask me where to start.
Lifeproof Waterproof Case for iPhone 4S $45* iPhone 5 $49 iPhone 5S $49 – I received the Lifeproof case to test for my 4S quite some time ago and on a job, the tiny cap that sealed the headphone jack was lost overboard on a boat. If that hadn’t happened, I would still be carrying this case around everywhere I travel. I’ve not yet found a better waterproof case for the iPhone than the Lifeproof and I’ve tested almost a dozen different models.
Sony Qx10 $248* Qx100 $498 – For all the years I’ve been using an iPhone only, even though I have been quite happy, I have at times been longing for something that would take it to the next level but which was still not a full size camera. This is the piece of equipment that fills those murky waters between a smartphone and a camera. It actually is a camera but it’s controlled by, and linked to, a smartphone and saves both internally and to the connected device. So far, they work with Android and iPhone through an app and I have the Qx10. It has remarkable clarity, capability in low light and is lightweight. Now that I have it, I am already lusting after the Qx100 which owes its more hefty price to the fact that it’s made with Carl Zeiss glass and shoots at f/1.8 which means gorgeous bokeh and shallow depth of field (so like, photogasmic capability)!
Photojojo Smartphone Lenses $20-99 – I’ve long been a proponent of adding lenses to my iPhone so that I can better the already good quality of the camera and add functionality to the phone. This set of lenses, which can be purchased individually or as a set, give you: fisheye, wide angle, macro, telephoto and polarization capabilities.
Olloclip iPhone 4/4S $68 iPhone 5 $68 iPhone 5S 4-in-1 $69 – I had the Olloclip for a number of years for my iPhone 4S until it was left behind in Italy. Now, I have a knockoff version that I was given in a grab bag at an event and it is not as good so I long to own the real Olloclip again. Not unlike the photojojo system but far more compact this is a set of lenses for the iPhone.
ONA The Bowery Camera Bag $119* ONA The Lima Camera Strap $59 – Such a huge fan of their Bowery bag and now that Danté has their camera strap, I am wishing more than ever that I had a camera of my own so I could have my own strap too. They’re beautiful, well made, functional and they’re a small business with employees I actually know and can meet for coffee here in NYC. So much for me to love.
Glif for iPhone 4/4S Glif for iPhone 5 $20 – This small gadget makes it possible to mount an iPhone on a tripod so that you can do longer exposures at night or create time lapse photos and videos without camera shake. It stays in my bag and never leaves, I use it every week.
Joby Gorillapod $19.95 – I love this tripod, which actually comes in quite a few different sizes, because it allows me to use my Qx10 and iPhone on any surface, anywhere I go, under any circumstances. It’s flexible legs wrap around almost anything and have made it so that I don’t think I could ever go back to using a non-flexible tripod ever again. The largest size works with dSLR cameras and larger lenses while the smallest versions are ideal for iPhone. I still carry around the largest size since I’ve had this since my dSLR days when I was a wedding photographer.
Polarizing Clip On Filter $20 – Not unlike the polarizing filters I used to use on my lenses with my dSLR, this clip on lens adds polarization to my iPhone and lends better color and clarity to my photos. And I love that it’s a clip on!
Luxi Light Meter $20 – I began my experimentation with the art of photography at a young age, when light meters were bulky tools that I had no interest in carrying around. If this had been around then, my photography would have improved by leaps and bounds long before it did. Or at least my understanding of getting the exposure right in camera! This is a must for photographers who have a smartphone and manual camera. For travelers, it will save you time on the road getting that great shot without taking endless exposures. Nail it the first time!
Blynk by LyfeShot $129* – Blynk is a one-step, hands-free, wearable, time-lapse camera that can be adjusted to take anywhere from one frame per second, to one frame per day. Four GB of internal storage allow for long snapshot sequences, while the internal, rechargeable, Lithium-Ion battery provides more than 24 hours of battery life, even when taking a picture every second! Its sturdy, metal housing and multi-function mounting clip help keep the camera safe in almost any environment. I love this because while I can do wonderful time-lapse on my iPhone, I was always frustrated when doing so, finding myself wanting to do other things at the same time but unable to because the phone was otherwise occupied. This is the smallest, most powerful dedicated device that I have found and I will be buying it myself as soon as I can since the copy I received is for review only.
For the Lover of Books
Passage to Burma $45* Hardcover – This incredibly gorgeous coffee table photography book is one of the most compelling I’ve ever seen in a market that’s rather saturated. It has relatively few words and tells the story of a country I have never even been to but now want to go to so bad I’ve found myself searching airfares almost daily since this book arrived. I haven’t been this inspired by another photographer’s images since I discovered Steve McCurry as a child.
Paris to the Past $21 Hardcover – Also available in paperback and as an e-book, this genuinely delightful book is perfect for the Francophile traveler. My copy has dogeared pages and so many notes in the margins that it’s just silly. If I live long enough to complete every trip in this book, I will be a happy woman indeed. It’s not only a guidebook to day and weekend trips from Paris, it’s a history of France that’s engaging and easily read.
The Traveler’s Handbooks $16.99 – These are a series of handbooks for travelers, each with a different topic. They are available in print and as e-books. Quite a number of the authors are personal friends of mine and no gift list would be complete without my supporting them because in addition to knowing the people behind the books I also find them incredibly helpful. Topics include: Career Breaks, Food, Luxury Travel, Volunteering and Family Travel.
The World’s 100 Best Adventure Trips $29.95* Softcover – This guide, while not necessarily beautifully designed, is really addicting. I find myself leafing through it at times when I am avoiding getting work done or just generally playing hooky from life to daydream. It gets massive props for featuring the “Great Ocean Walk” which I did back in February in Australia. That hike is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever done and it was quite an adventure indeed.
Secret New York An Unusual Guide $19.95 – I bought this from my beloved Idlewild here in NYC because as curator of the AFAR Guide to NYC, I knew that I was going to need a little extra help to make certain our guide told a deeper story, not the same tourism line that most people tout. I wanted to go deeper than telling people to visit Times Square (though I wouldn’t do that anyway, most guides will recommend it)
Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents $13 – There are very few travel memoirs that I have read, which resonated with me on the deepest levels. Elisabeth Eaves penned a story that spans 15 years of her life and takes place on almost every continent. It redefined the idea of a page turner for me. When I first bought the book, I read it cover to cover in under 36 hours. I’ve since returned to read it several more times and I often think of the writing of Pico Iyer when I do.
For the Backpacker and the Budget Traveler
Icebreaker Clothing* – I received the Bliss Wrap, Ariana Dress, a tanktop and the Hot Pants to test on my last three week trip and all items made it through the trip looking as if I’d just taken them out of the packaging. The wrap, dress and tank top did require washing and still smell as if I never wore them at all. The Hot Pants (underwear), obviously needed to be washed, but were so easily taken care of in a sink and dried so quickly that I was completely converted. In the future, I will only pack their Hot Pants for travel and take only a few pairs no matter the length of the trip. So good for packing light and traveling light! I was uber skeptical but now I’m a complete convert to Merino Wool and “travel clothing” since I have tested Icebreaker. Now through Sunday, they are having a sale! And if you’re in NYC as I am, they have a SoHo store.
Pick-pocket Proof Pants $99 to 109* – I was a nomadic traveler for years and never owned a pair of pants like this, because I could never find ones I liked. Now that I only do a trip a month, I FINALLY have the pair of pants I was always searching for and yet I don’t do trips where I would need them as often now. At least I’ve finally found them though, and they’re made by Clothing Arts. Again, I know the owners, they are here in NYC and in addition to really loving the pants, I also want to support them. Check out their button-up shirts which are dressy enough to carry around for that special occasion where you need something more than a t-shirt on the road. Hey, it happens sometimes!
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day book $9 paperback $7 kindle – My friend Matt’s book was just named by BBC Travel as one of their Top Travel Gifts for 2013 and say it is the “bible for budget travelers.” I definitely think BBC got it right!
For the Traveler with a Home Base
A local product from OurOpenRoad – Do yourself a favor and visit OurOpenRoad, click on ‘Shop’ and lose yourself in products made far away from your own home, by local artisans, sourced in the foreign countries and then sold by this incredible couple who live out of a van with their daughter. Currently, the product is a woven rug. They’re also debuting laptop sleeves. Also check out their incredible Instagram account where you’ll get a firsthand account of their travels and of the process in their journey from finding products while on the road, and meeting artisans, to actually selling the products…to you.
The Reclaim Frame $44 – This one is very personal for me. I was born and raised in Vermont and I consider it home. However, I lived in Detroit for a long time and my closest family is still there. So, the bad press that the city so often gets is bothersome to me because I have found that it always misses the point. The truth is that there is a lot of good happening in the city and a lot of really wonderful things being made out of the “ashes” of what once was. This frame is just one of those many products and is a nice way to display a travel photo from your own adventures around the world while also supporting a community that needs the love. If you want to go so far as to plan your own visit to the city, please check out my list of tips on AFAR.
Custom Recipe Print $125-175 – This beautiful collectors item is made in NYC by a local artist and I think it would make the perfect souvenir of a cooking class abroad or a favorite dish enjoyed while traveling. Each print is unique, made-to-order and completely personal to the client who orders it. So much better than an index card in a box. And it’s so different than just framing a photo from a trip!
Global Entry Membership $100 – Hands down, the very best money I spent in 2013 was buying myself the Global Entry card. It’s just for Americans to use when re-entering the United States but it is shockingly easy to get and so inexpensive given that it’s good for FIVE whole years. Obviously, this is a gift you have to buy yourself but trust me when I tell you it is the best gift I bought myself this year.
Membership to Escape Monthly $49/month – Most of the travelers I know that have a home base, myself now included, can no longer go to all of the places they want to or have every adventure they long for. There are bills to pay now! So I love this innovative idea that brings a taste of the far away adventure, home. It’s a delivery service that brings highlights of places into your home and even includes a guidebook so you can plan to one day visit the destination you become enamored with.
Subscription to AFAR Magazine $20/year – My favorite travel magazine recently picked up even more awards and continues to be a leader in travel editorial. Available in print, or as a digital subscription internationally, it’s best enjoyed when you can flip through the pages and feel the weight between your fingers and dream of all the places you will visit after experiencing them through the incredible writing and photography that is featured. Enter to win your own subscription at the end of this post!!
A Poster from brickhut $18 and up – Ok, this one isn’t really travel related. But in the spirit with which this post began, buying a poster from brickhut would be supporting my friend Matt. I went to college with he and his wife Liz, both are incredibly talented but even more importantly, truly good people, who I am grateful to know. I love Matt’s work for the way he captures things we’re oh so familiar with, and flips them on their head creating a stunning new design. If you’re a fan of art and graphic design, this one is for you.
Travel Calendar by The Manchiks $20 – 2013 was all about Iceland and 2o14 looks to be trending about the same, this über talented photography duo’s newest travel calendar reflects that trend. I have been following Yuriy and Julia for a very long time now and they’re incredibly talented. They have a gift for sharing images that completely transport me to another place and I dream about traveling to every place they’ve been that I haven’t because of their extraordinary images. Here’s another chance to buy a handmade good and support a small business, instead of buying a calendar from…well, Walmart or some chain store. Bonus: each month’s print can be turned into a postcard after it has decorated your home. And they’re on sale this weekend.
A Travel Photo by Sivan Askayo – Sivan is another one of my dear friends and I miss her so much since she has left NYC to live again in Tel Aviv. Her photographs are amongst some of my favorites in the world and they would be a true collector’s item for any wall in any home, anywhere.
A Travel Photo by Kirsten Alana $18.50 and up – While we’re speaking of collecting travel photographs, I have to include a link to my store. It’s a rather modest collection of travel images from around the world. But I try to update it often and your consideration of one of my images to add to your collection would truly bless my heart.
For the Stylish Traveler
Quotable Leather Luggage Tag $20 – Featuring one of my favorite quotes this luggage tag is a great way to help your bag stand out on the luggage carousel. I’m a huge fan of Etsy for the way it empowers artists and small business owners so even if you don’t buy this, take some time to browse the site for other handmade items and support a small business owner such as “leathermadenice.” (You might even get addicted. I have to set timers for myself on Etsy so I don’t browse the site all day!)
DELSEY Luggage* – Given that I have been a Francophile most of my life, I suppose it’s not surprising that out of all the suitcases and bags in this world, I am most drawn to this gorgeous French luggage. They must have heard my sighs of joyful longing because they contacted me and offered to send me the chic Honore trolley that I’ll now be taking on my next trip to Paris December 5. I also want to mention them because they’re having a HUGE 70% off sale that began Thursday at midnight AND they’re running a fantastic Pinterest promotion that could help you get your own free trolley case AND and a $350 airline credit. Ok, that’s a lot of capital letters but not without good reason, I am pretty darn psyched by DELSEY. I hope you will get bitten by the same bug too.
Lo & Sons O.G. Bag $295* – I have purchased, been given, or simply tested so many carry on and overnight bags that I long ago stopped trying to even keep track of them. Every one of them has disappointed me. Backpacks are too casual for my taste. Duffels can be the same way but the most luxurious of them often lacked the pockets I wanted. And I dislike rolling suitcases for carrying on planes. Enter: the Lo & Sons O.G. bag. My search is over and my favorite bag has been found. It’s true I received the bag from Lo & Sons as a gift but never did I promise to like it or promise to give it a good review. As with everything I receive, I retain the full right to say about it what I want to. I just love my O.G. bag THAT much. And you can too, enter to win your own by following the instructions at the end of this post!! Or check out their holiday sale where using the code ‘THANKSGIVINGSALE2013’ gets you 30% off.
Tieks Shoes $175-$295* – My two pairs of Tieks shoes are my favorite flat shoes I have ever owned. I received the first pair as a gift and bought the second pair. As a nomadic traveler, I spent years buying cheap shoes on the road that would only last for a few weeks or a month with all the walking I did. I even bought expensive shoes while home in the USA that still never lasted for more than a few months and were never comfortable enough to wear for an entire day of walking. Then, I received the Tieks more than a year and a half ago, they came with me to six continents and are still as comfortable as the day I got them. I bought the second pair and the same has held true. Not every person I’ve talked to who owns them has loved them but for me, I’ve never had a more comfortable — yet stylish — pair of flat, travel shoes.
Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarf $46 – Some travel clothing is more chic than others and most things tend to really scream TRAVEL CLOTHING but these lovely handmade scarves by my friends Bethany and Randy at Beers and Beans are in the “chic” category. Their designs are the first I really want to actually collect, not just own in one pattern. I’m planning to keep my iPod in my scarf as I maneuver the crowded subway this winter…but I love their idea of a flask, I might consider that as well….
For the Techy
Mophie backup battery $79 – By far my favorite backup power source for my iPhone and iPad, this sometimes provides me as many as three extra charges after only charging itself for a few hours. It’s smaller than a pants pocket, very light and has never been apart from me on any trip I’ve been on. I couldn’t last a day without it when I am on the road.
Mophie iPhone Battery Case 4/4S $75 iPhone 5 $95 – Before I found the backup battery pack, this case was always around my iPhone. For years. I still think it’s one of the best inventions made for the iPhone and I still meet travelers every month who carry it. While I prefer a regular case now, and the backup battery in a pack form, not a case, I still recommend this to people that want protection and functionality for their iPhone, in one.
KENU Highline Cord $19.95 – This is hands down my favorite accessory for my iPhone while traveling. It’s a theft-proof device that makes certain no one can ever steal my iPhone ever again. Before using it, I had 3 iPhones taken from me and now, I have never had to worry no matter the country I find myself in. Use code: “kirstenalana” at checkout for a discount.
The Bolt Charger $60 – Like the Mophie, this is a backup battery. Unlike the Mophie, this can be charged at the same time as your phone and is a charger. It’s compact, portable, and with its added features might just replace my Mophie if or when that gives out!
iPhone amplifier 4S / 5 $2 – By far the best two dollars you can spend on amplifying the sound from your iPhone while traveling and perfect for traveling since it’s so small, lightweight and doesn’t require charging or plugging in.
iPad Mini $329* – For years I didn’t get the whole iPad thing, I had an iPhone and a laptop so I failed to understand why anyone would ever need an iPad. Then, I won the 16GB Mini and finally……I got it. As a frequent traveler, this is my most beloved companion on the road. I watch my favorite TV shows on it while I am abroad using the TunnelBear app so I never miss an episode, I read books on long flights, I edit photos and love the larger screen in comparison to my iPhone, I map out activities I want to do while abroad, create invoices in Pages and PDF documents for clients and post hotel reviews to Triptease while I am actually at the hotels I am writing about. Sure, you can do some of these things with the iPhone or a laptop but there’s nothing like the combination of power yet portability that the iPad Mini provides, in my opinion. Now, I just need one with more memory!
Personalized Latitude Longitude Custom Leather Luggage Tag $9 – Handmade in the United States by a man in Wisconsin, I think this is a truly lovely way to remember a favorite place you’ve traveled and carry it with you always. I’m a huge fan of Etsy for the way it empowers artists and small business owners so even if you don’t buy this, take some time to browse the site for other handmade items and support a small business owner such as “Tedmont.”
Handwritten note from Bond App – My friend Andy is part of the team behind this incredible app that personalizes gift giving for the mobile generation. While the gifts you can send through the app are quite incredible, it’s the handwritten notes you can order that really make this my absolute favorite. This is a gift you give others while you’re traveling and it takes so little time that it’s shocking (maybe 3 screens and 60 seconds or less), yet the value received by the recipient for that time spent, is immeasurable. It’s an actual handwritten note on weighty card stock that features a gold seal.
Ink Postcard from Sincerely, Free app $1.99/ea inc postage – So I used to love sending postcards to my loved ones when I traveled but the more I traveled the more difficult it became to do and do properly. I still like to send a real paper postcard from far-flung locations sometimes but when I can’t or when I want something more personalized, I send a postcard from the Ink app that features one of my own images from the country I am in, yet is completely personalized for the giver and doesn’t require me chasing down foreign post offices to get stamps (sometimes harder to find than you think). The bonus is that my photo becomes a keepsake that might have a little more meaning than a postcard.
Illume Candle in a travel tin $9 – In scents such as Balsam Cedar, Cactus Verde and Coconut Mango, these candles not only evoke memories of foreign travel for me, they also travel with me when I feel like I’m going to need a little bit of luxury where I’m going. For me, there are few things as welcoming as a good candle or a bouquet of fresh flowers so this is one way I help myself on the road to feel more “at home.” I picked up my latest Illume candle from this store.
Casetagram Monthly Subscription $96 to 120 – I have a problem. I like to change cases on my iPhone like some people change their underwear. It’s strange since I don’t love to have a lot of belongings generally and I was nomadic for so long…what’s the psychology there I wonder?! But nonetheless, Casetagram must have realized there are a lot of people like me because they now offer a subscription service that allows you to have a new design every month! WIN. This might be my Christmas present to myself.
The Things on My Christmas List
iPhone 5S $769 unlocked – I still carry the iPhone 4S and it’s just not cutting it these days. Even with an updated operating system, it’s too slow, crashes too often and no longer impresses me with a quality I feel is good enough to be shooting with mobile technology only. From my testing with the 5S I am convinced Apple has finally started to make some real improvements to the camera and I hope I can afford to upgrade soon.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 $1,400 + or Fujifilm X-M1 $600+ – I miss the days of owning a camera and having more than a smartphone to shoot with. I rent and test cameras often and these two are tops on my “want to buy” list. I don’t know how I’ll choose between them and I can’t get either right now anyway but they’re definitely leading the contenders list. Both are powerful, yet compact and good for traveling light, cameras. Olympus currently has the E-M1 on special for the holidays and you can get a free adapter with it, allowing you to use the widest range of lenses with the body, even those that are not Olympus. Curious about the recently released Nikon D4 as well but at $2,700 that’s a lot of money for something that isn’t a pro dSLR…
Boise Noise Canceling Headphones $269 – I think these headphones sell themselves. There’s nothing I want more when I travel these days than a good noise canceling headset so that I can truly tune out the crying babies, fighting couples and just……relax. These are consistently rated the best and why skimp when it’s a product like this.
Boingo Global Wireless Plan $59/month – Being able to stay connected while traveling is one of my top priorities as a freelancer and I know I am not alone in that. Boingo is so widely available around the globe that a membership to their hot spots would really make a huge difference in any frequent travelers ability to stay connected while on the go.
ExOfficio Storm Logic Jacket $155 – It’s lightweight yet warm, not ugly, compact AND it can become a travel pillow when you’re not wearing it as a jacket. There’s nothing I don’t like about this! And it’s definitely something I need since after years of nomadic travel I only have a heavy winter jacket or, sweaters and I always find myself wishing I owned a travel pillow.
Are you ready to enter to win your own Christmas-come-early?
For the 1 Year Subscription to AFAR Magazine: Share this post on twitter, tagging @KirstenAlana and @AFARmedia, then leave a comment on this post with a link to your tweet.
((Winners must have a valid email address, as they will be notified by email when they win. Subscription is for a print version of the magazine so a valid address is also required.))
For the Lo & Sons bag: There are two ways to enter.
1) Make a video post on Instagram that tells me where you would take your Lo & Sons bag. You can put yourself in it or do something else but it has to be a video not photo! Tag my account @KirstenAlana and @LoAndSons in the description/comment and then share the link to that post here in a comment.
2) Share this post on twitter, tagging @KirstenAlana and @LoAndSons, then leave a comment on this post with a link to your tweet.
((Winners must be in the USA and will get to choose the bag they would like to have, from those currently in stock. They also must have a valid email address, as they will be notified by email when they win.))
Congratulations to Katie who won the AFAR subscription and Jenna Francisco who won the Lo & Sons bag!!
Pictures with me in them, courtesy of Danté.
Header image via Sophie’s Suitcase.