By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
The gift of travel is the gift of life-enhancing even life-changing experience, lifelong memories, connection with family, friends and new friends. There are lots of ways to give the gift of travel:
Gift of Travel Experiences:
Gift experiences that come to mind include pre-arranging special experiences:
Arrange a cooking class for a couple going to Paris (cooknwithclass.com)
A hot-air balloon experience over Cappadocia, Turkey (see tripadvisor.com)
Visit to museum exhibit (some now require pre-purchased tickets), attractions, like the recently opened world premiere of Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru, on its first stop of a worldwide tour at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, through March 6, 2022 (A/$29.95 C/$19.95, VIP Access: $100 https://bocamuseum.org/art/machu-picchu-and-golden-empires-peru).
Organize a spa/wellness visit (SpaFinder.com has a compendium of resorts and day spas and offers gift certificates)
Set up a walking tour (Context Travel provides private or small group immersive tours for travelers who love to learn, in 60 cities globally, contexttravel.com) or arrange for a local guide (https://www.toursbylocals.com/find_guide has access to 4,488 guides in 193 countries; also offers gift certificates)
Book a rock climbing experience to get your special someone out of the gym and onto the real rocks (A day in the Gunks of the Mohonk Preserve, $350 for two for a full day program, 9 am to 4:30 pm, High Xposure Adventures, 800-777-CLIMB, high-xposure.com; Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, acadiamountainguides.com, 888-232-9559)
Prearrange a food tour (Private Street Food Tour by motorbike with local students, Saigon Back Alley Tours, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam).
Schedule a sea kayak nature tour in Van Damme State Park, Mendocino, (www.kayakmendocino.com) or Bar Harbor, Maine ( National Park Sea Kayak Tours, https://acadiakayak.com) or Albania.
Tripadvisor.com and viator.com are excellent sources for finding and booking visits to local attractions, sightseeing.
Arrange a bike ride (Visiting San Francisco? Blazing Saddles, blazingsaddles.com) or in Budapest.
Pre-arrange special zoo and theme park experiences like Wild Encounters at the Bronx Zoo and Animal Encounters at Busch Gardens Tampa including Keeper for a Day tours, Australia Insider Tour and Gorilla Insider Tour (https://buschgardens.com/tampa/tours/). Book an animal interaction at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to “Winter” of “Dolphin Tale” fame: Dolphin Encounter (you work alongside a trainer during a training and feeding session), Trainer for a Day (where you shadow a trainer), Feed Rufus (the actual movie star!), and Shark Encounter (SeaWinter.com, 727-441-1790).
Get tickets to iconic holiday experiences like the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker (30 performances from Nov. 27-Dec. 26, washingtonballet.org); George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet, November 26–January 2 (www.nycballet.com/the-nutcracker/tickets, 212-496-0600; or the Philadelphia Ballet, at the Academy of Music Dec. 10-31, https://philadelphiaballet.org/2021-2022-season/nutcracker/0
Can’t get to the wine tastings in Sonoma and Napa? You can still join their wine clubs and ship wine selections, for example, Imagery Wine, which we visited recently (877-550-4278, www.imagerywinery.com/store) and its sister winery Benziger (benziger.com). Find more on sonomawine.com and napavintners.com.
Arrange for a private chef to prepare a special meal in your home in New York City (Chef Omakase, 646-612-7790, [email protected], www.chefomakase.com).
Memberships Have Benefits
These days, with capacity restrictions and advance-purchase ticketing requirements at major museums, zoos, preserves, conservancies, sites, attractions, ski areas, and organizations think about gifting pre-purchased tickets or better yet, memberships or season passes – these have the advantage of not only making the recipient happy, provide discounts and special access to events and experiences (campout!), but also do good by supporting important and worthy organizations.
Membership gives a sense of “ownership” and engagement, and encourages multiple or multi-day visits as well as giving access to benefits including magazines and discounts on gear and experiences and members-only events and access to their catalogs.
Not able to visit? Many of the great museums and iconic institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their mission by shopping online or through catalogs (check out holiday specials, discounts). For example:
The Smithsonian Institution (si.edu),which just introduced Galactic gifts from its new FUTURES exhibition in the Arts & Industries Building, “for all your past, present, and future needs” (https://aib.si.edu/futures/ — Shop Now, Smithsonianstore.com).
Also, Sierra Club (they produce a catalog of trips, sierraclub.org); Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (also check out the trail shop for gear like jerseys, trail guides and such, railstotrails.org), Parks & Trail NY (ptny.org), National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA.org); The Nature Conservancy (nature.org) National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org) which offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com); and its sister organization Historic Hotels of America, with some of most interesting and iconic hotels (www.historichotels.org).
Members of the American Museum of Natural History enjoy free admission, special access with limited-capacity Member hours, exclusive previews of new exhibitions and galleries, and more. Get $20 off when you use promo code MEM21. (www.amnh.org, https://shop.amnh.org/featured/holiday-gift-ideas).
Membership at the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art brings free entry for members and one to four guests, private access to exhibitions outside of public hours and discounts on dining and store purchases (www.metmuseum.org).
Wildlife Conservation Society members get free admission to Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo; other memberships add in the NY Aquarium, free parking and other special benefits like guest passes (https://bronxzoo.com/shop/catalogs/memberships; most popular is Family Zoos Plus Aquarium: $210 (2 adults, 4 children, 1 guest). You can also purchase gift certificates for Wild Encounters – in-person and virtual behind-the-scenes look at the Bronx Zoo and Bronx Zoo gift ticket vouchers ($39.95/adult, $29.95/child).
Zoos, aquariums and special attractions are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, has eco-friendly items. There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com). And you don’t have to visit the Kennedy Space Center, to get space-related items (www.thespaceshop.com), though visiting offers incomparable experiences.
National Wildlife Federation has a whole catalog of gifts you can buy (30% off with promo code 938800, but you can also make a donation to a particular cause that is symbolized by a stuffed animal or some other acknowledgement: Holiday Gift Guide (https://www.shopnwf.org/collections/shop-specialty-shops-holiday-gift-guide); Sustainable holiday gifts (https://www.shopnwf.org/collections/shop-cards-and-gifts-gifts-sustainable-products); Create a sustainable garden (www.shopnwf.org/collections/Shop-Home-and-Garden-Garden-for-Wildlife), You can give the “gift of nature” and sponsor a forest with Trees for Wildlife program, in which NWF partners with schools, local government and nonprofit organizations to plant trees (https://www.shopnwf.org/category/Shop-Cards-and-Gifts-Tree-Gifts-Trees-for-Wildlife).
Similarly, World Wildlife Federation has a great selection of gifts that support the organization’s conservation efforts: Gifts.worldwidlife.org/gift-center/gifts/.
Stocking Stuffers, Gift Cards, Travel Gear
Hotels, resorts, tour companies even cruise companies offer gift cards (great stocking stuffers) which can be used to pay toward stays or amenities and experiences (some, like Catania Hospitality give extra discounts during holiday sales and some give the giver a special gift as well), and can be purchased on line.
Xanterra Travel Collection, for the first time, is offering Xanterra Travel Collection Gift Cards redeemable across all its properties and brands for accommodations, tours, experiences, and retail purchases (Xanterra.com/GiftCard).
You can purchase actual tickets or gift certificates for Broadway theater at Broadway.com. Gift certificates can be redeemed for tickets to any Broadway or Off-Broadway show currently playing in New York City. (www.broadway.com/gift-certificates)
SpaFinder has gift certificates for resorts, hotels, wellness centers and day spas (www.spafinder.com/best-of/resorts-and-hotel-spas), as well as gift cards can be used to buy gift sets (spafinder.com).
Skiers, snowboarders will really appreciate lift tickets (get discounted rates at liftopia.com; also EpicPass.com, IKONPass.com, Ski New York’s Ski3 pass, iskiny.com) or pre-paid lessons and rentals. Or if you feel really ambitious, purchase the season pass.
For stocking stuffers there’s no better than actual socks, so crucial for walking tours, hiking, biking, skiing, and packing, like Darn Tough (www.darntough.com) and Bombas (which come with a promise to donate a pair for every pair purchased, https://bombas.com/).
Then you get into clothes, jackets and specialized gear and equipment for every interest imaginable: camping, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, tennis, fishing, outdoor stuff. Among our favorites (especially when you catch sales and closeouts):
REI operates as a co-op, and members have access to really excellent sales and discounts, plus earn credit toward future purchases. REI products have excellent quality (we love our tents) and allow no-questions asked returns for a year. Excellent customer service. Free shipping on $50 (including skis and snowboards). Also, when you make a purchase with a REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard®, REI makes a donation to the REI Cooperative Action Fund, which directly supports organizations that promote justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors, this year, REI will donate up to $1 million (www.rei.com/s/gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840).
Patagonia also has excellent selections, free shipping over $75, and has “Patagonia Action Works” to facilitate donations to worthy causes, contributing 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. You can also buy used, trade-in and fix your gear through Worn Wear (WornWear.com), and can purchase gift cards. (Patagonia.com);
Also: Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com; LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis Express, TennisExpress.com; Bass Pro Shops, www.basspro.com. And of course, luggage (ebags.com; Luggageonline.com).
As for travel wardrobe, baggage fees have presented a challenge for travelers to confine all their packing to carry-on luggage, and people like me who have trouble finding pants to fit poses an additional challenge. Red Thread makes clothes to order that are comfortable, versatile, stylish, and pack well (pants, the essential black dress, jackets etc) and are tailored specifically to your measurements using 3D technology from your phone, and delivered within two weeks, and have a lifetime guarantee if they need to be re-sized to fit. I loved the Red Thread resort pants–with a Saint Tropez stylish flare (redthreadcollection.com, [email protected] 800-710-0835).
Photography & Camera Gear
What trip doesn’t involve photos! Yes, everyone has their cell phones but they don’t do for safaris, kayaking, biking, wildlife (though there are lens kits for cell phones which would make great gifts).
Cameras and photography gear are big on the wish list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras have as much functionality as the larger, heavier digital SLRs and use interchangeable lenses but tend to be fairly costly (over $1000). Take advantage of sales to purchase slightly outdated models that have great reviews (I love my newest acquisition, full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z5 with 24-200 mm lens for $1696; Canon EOS M6 Mirrorless Digital with 18-150 mm lens for $449, light and compact enough to use for hiking and travel, and for wet or harsh conditions, Olympus Tough TG6, which is very small, rugged, water, shock, dust and crashproof, and has a sensational macro feature and good zoom range, 25-100mm (now $50 off at $399). B&H consistently has best inventory, prices, and holiday specials, plus excellent customer service, delivery and return policies, www.bhphotovideo.com, 800-606-6969, 212-444-6615).
There are endless opportunities to satisfy photographer’s wish list, from memory cards (great stocking stuffer) and external hard drives, to backpacks, lenses (you can even get lenses for cell phones), lighting, the list goes on and on.
Another idea is to gift a photo album (Milkbooks, based in New Zealand, does an excellent job of reproducing high-quality photo albums and books, has excellent customer service and frequent sales, milkbooks.com.) Or consider high-quality professional printing and framing a photo that is particularly meaningful and memorable from their travels (bayphoto.com).
Or more spectacularly, what about a photosafari or a trip led by a master photographer, such as offered by Photo Workshop Adventures (150 carefully curated small group photo tours in 150 countries with “The Art of Seeing” approach” (www.photoworkshopadventures.com); Photo Safaris (www.photosafaris.com); National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com); Back Country Journeys (https://explore.backcountryjourneys.com/photography-tours-workshops-safaris/landscape-wildlife/gs-l1); Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com/plan/expedition-photography); and Nomad Photo Expeditions (www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com).
Gifts to Inspire
Give gifts that last the year, bring the world and the planet into their world and inspire wanderlust. For example:
National Geographic Kids magazine for 6-9 year olds ( $20/yr for 10 issues) and or National Geographic Little Kids designed especially for children ages 3-6 ($20/yr for 6 bi-monthly issues).
National Wildlife Federation produces Ranger Rick (age 7+), Ranger Rick Jr., (407) Ranger Rick Cub (0-4); Zoo books (7+); Zootles (4-7), and Zoodinos (5+); for holiday promotion, any title $12 – 76% savings. (rangerrick.org/magazines/)
For adults: Smithsonian Magazine is a treasure and also provides membership benefits and access to gifts. Subscribe for $34 and get a free gift subscription to share with someone else (smithsonianmag.com).
Another great source: PBS, which supports public television, which offers gift catalog and gift certificates (I’m loving the Mona Lisa “Women’s Fine Art” socks, $8) (https://shop.pbs.org/gifts, 833-565-0292).
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