Stuff the Stocking With Something Useful

Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at

Christmas is the ideal time to help budget travelers who are preparing for foreign adventures. Be very selective though; inappropriate items just add unnecessary weight. Here are some suggestions for items that most budget travelers really will appreciate.

Student travelers should have a guidebook that is researched specifically for their type of adventure. Both the "Let's Go" series, distributed by St. Martin's Press, and Berkeley's "On the Loose" guides, distributed by Random House, are researched annually by students. They cover destinations in Europe, North America, Central America and Southeast Asia. This month "Let's Go" will introduce guides to Nepal, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

If an update will be published before the traveler departs, ask for a gift voucher at a travel bookstore, so he or she can leave with the most current edition.

A journal is ideal, both for recording memories and for jotting down recommendations from other travelers.

If the adventurer is planning extensive travel in a Third World country, consider getting her or him a detailed map. It sometimes is difficult or very expensive to purchase good quality maps in remote areas.

If you are considering purchasing a backpack, seek out a store with a knowledgeable sales staff and an exchange policy, in case the item isn't a comfortable fit.

Look for packs that have zippered compartments that hide the straps so they can be used as canvas shoulder bags. Make sure the compartments have double zipper tags that meet so they can be locked with a small padlock.

A day pack is a helpful gift, but make sure the fabric is durable. In crowded conditions, such as on a packed public bus, it's possible for a thief to cut one open enough to slide out contents.

The harder the pack looks to cut, the more likely the thief will search for easier pickings. Again, make sure that it has a zipper that can be locked.

Many youth hostels will not let budget travelers use traditional sleeping bags. Instead, they provide blankets and require travelers to have, or rent, sheet sleeping bags. Sporting equipment stores and youth hostels are good sources for purchasing these.

If you are concerned about the traveler hitchhiking to save money, purchase a transportation pass for them. Backpacker bus services are springing up around the world and are now operating in England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and parts of North America. Student travel agencies are the best sources for purchasing tickets before leaving North America.

Traditional travel agencies also can help you with rail passes that are available to travelers under 26 years old, such as Eurail, Europass and BritRail youth passes.

Usually the traveler must begin using the passes within six months of the purchase date. Check details with a travel agent. Rates for some passes (such as BritRail Youth Passes) will rise slightly on Jan. 1.

You also can consider purchasing a membership for Hostelling International, a network of about 5,000 budget accommodation facilities worldwide.

There are smaller competitors, but HI has a worldwide reservation system, so in many areas of the world your traveler shouldn't have to worry about finding a bed when he or she is jet-lagged from a long flight. A one-year adult membership costs $25. For further details, call (310) 393-3413.

If the traveler will be in an area where insect-borne diseases are a risk, consider a mosquito net. It is the budget travelers who often are most at risk because their accommodations may not have air-conditioning for relief from the heat.

Combination padlocks also are helpful. Some budget hotel rooms in Asia have a latch on the door that can be secured with your own lock so nobody can enter while you're out. Small combination locks are good for securing zippers on packs.

Other handy stocking stuffers can include a Swiss Army Knife (with a bottle opener and corkscrew); a money belt or neck pouch for keeping passport, tickets, traveler's checks and cash out of reach; a durable, small flashlight; rain poncho; alarm clock; and a mini-medical kit.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World