Gift Buying Guide For A Long-Term Traveler

Gift buying and long-term travel

Gift guides for travelers is a popular topic. But what if we turn the tables?

As a long-term traveler, I find myself in a precarious situation at least a few times a year. Why? A puzzle of gift-giving if a recipient is half a world away never gets old. Perhaps, any digital nomad, slow traveler, or an expat can relate to this challenge.

gift buying guide for long term travelers

Online shopping made the process of finding gifts a bit easier. To an American, it may even look like a done deal – seemingly, everything can be found and bought in a few clicks. Surprise! Not every country in the world caught up yet. Do not smirk my first-world friends, there are still places on this planet where convenience or curse, depending on opinion, of the internet economy is not a case yet.

Also, as someone who embraced the minimalistic lifestyle, I have misgivings about traditional gift-giving extravaganza. It took us a year and a lot of efforts to downsize from a house to two suitcases. Since then, I developed an allergy for acquiring material possessions.

Yet, minimalism or not, I have to face reality. The tradition of gift-giving is here to stay, so let’s deal with it from a long-term traveler point of view.

I even came up with a term long-distance gifts to describe this special branch of presents.

In this Gift Buying Guide for long-term travelers, I cover a minimalist approach to long-distance gifts; gifts on a mission; flashback: how we, as slow travelers and digital nomads, dealt with gift buying in good old 2015 (and the links still work!)

The minimalist approach to long-distance gifts

True to the marketing tradition of my home country, weeks before Christmas, my inbox gets overfilled. Every November, I am inundated with an endless barrage of articles, emails, and blog posts about the best gifts for people in my life, pets, travelers, couch potatoes, aspiring Olympians, backpackers, and retired millionaires. Get my drift? I feel pretty annoyed, to put it mildly.

The familiar holiday gift story finally got solved

Gift chaser procrastinator as I am, I started looking for holiday presents way late into the game.  Between my own long-distance gifts hunting notes below and an avalanche of recommendations dumped on me the courtesy of digital revolution, it was supposed to be a relatively quick task.

Way past midnight, I was nowhere close to the finish and more frustrated than ever. The reason? Have you noticed how we, as the 21st century’s consumerism-poisoned society, tend to gravitate to clatter our habitats with more and more err… stuff?

99% of gift-scoring suggestions I went through were about another thing, as a material entity. As amazing as they could be, a new backpack, a heat-resistant shirt or whatever gadget du jour is on the menu this year would fill more space in a closet, an attic or a garage.

My minimalistic frame of mind finally rebelled. I do not want to push my lifestyle on others, but I can’t participate in this materialistic frenzy either. So… what’s the solution?

Luckily, there are a few lurking in the farther corners of the digital world.

Gifts on a mission

  • Helsinki Foundation – to quote their website “The best gift for the person who has everything (or doesn’t want everything).” I do not know about this, but I can tell you becoming a Guardian of a piece of the nature preserve in Finland, Estonia or Tasmania feels darn good. Think about it from this point of view: you can make a difference and show that you care about the future of our troubled planet without millions to spend.
Long-distance gift with a purpose: help to preserve places like this one
  • UNICEF Inspired Gifts – send lifesaving supplies to children and communities around the world in the name of your friends and family. Alternatively, you can send a gift card . According to the UNICEF website, when you give a their gift card, your family and friends will select from great handcrafted products. Your purchase will be helping support the talented artisans and helping UNICEF save and protect children.
  • Adopt a Polar Bear
  • Masterclass – a gift of learning. Give a gift that helps them grow with online classes taught by the world’s best.

Gifts from stores supporting good causes

As a long-term traveler, you may prefer to send a physical gift that makes a difference. Check these stores that support good causes:

  • Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co.every pound saves a hound – by purchasing their fair trade organic, specialty coffees you would support the no-kill rescue organizations providing safe-havens for pups between homes. 20% of all Grounds & Hounds profits are donated to their rescue partners.
  • Novica – an online, fair-trade marketplace. It features limited edition and one-of-a-kind handmade works of art, ranging from artisan-crafted jewelry to handmade apparel to world-style home decor.
  • The Little Market  – a social enterprise, combining business and social justice. All goods they sell are made by artisans in need, including refugees, people with disabilities, survivors of trafficking and domestic violence.
  • TOMS – when they sell a pair of shoes, a new pair of shoes is given to an impoverished child, when they sell eyewear, part of the profit is used to save or restore eyesight for people in developing countries.
  • Vivid Roots – sells hats, shirts, and fabric bags. With every purchase they donate 20% off gross profits to implementing sustainable clean water systems in developing countries.

The perfect gift for foodies

Long-term travelers and digital nomads, do you know other great resources not listed here? Would you share them with me? Thanks!

Below, I am keeping the original text for three reasons. 1) I kinda like the tone and the sentiment; 2) it became an unintentional chronicle of now-forgotten challenges of our less-connected existence and the relentless rise of Amazon; 3) amazingly, all stores mentioned below are still in business.

Long-distance gifts circa 2015

If you travel, I bet at least once you found yourself in this situation. Christmas or your best friend’s birthday is just around the corner, but you are thousands of miles away panicking about gifts. This pesky issue could cause you not only a minor headache but, potentially, put a significant dent in your budget.

In most cases, buying gifts locally and sending them back to your country is prohibitively expensive.

Asking a fellow traveler to bring gifts back with her/him is a subject to so many conditions that it is virtually impossible: she/he must travel to your country in particular time frame, can take additional luggage (with airlines imposing draconian fees for exceeding luggage weight limits it is a serious question), logistics of pickup/delivery…

Mexican treasures
Are you looking for a striking long-distance gift?

How to buy gifts when you travel full time

Hence, the internet comes to the rescue: you buy a long-distance gift online and ship it to an unsuspecting recipient. Nice and easy. There is only one glitch: where to buy?

The most obvious and frequently recommended choice is Amazon. Unfortunately, there are couple pitfalls. Looking for something surprising? Exciting? It’s a gift after all, right?

Well, Amazon is a titan of online shopping. Do not get me wrong, sometimes, a blender or a pair of socks make a great gift. As for uncommon one-of-a-kind things, you better look somewhere else.

There is another tiny wrinkle pointed out by our reader. Despite popular belief, Amazon is not omnipresent. There are countries where it still does not work. BTW, congratulations Australia – you are no longer amazon-less.

To be fair, books are still Amazon’s strong point. There are some rare, out-of-print, hard-to-find books that I could not find anywhere else. Yes, I would recommend Amazon if you are looking for a book.

If I am not after books, haven’t received a Christmas list(s) or do not have a clear indication that, let’s say, a vacuum cleaner [replace with whatever “serious” device might catch your fancy] is a matter of life and death, I need an inspiration.

To a certain extent, online shopping is still a gamble. Some trial and error ensued, and, voilá, I came up with a list of online stores that meet my expectations. Here are my favorites.

Where I buy gifts while always on the road

Important note: I can confirm that all websites listed below ship to the US addresses. If you are planning to send a long-distance gift outside of the US check website’s terms of use to make sure that it is possible.

  • Bluefly – sells designer apparel and accessories, household products and accessories at discounted prices. Bluefly ships to many countries. In their own words: “… a highly curated fashion marketplace for the style-obsessed… email-only exclusives bring you the best of the splurge and the steal – from designer shoes and handbags to clothing to accessories, and even home décor.”
  • Blue Nile – online specialty retailer of fine jewelry. In their own words: “we were the first to sell diamonds online in 1999. And today Blue Nile is the world’s largest online jeweler.”
  • Etsy – the global marketplace for unique and creative goods. Shop directly from people around the world. Handmade or vintage items, supplies, as well as unique factory-manufactured items.
  • Fab – a design-focused company, dedicated to helping discover fun and unique products.
  • Garrafeira Nacional – with more than eight decades of trade history, this family-run store has been supplying exclusive fine wines and spirits. They ship to almost any location in the world.
  • Guilt – Gilt became famous for its exciting daily flash sales. There is something new every day for women, men, kids and the home as well as exclusive services and experiences and luxury travel. You’ll always find an impressive selection of top designers, emerging brands, exclusive styles and wow experiences. Gilt ships to over 100 countries.
  • HauteLook – acquired by Nordstrom in 2011, HauteLook is a members-only shopping website offering limited-time sale events with top fashion and lifestyle brands.
  • – Specialty Cheeses. Fine Foods. Exquisite Gifts. Food lover’s paradise. Currently ships within the US only.
  • Oura – slide on the ring; transform your life. OURA is a revolutionary ring-sized wellness computer that helps you sleep and perform better.
  • Rue La La – Rue La La is the destination for the most desired brands at members–only prices. Each day, they curate boutiques filled with the best of the best in fashion, home accessories, travel, kids stuff, and more. New boutiques open at 11AM ET and stay open for just 48 hours. Rue La La ships outside the US.
  • Shop @ deviantArt – Prints Shop. Their motto: “Absolutely Breathtaking Prints.”

Published: November 2015. Last update: December 2019

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Gift Buying Guide For Long-Term Travelers

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37 thoughts on “Gift Buying Guide For A Long-Term Traveler”

  1. These are great tips for sending gifts while abroad. You’re right that sending a gift from away is so impractical, but there’s no telling that to someone who hasn’t traveled before, am I right? I love etsy and use it all the time, but it was the only one of the list I had heard of! I’m excited to check out some of these new sites just in time for Christmas back home!

  2. What a great idea for a post. I love the idea of out of the ordinary gift ideas. When you find unique gift ideas it shows that you really put some thought behind it. Love the list of stores. I’ve only heard of Etsy and i love the stuff that is sold in their store

    • Thank you, Christopher :). I absolutely agree about the meaning of a unique gift. If you like Etsy, you might want to check Novica too. They sell genuinely creative and unique works made by South American and SE Asian crafters.

  3. What a nice round up of online gifting alternatives! I have to admit I am a bit of an Amazon addict so when I have a long distance gift to give that always seems to be my first stop. It does mean that the gift is not always as unique as it could be though.

    Etsy is a great backup option that I have used for those hard-to-find, one-of-a-kind items, but I don’t believe I have ever ordered anything from the rest of these sites.

    • Thank you, Nick :). If you are looking for some uncommon gifts, I would recommend to check Novica. They sell things made by crafters from South America and SE Asia. Many of their pieces are truly unique.

  4. That’s such a great list, thank you for putting it together. It’s my mother’s birthday next week and after nearly 10 years living abroad, I’m starting to lack imagination for new gift ideas. I’ll browse some of these websites hoping to find the right thing. I almost always buy in the country where my family of friends live, as I am not good at planning in advance and it’s also easier to organise delivery close to the right date!

  5. I can absolutely agree that Amazon is not everywhere. We still don’t have it in Switzerland. Actually most places where you can order something online it mostly costs so much to send it to Switzerland 🙁 I think this list is awesome for people in the US though and you have some great options, like the 🙂

    • Thank you, Thomas. Sorry to hear about difficulties with online shopping in Switzerland. I understand your pain. Living in the US, I got accustomed to the conveniences of online shopping years ago. Traveling in different countries where it is still unheard of or prohibitively expensive made me realize how lucky Americans are in that regard.

    • I am with you :). Last year, when I came to Australia for the first time, I routinely tried to buy something online. Amazon was an obvious choice. I couldn’t believe that it was not available Down Under.

  6. I like to carry small gifts when I travel for friends I meet or strangers who become friends on the way. Have been looking for small items to carry. Guess buying online is a good idea for friends.

  7. Amazon does give some great offers. So occasionally it is a good idea. But I am yet to get addicted to this online stuff. I might like to experiment this sometime.

  8. I live abroad, so finding gifts for friends and family is always a hassle. Especially since I don’t want to pay 3x the price of the gift in shipping. This sounds like a cool idea for me!

  9. Oh yes, I have faced this situation quite a few times, especially since I have friends and families all around the world. If I am in India, it isn’t a big deal as the stuff we get locally is fairly reasonable – most of the stuff is branded and hence, make a good gift. If I am abroad, I generally keep a few extra goodies with me, that help make good gifts for people. But this list is interesting. I might just try it out.

    • Hi, Ami. I agree that India and, to the certain extent, South America too are great places to buy gifts. However, a number of times I was put off by shipping prices.

  10. Definitely an issue I come across often, though I had never thought about shipping locally directly to them. I always just deliver their presents late after I come home off my current trip!! Thanks for the brilliant tip!

    • Hi, Elaine. Sadly, Amazon does not work not only in Brazil. I have friends in different parts of South America and they also mentioned that they can not use Amazon.

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