Holiday gifts for travelers: Think small!

Sometimes less is more when you’re traveling. That may be the best holiday gift-giving advice for the jetsetter in your life.

Go small. And practical.

Just ask Kelli Lampkin, who has lived out of a suitcase for the last year. Her favorite cosmetic carry-on is a compact pineapple-mango shampoo bar made by Naples Soap Company ($8,

“You don’t have to pack your shampoo as a liquid,” says Lampkin, who works for a technology company in San Francisco. “It’s super helpful.”

With the holiday gift-giving season almost here, travelers and the people who love them are looking far and wide for the ideal present. And they’re finding that this year’s trend is to downsize and go multipurpose.

With good reason: Space is tight. It seems airlines are in a perpetual state of quietly moving the seats closer together, hoping no one notices. (We do.) But the cold-weather months, with travelers bundled in jackets and their overstuffed carry-ons, are also a claustrophobia-inducing season. Who wants to squeeze even more onto a plane or into a busy terminal?

Weight limits on luggage for airlines, which are being more rigorously enforced than ever, are also fueling the trend toward tiny. “The restrictions are making people think about packing lighter,” says Paul Shrater, co-founder of, a Newbury Park, Calif., site that specializes in travel-size items. “Plus, people don’t like to haul around a lot of things.”

Finding something that’s both compact and useful isn’t easy, though. I spent weeks searching and found that simple definitions like “small” and “useful” can be stretched by manufacturers who are eager to find a market for their products.

For one of the most common travel problems — sleeping in a strange and often questionable bed — there’s a pint-size solution. It’s called the DreamSack by YALA ($98, and it acts as a sleeping bag liner, protecting you from whatever is out there. The silk is extra comfortable but light, and if you fold it correctly, you can easily fit the DreamSack into a 6-ounce pouch. That’s pretty small.

And if you’re asking yourself, “Could I wear something like that?” the answer is: Yes. A company called Red Twist makes a cashmere sweater wrap especially for travelers ($195, in a single, one-size-fits-all size that can be folded into a relatively small space. My 10-year-old daughter uses hers as a blanket and a jacket on long trips.

The multipurpose trend goes way beyond a combination shampoo and soap bar. Consider the Sparkr ($59, One end is a powerful, 400-lumen flashlight and the other is a plasma lighter that creates an electric arc rather than a flame. At half a pound, it’s compact enough to fit in the glove compartment of your car or your backpack for your next camping trip.

Here’s another nifty two-in-one that is already on my must-pack list: The Macaron hair brush from Milk + Sass ($12.99,, a combination detangling brush and mirror in a tidy package that looks like a generous cookie. No more need to pack a large hair brush and a portable mirror, plus it all fits into a tidy and elegant package.

How about electronics? Well, travelers seem to be tired of those enormous noise-canceling headphones. The headset cases take up almost as much room as a small carry-on bag. Solution: A set of wireless earbuds like the Jabra Elite Sport ($249.99,, which promises more than 13 hours of music and phone calls with two charging cycles in the case, along with noise cancellation technology that’s comparable to the big boys. The Elite Sport also has a thoughtful recharging case that makes it less likely you’ll misplace or lose the small earbuds.

And here’s a way to downsize that massive DSLR camera you’re carrying around for vacation: Either use your phone’s camera (the iPhone X and Pixel 2 are among my favorites) or buy an add-on camera, which saves a massive amount of space. Consider the DxO ONE ($499,, which plugs into your iPhone and does almost everything a full-featured professional camera does. It shoots in RAW and JPEG formats and takes crisp, 20.2-megapixel images. Say good-bye to bulky equipment.

This holiday season, when you tell the frequent traveler in your life that you bought them a “little gift,” make sure it really is little. And if you don’t, please include a gift receipt in the box.

How to find a small but practical gift

• Pay attention to the elites. Watch — but please don’t gawk — at frequent travelers. How do they pack? Which accessories do they use? These top-tier travelers often carry the best gadgets long before the rest of us catch on. If you’re bold, try asking one for advice at the airport or train station.

• Check the lists. You can find bestseller lists for travel accessories online. Perhaps the most authoritative is Amazon’s travel accessories list (, which has the most in-demand items for the jet set. Which reminds me: Don’t forget those packing cubes!

• Try before you buy. A little common sense can take you a long way when you’re trying to find a present. Retailers like Brookstone ( are known for clever, practical and small gifts that can make the traveler in your life happy.

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