My 2021 Gift Guide – An Introduction
Welcome to the holidays! Throughout the year I’ve kept track of things that I liked so I could include them here. A lot of these are things we stumbled upon, and some are here because the brands reached out to me, wanting to send me things. I typically turn those down since we don’t need anything, and it’s wasteful to accept something that we’re not going to use, but every once in a while something truly is unique and changes how we live and how we travel, and it’s fun to include all of those in one place. Enjoy! And if you’ve found something large or small that’s made your life better, please let everyone know in the comments!
Unbound Merino Clothing
I liked Unbound Merino so much I became an ambassador. Their shirts are awesome – they’re soft, lightweight, moisture-wicking, antibacterial and wrinkle-resistant, and they look great. I’ve never packed lighter than I did for my fall trips to Italy and France – only taking a few shirts that served me for everything from hiking to going out to nice dinners. And merino wool dries quickly! I got soaked a couple of times in Italy and my Unbound Merino shirts, socks and underwear dried so much faster than my jeans and shoes. I seriously love this company and everything they make. And they just launched a women’s line.
Purchase here. If you’re a new customer, use the code “TRAVELBABBO” at checkout to save 10% (it even works with sale prices).
OluKai Shoes and Slippers
Virtually all of my shoes, other than maybe snow boots and hiking shoes, come from OluKai. I’ve lived in their sandals for at least a decade, I started buying their leather shoes maybe five years ago, and now I’ve added their slippers to my closet. It’s a super-cool company and everything they make is excellent.
LEGO Playing Cards
We’ve always played card games with our kids, but have never had kid-oriented cards until now. A fun stocking stuffer for anyone who loves LEGO.
Purchase here. Note: I’m linking to Amazon out of convenience, but if you can buy these from a smaller/local store, do it!
QuietOn Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
I love my Airpods, but they’re better for listening to music and watching shows than they are for cancelling noise, and I definitely can’t sleep in them. Enter QuietOn 3 – made only for cancelling noise, and small enough to sleep in. In Hawaii our room was right above a restaurant with live music, so I slept in these every night! I also have their QuietOn 2 earbuds, which are similarly great at letting me have silence, both at home or while traveling, but they’re not small enough to sleep in.
Purchase here. FYI, QuietOn 3 will be on sale beginning November 22nd for Black Friday and Cyber Monday for $219 – a $50 discount.
Three of my favorites from this year:
Little Kid, Big City: New York
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @littlekidbigcity_. Beth finds the absolute coolest things to do in and around New York City, and I’m constantly saving her posts for the next time we visit. This book has a lot of those sites – just fun places for families – as well as facts about the city. If you’re taking your kids to NYC, get this for them first!
Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022
Pure travel inspiration! Always fun to see the destinations that Lonely Planet highlights every year. And I wrote up the Faroe Islands for Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2021, but given the pandemic I think they only published it digitally. 🙁
Stuff Every Coffee Lover Should Know
Last year I highlighted Stuff Every Tea Lover Should Know by Candace Rose Rardon, and now she’s published an equivalent book about coffee around the world. I like coffee far more than tea so this book is even better! Small but super-interesting – a perfect stocking stuffer.
We’re foodies, and we’re always getting inspiration from our travels. My wife (an amazing cook) will seek out unique cookbooks from places we’ve been to, but will also craft meals based on the cookbooks of countries and cultures we haven’t experienced in-person yet. Three of her favorites right now:
Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen
We’ve been having monthly Afghan nights and every single dish we’ve had from this cookbook has been amazing. Definitely unique flavors (to Americans), plus the stories in between recipes tell all about the history of Afghanistan.
The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook
Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City is an immigrant baking collective – a place for women from different communities to come together, where they can use the kitchen’s ovens to bake their traditional breads and then sell them to earn a living. It’s a great organization to support, and their cookbook of breads from around the world is excellent. We purchase several copies a year for gifts.
The Italian Bakery
Italy’s my favorite country, and I love this cookbook of Italian desserts from The Silver Spoon – going well beyond tiramisu and cannoli. A project for next year: making at least one dessert a month from this cookbook!
There aren’t good Indian restaurants near us in California, so my wife’s perfected several Indian dishes. Naan has always been problematic though since a standard oven just can’t cook it correctly – too much heat is released every time you open the door. So we finally purchased a tandoor. Our main goal is to use it to cook naan, but it also works well for skewered meat.
We looked for reviews for home tandoors and there really aren’t any, so we compared price and capabilities and purchased a medium one from Gulati Tandoori Ovens – along with the propane kit and TandoorDISC for grilling and baking pizza. I texted Gulati with a question before purchasing and Karan Gulati wrote me right back, and then he hand-delivered our tandoor and has been very helpful when we’ve had questions while cooking. So I can’t speak to any other tandoors but I’m very impressed with Gulati, and we’re excited to see how many things we can cook with it.
Online and Apps
Arigato Travel’s Online Japanese Experiences
One of our favorite walking tours ever was our food tour through Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood with Arigato Travel. Japan’s still closed to visitors unfortunately, but Arigato has several online courses to keep you in a Japanese frame of mind. Take advantage of their experts before your next trip!
Purchase here. For a 5% discount, use the code “TravelBabboAJ” at checkout.
1Password has seriously made my life better this year. I finally have an organized password system, I have a way to prevent immigration officials from accessing any accounts that I don’t want them to see, and I have a way for my wife and kids to have access to all of our current passwords.
Drops Language App
I discovered Drops this year and used it to refresh both my Italian and my French over the summer and then again immediately before my fall trips. I really like its methodology – dropping new words in and then using games to make sure you remember them!
It’s free for up to five minutes a day. Purchase a subscription in-app for more unlimited time (and family sharing). More information here.
So these aren’t really travel-related, unless you’re nomadic and are living in a van, and they’re not necessarily Christmas gifts, but we’ve been very happy with both of these so I wanted to mention them here:
I’ve always HATED mattress shopping – it’s up there with shopping for a new car. This was the year that I realized that you could get mattresses online! I ordered a queen-size mattress for my son from Nolah and had no idea what we were going to get. I assumed it would arrive full-size – didn’t realize that they’re able to take all the air out and ship them rolled up in boxes – and I didn’t know what the quality would be like. Several months in we’re all very impressed. The price was good, the quality is excellent (my son loves it), and it was so easy! I highly recommend Nolah.
After I posted the unrolling of our mattress on Instagram, Pillow Cube reached out wanting to send us a pillow. My daughter jumped on it, since she had been wanting one. She loves it – it’s all she’s used for the past two months. It’s funny, both Pillow Cube and Nolah advertise themselves as being excellent for side sleepers. Maybe we’re all side sleepers in our family? At any rate, Pillow Cube’s great.
What are the coolest things you’ve found this year?