NEW YORK -- Travel is fun once you reach your destination, but being away from home, getting through airport security and enduring long trips can be stressful.
No wonder, then, when you ask, "What's a good gift for travelers?" the answer is often related to comfort and convenience. Here are some ideas for holiday gifts that make travel more pleasant, whether the traveler in your life is a frequent-flying sales manager or a bus-riding student.
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For music lovers, how about upgrading flimsy earbuds to a set of headphones? Bose noise-canceling Quiet Comfort headphones, at a pricey $300, have been a top pick among travelers for years, but Consumer Reports also gives high ratings to many models under $100, including headphones from Able Planet, JVC and Audio-Technica.
Is there a neck-pillow junkie in your life? You know who they are: They keep neck pillows stashed in bags and glove compartments in all sizes, colors and styles, from inflatable to bead-filled. Consider a new addition to the collection in the form of a neck pillow with built-in speakers. Mic Anderson, an agent with The Magic for Less Travel agency, bought one for about $25 for her 14-year-old daughter Sarah from a kiosk at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and it was a hit.
"It plugs into your MP3 player or iPod," said Sarah. "I use it on car trips and plane rides, and I also use it in my room a lot." The speakers are inside the U-shaped pillow so they sit beneath your chin on either side. Sarah says you can hear the music without disturbing the person sitting next to you, which her mom confirms.
Carol Gundrum, who also works for The Magic for Less, asked fellow travel agents for gift ideas and packing cubes were one of the top suggestions. Typically made from lightweight fabrics with zippers, packing cubes come in various sizes designed to fit inside luggage. Fans say they help compress clothing so you can fit more in, but just as important, they make it easy to organize belongings. Socks and underwear might go in one cube, shirts in another, shoes in a third so they don't get clothing dirty. Cubes can also be filled with non-wearables like electronics, books and papers or beauty products. If checked luggage exceeds weight restrictions, a cube can be removed -- some come with small hooks or handles -- and carried.
Packing cubes are available from various retailers but one popular brand is from eBags.com. "The packing cubes are our No. 1 best-selling product out of 50,000 on eBags.com," said eBags co-founder Peter Cobb. In various colors, with mesh windows for breathability and visibility, they range from under $20 for a set of three in small and slim sizes to under $30 for a large set of three.
Gift ideas abound on the 3floz.com website, which sells health, beauty and grooming products in sizes approved for carry-on air travel. Click on "products" to see the company's list of "best-sellers," like the Air Repair skin care kit, which includes cleansers and moisturizers, $39; garment care items like The Laundress Crease Release spray, $8; toothpastes and fold-up toothbrush in the Go Smile kit, $12, and a Malin+Goetz bag of six products including shampoo, conditioner and body wash, $30.
Nifty travel products from Flight 001, which has brick-and-mortar stores as well as a website, include lightweight yet sturdy containers for liquids that can be collapsed, rolled up and tucked in your bag when not in use, then filled as needed. Flight 001's Bubi bottle, $30, 22 ounces and in four colors, can be used for hot or cold beverages, and it's safe for dishwashers, microwaves and freezers. It's perfect for travelers who like the idea of a refillable water bottle that won't take up a lot of room when empty.
Show a little love for the lower leg: For air travelers, socks with treads, soft washable slippers or compression socks (which need not be surgical strength -- take a look at athletic brands like Saucony's AMP PRO2 socks, $38 online) can make flights more bearable.
For those with short legs (or anyone who wants a lift underfoot while seated), the travel supply company Magellans.com sells three types of portable footrests. Two are fold-up styles made from sturdy lightweight plastic, $25 and $29.50, but Magellan's best-selling footrest is a cozy inflatable cushion that folds flat, $29.50.
There's no end to gadgets that travelers love, from iPods, iPads and Kindles to chargers that can power electronics on the go, including battery-powered and solar-powered chargers that work even when you have no access to an electric outlet. In online reviews, some consumers have lauded iGo Everywhere chargers as a one-stop-shopping device for powering all kinds of electronics on a trip, though you need to attach different tips to connect different gadgets. The iGo charger can be plugged into a wall or car.
Samantha Gizerian, who teaches at Washington State University, recently found herself in an airport wishing she had a "tiny, retractable extension cord. Airport plugs are often in the weirdest places, and having a handy extension cord makes more of them accessible for recharging and not holding your phone 6 feet in the air," she said, adding, "Looking at you Las Vegas Terminal B!"
Finally, here's a way to help travelers de-stress while en route: a gift card for XpresSpa, which offers manicures, pedicures, haircuts, facials, shaves, massages and other services at 46 airport spas. Pricing varies by location but in most places $25 covers a manicure and $50, a massage. Gift cards can be purchased online at XpresSpa.com.