November 2021 (updated 12/2022)
AKA Deb’s Get-Real Gifts Under $15 Guide for People Who Travel 2022/2023
The best gift you can give a traveler isn’t about fancy or expensive. The best gift is a gift the traveler can actually use while traveling. Your gift will only make the packing cut if it serves a helpful purpose and fits in his/her luggage. If it is helpful for plane rides, can it also help during the stay? If your friend must carry one-trick items for the entire time she/he is away, that isn’t actually helpful. (Did you know that per Fortune Magazine, More Than a Third of Americans Return Gifts They Receive Over the Holidays?)
I own and travel with each of these items and wouldn’t want to be without any of them.
As you read this perhaps the holidays are coming, or maybe someone’s birthday is approaching, or your friend is heading out on a trip. I offer this to make your quest easier and hopefully help you find something that can actually be worth packing and useful. It’s a long post because I provide details.
I only recommend products I use and truly believe in.
I never recommend just for profit. Affiliate links are noted.
Travel Gifts for under $15
I’ll open with under $15 most affordable, helpful items you can easily afford to give any friend, peer, or associate. I also have a page of suggestions for Travel Gifts from $15-$30. (I’m still working on the more expensive gifts.)
I cannot recall a time when I stayed in a hotel, hostel, guesthouse, or friend’s home and not wished there was a hook (or another hook) available to me. And I’d bet you’ve experienced the same wish, even if you’ve never traveled.
Speaking with Yvette Leslie, the woman behind the Smarter Hook, telling her the ways I see to use it, she had story after story about someone who purchased one and found it handy for something Yvette hasn’t thought of. So far she’s counted over 50 ways to use it. For travel, my favorite is to hang my (Lunatec™) washcloth and Matador™ shampoo bag, and to hang my clothing.
Those who use a wheelie suitcase will find it handy. I know people who will love it for their walker or wheelchair, and others who will love it for their child’s stroller. Yvette actually invented it to hold her shopping bags, and many of us know that need when traveling. I don’t have photos of the hook in use yet, but the product’s site has excellent real-life photos to show you how handy it is.
In case you haven’t noticed a constant with me, packability, durability, and weight are make-it or break-it details for me.
As the image here shows, it folds to pack safely and easily in minimal space.
It’s made of durable plastic, weighs in at only 0.1oz yet it holds 14lbs.
Dimensions: 3” x 1.25” x 2.75”
Comes in black, white, green, red, blue, and purple.
$8.99 on the company website + $4 per order for shipping
$8.99 at Walmart.com, free shipping as I write this, sold by Smarter Hook’s company. (Search, then scroll to find each color)
The Smarter Hook is sold at True Value Hardware, a family of independent hardware retailers throughout the USA. If you don’t see it in your local shop, ask for it. It’s available for the clerk to order from the store’s warehouse.
You can also find it in Hospital gift shops.
And…the Smart Hook is designed and manufactured in the USA.
Note: I have not used one of these myself yet, and don’t typically recommend what I have not used. For the next week or two I am trusting the images and reviews as well as my discussion with the inventor.
Lunatec™ Self-Cleaning Washcloth
Hotels provide a washcloth. Hostels don’t. Either way, your friend might prefer a washcloth that can stretch behind his/her back to scrub back and shoulders. Who wouldn’t love a washcloth that exfoliates and scrubs well-traveled skin clean and shiny?
Lunatec’s official description states: “This is the ultimate travel washcloth because it’s self-cleaning, stays odor-free, dries in minutes, and has a light exfoliating texture that cleans away sunblock, sweat, and grime. It’s durable and ultra-lightweight. Best in the galaxy.”
My own words are pretty much the same. I love that the texture scrubs my skin with just a bit of pressure but doesn’t hurt my peeling sunburned skin when I use a lighter touch. I love that my face and body feel clean, that my skin doesn’t break out from cream-blocked pores.
The Lunatec Self-Cleaning Washcloth is 100% Nylon, 10″ x 12″ and has a loop to hang it on. I love the loop so I don’t have to put my washcloth on a surface I know has hosted other people’s body stuff. (I always carry a hook but many accommodations have a hook too.) At just 10 grams, its weight and the space it requires won’t make a discernible impact. Also, the hanging loop can wrap around the rolled-up washcloth for easy packing. (I just fold it though.)
Anyone who has tried to carry a cotton washcloth knows the issue with getting it dry if you shower before checkout. The Lunatec washcloth dries in 10 minutes. I have actually showered upon waking and been able to put it into my bag before I move on to my next location.
But the thing I love most about this washcloth is that with just a normal light pressure, I can feel it exfoliating my face, but not hurt my face even when it’s sunburned. Pressing just a bit harder, my arms, legs, and feet feel very clean with it. The texture nicely holds the soap’s lather or creaminess so I don’t have to roll my soap bar in it constantly. Yet, a quick run in the water and it’s clean and ready to wash the soap off of me.
I have two but since 2018 I am still using my first one (photo taken Oct 2021). I use it even when taking a travel break. It has been both hand-washed and washing-machine washed and it keeps holding up.
You can learn more and order it at lunatecgear.com.
$8.50 for a 2-pack, $17 for a 5-pack.
By the way, they’ve got an Odor-Free Dishcloth/Scrubber too. Same benefits. Great for camping, Airbnb stays, and hostels. Available at Amazon, too. (Affiliate link)
$8.50 for a 4-pack, $13.20 for the 6-pack.
STEAM CLIP™ — solving the wrinkles problem
The STEAM CLIP™ tagline is “Removing wrinkles one shower at a time.”
The STEAM CLIP accommodates all types of hotel hangers. With it, you get to hang your garments and use the shower’s steam to remove packing wrinkles. It enables steaming clothes on any hotel hanger, even those frustrating ball-top hangers that normally can’t be hung anywhere but the hotel closet — or those other odd-sized hangers. It holds up to 10 pounds.
Another benefit is that because of its unique design, you can bring it into a public toilet stall and hang it over the stall door to keep your jacket or purse off the floor in a restroom.
What else does this hook do for you? It’s brilliant designer Randy Blevins, a very nice man by the way, built in a few other handy features. It’s a bottle opener, a thread cutter, a stand for some smartphones, and it even has a ruler.
You can learn all about the STEAM CLIP™, contact Randy, and purchase it at SteamClipTravel.com. Please visit the site because Randy shows it more clearly than I can describe and see Steaming 101 there too.
$12.88 for one (10% off with sign-up at this time), less when you buy two, four, or ten. Ships internationally.
And… Made in the USA!
I interrupt this gift guide to show you a photo of my friend’s shower while I was there. You can see four of my favorite things in use. By carrying and using them, I don’t encroach on my host’s hooks or shelves. Also, when staying in shared accommodations I don’t hog the provided hooks or shelves.
You can see:
- My suction hook inside (no particular brand)
- My Lunatec™ Self-Cleaning Washcloth
- My Matador Shampoo Flatpak™ (recommend down the page)
- My Steam Clip
I took her up on a cotton towel so you don’t see my Matador NanoDry towel ($34.99) here.
HydraPak’s SpeedCup™ — handy takes-almost-no-space cup
This reusable lightweight cup is easy to hold, and smooshes / squashes / collapses so you can tuck it almost anywhere and always have a cup ready for a drink. You can also roll it up using that orange ring to keep it rolled.
This cup is so easy to toss into any day bag or shove into your pocket that it’s crazy not to have one handy. I do.
It holds 6.7 fl oz (200 ml), weighs just .4 oz (10 g, is made of welded TPU, and of course is BPA & PVC free.
Learn more and purchase the SpeedCup™ at hydrapak.com/products/speed-cup-200-ml.
2 cups for $11
This isn’t to carry water as your travel. Hydrapak makes a couple of flexible water carriers that I have used and recommend. More on them later in the gifts of the next price range.
A braided rubber clothesline
I don’t have any particular brand to tell you about first-hand as the one I use seems to be discontinued.
I recommend you only get one that is braided. This way you can tuck a corner of the garment in between the braiding and not need clothespins (aka pegs). Also if you choose one that is rubber, not string, it will stretch and won’t disintegrate during travel.
Choose one that has velcro on the ends for maximum usefulness. Hooks may be viable for hanging in a hotel/hostel room or a campground but have never worked for me. (You can also add a velcro loop to a hook.) Suction cups are useless; they won’t hold once weight is on the line.
- Several friends have picked one up in drugstores.
- Sea To Summit’s clothesline is $12, with a unique design. I tend to love Sea To Summit but I would discard the case as extra weight.
- Rick Steve’s has this travel clothesline, which is similar to mine and looks promising.
While staying in hostel dorm bunk beds or other shared rooms, it is sometimes helpful to use the clothesline between bunkbed posts and create a curtain by hanging a sheet, towel, or clothes. I’ve enjoyed having this makeshift privacy shield.
Mineral Salt Deodorant Stone/Stick
I loved discovering this sweaty-odor solution!
With common solid, roll-on, or spray deodorants I have found that on warm days I would not want to wear my shirt/top a second day. The armpits of the garment simply smelled too much to wear a second time. When I started using a salt deodorant stick, I realized that the standard stick deodorant was actually the thing making my clothing smell, even when I didn’t perspire all day! Washing clothing after one wear is ok at home but doesn’t cut it when traveling, whether for a week or a year. Many of us travelers have all come across a fellow traveler, especially a budget traveler, who well… smelled.
For $4 or so, you can do your friend a huge favor and gift them a salt stick so they don’t become that person given a wide berth on a tour or at a meal due to body odor.
Another benefit of a mineral salt stone is that when used correctly, it’s very long-lasting. Rather than needing to purchase a typical deodorant stick every month or so while on the road, I found that even a supposedly 1-month “Travel Stone” lasted for a year! (See Making a Crystal Deodorant Stick last in this post to learn how.)
Purchasing tip: try to get a stick that has a soft plastic case rather than a hard one, as this can protect the stick from shattering.
You can see my 2016 post about this. It discusses Crystal and Sprouts brands.
- This is (as far as I know) the original company to sell salt sticks. They’ve since created other products that I don’t know. Here’s the one I used and recommended. However, they changed the base of the Travel Stone from soft to hard plastic so I worry about the slight drops that the soft base absorbed for me. That said, I haven’t tried the 2018 base.
- I have since switched to and can recommend, Sprout’s own brand of pure salt deodorant (2.4 oz flat or 4.25 round).
I started a 4.25 oz stick in February 2020 and as of December 2022, it still has plenty of use left, despite a hard drop that broke off a section of it.
- There are some other brands as well, that I don’t know first-hand. One is Lafe’s. (I just discovered it will be at the Natural Products West so I hope to meet them.)
ChicoBag Bottle Sling rePETe — don’t hold your water bottle all day
No need to carry a slippery 1-liter plastic bottle in hot sweaty hands. I was so happy when (at Natural Products Expo West) I found ChicoBag and found this sling. That 12oz to 64oz (or smaller) plastic bottles of water, now went over my shoulder. Even better, both the HydraPac Stash™ and Stow™ 1-liter bottles fit. (This is their product shot, not my own.) The tuck-in-when-not-using pocket also came in handy while being used because I could carry cash or napkins or stuff in it. And now there are handy pockets on the strap as well.
Made with 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bottles. Machine washable and dries quickly.
Sold in sporting stores or at Chicobag.com. Choose Products->Outdoor and Travel to find it because they change their URLS often.
You can also purchase it from the ChicoBag store on Amazon (Affiliate link).
Blacklight UV Flashlight
The very word bedbugs can give any traveler the creeps. Don’t think they’re a hostel thing; they were reintroduced to the USA in a 5-star luxury hotel in NYC! There are ways to look for signs and I recommend everyone check their beds, luggage areas, and everywhere in their room. Turns out that a simple blacklight can help! (I’ll do an article on this later.) Basically, blacklight flashlights enable you to bedbugs when the blacklight shines on them. Fortunately, though, I haven’t seen bedbugs in person, so this is a recommendation exception; I’m unable to say I know this first-hand.
The blacklight will also show you pet urine, body fluid, scorpions, and more.
So far the best size I have found is this 5″ long, Rayovac LED flashlight at Walmart for $9.92 in 2021. It uses 3 AAA batteries. I’d prefer not to rely on batteries but have not found a rechargeable blacklight yet.)
Note: I am not recommending this particular brand or model yet.
This article, Does UV Light Detect and Kill Bed Bugs?, at DustMiteBuster.com explains this and goes into much more detail:
UV light is visible in blue or ultraviolet color to the naked eye. As you direct the UV light through a flashlight or wand on the bed bugs, the bed bugs absorb it and appear to be blue or ultraviolet. Bed bugs’ shell contains phosphor, just like many insects do. It’s the reason that makes bed bugs ‘glow’ under UV light.
Another useful article, at Pestivate.com.
ChicoBag Sling rePETe
Taking a towel and maybe a change of clothes to the beach or pool or shower? Stopping for groceries or snacks while out on the town? Bringing gifts to a host? Taking your laptop or tablet out of your room? For all these things and many more, you’ll find the ChicoBag Sling does the job perfectly. It handles 40 pounds so it’s really got you covered! Yet it takes up almost no space and weight when not in use. It stuffs into its own pouch, which, by the way, I find handy as an inside money or phone pocket. And you can machine or hand-wash it and it’ll dry quickly.
I have one of these in my handbag daily in my home life, and it’s with me every time I go out while traveling. In fact, it often some up/downstairs or down the hall with me at any hotel/hostel. It’s one of my favorite gifts to give. I have found it to be very durable as I stress it with groceries or use it as an extra day-bag. Hopefully, it continues to be made this well.
The ChicoBag Sling just gets onto this page under the wire as it is $14.99 before any sale/discount and before shipping. (But Dec 2022 it’s now $16.99.)
It’s at ChicoBag.com under Shopping Bags and Totes. (You might like that it’s made 100% from recycled materials too.)
PS: Their face mask ($12.99) is another go-to for me – where masks are mandated. There’s always one in my handbag. This link is to their 3-layer mask although I prefer the lighter original 2-layer mask. With both, I tie a knot in the ends of the elastic to prevent loss of the slider.
Matador Soap Case — a soap bag
When trying to pack minimally, to avoid dragging around extra or large luggage, a little thing like a hard soap container can be frustrating. Your soap shrinks (as my Dove soap shows here) but the case doesn’t so you have wasted space. Your soap gets wet and mushy, so you have to wrap it in a plastic bag. Dry shampoo and conditioner bars also introduce the same how-to-carry issue.
This unique soap case is a fabric that lets moisture out to dry your soap but doesn’t leak mush all over your suitcase. You fold down the end so it takes on the size of only the soap bar.
It’s lighter than a box and it doesn’t crack as a plastic box can.
Matador FlatPak™ Soap Case — $13.99. You may see a 2-pack for less per soap case.
Matador FlatPak Toiletry Bottle — a bag to carry liquids
Shampoo and Conditioner are a whole other issue when traveling. Not just for packing minimally and not wanting the wasted space of a partly-empty shampoo bottle, but because of the 3-ounce rule.
This unique liquids bag lets you carry 3 ounces of shampoo (90 ml) — but when you’ve used up that shampoo, it’s flat and extremely minimal in your luggage.
I can’t say I don’t worry about leakage, because I always worry about liquids, but in my years of using one, it has not leaked. I’m impressed by the design and see it is well done.
Matador FlatPak™ Toiletry Bottle — $13.99 for a single pack. They have a 3-pack for $36.99 (down from the 2021 price).
Nite Ize — portable stand for smartphones
The Nite Ize Quickstand® is the size of a credit card and about as light. It’s one piece, made of plastic and perhaps aluminum. It packs completely flat, then a few pieces pop up to make it a very useful device stand.
Why let friends lie their phone flat on a table or kitchen counter or try to prop it up when this handy item provides a good viewing angle?
You never know where you’ll see Nite Ize items sold… 7-11, in auto supply stores… Or you can purchase on the company site of course.
QuikStand® Portable Device Stand, part # QSD-01-R7
Matias MiniRizer — portable stand for smartphone
Matias is known for the iRizer Adjustable Laptop Stand. Then they created this mini version for smartphones. The Mini Rizer consists of 2 pieces of black plastic that come in a convenient sleeve. You can insert the bottom piece into a slot providing 40° or 50° viewing. (My older model is 50°, 25°, and 20° and is in these pictures.)
I may have had my original MiniRizer for 15 years. About 8 years into my travels, I sat down hard on a soft couch. The plastic broke but a couple of strips of plastic that’s thinner than a credit card and some glue splinted it. It continues well.
Matias Mini Rizer, $14.95
US Shipping, $5. (It actually costs him double that.)
Where to purchase in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Australia, or New Zealand
The Gift of Clean – Earth Breeze laundry detergent sheets
If your travel friend is not sending laundry out at a 5-star hotel or on just a short trip carrying fresh shirts/dresses for each day, clothes cleaning will be welcome.
Liquid, laundry packets that may puncture, and messy bars, however, won’t be so the introduction of laundry detergent in the form and space of pieces of paper is a game-changer for many a traveler.
I’ve placed Earth Breeze Liquidless Eco Sheets™ under the $15-$30 range because a single 60-load pack of sheets is $20. However, if you buy 2, it’s $12. So please jump over to that page next to see my full words about them (or jump to the Earth Breeze site to purchase).
For Shy Friends
If your friend is shy but wants to travel…
Vanessa Van Edwards, the author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, this suggested gift, dealt with shyness and decided to learn to decode people in order to understand them and overcome this.
The Kindle version, an Audible Audiobook is only $6.99 and enables anyone to carry it while traveling. (The Hardcover is $28.) (This is an affiliate link.)
Vanessa also has a blog that’s great to read. For example, here’s an article and video on How to read people.
point it® – the picture dictionary
In 2012, a friend saw this and gave it to me. A picture breaks through 1,000 languages. So, when you seek an item and don’t know the word you just have to find it in this convenient divided-sections, color book. The medical pages including skeletal and internal organs pages might just save your life.
For those who don’t wish to carry a book, there’s also an app for iPhone and Android.
1/4″ larger than an American passport, a bit over 1/8″ thick. Officially 3.5″ x 5″
point it official website — with a look inside at some of the pages but it doesn’t appear to be for sale there.
List price: €7.90
Available at Amazon (this is an affiliate link) among other resellers.
I thought of recommending a refillable perfume sprayer and I have traveled with one at times. However, I found that because switching perfumes doesn’t work, this is only good for short-term travel. I’ll add one eventually.