Christmas might be less than a week away, but it's certainly not too late to find an ideal gift for the number-one traveler in your life. After all, my husband, Dan, and I haven't even begun our holiday shopping yet!
Of course, I'm not the only person with travel gifts on the brain. Jetpac, for instance, has offered an engaging list of 50 travel gadget gifts , including Oru foldable kayaks, Patagonia down sweaters, Tentsile hammock tents, and airline gift cards. In addition, my Moon colleague Jamie Jensen recently suggested a list of 10 top gifts for road-trippers , such as satellite radio, travel journals, picnic baskets, and the ever-wonderful book Blue Highways: A Journey into America. There's even an RV holiday gift guide  on Rand McNally's “Best of the Road” website that includes e-readers, insect repellent, and waterproof cameras.
So, in an effort to offer my own first-ever holiday travel gift guide, I've spent the last few months road-testing sample products, perusing review copies of various books, and assembling my top picks. Of course, everything that I've chosen to include in my five-part holiday travel gift guide would make a great present in any season, so even if you're finished with your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping this year, feel free to keep these ideas in mind for another special occasion. Your favorite traveler might just thank you for it!
So, without further ado, here's the first category – gifts meant to inspire the travelers in your life:
Crap Souvenirs  (New York: Perigee, 2012, $10.95) – Whether you're exploring America or venturing around the globe, part of the fun of travel is encountering the kitschy souvenirs that are meant to memorialize your adventures. So, in the tradition of his popular Signspotting series, author Doug Lansky  offers a humorous look at some of the world's most unusual, unfortunate, and unforgettable souvenirs, including a tacky dolphin clock from Argentina, crude phallus-shaped salt shakers from Holland, and a creepy cane toad bowtie from Australia. Several American souvenirs even made the cut, from canned San Francisco fog to a Mount Rushmore table lamp to a Texas-shaped fly-swatter. This small book features about 150 images of so-called “crap souvenirs,” all of which are accompanied by often amusing captions, and while it might inspire your favorite traveler to venture somewhere new, it might also compel him or her to take photos of the laughable tchotchkes encountered while traveling and share the resulting snapshots on the Crap Souvenirs website for other travelers to enjoy. At least that's better than actually owning some of these items!
Closer to the Ground: An outdoor family's year on the water, in the woods, and at the table  (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012, $29.95) – An outdoor clothing company for the past four decades, Patagonia has also been, as I recently discovered, in the book business since 2007. At the moment, Patagonia Books offers a dozen titles about travel and the outdoors, including Closer to the Ground. In this compelling, profoundly personal memoir, author Dylan Tomine chronicles his family's life in the Pacific Northwest, on an island just outside Seattle, over the course of four seasons – during which he, his wife, and their two small children hunt for chanterelles, fish for salmon, dig for clams, chop firewood, grow massive amounts of mouth-watering vegetables, and converge at the table to enjoy the fruits of their labors. During this particular year-in-the-life, Dylan's clan faces challenging seasonal conditions, from storms to tomato blight, and ultimately learns how living close to the earth can enrich the life of every person in the family.
Although you might wonder why such a book would appeal to travelers, I should stress that, in addition to providing a nonjudgmental but still inspiring case for living off the land and poignantly demonstrating how he's shared his love of nature with his children, Dylan, a former city-dweller, also paints a very vivid portrait of the magnificent Pacific Northwest – and the abundant natural wonders that await anglers, hunters, foragers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Beautifully illustrated by Nikki McClure, it's also an exceedingly entertaining read, as Dylan Tomine, a former fly-fishing guide, is one funny guy, with a decidedly interesting outlook on life, obvious gratitude for the wonders of the natural world, and a keen openness to adventure. It's worth noting that his kids are pretty funny, too – in fact, their antics had me chuckling aloud on more than a few occasions – and admittedly, Dylan's constant talk of fresh fish and crabs, enormous clams, bountiful produce, and other regional vittles made me incredibly hungry, from the first page to the last.
The Voyage of the Cormorant  (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012, $24.95) – In another curious selection from Patagonia, author Christian Beamish, a California native and former associate editor of The Surfer's Journal, recalls the life-changing experience of building the Cormorant, a small, open sailing boat, in his garage and subsequently embarking on a challenging quest to find good surfing waves along the Pacific Coast of Baja California. As with Closer to the Ground, this memoir is deeply personal, revealing not only the author's passions and interests, but his shortcomings as well, including bouts with depression, miscalculations of dangerous currents, and missed opportunities to restock his dwindling supplies. During the course of Christian's low-tech, self-reliant exploration from California to Mexico, he meets some engaging, often exceedingly generous people, explores some stunning coves, catches some wonderful waves, and encounters an inordinate amount of kelp. With helpful maps of the voyage and full-color illustrations by Ken Perkins, this refreshingly honest tale has stayed with me since I first read it – and to say that I'm impressed by Christian's seemingly ill-advised adventure is a bit of an understatement. It must have been one stupendous voyage, and despite varied dangers, from drug traffickers to impossible crossings, the author definitely seems to have benefited from the journey. “There was enough ocean out there to disappear in completely, and never a trace be found,” he writes. “I had made it, of course, as if guided the whole way. My grand experiment – my vision – showed me the limits, but more important, the great possibility of a small boat and the vast and changeable sea.”
Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs  (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012, $79.95) – Considered the magnum opus of the greatest American climber of the past century, this sizable guidebook explores “the majesty, allure, and history of a cherished selection of peaks and routes in North America,” according to Fred Beckey himself. “The choices range among ascents that have given me,” he writes, “a special sense of satisfaction and accomplishment; climbs with aesthetic appeal, climbs with a range of difficulty, and what the pundits have touted.” Here, you'll encounter the author's detailed knowledge of various mountains (including famous peaks like Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount McKinley, and Mount Whitney) in nine geographical regions (that is, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies, the High Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, the Southwest Desert, the Appalachian Mountains, and Mexico). Besides historical, geographical, and technical information about the varied peaks and routes, he also offers safety advice and anecdotes of his greatest climbs. Not surprisingly, the book is filled with a slew of photographs, maps, and hand-drawn climbing topos – making it a wonderful book for weekend climbers, die-hard mountaineers, and even curious travelers like me, who long (but have yet) to climb mountains of their own.
Moon travel guides  (prices vary) – Of course, the best way to inspire your favorite traveler is to give him or her one (or more) of the numerous guidebooks offered by Moon, including domestic and international titles like Bree Kessler's Moon Big Island of Hawai'i , Tom Stienstra's Moon California Camping , Jamie Jensen's Road Trip USA , Andrew Hempstead's Moon Spotlight Auckland , and Victoria Day-Wilson's Moon Living Abroad in Belize . Of course, plenty of eBook versions of Moon's guides, including mine, are also available.
I should point out, of course, that while Crap Souvenirs and all Moon travel guides are available as paperbacks, the three Patagonia titles listed above are hardcover books – though you can always opt for the cheaper eBook versions, which are available through Patagonia.com, Amazon.com, BN.com, and iTunes and compatible for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and most other devices. “Not only do eBooks have less environmental impact, they are also more portable,” according to Karla Olson, director of Patagonia Books. “We know that our audience is often on the move, and the convenience of having these titles available as eBooks will enhance their reading experience.” The same can be said of Moon's eBooks.
End-of-the-Year Guide Giveaway
In celebration of the holidays, I'm presenting an end-of-the-year guide giveaway, featuring a prize package that includes signed copies of all four of my Moon travel guides (Moon New Orleans , Moon Michigan , Moon Florida Keys , and Moon Baja RV Camping ), a self-guided audio ghost tour of the French Quarter  (produced by Audio Ambler, a subsidiary of my travel company, Wandering Soles), and one of 12 different eBooks or hardcover versions published by Patagonia Books . To enter the contest, simply answer the following question: “What's the best holiday gift you've ever received?” Let me know, too, which Patagonia title you'd most like to read. You can do this by leaving a comment below this post or emailing me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com by 11:59 p.m. PST on December 31, 2012. The winner will be chosen at random from all entries received – and announced on this blog in early January.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next installment  of my holiday travel gift guide – and naturally, I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season – wherever you happen to be!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook  and Twitter .
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo / Text © 2012 Laura Martone