Gift Ideas for Graduates Taking a Gap Year

The growing gap year trend has given us the opportunity to get creative (and in my opinion have more fun) with graduation gift giving. In case you are struggling with what to give a recent grad who is planning a gap year next fall, here are a few ideas based on my years of leading gap year and study abroad programs.

Portable Charger

A portable charger can be an especially practical gift if your graduate is planning any international travel during their gap year. My portable charger has been a lifesaver when relying on my phone for navigation while traveling, and useful for keeping my camera charged when in areas without easy or reliable power connection.

UV Water Purifier and Sturdy Reusable Water Bottle

Traveling in countries without easy access to clean drinking water often means lots and lots of plastic water bottles being used. A UV water purifier allows gappers to have access to clean drinking water, keeping them hydrated, saving them money, and minimizing the amount of waste they leave behind. UV water purifiers are also an obvious choice for gappers planning an outdoor adventure where they will need to rely on water from streams and rivers for drinking. Some UV filters come with a water bottle. I recommend a sturdy 1 liter water bottle such as a Nalgene. 

Bamboo Utensil Set

Gap year students often find themselves on the go. A bamboo utensil set is ideal for a gapper planning to travel or backpack. A reusable utensil set will keep your gapper from relying on single-use disposable plastic ware, reducing the amount of waste they generate during their travels.

Guide Books

Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are always good options for gappers planning to explore several locations in one region or country. If your gapper plans to spend most of their time in one city, check out Citix60 Guides for urban artsy gappers, or City Cycling Guides for those keen to explore their home away from home on two wheels.

Stuff Sacks & Reusable Containers

Whether planning an international trip or outdoor adventure in the United States, gappers need to pack all of their belongings for their trip into one suitcase or backpack. To stay organized I carry 3 different sized stuff sacks to keep track of smaller items, with the largest sack doubling as a laundry bag. I find that stuff sacks can be more versatile and save more space compared to packing cubes. A reusable tote bag that easily folds up can be used when shopping to avoid using plastic bags.

Reusable bags, like the Blue Avocado re-zip storage bags are an excellent alternative to disposable zip-lock bags. The medium re-zip bag is TSA approved for packing liquids in a carry-on bag.

While we’re on the theme of reusables… Reusable toiletry bottles are environmentally friendly and a wise investment for budget conscious travelers, like myself. For contact lens wearers Nalgene makes a small reusable drop-dispenser.

Combo Lock

I use a TSA approved combo lock to keep my valuables secured inside my backpack. Whether I am traveling by train, bus, or leaving my valuables in the hotel or hostel for the day I have found locking my backpack zippers with a small combo lock to be a good method of keeping my valuables secure. Combo locks can also be useful for hostel dorms that provide a locker, but expect you to provide your own lock.

Quick Dry Travel Towel

I have a quick dry travel towel that has been nearly everywhere with me. Whether your grad is planning a multi-country trip, an outdoor adventure, or will be staying in one place with limited access to laundry facilities a quick dry towel is a practical gift that they (and their fellow gappers) will appreciate. I also travel with a travel sized container of Dr. Bronners soap which can be used to shower, do laundry, and even brush your teeth!

Small, Lightweight Journal

Any student embarking on a gap year will want a journal where they can reflect on their experiences, make notes about details of places they've visited, or write down important information.  There are loads of beautiful hard cover journals that you might be tempted to gift a graduate embarking on a gap year, but a small light weight journal, such as a mole skin notebook, is really ideal for a gapper on the move.

Cash or Gift Cards

It may seem impersonal, but gap years are rarely inexpensive and a graduate who is helping finance at least a portion of their gap year independently would appreciate any financial assistance they can get. Gift cards could help pay for big ticket items like a backpack or suitcase. Cash that can be used to pay for meals, a Euro rail pass, or go towards an emergency cash fund would make for a practical gift that meets an important need. If you want to get creative you could visit your bank to see if they can order the local currency of the country to which your gapper plans to travel.

Packing for your Gap Year

Gap Year 101