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The best gifts for travelers

Buying a gift for a frequent flyer? Here's what they need -- and what they'll love.

This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season's best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

Whether it's for business or pleasure, more people are traveling than ever. And if you're buying a gift for someone who's a frequent denizen of airports, train stations or rental car lots, there's a wide assortment of things you can get to make their life on the road easier. Check out our list of must-have products for road warriors.

A noise-canceling headphone

Whether you're listening to audio on a phone, tablet or computer, you'll love the feeling of freedom ($55 at Amazon) that wireless headphones deliver -- especially if you're in the cramped confines of a coach-class airline seat. To keep out the drone of an airline's engine noise, you'll want either noise-isolating in-ear headphones (with a tight fit in your ear canal) or a full-size around-the-ear model. Preferences vary, but the in-ear models are smaller and travel better -- though the bigger ones can be plugged into in-flight entertainment systems, if that's your thing.

Read More: Best Laptop Backpacks for Travel in 2019

Sarah Tew/CNET

Long rumored and finally here, Apple's first foray into the world of active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones is undeniably impressive. Unlike standard AirPods, these press into your ear canal to isolate the listener from external noise, but they deliver an impressive noise-canceling effect, too. And unlike many true wireless headphones, they are excellent for talking on the phone. Read our AirPods Pro first impressions.


Maybe you own an Android phone. Or maybe you actually prefer headphones that aren't white. Either way, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are worth checking out. These headphones were doing nearly everything the AirPods Pro were months before Apple brought them to market -- and they actually sound better than the AirPods, too. Even better, they cost about $20 less. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Before Sony went true wireless, it perfected its active noise cancellation game with the WH-1000XM3 over-the-ear headphones. The Bose models still have a lot going for them, but these Sonys win by a nose on most measures, including their superior comfort during long flights. Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

A wireless speaker

If you want to listen to some tunes (or podcasts) while you're in your hotel room, don't settle for your phone's tiny built-in speaker. Plenty of wireless speakers are now available for as little as $30 to $50 -- and many are even water-resistant.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This tiny Bluetooth speaker is a great travel companion because it's small, thin and has great battery life. It's waterproof too, and the built-in carabiner means you can clip it anywhere. It also comes in about a dozen colors, so you can seek out a design that matches your personality (or that of the person you're gifting it to). Read our JBL Clip 3 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

If you want sound that's beefier, the UE Wonderboom is a great choice. This speaker is about the size of a softball, but delivers a lot of oomph for its size. It's also fully waterproof -- in fact, it floats. See our Wonderboom 2 first take.

A bag to put it all in

Before we talk about the stuff you'll want to carry on your travels, let's figure out a place to put it all. I like a medium-sized backpack -- one that counts as a "personal item" for air travel and can fit under the seat.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We've checked out a lot of laptop bags and backpacks, but this Incase model is our current favorite. It can store laptops up to 15.4 inches, and it's got pockets galore for everything you'll need on the plane and beyond.

Originally published July 26, 2018.

Update, Oct. 31, 2019: Adds new product picks.

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