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The best travel gifts for 2020

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

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. From headphones to a lightweight, collapsible water bottle to a comfy travel pillow, these travel essentials will make their journey more stress-free. Check out our list of the best travel gifts for road warriors and business travelers below.

And if you're looking for some travel hacks to make their journey smoother, be sure to read our best travel tips that we swear by. You'll learn how to pack like a pro -- and don't forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 

A noise-canceling headphone

Whether you're listening to audio on a phone, tablet or computer, you'll love the feeling of freedom 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. All in all, they make for perfect travel gifts for men, women, kids and just about anyone.

Read more: Best laptop backpacks for travel

Sarah Tew/CNET

Long rumored and finally here, Apple's first foray into the world of active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones is undeniably impressive, and it should be one of the essentials among travel gadgets. 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.

Sony

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-canceling 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. And they're perfect for in-flight entertainment if the person next to you just wants a good night's sleep. 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, lightweight, thin and has great battery life. It's waterproof too, and the built-in carabiner means you can clip it anywhere you're travelling. 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 gift. 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. It's the perfect gift to buy for the audio-loving traveler in your life. See our Wonderboom 2 first take.

A water bottle

Water bottles are a must-have for globe-trotters, especially on long flights, which can leave you incredibly dehydrated. Plenty of alternatives to single-use plastic bottles are available, from the standard Hydro Flask bottle to an ultra-packable collapsible bottle -- but the more lightweight, the better. 

Platypus

This collapsible water bottle (or, really, plastic pouch) from Platypus holds two liters of liquids (that's about how much water you should drink each day, especially if you're active) and since it's plastic, it weighs only 1.3 ounces when empty.

It's the perfect collapsible bottle for travelers, campers and anyone who's tight on storage space. This Platy comes with a screw-on top by default, but you can always pair the spout with different Platypus soft bottle caps and straws.

A pillow to rest your head

Nothing is worse than a bobbing head that slides onto your neighbor's shoulder. Packing a travel pillow or neck pillow will keep you comfortable during your trip, particularly if you're intent on getting a decent night's sleep.

Amazon

We're big fans of the Trtle travel pillow, which really looks more like a scarf and is amazing for neck support. It's lightweight, takes up very little packing space and will keep you sleeping upright so that you don't nod off onto the person next to you. Pro tip: You can cover your mouth with the part of the fleece that's supposed to go under your chin -- so no one sees your gaping or drooling mouth when you're asleep.

A backpack 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-size travel backpack -- since a backpack 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 backpack is our current favorite and is perfect for travel essentials. Smaller than a suitcase or carry-on luggage yet still spacious, this lightweight backpack can store laptops up to 15.4 inches, and it's got pockets galore to pack your water bottle, neck pillow, travel pillow, credit cards, and pretty much everything you'll need on the plane and beyond that you don't want to stuff in your luggage.

Originally published July 26, 2018.

Update, Jan. 11, 2020: Adds new product picks.

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