15 Travel Bloggers Share The Worst Gifts They Have Ever Received

Written by: Lara
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With the holiday season around the corner, we’ve asked 15 seasoned travel bloggers to share their worst gifts ever received, so you will know what NOT to buy. From questionable souvenirs to misguided attempts at cultural immersion, these travel enthusiasts have seen it all when it comes to bad gifts.

Now, we all know that gift-giving can be a tricky business, one gift may be great for a backpacker and terrible for a luxury traveler. But we hope that by learning from these bloggers’ experiences, you’ll be armed with a plethora of knowledge to find better, more thoughtful gifts for your loved ones who are always on the move. This is why we’ve also asked them to share a way to improve the gift.

Are you stressed out and worried you might buy a bad gift too?

Let us help you become the greatest giver on the block with these posts!

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Don’t forget to save these bad gifts on Pinterest!

The 15 worst gifts for travelers with a photo of sad smiles in the background

Impractical gifts

The first type of bad gifts on this list are impractical gifts. They may sound awesome, and look really cool and beautiful, but they’re plain useless when it comes to the travel style of the recipient.

#1 Travel jewelry organizer

By Lisa Garrett of Waves and Cobblestones

We were preparing for a trip to France to see Avignon, Lyon, and of course, to visit our favorite iconic Paris attractions.  I had been on a real earring-wearing kick, so my husband surprised me with a travel jewelry organizer for our trip.

What made it a bad gift?

The problem was that this organizer had a flat insert with a central grid of holes for earrings.  That would have been perfect for people who favor stud earrings.  However, I’m partial to dangly chandelier earrings with hooks.  And unfortunately, the hooked earrings couldn’t fit in the organizer.  The angles just wouldn’t work!

I got creative and punched my own holes into the insert, close enough to the edges so that the earrings could be attached to the insert.  It no longer looks as classy, but it gets the job done.

What tip would give the giver?

More recently, I’ve found that a travel medicine container works perfectly for my earrings. Plus it takes up barely any space!

If I were more of a jewelry girl, I would have preferred this hanging jewelry organizer with compartments large enough to fit my dangly earrings and any other accessories I wanted to bring on my trip!

A travel jewelry hanger
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#2 Oversized beach towel

By Callie Flack from Counting Our Footsteps 

About a year ago my Grandma got my partner and me a pair of HUGE beach towels. We had just announced that we would be leaving to go backpacking for a year through Central and South America and this was her gift to us for the trip.

A set of beach towels
Large beach towels

What made it a bad gift?

As much as we appreciated the gesture, I am not exaggerating when I say that these towels would have taken up half the space in our backpacks! When we were planning our packing list for our trip, we had of course thought of towels. We were, however, thinking more along the lines of lightweight microfibre towels. I would never have dreamed of buying anything so big and bulky for backpacking.

Of course, we were super thankful when she gave them to us but we knew straight away we had to come up with a game plan to leave these behind without hurting her feelings. We decided to plan a couple of days out near home and use the towels. Then we made sure to show her photos of us using them, so that way she knew they were appreciated. 

It goes without saying that they were then stored away in boxes when we left for your trip and are unlikely to be used again until we settle down one day. A very kind gift, just totally not fit for purpose.

#3 Translator device that requires cell phone service or Wi-Fi

By Angie Kunze from We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

The worst travel gift I ever received was a foreign language translation device. While a great concept and a helpful tool for on-the-spot translation as well as learning a travel language as you go, some of these devices have a flaw. This thoughtful and well-intentioned Christmas gift from my mother-in-law was basically useless.

Here’s the problem: this particular device requires either cell phone service or a Wi-Fi signal. Most of the time when we travel abroad, we don’t have cell phone service, and Wi-Fi is going to be hit-and-miss. There are foreign language translation devices that do not require cell phone service or Wi-Fi, which would be a better alternative.

What gift would you have advised the giver to buy?

This language translator device from Vasco has good reviews, includes 108 languages, and has a SIM card with built-in Wi-Fi. So as not to disappoint the giver, I simply thanked her for the gift. I haven’t opened the box since that Christmas Day, but my intention is to pass it on to someone who travels to foreign lands with a working cell phone!

Or have a look at these 25 awesome gifts for people who love learning languages!

A language translator device from VASCO
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#4 Passport cover

A few years ago, when I was getting ready to travel outside of the US for the first time to study abroad, my mom got me a super cute green Kate Spade passport cover.

The color was perfect since I was going to be spending my summer studying in Dublin, Ireland, and I couldn’t wait to use it when I used my passport for the very first time!

What made it a bad gift?

When the big day arrived, my mom took me to the airport to meet up with my classmates before flying to Dublin. I went to check in, and when I presented my passport to the agent, it wouldn’t scan. The bulkiness of the cover prevented the passport from fitting in the scanner, so I had to remove it.

Years later, I’ve used that same passport cover on nearly every international trip I’ve taken, and I’ve had to remove the cover every single time. Sometimes it’s so the scanner will work properly, and others it’s so they can place the security clearance sticker on the back cover.

Although removing the cover every time I travel is annoying, there are still pros to having one. It protects the passport from being damaged, and there’s a pocket on the inside that’s great for keeping other important documents that you don’t want to lose while traveling.

What gift would you have advised the giver to buy?

A great alternative to a traditional passport cover is a wallet that’s big enough to hold your passport on travel days but that can be used as a regular wallet on other days. Another option is a dedicated pouch for your passport and other travel documents that you can easily open when you need to present your passport and that can provide a place for safekeeping when it’s not in use.

A green passport holder and wallet
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#5 Binoculars

By Veronika From Travel Geekery

Ever since I started traveling light and stopped hauling the biggest possible suitcase around the world, I’ve had to become more mindful about what to pack. And guess who’s been innocently boycotting my quest with his gifts? My beloved father. 

The most recent gift I received from him was a pair of binoculars for my birthday. He absolutely means well and wants me to be able to see into the distance when getting to a mountain peak and looking around. The trouble is, never have I ever thought during my travels – oh boy, I wish I had binoculars with me! Once the thought crossed my mind when watching sloths in Costa Rica, mostly hiding high in the crowns of trees. But then again, even then I wouldn’t have voluntarily carried a pair of binoculars with me to the other side of the world.

I’m of a rather petite build, and carrying too much stuff weighs on me, makes me tired, achy, and grumpy. So I’m definitely not taking the binoculars on any of my upcoming trips.

My father did put a lot of thought into the gift and gave it to me with such anticipation that I simply had to act enthusiastic. However, I hope he forgets about it soon and stops asking me when I’m taking it on a trip with me. So far I got away with the explanation that I couldn’t carry much stuff.

When it comes to these particular binoculars, they seem of high quality and are of the more compact type. Still, they weigh more than I’m willing to carry. There’s a reason I now take photos only on my mobile phone – I didn’t want to carry heavy cameras around anymore!

I’m keeping the binoculars for now. Perhaps I’ll find a local event where I could use them, like a bird-watching session or something. That way, I’ll be able to use them while not having to take them anywhere abroad. 🙂

What tip would give the giver?

If my father ever reads this – he should know I’m the happiest if I receive an edible gift or if we have an experience together. I can always buy my own travel gifts!

A photo of binoculars
Binoculars are quite bulky to carry

Mismatched preferences, needs, or values

The second category of worst gifts are gifts that don’t take the recipient into consideration. Again, they’re given with the best intentions, but not with the recipient in mind.

#6 Luggage scale

By Jess from Uprooted Traveler

When I quit my corporate attorney job to be a full-time travel blogger, friends, and family had all kinds of reactions, most of which were incredibly supportive. In fact, a friend even went out of her way to buy me something to use on my future adventures—a luggage scale.

The only problem? I have never used, and likely will never use a luggage scale in my life. My husband and I travel full-time in our RV, where obviously, it isn’t necessary to worry about how much my luggage weighs. And when we do travel internationally, we’re both avid one-bag travelers and carry everything we need in each of our Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L. We absolutely love having carry-on only backpacks, where we don’t have to worry about checking our bag—or how much it weighs.

I so appreciated her kind gesture and thankfully, the luggage scale was inexpensive. So, I sincerely thanked her for the gift and donated it to a local charity so that another traveler in need could use it.

What tip would give the giver?

If you aren’t sure whether the gift you’re getting someone will be used by them, whether it’s due to their travel style or what size of clothes they wear, it’s better to go for something a bit more generic, like a gift card or celebratory bottle of bubbly (alcoholic or not!). Either way, your gesture will be appreciated—but your gift will have a lot better chance of actually being used if the gift isn’t overly specific!

Woman wearing a backpack

#7 Suitcase

By Trysta from This Travel Dream

On my birthday, my best friend surprised me with a travel gift that left me bewildered: a hardshell suitcase. While the intention was thoughtful, this particular gift was the worst travel gift I had ever received. Let me explain why:

It was my birthday, and my friend knew about my upcoming trip to Europe. With excitement, she presented me with a brand new hardshell suitcase. The suitcase was sturdy and seemed durable, but a few significant drawbacks made it unsuitable for my needs.

One of the main reasons this gift fell short was the suitcase’s weight. Traveling involves adhering to luggage weight restrictions, and every pound counts. Unfortunately, the suitcase my friend gifted me weighed 13 pounds when empty. Considering the maximum weight limit of 50 pounds for checked baggage, I knew this heavy suitcase would consume a significant portion of my allowed weight. It simply did not align with my needs for a lightweight and spacious travel companion.

Another factor that made this suitcase less than ideal was the color. Much like fashion choices, suitcases are subjective and depend on individual tastes. Unfortunately, the suitcase my friend gave me was a darker shade of pink, while I prefer lighter shades.

Ultimately, I decided to regift the suitcase to someone else who might have found it more suitable (no pun intended). While I needed a suitcase for my trip, this type didn’t match my requirements or style preferences.

What gift would you have advised the giver to buy?

In hindsight, receiving cash or a gift card would have been a better gift than a suitcase. Such options would have allowed me to choose a suitcase that better fits my preferences, needs, and travel plans. As an avid traveler, I understand the value of personalized choices regarding travel gear, and the flexibility offered by cash or gift cards would have been much appreciated.

Cash
Cash may have been a better gift in this case

#8 Backpack

By Victoria Heinz from Guide Your Travel

A backpack needs to be high-quality and functional, especially if you’re planning a longer trip with exciting hikes. When you’re out and about traveling, having a functional backpack is an absolute game-changer. It’s all about convenience and organization! With different compartments, pockets, and straps, you can stash and access your stuff like a pro. 

The backpack that was gifted to me for my birthday by a very kind friend was beautiful and very aesthetically pleasing, so I was immediately excited that my travel outfits would look great from now on. However, despite the cute design, this backpack was completely impractical and after a weekend trip with it, I never used it again. It had absolutely no interior pockets or compartments, the straps were thin and hurt my back, and there was no support at all. It now lives at the back of my closet and will not accompany me on another trip any time soon. 

The thought was nice, but in practice, it wasn’t a great travel gift since it prioritized aesthetics and not functionality which is so important when it comes to travel.

What tip would give the giver?

When it comes to travel gear, functionality is more important than looks, and in those cases, it might be better to gift a travel gift card instead and let the recipient decide for themselves!

One hand giving a gift card to another hand
A gift card may have been a better gift

#9 Elephant figure with a rider

By Leslie Rivera of Backpackers Thailand

Did you ever wonder what can go wrong when a unique travel gift is brought to you by a thoughtful friend?

Well, so did I before I received the worst souvenir my friend brought from India. It was meant to be a representation of an ancient tradition, but let’s just say some traditions should’ve stayed in the past. Picture this: a wooden elephant with a rider on top. Unique? Yes. Ethical? Absolutely not.

Now, I appreciated the thought behind the gift, but it really opened my eyes to how many people don’t think about the dark side of elephant riding. Can you believe that in this day and age, these magnificent creatures are still being used to tote around tourists and work on plantations? And don’t even get me started on the horrific training methods they endure. They get ripped away from their elephant moms as babies and get beaten until they behave. It’s just plain cruel.

Not only is this type of souvenir completely unacceptable, but it also promotes animal riding, which is nothing short of animal abuse. 

I had a chat with my friend about why he picked this particular gift, and luckily, after my reasoning, he understood where I was coming from. It turns out he just randomly grabbed it at a local market and didn’t realize the implications.

What tip would give the giver?

Next time, he promised to bring me some blue pottery from India. It will make a much better gift!

A set of blue pottery from India
Photo courtesy of Swadeshi Blessings

#10 Travel pillow

By Lavina D’Souza of Continent Hop

Marriages are made in heaven, some believe. There is a God’s plan for every marriage, some say. Do I trust these things? I used to. But then I got married and now I have a strong reason to believe that God was in a hurry, skipped going over the details, and picked a random person to be my husband. I am the one looking for the spiciest burger, he is the one happy with the sweetest vanilla ice cream. I can debate with a rock, and he only talks with a handful of people. I am the travel freak who explores the world for weeks on end and he is the one finding solace in home.

Let me give you a simple example of the ‘best’ gift he found for me. It all began with me complaining after every flight about my stiff neck and disturbed sleep. I was only cribbing and he actually thought that he needed to find a solution. (Men, stop offering solutions! Just let us crib.) So, he went ahead, searched the internet for the best neck pillow out there, spent days going over reviews, and ordered the one without giving the slightest hint. All he wanted was to give me a thoughtful surprise, but little did he know, he was in for the biggest shock after seeing my reaction.

So, the neck pillow arrived at my workplace, all packed nicely. A card on the gift box sat, ‘I know how much you love to sleep, no matter where you are. I hope you enjoy this.’ Surprised by this gesture and wondering what it could be, I opened the gift, and I still thank my stars that my husband was not around to see my reaction. It was the neck pillow – the worst gift I could get from my loved ones.

Do you know why I hate neck pillows?  They take up so much space, I always worry about forgetting it somewhere, and no matter what you do and how you use it, it never gets comfortable. If my better half had paid enough attention to my cribbing, he would have listened to the part where I said all these things in my rant. But no, I am sure his mind went straight to finding a solution when he heard me complaining. I never had the heart to return the worst travel gift. So, it is still sitting in my closet, waiting to be rehomed.

Travel neck pillow
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#11 Plastic water bottle

A friend once gifted me a reusable plastic bottle as part of a holiday gift exchange. She knows I am a traveler and love hikes as I always tell stories about my epic hikes, like the recent Pipiwai trail hike in Maui. Having water with me is crucial in these hikes. 

I agree the gift was well meant, but I am not a fan of plastic as it is not good for the environment and for my health. So, what did I do when faced with the dreaded reusable plastic bottle? Well, let’s just say I perfected my “fake smile and a heartfelt ‘thank you'” routine. Of course, I didn’t have the heart to ask for the receipt or make a fuss about it. But deep down, I knew that poor bottle would end up collecting dust in the back of a cabinet, longing for a chance to explore the world like its owner. Eventually, I donated it. I would not regift it to someone else. 

What tip would give the giver?

Now, if I had the chance to advise the well-meaning gift giver, I would kindly suggest some alternatives like a stainless steel water bottle or a silicon collapsible water bottle which would be quite compact and lightweight to carry on long hikes. Something that would be well used in my travels! 

A stainless water bottle
Photo courtesy of Amazon

Broken or low-quality bad gifts

The last category fo the worst gifts are gifts of bad quality. They may have been really practical, suitable, and beautiful, but nobody likes a malfunctioning gift!

#12 Travel Iron

By Sharyn from Live Work Play Travel

When I started planning for my UK working holiday I knew I would look for a job working in an office. As it would be my first solo trip abroad I was a little worried about things. One of these things was I didn’t want to arrive at the office in wrinkly clothes. So my mum gave me a travel iron as a travel gift.

What made it a bad gift?

I was so pleased with it that I added it to the pile of things I was soon to pack. Because my mum gave me the travel iron in the week leading up to my leaving, I never took it out of the box to test it. This was my downfall because if I had, I would have discovered earlier what a dud the travel iron really was. Unfortunately, I found this out when I went to iron my clothes for my first job in London. The iron did heat up, but not to any heat that could iron out any wrinkles. I could easily keep my hand on the base of the iron without it burning. I’m not sure what happened to the travel iron, I may have left it (on purpose) in some accommodation.

What tip would give the giver?

I never told my mum what a dud the iron was. In hindsight, I should have told her I would buy one when I got to London. I don’t think you can travel with them nowadays because of the metal. And nowadays when I travel I mostly wear clothes that don’t need ironing! For example, wrinkle-free blouses from Bluffworks.

Or check out these 30 gifts for people who travel for work.

Navy blue blouse
Photo courtesy of Bluffworks

#13 Difficult travel game

Photo courtesy of Jeff from Life of Y

The worst travel gift I’ve ever received was a card game called BACKPACKER – The Ultimate Travel Game.

My girlfriend and I agreed to give each other a little travel gift before we set off for a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia a few years ago and this was what she bought me.

I was quite pleased to receive it. I had been looking at it online for a while and there are a ton of positive reviews about the game. The game is about traveling after all – what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, due to our packed schedule, we couldn’t play the game properly and only had the chance to read the instructions a few times (this should’ve been a sign of how complicated the game is!)

It wasn’t until our recent stay in Aruba that we made an effort to play the game. We took the game to the beach and cracked open the instructions – two double-sided pages of them! It’s a good job we arrived at the beach early in the morning! 

The game is quite complicated and we had a few practice rounds before we grabbed lunch and tried again but it was starting to get frustrating and annoying! I did read that it takes a while to understand the rules. 

When it got to the late afternoon, we decided that the game was a complete waste of time and, to make matters worse, we had been on the beach all day and hadn’t even dipped our toes in the water yet!

Also, it can be pretty windy in Aruba so it wasn’t much fun playing an extended version of 52-card Pickup!

In the end, we packed away the game and decided to spend the rest of that day enjoying the beach and the cards didn’t leave the box for the rest of that trip. Actually, I think the game is now lost in our house somewhere.

When I think about it, we probably should’ve learned how to play the game at home rather than on the road.

I believe that the game is potentially a fun travel card game, and it WAS the gift I was looking at beforehand. My girlfriend has never gotten me a bad gift yet so it’s my goal to learn the game properly for our next trip.

We just need to try and find it first!

A travel game called backpackers
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#14 Coffee mug

By David & Intan from The World Travel Guy

I’ve always loved coffee mugs, especially as a souvenir from a foreign country, but I have to say they’re one of the worst travel gifts you can give someone just because they’re so fragile.

I’ve broken lots of coffee mugs over the years, but one of the biggest losses was a nice souvenir coffee mug I got for a friend at Himeji Castle in Japan. It was a fancy mug with an outline of the iconic Japanese castle on the side, and it would’ve been a great item to bring home.

Unfortunately, my friend tripped and fell on the subway stairs as we were leaving, and the mug shattered into a dozen pieces. I’ve also had coffee mugs break when stored in checked luggage on a plane. Even if they’re well insulated, they can break if the luggage handlers throw your bag around too hard.

Several years later, I was able to go back to Himeji Castle and buy the exact same mug for my friend again, but this time I brought it home carefully in my carry-on luggage. I made sure it was very well-padded and totally safe from any kind of hard impact. We still joke about the ordeal involved in bringing this mug home safely.

So in conclusion, coffee mugs can make great travel gifts, but only if you’re very careful with them! When they break, they’re the worst.

A coffee mug with prints from Japan
Photo courtesy of Amazon

#15 Fridge magnet

By Daniel from North Carolina Travel Guides

One of the worst travel gifts I ever got was a fridge magnet from the Colosseum. I got it as a gift from a family member who traveled to Rome and the magnet looked great actually. It had many details that made me want to travel to Italy, however, there was one problem with it.

When I tried putting it on my refrigerator, it didn’t stick!

It wasn’t that there was no functioning magnet in it, but the other parts of the fridge magnet were too heavy for the type of magnet in it, causing it to fall.

I ended up using tape to attach it to my refrigerator for some time, before taking it off because the tape didn’t look great.

The idea was nice, but I guess a working fridge magnet would have been a better alternative.

A set of fridge magnets from Italy
Fridge magnets from Italy

Save the worst gifts

Do you want to give gifts that rock? Then save this list of the worst gifts with tips on Pinterest, so you’ll know what NOT to do next gifting occasion!

15 seasoned travel bloggers share the worst gift ever received with four photos of people with bad gifts

Final notes on worst gifts

We hope that these tales have both entertained and enlightened you. We’ve laughed, cringed, and perhaps even shed a tear of empathy for the recipients of these bad gifts. May this collection of the worst gifts ever received serve as a guiding light, ensuring that future presents are thoughtful, practical, and delightfully suited to the wanderlust souls in our lives.

AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Lara, a 30-year-old travel-lover (but who’s not these days?). I love reading, puzzling, world-heritage sites, researching, and making lists, which comes in quite handy when you’re making lists of travel gift ideas!