The Frommer's Gift Guide for Road Trips
The ways we wander might have shifted in 2020, but our passion to see new places has not diminished. And if anything, our urge to share our travels with the people we love has only increased.
This year, the choices for the Frommer's Gift Guide focus on items that suit the way we travel now. Everything on our list will make a trip smarter, safer, easier, or more fun.
Travel has but one mortal enemy: the living room couch. Don't let it win. Simply bring the pleasures of the sofa to the trail by packing a chair big enough for snuggles. The collapsible Kelty Lowdown Couch banishes the isolation of the standard single-seating mobile chair. It unfolds to give you plenty of space, allowing couples to remain a twosome, parents to sit beside kids, and pets to find plenty of lap space. The portable settee can support a combined 600 pounds and even has a cupholder on each arm. After just one sundowner, you'll wish your sofa back home did, too. $190, Kelty.com
Bicycle sales are booming as people try new ways to get out in the fresh air and explore their own regions, and all those new cycling recruits still need to use their heads. Fend's collapsible helmet travels well. When it's not in use, both sides fold upward, reducing the overall size by 50% to make for easier packing (which makes it harder to come up with excuses for leaving your helmet at home). Other companies have tried and failed to design a collapsible helmet that satisfies U.S. and European safety standards while remaining comfortable to wear, but this one finally hits the mark. It comes in two sizes and three colors: yellow, black, or white. To adjust the fit, you simply tighten a knob or add extra pads to fit. $120, Fend.io
Perhaps technology's most undersung contribution was the invention of appliances that keep drinks cool. So it blows our minds that now there's even a gadget that can refrigerate beverages in your car. The American-made Cooluli Mini Fridge has instantly become a road trip essential. It comes with its own set of AC/DC and USB cords for in-vehicle use. It's capable of keeping contents 40 degrees Fahrenheit under the ambient temperature or even heating them up to 149 degrees. The fridge is also useful for storing breast milk, medications, or anything else that needs a little climate control. The pictured model (4 liters/6 cans) is ideal for car trips, but units come as large as 20 liters. All are lightweight and portable (this one weighs just 4 pounds empty), with handles. $50, Cooluli.com
Why be stinky? You might be avoiding public laundromats when you're away from home, but you're still human, and humans love wearing fresh clothes. The Scrubba Wash Bag is more effective than you might think, and it requires very little water. Just drop your duds into the bag's ribbed interior (it can handle up to two tee-shirts, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of undies per load), and then rub. This isn't an interminable chore like churning butter—between 30 seconds and 3 minutes later, your clothes will be clean. Or is being malodorous your social distancing strategy? Size when stored: 6.3 inches x 2.4 inches x 2.4 inches; $55, TheScrubba.com
Like bike sales, RV rental figures have gone sky-high—in 2020, even Barbie took her act on the road. Mattel is calling the Barbie DreamCamper a "3-in-1" toy—first it's a truck with a back seat that conceals a boat, then you can unfurl the open-air kitchen to create a camping playset, and finally you can fold down the vehicle's side to reveal a pool with a slide. And there's still one more trick: Pop that back panel open to reveal a bathroom with a shower, toilet, and vanity. Frankly, if we could find a real RV that could do all this fun stuff, we'd be tickled pink, too. Dolls sold separately; $90, Mattel.com
So maybe this year someone you love has discovered the pleasures of wandering into natural settings far, far, far away from other human beings—but your loved one's backcountry aptitude doesn't exactly put Bear Grylls to shame. Get your wayward hiker one of these. The beacon tracks the wearer's location so you can keep tabs from home using an app. The device also has text messaging capability via cell service as long as there's regular coverage—and when there's not, messages can be sent by satellite because, as many a newbie hiker has discovered too late, there isn't usually much of a mobile phone signal where the sidewalk ends. The Somewear communicator is waterproof and can be submerged a maximum of 3 feet for a half hour. And it comes with a free weather warning service. $350 then $8.33/mo with a contract or $15 by the month, SomewearLabs.com
Want to watch a Disney fan's face light up with joy? Ask about what the theme parks look like during the holidays. Assembled just for those Disney diehards, the epic Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter collects some 2,000 photographs of bespoke decorating extravaganzas over the years. This heavyweight coffee table book was put together by professional archivists—and you can tell, because it's the most comprehensive of the Disney Editions publications we've ever seen. It's a wonderful way to preserve one of the most beloved aspects of Disney park-going, especially during a year when many can't attend these events in person. By Graham Allan, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price; 384 pages; $60; Disney.com
We're betting this will be a brisk seller this season. The little device uses UV-C bulbs (not heat, chemicals, or liquid) to sanitize whatever you slip inside. The manufacturer says it kills up to 99.9% of staph and E. coli surface bacteria. That handy feat pairs with a more travel-friendly function: The top of the lid charges Qi-enabled devices wirelessly. Pop in your keys, credit cards, earbuds, toothbrush—what have you—and while they get the cooties zapped out of them, you can zap juice back into batteries. The device needs to be plugged in to work, but it's small and easy to take with you. 8.05 inches x 4.97 inches x 1.69 inches, charger up to 10W, $30, Zagg.com
If you have this, your kids won't have to sit in any nasty loaner kiddie seats, and hailing a Lyft as a family will finally be as flexible as it should be. WhizRider, a novel form of child safety restraint, is easy to pack—when folded up, it's only a little larger than a soda can. When in use, the seat can be tethered to a vehicle's existing seat belt, in compliance with U.S. federal safety standards. Choose from two sizes that fit children as small as 30 pounds. The contraption is so small you can even put your kid in charge of lugging it around. $99, WhizRider.com
Why should kids get all the cool rides? The Skybox Dog Booster Seat puts your pooch (up to 30 pounds) in a basket that's suspended from the car's seat back, supplying the adorable occupant a view out the window. That prevents the pup from hopping unsafely around the seats, smearing the glass and making you crazier than you already are these days. The carrier is secured using the car's existing seat belt and has a metal support skeleton to help keep its shape. (For larger dogs, check out the system that restrains them to the back seat with a mini dog run, profiled in an earlier Frommer's gift guide.) $70, Kurgo.com
Picnics always sound like fun—until you find yourself hauling a heavy load of wine and potato salad into the park while your lower back groans in protest. All picnics should be lazy, and that's why we recommend the Rolling Picnic Cooler, which mounts your meal on wheels. The set comes with plates, wine glasses, napkins, forks, knives, and spoons for four, plus salt and pepper shakers, a cheese knife and board, and a corkscrew. The luggage handle telescopes for easy use, the temperature-trapping liner is removable for quick cleaning, and the craftsmanship on this California-made product comes with a repair-or-replace guarantee. 15.7 inches x 12.5 inches x 10 inches, $77–$116, PicnicTime.com
One of Hollywood's most enduring culinary attractions is the great Musso and Frank Grill, a historic bar and restaurant that turned 101 years old in 2020 and has barely changed since the days when Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard canoodled in the corner booth. As at so many restaurants, the pandemic hit hard. At the very moment the reservation list was full of tourists coming to dine in a filming location of the Oscar-winning Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, local regulations temporarily shut the place's doors. But few other restaurants could compensate by publishing their own handsome keepsake edition. Support the inimitable Los Angeles must-see in hard times by gifting this photo-rich celebration of Musso & Frank's storied past. As a chaser, the book even includes a few up-to-now closely guarded recipes for some of the most famous dishes, such as the béchamel-laden chicken pot pie. $40, MussoandFrank.com
Don't neglect the stocking stuffers! With a purchase of LastSwab, you can do good while gifting well. More than 1.5 billion standard cotton swabs are produced daily, only to be tossed after just one use. But this swab can be used over and over. The latex-free cosmetic necessity is both recycled and recyclable; its tip, made of TPE, or thermoplastic rubber, is stretchy and soft, and all you have to do in between uses is wash with simple soap and water. There's a side benefit for travelers: Because the swab comes in a case, it's easier to pack and keep clean than regular cotton swabs are. If you love this concept, the same company makes the reusable LastRound for makeup removal; it also comes in its own case. $12, LastObject.com
Small dogs—and unbelievably cool cats—love to tag along when you're exploring. That's what this bag was designed for. Lightweight and with a waterproof bottom, the Dog Carrier Backpack uses an internal structure made of fiberglass rods to supports animals weighing up to 25 pounds. You can clip your pet's harness to a hidden carabiner for added safety in the padded compartment. When your furry friend isn't around, the bag looks and functions like a regular backpack. And unlike many pet carriers, it contains plenty of perks for humans, too, including two pockets for water bottles and a laptop sleeve. (Or maybe your dog can use a computer; please post the evidence on TikTok.) 13 inches x 21 inches x 10 inches, $135, Kurgo.com
Standup paddleboarding is one of those things we've always wanted to master. But who has room for an enormous board looming in the corner of the bedroom for years to come? So that your own water sports dreams can turn into actual fun—and not furniture—Red Paddle makes a full range of tough, inflatable boards that, believe it or not, maintain much the same strength and tension as a traditional hard-shell board. They're designed and sewn by people who take this kind of thing very seriously. To wit: Red Paddle grants a five-year guarantee with every sale. Each board comes with a pump and folds into its custom-made rollaway backpack (also included) when not in use. If you, too, have always talked about wanting to try paddleboarding, put all that hot air to use inflating your new, custom-made ride. This edition, the 10’6″ Ride MSL Paddle Board, weighs 21.89 pounds, and is designed for beginners and casual paddlers. $1,300, red-equipment.us
According to the Financial Times, interest in ebikes has soared as much as 85% in 2020. For the uninitiated, ebikes run on electric power as well as old-fashioned pedaling, and they make exploring new areas easy. This model can travel 40 miles on a single charge (even farther if you pump the pedals); it takes 4–5 hours to top off the battery. What makes the Sinch stand out for travelers is its ability to fold into a compact form when not in use. (In front of the knees of the man in the photo above, you can see the hinge where the bike folds front-to-back.) Unlike cycles designed expressly for commuters, it also has especially fat tires to handle the variety of surfaces that you might encounter on vacation. $1,400, Aventon.com
This year, the world-famous line of Frommer's' guide books was made even better by the introduction of an exciting new series of options: complete guides to the most beloved vacationlands in the United States.
Now is the moment to cross the greatest American landmarks off your bucket list. Our new e-books include everything you need to plan your once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Arches and Canyonlands, and the mansions of Rhode Island—all instantly downloadable for just $6.