Looking for the perfect gift for a traveler headed to Italy? (Or maybe for yourself?). I've got you covered!
The perfect airplane read(s)
When it comes to bringing history to life, Ross King is a wizard, telling rollicking tales of Renaissance scandals and assignments gone awry. And he's done it with not one, not two, but three Italian treasures: Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (on the Duomo of Florence); Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (on the Sistine Chapel); and Leonardo and the Last Supper (at right).
Conveniently, each book is on a different city (Florence, Rome and Milan). Talk about the perfect gift trifecta for someone headed for the Grand Tour.
A super-duper camera… the size of a smartphone
I adore my 6-year-old-but-still-fantastic Nikon D90 DSLR and my little waterproof Sony digital camera. If I were looking for something in the middle of those two, though – not as professional (or big or heavy) as the DSLR, but with more options and flexibility than the point-and-shoot — I'd be looking at what's called a "expert compact" camera. In particular, I'd have my eye on the Olympus XZ-2 (left).
The camera is smaller than a Galaxy smart phone, but comes with the kinds of bells and whistles you usually just can't get in a camera that size — like ISO up 12800, sensor-shift stability, an SLR-quality image processor, and HD 1080 video recording. In layman's terms, that means that you can shoot crisp photos in conditions that just won't work with a lesser digital camera or an iPhone, like an indoor restaurant dinner or the floodlight Colosseum at night. For anyone who loves taking photos but isn't a professional photographer (and even for some of us that are), this would be a seriously sweet gift.
A hedonist's guide to Tuscany
Not your usual guidebook, Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist includes tips on everything for making a stay in Florence or Tuscany pop with the pleasures of Italian life: where to find romantic aperitivi and relaxing spas, the top wine tours and finest local artisans, the best cooking classes and antique markets, and more.
The Streetwise Rome map remains the most usable one of the city I've seen. It's laminated, so you don't have to worry about spilling wine getting rain on it. And the map has much more detail than you'll find on the free tourist maps in the city, but is still pretty easy to read and use. Let's just say it got me through my first 3-plus years of never knowing where I was.
Chic traveling clothes (for her)
My friend Tara Thompson Rasmus has a great eye for style, so I was excited to see her launch her online clothing boutique, Hoot, aimed at the traveling woman. (So excited, in fact, I even let her talk me into being featured with some of the items in a little Q&A, coming out this week. Eek!).
All of the items are designed and manufactured right in New York City — no "fast fashion" here — and they're versatile classics. I think I wore my cream-and-navy-striped boatneck tee (left) pretty much nonstop through recent trips to China, Sweden, and Turkey. Pair it with a stack of bracelets or necklaces, skinny jeans, leather boots, big sunglasses, a scarf, and a classic wool coat, and you'd be ready to go anywhere in Italy.
A travel journal that gives you tasks (great for kids and creative adults!)
I love this. In the ingenious, interactive I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded, travelers aren't just encouraged to jot down tips, reviews, and notes. They're also asked to do things like, say, go to a local pharmacy and buy a toiletry brand they don't recognize (I always say going to a pharmacy or grocery store is one of the best ways to get a sense of the local culture!), or ask a local to draw a map to one of their favorite neighborhood spots (I can just imagine what kind of crazy drawings you'd wind up with in a city where the streets are as confusing as Rome!).
I can imagine how much fun this would be for kids to do. Or, let's be honest, for any adventurous adult.
The kind of thing you'd never buy for yourself (aka a great stocking stuffer), this little jet lag kit (right), which is given to first-class passengers on Emirates Airlines, has two "sniff boxes". Get a whiff of "sleep," with lavender, chamomile and neroli, to unwind; "focus," with bergamot, lemon and cinnamon, energizes and refreshes. Perfect idea for those otherwise torturous overseas flights.
The best conversational Italian course around
There are a million and one Italian-language software programs out there. While many people swear by Pimsleur for learning the basic, conversational Italian you want when you go abroad, the newer Living Language Italian has the edge: it's currently the number-one bestseller on Amazon for Italian learning products, and the reviews are stellar. It's also more bang for your buck, since the $30 complete edition has 46 lessons, with nine audio CDs and three books, that take learners from beginning to advanced.
For anyone who wants to, say, order food at a restaurant or get directions in the local language, this seems like the new way to go.
The gift of Rome, revealed
In my one-on-one travel consulting sessions, folks get an hour to pick my brain about all things Italy: what's open in August, the best day trips from Florence, how to skip the line at the Colosseum, whether to get a water taxi to their hotel in Venice. Or we can spend that hour whipping a trip itinerary into shape. Or brainstorming where in Italy they should even start to think about going. Or… pretty much anything else.
New for 2014, I offer gift certificates that can be e-mailed directly to the gift recipient (or to you, so you can print it out and pop it in a card). For more, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both entertaining and beautiful to look at, Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best will whet anyone's appetite for Italy. Its 50 mini-essays explore all of the quirks of Italian culture: patron saints and pasta, hand gestures and gelato. It'll also prepare travelers for the little things that might seem particularly annoying odd on arrival — like why Italians don't queue, or what floor number won't exist (nope, it's not 13!).
The cutest (and most functional) travel containers around
Finally, travel bottles that you… can… squeeze! (And that are BPA-free, PC-free, food-safe, leak-free, and virtually indestructible. Not to mention adorable). Give these GoToob travel tubes to your favorite giftee-on-the-go to fill up with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, or anything else (ketchup, anyone?). They're also useful to throw in a backpack: Instead of carting a whole bottle of suntan lotion around the Roman Forum, just fill one of these guys up. Smaller and (take it from me) much more spill-proof.
Organic beauty on the go
If your Italy-bound traveler hates decanting all of their favorite lotions and face washes into different containers (even ones as cute as the GoToob), make it easy on them with Juice Beauty's Organics To Go. The travel set has all of the skin essentials: cleansing milk, moisturizer, even a mini-face peel. The hydrating mist would be especially nice to have on a moisture-sucking plane ride. Juice Beauty's items are all made sans parabens, animal testing, pesticides, phthalates, or artificial dyes or fragrances, so it's the perfect skin care set for even those with sensitive skin.
A guidebook, notebook, and map in one
I know people swear by Moleskine, but I'm (even more) old-school — when I'm on the road, you can bet I have a few spiral-bound reporter's notebooks on hand, instead. Even so, I scooped up a Moleskine City Notebook when I headed to Lisbon last year, and wow! I loved it. Having different sections to pop my various lists into, plus plenty of room for random thoughts, made me much more organized. And having a thorough map of the city's different neighborhoods embedded right in the notebook's pages was unbelievably helpful.
The Rome City Notebook comes in hardcover-only, so it's more of an indulgence. (The soft-cover Milan, Venice and Florence versions are much cheaper). But I could see it doubling as a nice keepsake post-trip, couldn't you?
Happy holidays, everyone!