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This past Christmastime, I volunteered at the annual Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival in Syracuse, New York. When I wasn’t on duty, I meandered the show floor, admiring the homemade apparel, local art, and creative tchotchkes. In any other year, I would’ve gone home with a fair number of purchases: hats I might wear a few times a year, or knick-knacks to make my home a little homier.

Instead, every item that caught my eye prompted the question: do I want to carry this with me for the rest of my nomadic life? Most Americans move 11 times in their lives; I move that often in a single year — and my storage is limited to whatever I can fit in my car. Any new purchase has to earn that limited space and warrant being packed and unpacked dozens of times. These limitations are a great incentive to not spend money or be weighed down by unnecessary things.

Besides, digital nomads generally already have everything they need: a limited wardrobe that focuses on utility over fashion; books, movies, music, games that are digital. What need have they for “things”?

When my family asked me what they could get me last Christmas, I asked a fellow co-worker and former nomad for advice. He responded:

There are four categories of gifts that work well for someone who doesn’t want more stuff: cash/gift cards; digital items; experiences (ex. tickets to a concert); and consumables (ex. small box of fancy chocolates). If they really like the idea of the whole gift opening experience (which my family does), consumables are some of the best things—especially if you can share them with everyone else you’re celebrating with.

Alex Lende

If you’re shopping for a digital nomad, his four categories are excellent suggestions. Here’s why.

Gift cards

Photo by Artistiq Dude on Unsplash

I’ve historically avoided giving or getting gift cards, as they often strike me as impersonal: they’re often for essentials you would buy anyway, and they leave no impression or memory. But a gift card that’s unique to the individual neatly bypasses both those shortcomings.

Does the nomad camp in their RV? Consider a gift card to KOA campgrounds or to REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.). Do they send postal correspondence via ShutterFly? They have gift certificates. Are they staying in a particular city for awhile? Search on Support Local or Happy Cow to find local restaurants that sell gift cards online. Almost all gift cards can be delivered via email or text message. Easy!

Digital items

You can buy gift cards for a lot of digital services, but I find gifts that are more specific show more thought. For example, maybe the nomad isn’t going to movie theaters, concerts, or arcades during a pandemic, but you can give digital movies, music and games as gifts. A movie that comes with a note “I know you like X, so I thought you might like Y” or an album that says “These songs seem like a good fit for your epic adventure!” will be much more memorable than a generic gift card to Amazon or Apple.

Experiences

Experiences are tough to arrange during the best of times; during a pandemic, they’re almost impossible. But same day, this will be an option again.

When it is, you’ll want to know the nomad’s itinerary so you can book something they’ll be around for — but with enough notice that they can clear their schedule. Baseball games, concerts, and community theater productions are all great options.

Some experiences you can pay for while letting the recipient choose the date and time. Last year, I bought myself a one-hour flying lesson. I paid online, then called the airport to book my flight. Those two steps could easily be done by two people… as long as they agree on which airport to use!

Conversely, you can choose the date and time and let the nomad choose the city. Fathom Events screens movies and plays at theaters nationwide on limited engagements (often one night only). Two tickets to a filmed opera or to a Studio Ghibli marathon can be affordable and accessible, wherever the nomad is.

The nomad probably chose to be a nomad because they wanted experiences, making this a great category of gifts!

Consumables

There are so many amazing places to order food online! HelloFresh‘s meals can give your nomad a week off from shopping for groceries. Burdick Chocolates are a decadent taste of Boston. Winc sells individual bottles of wine. And you’ll never guess what Penzeys Spices sells!

But consumables don’t need to be expensive — they can be thoughtful, affordable, and homemade. Cookies, brownies, cakes, and breads can provide a much-needed taste of home. Even a regional, store-bought good (such as Vermont maple syrup!) can be a unique gift.


I could’ve waited to publish post come Christmastime, but that would seem a little self-serving, don’t you think? 😉 Regardless of who the nomad in your life is, I hope these ideas help you celebrate them while respecting their freedom from “stuff”!

What gifts do you recommend for the person who has everything? Leave a comment with your ideas and suggestions!

(Image by Mammiya from Pixabay)

Ken Gagne

Digital nomad, Apple II geek, vegetarian, teacher, cyclist, feminist, Automattician.

3 Replies to “What gifts do you give a nomad?”

  1. My spouse gave his stepson an afternoon at Thompson Speedway, driving a racecar. It was the best present he’s ever received. Experiences really are the best gifts. Thanks for posting this essay, Ken. Sometimes my mind just goes blank when it comes to gift-giving.

    1. A good question, and one I should’ve anticipated! Most nomads have a permanent mailing address (my May 18 post will be on this topic), though it can take awhile for mail to be forwarded. All the more reason to opt for digital gifts!

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