The Socially-Distanced 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

What can I say? How can I put together a compelling list of travel-related gifts in 2020? For Canadians, travel anywhere beyond the boundaries of our home province is a risky, if not entirely outlawed, activity. And it is possible that this will be the state of affairs until late 2021—at best.

For 2020, I have divided my gift ideas into two groups: the Tentative Traveller and the Covid Cocooner.

The Tentative Traveller

This list is for those out there still holding out hope that we will soon be able to travel again, maybe in fall 2021 or spring 2022. These gifts are for the dreamers and planners out there who want to be ready, as soon as the pandemic fog lifts, to get back on a plane and head for exotic lands. Gail and I would love to resume our foot trek along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, picking up where we left the trail last fall, in Champagne country. Oh, to be walking through fields of ripened grapes next fall! Oh, to dream.

These are small gifts, primarily aimed at the long-distance walker, gifts that can be purchased now and give the lucky recipient several months to see if they deserve backpack space.

1. Keko Universal Foldable Tablet Stand

I always take my iPad Pro on our walking trips. It’s great for photo editing, storage and uploading. But it’s also very useful for watching pre-downloaded films on a plane or a quiet night in trailside lodgings. The Keko Tablet stand is lightweight (55 grams), compact and foldable. It will work with tablets of all sizes and brands. It has rubberized feet so won’t slip off an airplane seat tray. And it’s a nicely designed unit. I purchased mine in Winnipeg at the Forks Trading Company in The Forks Market. You may have to contact them directly to confirm their stock. Otherwise, it is available on amazon.ca for $19.95.

2. Newmowa Dual USB Charger for Olympus BLH-1 and Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark II

When I upgraded to the Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark II camera body, I discovered it used different batteries from my earlier OM-D EM5 bodies. I couldn’t use the compact, lightweight charger I had purchased for the EM5. Sure, the new camera came with a battery charger but it’s a large ungainly thing with a long, bulky cord. In my search for a more compact, lighter alternative, I found the Newmowa unit. It’s tiny, weighs a mere 44 grams and will charge two batteries at once. And because it uses USB power, the small, compact cord can be plugged into my Anker USB power adapter. I was a little hesitant whether it would work reliably but, having tested it over the last nine months, it has worked flawlessly and I plan to take it on my next trip.

The Newmowa charger is available for various brands of cameras, including Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax cameras. Mine was $35.99 on amazon.ca

3. SDBAUX 3A Multi USB Charger Cable 2Pack 4ft 4 in 1 Multiple Charging Cord Adapter

While travelling, I use an Anker 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger. But, with a growing number of devices that are charged using USB power, 4 ports are not enough. Rather than carrying another heavy multi-port charger, this little cord is light (45 grams) and serves to split the power of one port on my Anker charger into four connectors: two Apple Lightning plugs for iPhones and older iPads, one USB-C plug for an iPad Pro and one micro-USB plug for my Newmowa Dual USB Charger (above). Of course, by splitting one USB port among (up to) four devices, the power of that port is also split. You should expect slower charging. However, I’ve used the cord for the last nine months to charge two camera batteries in the Newmowa charger as well as an iPhone and I haven’t noticed a significant slowdown in charging speed. You can purchase a two-pack of these cords at amazon.ca for $13.59. There are other versions available on Amazon, geared to the PC/Android market.

4. Life UNpacked Mountain Evergreen Shampoo Bar

Life UNpacked specializes in waste-free, environmentally friendly products. Their tiny bar of shampoo weighs 40 grams. It smells great. And it works. A travel-sized bar should be good for a month of daily shampoos. You can buy it online from this Canadian company for $7.19 at lifeunpacked.com While there, take a look at their other travel worthy products, like the Bamboo Toothbrush with Replaceable Head and the Pacific Rainforest Soap bar.

5. Uniqlo AIRism Boxer Briefs

Since when is underwear not a good gift? Here’s a great pair for the traveller. While walking the 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan I discovered Uniqlo and their AIRism Boxer Briefs. I’ve been wearing them ever since at home and on long walks. Made of polyester with nylon trim, they are truly lightweight (44 grams), compact and super-comfy. Uniqlo is a Japanese company but they have expanded around the world. In Canada, you can order them online at https://www.uniqlo.com/ca for $14.90.

The Covid Cocooner

While it might be fun to dream of travelling afar, our current reality is one of self-isolation, staying at home as much as possible and maintaining a good social distance from others when venturing outdoors. Right now, we must look for creative opportunities where we live: exploring our own province, taking local walks, finding solace in our homes. Probably the best gift is a gift card to a local restaurant or shop—they need our help. A take-out meal at home while live-streaming a performance by your local orchestra or opera is a gift for all.

Here are some additional gift ideas to enhance our lives at home. 

6. Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Sometimes, it is good to disconnect. 

During the pandemic, I have been using a vintage 1979 SX-70 Polaroid Land Camera for my From Our Windows project (see below). In case you forget or are too young, these amazing devices the size of a small cigar box unfold into sophisticated cameras that spit out large colour prints. It is a self-contained process. Camera. Film pack. That’s it! No electronics, no internet involved. Take it on a walk. Photograph your family. Build an album—a real, tangible album of prints—all without ever sitting in front of a computer screen.

Various shops refurbish and resell these vintage machines. Prices range from $200 upwards. I got my SX-70 Polaroid Land Camera, Alpha 1 model, from torontopolaroid.ca. It’s a small Canadian company and their camera prices are quite reasonable. Mine cost about $250.  

7. Polaroid SX-70 film

An essential accompaniment to your SX-70 camera gift is a bunch of film packs. SX-70 film comes in two flavours: black and white and colour. Each pack contains 8 pictures. Buying film supports the passion project of The Impossible Project (now rebranded as Polaroid), the people who purchased a film production plant from the bankrupt Polaroid Corporation in 2008 and began reformulating (from scratch) and remanufacturing the SX-70 film we use today. You can buy it directly from Polaroid (US $19) or, better yet, at your local camera store.

8. From Our Windows

Here’s what I did with my Polaroid SX-70 camera and a large stack of film packs, while cocooning at home.

From Our Windows is my latest photo book. Set during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it explores the relationship of sanctuary to the now-viral world outside, searching for beauty in the face of loss. It is the ideal gift for a stay-cation this winter and spring and…well, you get the picture. It’s a beautiful coffee table-worthy hardcover book with 67 of my Polaroid pictures. A celebration, if you will, of stillness and reflection.

From Our Windows is available through my website store at firmangallery.com for $69.92. A limited edition version of the book is also available. There are only ten copies and each contains an original SX-70 photograph, hand-painted by me and mounted on a blank page in the book. Each book is numbered and signed. These are also available at firmangallery.com and cost $159.82.

9. Ways To Walk Book Series

While it may not be possible to undertake long-distance walks far from home, there are many safe walks starting just outside the front doors of our homes. My Ways To Walk series of nine small softcover books approaches walking as a creative process, a means of exercising our observational muscles at a gentle pace. These are neighbourhood walks, told in words and pictures, designed to take me and the reader in new directions and see our environs from a fresh perspective. Books in the Ways To Walk series are available through my website store, firmangallery.com at prices ranging from $24.52 to $57.71.

With luck, in the near future we will be able to travel to other lands. But, in the meantime, stay safe, stay at home and explore the amazing world at your doorstep.   

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