Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My favorite things: Christmas gift ideas for people who love music, traveling, and reading

This may seem like a random post, I realize, but after a couple of people asked me about a few of these things, I decided it might be a good topic.

Here's my rule of thumb: When it comes to prescription meds, buy generic. The extra money for name brands is a rip-off. But when it comes to travel and music, the extra money spent on quality can be a huge difference. Many of the things listed here are recommended because I've tried the cheap Walmart knockoffs first and then looked for something better. Normally I am always looking for the cheaper option, whether it is generic or used, but here, with this list, I've found things that are worth their price and more.

This list can work for anyone that is into travel, reading, music, or the outdoors.


Bose Mini SoundLink
A friend of mine went to a dinner party and heard this speaker, and he immediately bought it when he got home. I went to his house and heard the speaker and I came home and also immediately bought it.....and so it goes, on and on.  There isn't a better sales pitch than that. The sound is that impressive and I haven't talked to anyone who said it isn't completely worth the $200 price tag. It is completely wireless with a built-in rechargeable battery and Bluetooth capability.

Beats Wireless Headphones
I predict this will be one of the "it" things this year, especially with rumors swirling about the possibility of Apple dropping the headphone jack for the iPhone 7. I seriously doubt this particular rumor is true, but as with all things, there will be a time when headphones will be predominately wireless.  And you might not think that losing that tiny wire between the headphones and the device in your pocket is a big deal, but after trying them for a few minutes in the Apple store, I can say that it actually is.
Dead and Company CDs
If you have a Deadhead in the family and have more time than money, you can download the recent Dead and Company shows and put them onto blank CDs.  The steps are easy:  Download the VBR MP3 files from each show here:
Unzip the folders
"Add to iTunes library" and select the unzipped files
Burn the shows onto individual discs.

I haven't seen Deadheads this excited about a lineup in the last 20 years.

Travel and the Outdoors:

Stanley vacuum-sealed travel mug
I've used my fair share of cheap Walmart $9 travel mugs through the years, and can say this one is worth every single penny. It's completely leak proof and will keep your coffee hot through the majority of the day. The inside is metal and therefore BPA free.

Another option that is slightly smaller with more appealing colors (I bought this one for Amanda and she uses every single day) is the Camelbak travel mug. It's also vacuum sealed and will keep coffee hot for the majority of the day.

Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking boots
I bought these boots a few years ago, and halfway through my first hike I decided I would not buy anything else ever again (as long as they're available). And if my opinion isn't enough, the Navy Seal who wrote No Easy Day, about the mission to get bin Laden, mentioned these exact boots as his go-to choice for operations in the Middle East--so there's that.

Hydro Flask Water Bottle
I've used almost every water bottle you can get your hands on, and nothing beats this one for daily use. The only time it might not be optimal is for long-distance thru-hikes where every ounce is considered--it is heavier than most. Otherwise, it works exactly like the vacuum-sealed coffee mugs above. You can fill it up with water, put 3-4 ice cubes in it, and your water will be cold for days. You'll be asking yourself "What black magic is being used here?!" These are also stainless steel and BPA free. Hydro Flask also makes a travel coffee mug and now has an insulated pint glass.

Born boots -- Allen style
If you're the type of person that can't stand the idea of having "dress shoes" that aren't able to stomp around in a wet, muddy field, check these out.  They are more "dress" than "boot" though, so don't expect to step in ankle-deep water and stay dry-- tried that one a couple weeks ago.

Kershaw Pocket Knives
Kershaw makes great, affordable knives of all types, colors, and sizes. If you buy one of these for your guy and he doesn't love it, then just leave. Yes, it's that simple.

Reading--for the nerds of the family:

I think subscriptions to high-quality media publications are a great gift idea if chosen correctly. Of course, you run the risk of unread magazines piling up on a coffee table all year, but I think we are all craving perspective and a deeper knowledge of what's going on in the country and the world. Social media can be nothing but empty calories of knowledge--we see it daily. But to break free of the "addiction of distraction", as Tony Schwartz wrote about for the NYT last week, and read something that took effort, research, travel, interviews, knowledge, and deep perspective becomes very enjoyable--like a home-cooked meal after living off the McDonalds dollar menu for 3 straight weeks.
I recommend the following:

Rolling Stone--Yes, you have to wade through the occasional profile of Britney Spears, but the long-form journalism of Matt Taibbi blowing the lid off the collusion of the Wall Street banks and the federal government is well worth it. It's also how I keep up with the various parts of the music industry without having to actually listen to the music.

Outside Magazine-- I first subscribed to this one years ago for tips on trails, gear, and biking, and then I found that it holds some of the best, most captivating writing I've found anywhere....period. It's no secret that great writers seek adventure first. It's a perfect match.

The Atavist Magazine-- This is a digital-only publication featuring the best long-form journalism in the world. The stories are both true and fascinating and read like great short stories. The cost is $24/year, and from what I can tell, it's well worth it.

The Atlantic-- No one is doing current events better than The Atlantic.

I can't believe I just spent two hours making a list of my favorite things...but there you have it. There are many types of "great gifts," but finding something that a person will use on a daily or weekly basis for years is a home run in my book. I hope this helps.

--Brian Paul Swenk

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