7 Pretty and Practical Gift Ideas (for Yourself or Someone Else)

Each year, like many publishers, we produce a gift-guide roundup of fun ideas for gifts to give to either yourself, a friend, partner, or family member.

It was really important to me this year to give a lot of thought to the products I picked. My two filters for 2012 inclusion were:

  • Featuring independent businesses where possible: Some items just aren’t feasibly made by smaller companies, but given that we’re a small business, it’s important to me to highlight the community in which we thrive, when I can.
  • Items that are both pretty and practical: such a great phrase, which is the handiwork of my good friend Margo Millure, and it’s a great standard to which you should apply most purchases!

So, with all that in mind, consider some of these pretty and/or practical gifts for yourself or someone special.

Colorful Journals and Calendars

A journal is a gift that anyone can appreciate.  The problem is that some journals are so nice and fancy-pants that you don’t end up using them.  Also, I’m left handed, which means some of them are hard for me to write in.  That’s not a problem when you opt for smaller, simpler journals.  A couple of favorites:  Scoutbooks, made around the corner from my house here in Portland, offers affordable and practical journal packs in a variety of colors and interiors – get a few extra, one for each topic ($12 for 3 pack).

If you want to spice up your office, look no further than color consultant Khristian Howell.  Her journals – which she calls blotters  ($12.50 for 3 pack) – are simply s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g, and her calendars are almost like a piece of artwork. I’ve got both here at my desk, ready to hit 2013 like a storm.   Don’t forget a good pen, or steal one from the hotel!

Power On the Road


With our insatiable need for smart phone access comes an insatiable need for power.  There will never be enough airport port cords, let’s face it.  Skip the stress and the difficulty of finding an outlet by bringing your own.  You’ll want to be able to charge your phone at least one full charge during the day, perhaps also charging your tablet and mifi unit if you’re traveling far away from home, as those suck up battery time, too.

I am in love with my iSound ($65), which can charge up to 5 devices via USB, including an iPad. Not all chargers will charge an iPad, FYI.  It charges very fast for less than 3 items, and can give a phone a full charge at least twice – get the one with the most battery juice.  It’s a bit larger than most chargers, but well worth the extra room.  For something smaller and simpler, consider the Duracell Instant USB Charger ($30) which easily slips into a pocket.

Travel Candles

travel candle

When we talked about romantic hotel special touches, a lot of you wrote in and mentioned about your profound love for travel candles – and I’m starting to agree with you.  When it comes to affordable luxuries, though, the best travel candles on the market are the lovelies from Seda France.  They come in small, sturdy tins ($8.95/each) that are easy to pack and look nice in your hotel room.  Everyone’s olfactory preferences are different, but two scents I like best are the French Tulip and Japanese Quince.

(By the way, yes, you can put a pack of matches in your carry-on bags.  Check out the official TSA rules here.)

Coffee Bean Perk Up


When is coffee not a great gift idea? (Uhm, ok, when the recipient doesn’t drink coffee. But work with me here.)

Don’t buy those sweet-smelling coffees you’ll sniff at the grocery store – they’re usually beans drenched with  artificial flavors instead of beans that are roasted with infusions.  But better yet, why not just get some beans that are so tasty they don’t need any flavoring?  Recently, I tried the Haitian-sourced coffee from La Colombe Torrefaction, which is trying to stimulate the economy in Haiti with coffee production.  The coffee is so bright and refreshing.  Really nice job on this one, guys.

I’m also excited our friends from the Des Barres Inn in Nova Scotia (previously featured as one of our most romantic hotels in the world) have started selling their own coffee roast, Full Steam Coffee.   Tasty beans in a pretty package.

Recycled Sleeves & Cases for your Gadgets


Recycling is good.  Protecting your gadgets is also good.  That’s why I just love the recycled wetsuit (yes, I did just say recycled wetsuit!) iPad/laptop/gadget case and sleeves from Portland-based Looptworks.   I have the orange Hoptu Laptop Sleeve ($32), but the envelop-style sleeves are great for iPads, Kindles, or other gadgets.  What’s even better is that the wetsuit material makes a great padding to keep gadgets safe, and the rubberized edge is a good shock absorber if you happen to drop something.  Each design style is a limited-run, so if you see something that you want, grab it!

Handmade Travel Wallet and Passport Cover

I’ve talked before about one the essentials of packing for your trip: your documentation.  That includes both confirmation numbers, but also your passport/ID, an essential that is not easily replaced.  To keep those safe and sound, I cannot more highly recommend the gorgeous and lovely-handmade travel wallets ($20) and passport covers ($11) from Gracie Designs.  I opted to get the wallet, which has room for airline tickets and other items in addition to my passport, as well as a business card holder ($10) and an oversized luggage tag ($10).

The fun part about ordering from Gracie is you can get a custom-made order, which meant I could pick from a gallery of patterns, since I wanted to mix-and-match.  I think the wallet is my favorite because it’s the perfect size to slip into the outer pocket of my backpack and can keep all those darned “things I need to keep handy but don’t want to lose” all in one spot.  Swoon.

Scrub Up with Olive Oil Soap

soap kitchen

Although I have a lot of skin conditions, I’ve had zero problems since I started using the wonderful olive oil soaps from The Soap Kitchen (which we featured in our What to do in Pasadena roundup).  While a nice soap sounds like a nice treat, for me they’re a luxury that is well worth the cost, especially since many soaps are filled with chemicals and other crap.  The Soap Kitchen offers really nice gift baskets for men or women – so nice that the receipt of my last gift basket told me it was too pretty to use!   They have other wholesome products other than soap, such as lip balms and bath salts.

Another online shop that has some great cleansing products (that are travel-friendly) are the homemade goods from Crunchy Betty.

All photos either by author or provided by the supplier.

Editorial Disclosure:  We were provided some of these products to try.  Other products we paid for ourselves. We have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. Regardless, products recommended because they pass muster and we liked them.

7 Pretty and Practical Gift Ideas (for Yourself or Someone Else)
Slow Down. Live a Life You Love.
Download our FREE worksheet to learn how:
No spam, ever.    Learn More