7 travel gifts to inspire exploration

Gift-giving madness and the struggle to find the perfect present can consume the holiday season. But we've got the travel buffs on your list covered with ideas from versatile backpacks to African chocolate that are sure to inspire wanderlust.

Exotic Driving Experience

($169 and up; ExoticDriving.com)

This is about crossing borders of a different kind: Exotic Driving Experience puts guests behind the wheel of one of its supercars -- Ferraris to Lamborghinis to Aston Martins -- at tracks in Daytona Beach, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Kansas, among others.

For driving enthusiasts, Exotic Driving Experience isn't the only option. There are scenic locales across the United States where you can plan a trip for a loved one in your own ride, including the 127-mile Seward Highway in Alaska, the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachian Mountains or Going to the Sun Road in Montana, which cuts through Glacier National Park.

Madecasse's Madagascar Tasting Flight

($58; madecasse.com)

Chocolate manufacturer Madecasse harvests its cocoa beans from Madagascar -- and makes its chocolate there, too. It bundles several of these flavors into gift baskets, ready for sampling. Your best bet is the Madagascar Tasting Flight, which is a sampler of each of Madecasse's flavors, in nine bars.

If a taste of the chocolate gets you going, follow it back to the source: Madagascar has an array of national parks and islands for exploring. Not to mention its Avenue of the Baobabs, running between Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina, which is lined with the country's native tree.

Lucky bamboo

(Prices vary.)

For luck and fortune -- hopefully a big heap of travel money -- consider giving your globetrotter lucky bamboo. It's often sold in pre-arranged designs: Its stalks and leaves are flexible enough for sculpting. (There are heart and spiral arrangements, among many others.) Plant care is minimal, requiring only water and indirect sunlight, so you can leave on vacation without killing it off.

Lucky Bamboo isn't related to actual bamboo, though the two look alike. To see the real thing in its natural habitat, head to the bamboo groves in Arashiyama, Japan, outside Kyoto. Paths crisscross the area, wide enough for walking or biking.

Chanel earmuffs

(Prices vary; chanel.com)

Chanel's latest seasonal collection includes furry earmuffs: One pair is made from raccoon and orylag, another of tweed and rabbit and fox fur. Let their cozy luxury be an inspiration: Many U.S. national forests are recreational centers for skiing, hiking and snowmobiling fans in the winter months.

Meanwhile, far north, midwinter brings twilight to the Arctic Circle -- as well as the spectacle of the northern lights.

Dror for Tumi backpack

($595; tumi.com)

The Dror for Tumi line, a collaboration between the manufacturer and designer-architect Dror Benshetrit, emphasizes usability as well as luxury. The collection has drawn the attention of luggage aficionados for its functional pieces -- and the Dror for Tumi backpack is no different, thanks to the bag's expandability and streamlined design, which allows it to double (and triple) as a tote and briefcase.

Such versatility should be put to good use. Tumi, so the story goes, was a name inspired from the days its founder spent in South America. Start there.

The North Face: Cat's Meow

($179-$209; thenorthface.com)

The North Face's Cat's Meow sleeping bag -- well-regarded for its durability and designed for three-season backpackers -- will help set up that camping or backpacking enthusiast for adventures in the wild.

Since it's not suited to extreme cold, try camping this time of year in Hawaii's spectacular Volcanoes National Park, where average overnight temperatures are usually still mild.

Silva Compasses

(Prices vary; silvacompass.com)

In an age of mobile GPS, compasses can seem like an affectation -- except when traveling where a mobile phone or car can't go. That's where something like the small, sturdy design of a Silva Compass comes in handy: The colder months bring their own set of challenges when hiking or exploring on foot, but they can bring rewards as well.

After the holiday, spend the next few months prepping to hike the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, at its southern end, just as spring approaches in early March. There will still be a chill in the air as you, and your compass, point north.


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