How to buy thoughtful gifts on your travels

By: Virgin Atlantic

November 29, 2019

We’ve all become more aware of how our actions and purchases affect the world around us. Flying and buying often go hand in hand so it’s important to think about the impact and provenance of any gifts that catch our eye. If you’re flying in the next month and thinking of doing some shopping while you’re away, or you’re looking for the perfect Christmas present for a travel lover, we’ve put together a few ideas for how you can be a thoughtful gift giver. Who doesn’t want to be one of those!

Ethical gifts

If you’re shopping for an ocean lover or someone into beach holidays, there are plenty of ways to turn your purchase into a positive action. Reef safe sunscreen is an obvious choice, while companies like Fourth Element make ethical beachwear from recycled yarn. Trainers and frisbees made from recycled plastics and discarded fishing nets make great gifts for the more active beachgoer, and a set of beeswax food wraps is an ideal choice for lazy seashore picnics (and the perfect alternative to clingfilm).

For unusual gifts like Fairtrade jewellery or wash bags made from recycled fire hoses, try an online retailer like Green Tulip. Another innovative online store is Aerende, which sells unique, understated homewares created by UK makers with learning difficulties or people who find it hard to access conventional employment.

A British company known for its upcycling and recycling ethos is Turtle Doves who make beautiful wraps, scarves, hats and fingerless gloves from recycled cashmere. Natural Collection also offer a great range of vegan and plastic-free gifts, as well as eco-friendly wrapping paper and cards.


If you’re flying with us soon, why not tackle your Christmas shopping onboard? Not only will it save you time and money, you’ll avoid endless treks around the shops. Retail Therapy, our onboard shopping magazine, offers a range of favourites for the fussiest of friends and family, as well as some brilliant ethical and thoughtful gifts. Here’s a few of our favourites:

How about a colouring set featuring biodegradable pencils that are non-toxic, non-gmo and contain seeds? Once the pencils have reached the end of their useful life, simply plant them in a pot and they’ll grow into lavender, mint or basil. [Page 112]

ME to WE Artisans empowers women in communities around the world to harness their craft traditions into a thriving income opportunity. The word ‘rafiki’ means ‘friend’ in Swahili, and our ME to WE Rafiki bracelets are one of our favourite gifts, handmade by the lovely mamas in our WE Charity partner community in Kenya. Every penny of this gift goes towards building a bright future for remote communities around the world. [Page 81]

The Bubi silicone water bottle is lightweight, collapsible and BPA-free, and one of the most versatile products we’ve come across. Page 100

And finally, if you’re looking for an inspirational gift for an adventurous primary aged girl, our pilot Barbie will make it clear she can aspire to any job she wants. Find out more in our previous blog post [page 126]

Truly useful gifts for travelling

A bar of soap might not sound like the most interesting gift idea, but when it comes to travelling light and reducing single use plastic, the travel soap from Friendly Soap is a no brainer. Made with delectable essential oils, this is a heavenly wash for body, hair and even clothes. It’s vegan and cruelty free, and contains no trace of palm oil, parabens or sulphates. Perfect for the eco-friendly, off the beaten track traveller in your life.

Other practical travel gifts include collapsible coffee cups and solar powered chargers. Reusable utensils like bamboo cutlery or metal straws are another good buy, helping you avoid the plastic utensils at your favourite street food stalls around the world.

Last but not least, consider a set of packing cubes or backpacks specially designed to help keep weight down and luggage compact. Companies like Vespula are a good place to start – their creative luggage solutions are made from recycled plastic.

For the ultimate green travel gift you can also carbon offset your loved ones travel. Head to our offsetting page to find out more.

Quirky finds to bring home

Gift shopping in an unfamiliar city? Turn it into a memorable adventure by seeking out fun, individual presents at second hand, craft or vintage markets where you can chat to the dealers and makers, and immerse yourself in local culture. You’re bound to find something out of the ordinary, with a story that can be passed on. Buying from local artists, designers and craftspeople also means your money goes back into the local economy, so it’s a rewarding activity all round. Just remember to steer clear of any products made from non-sustainable woods, or animal parts, or anything harvested from our already-threatened reefs, such as tropical shells and coral. If you’re on safari in Africa and are looking for an unusual gift, seek out snare wire jewellery. This diabolical material is turned from something brutal into something beautiful, and raises both money for conservation and awareness of illegal poaching in the process.


These are another ethical way of giving gifts. A subscription to an audiobook service like Downpour has the added benefit of not weighing anything when you travel (less luggage, less fuel burn, fewer emissions). You could also treat someone to a subscription for our all time favourite app Readly; the Spotify-like service offering access to over 4,000 magazines for £7.99 per month.

Experiences and memories are often way better than possessions. Why not consider gifts of cooking classes, wine tastings or other experiences that will leave you richer without creating waste? Our top recommendation would be a baking lesson with French pâtissier Eric Lanlard who created our Upper Class Mile High Tea, or a wine experience at our wine partners Berry Bros. & Rudd.

You can find out more about our sustainability programme by watching our series of short videos or reading our sustainability website

Keep learning

Making ethical choices is a mindset as much as anything else, and what can be daunting at first soon becomes second nature. On top our big three priorities, we’re always thinking of the smaller changes we can make. In our offices this year we’ve banned balloons and are challenging our people to think about the waste created with gifts and wrapping. We’re encouraging everyone to think about their choices when buying things like Secret Santa gifts and cheap Christmas crackers.

Plenty of websites are there to help, like Ethical Consumer and The Good Shopping Guide, which can offer advice on everyday buying decisions as well as specific dilemmas like Christmas. Like everything sustainability-focused, the answers are not always straightforward and sometimes downright counterintuitive. But if you do your research you’ll know the choices you make really are the best ones. Then you can relax and enjoy the real gift of Christmas – time with family and friends, the food, the drink, the laughs and the memories, all with the fuzzy glow of knowing you’ve done the right thing.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic

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