If you're still looking at gifts for your holiday list, travelers are easy and hard to please: easy because you know their main interest; hard because they usually have pretty fixed ideas about what they want and don't want. Nevertheless, I'll wade into that thicket with this year's list of suggestions.
The current Big Thing: This year, e-readers may well be the gift of choice for travelers who don't already have one or an equivalent tablet computer. Entry-level prices have broken the $100 barrier, and top-of-the-line models peak at under $400. The main choice you have to make is between formats: Amazon's Kindle and some others display on an "electronic paper" background that really does emulate paper and is easy to read under just about any light; many others use more conventional LCD displays, which aren't quite as easy to read but may offer color and additional functionality. They are great gifts for anyone who likes to read books while traveling. Buy from amazon.com, an electronics store like Best Buy, or even Walmart.
Other big-ticket ideas: If your travelers are heading to a foreign country where English is not the primary language, a good, introductory-level, computer-based language program could prepare them to communicate more effectively, or an advanced option could hone existing skills. Check any software outlet.
If your travelers are heading for Europe or Japan, a railpass might be just what they want. Most passes have an extended post-purchase use "window," so you don't need to know exact dates. Buy from eurail.com, jrpass.com or any travel agent.
If you know a destination your traveler might like, go to a few of the "flash sale" coupon sites, where you can buy vouchers for upscale hotel and resort stays, valid for many months with specific dates to be arranged later. Check www.livingsocial.com, www.sniqueaway.com, www.voyageprive.com, www.yuupon.com or others.
If you have some excess frequent flier miles, you can have your airline issue awards in the names of the recipients. You may have to book a tentative itinerary, but most award trips are valid for a year and can easily be rescheduled.
Road warriors -- especially if they use one airline most of the time -- might be overjoyed to receive an annual membership in that line's airport lounge club program. At $300 to $500 a year, direct from each airline.
Inexpensive: Guidebooks and maps are no-brainers if you know where people are headed. If they're dedicated European train travelers, the summer edition of the Thomas Cook European Timetable is invaluable for itinerary planning, available from online bookstores. (Sadly, Cook no longer issues the companion worldwide edition.) Foodies would love a Zagat guide or full-year subscription to Zagat's online service (zagat.com).
If they haven't decided where to go next, a subscription to a travel magazine can generate lots of ideas. My preference is Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel (www.budgettravel.com), but the upscale slicks are also great.
If you know they need luggage, consider a roll-on suitcase or duffel. And, at least in my view, light weight trumps sturdiness and durability.
What not to buy: Holiday season travel publications are full of travel gadget gift suggestions -- many electronic. Despite heavy promotions, I hesitate to recommend them. All the tech-minded travelers I know have fixed ideas about what they want in electronics, cameras and such: Unless you're filling a known "order," you could go seriously wrong. And many such items seem designed to look cute in a display ad or a store rather than being truly useful. Even low-tech "travel store" gadgets are risky: Most travelers probably already have what they need and don't need yet another voltage converter, travel alarm clock or neck pillow.