Gift Giving ideas for Long Distance Relationships

A photo of a brick wall has a heart painted on it. A caption on the image states, gift giving ideas: long distance relationships.

Hello gang! Today’s post is inspired by Valentine’s Day as I decided what to send my girlfriend for the special occasion that we will be spending apart. After six years of US to UK distance, we’ve become quite the experts on long-distance gift giving. This is a guide is designed to jumpstart your ideas and give you options focused on ease and affordability rather than promote specific gifts—that part is up to you!

Send a package

The most obvious option of all is to send your own package. While the hassle and expenses of shipping a box, especially overseas, is less than ideal, this option should not be overlooked. Very few things excite me more than receiving a package from my girlfriend.

A roll of tape rest on top of a package ready for shipping.

Food

I always try to tuck some packets of Starbucks instant pumpkin spice coffees or a bag of Cheetos when I ship a box to my girlfriend. In fact, not packing either item would violate an unspoken rule in the relationship when they are so difficult or impossible to find across the pond. I beg her to send me Cadbury and Galaxy chocolate and bacon Supernoodles at least every other day. When so many cheap snacks aren’t readily available to one of us, it makes an easy and inexpensive gift. I almost always spend more on shipping than I do on the food of a care package.

Clothing

The very first thing I ever put in the mail for my girlfriend (besides a letter) was a hoodie with my last name on it from when I managed my high school cross country team. I doused it in the Bath & Body Works body spray I wore regularly and shipped it off. She still wears it. And even though she has never sent me any clothes, I have a small collection of clothes that she couldn’t manage to fit into her suitcase upon her returns home. In fact, I write this blog post to you today wearing an old hoodie of hers. Something about being wrapped up in her clothes provides a thin veil of comfort, and that makes a perfect gift.

Handmade gifts

This is my favorite gift to give and receive. The first birthday gift I sent my girlfriend was a handmade scrapbook over the year we’d known each other. That year unfolded on different parts of the world. During the period, I photographed beanie babies–a koala (me) and an owl (her)—in different places I imagined us to be. Combined with my writing and generally crafty hobbies, she deemed the scrapbook “the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me,” and I’ve never forgotten it.

A scrapbook has two open pages. The first page includes a sketch of two girls looking at starts, a sticker of a daisy that says, you are my sunshine my only sunshine, and a photo of a koala and owl teddy close together under a blanket with the caption, cuddle time. Page 2 has the title, travel, and includes two photos. The first photo reveals the owl and koala teddies sitting together on a rock. The caption reads, Colorado. The second photo shows the owl and koala teddies on a sandy platform with dirt and rock stretching behind them. The caption reads, New Mexico.

The sweetest thing that she ever made for me is a collection of map pieces cut into heart shapes, framed with her perfectly looped handwriting, declaring “It doesn’t matter where we go as long as I am with you.” Each map piece captures a place we’ve been together or a place we plan to be, ranging from our hometowns to travel destinations. Knowing my girlfriend—someone with such intense Virgo and BPD inspired perfectionism that I’ve seen her cry over crafting a single sentence at the start of a university essay—put this together makes tears well up anytime I think about it for too long. It is my favorite gift of all time.

As a generally more artistically inclined person, I’ve also painted things for Jas, written poetry, embroidered line art of my naked body. One day I am certain I will crochet her a blanket. She is generally the guinea pig to all my hobbies in the most romantic and tailored ways possible.  

Actual gift ideas

Okay, so I said this post wouldn’t say something like “buy this product,” for a gift, but there are a few brands that I think will be worth your while for their romantic value and easy shipping if you’re crunched for ideas.

LALALAB photos

This is the only precise gift I’m sharing in the guide and that is simply because I’ve used it an uncountable number of times. LALALAB is a photo printing brand and app based in the UK that prints pictures from your phone in various styles, like photo strips or instant polaroids. My girlfriend first ordered a box of polaroid prints for Christmas of all our past adventures, which matched well with Instax prints I already had hanging in my bedroom. Obsessed, I order a box of pictures from them every few months with updated shots.

A wall in my bedroom covered in LALALAB photos.

One year, I ordered her photo strips from each year we spent together, which took careful consideration as I only chose four photos from each year, one strip per year. LALALAB now prints and ships greeting cards, magnets, wall prints, phone cases, and other cute products with your pictures slapped on them. While there is a shipping fee, you don’t have to hassle with shipping at your local post office.

Books at Better World Books

I’ve been a huge fan of Better World Books for years now, and without diving too much into why they are one of the best brands to support, all you need to know is that you can buy books secondhand for extremely low prices and the company has FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING. One year, my girlfriend sent me a stack of gay books for my birthday and it was incredible. Free, no-hassle shipping is a huge win.

A stack of books includes 6 titles as follows. Speak now, marriage equality on trial by Kenji Yoshino. Eleanor and Hick, the love affair that shaped a first lady, by susan quinn. Ash by Malinda Low. The Miseducation of cameron Post by Danforth. Radical Hope, letters of love and dissent in dangerous times. Editor not visible. Ain't gonna be the same fool twice by April Sinclair.
The said stack of books she sent for my birthday. A haul that she claims costed only $35.

My girlfriend and I read books at different rates; for example I will read five books in three weeks and then read zero books for seven months, but wouldn’t it be cute to buy yourself and your partner the same book so you can read it and discuss it together?

Connection Cards by Indwell Weddings

Okay, so this is the only definitive product on the list. Hear me out. My best friend bought these cards for my girlfriend and me for our six-year anniversary. The cards include prompts for deep conversations, like “Where would you consider our special place to be?” and “Describe 3 ways I can actively love you better.” They are somewhat geared toward relationships that either struggle with vulnerability and connection and need rekindling, but they are a really fun new activity for us. After six years of Skype, lesbian gossip, and Netflix, it’s been really engaging to use a few cards during video chats and prompting deep conversation to last hours.

Online shopping

Shopping online, like in the examples above, can be an easy way to avoid taking a box to the post office. And to avoid crazy shipping fees, you can shop online at stores local to your partner that might have free domestic shipping. For my girlfriend’s birthday this past year, I bought things from Cadbury Gifts and Paperchase directly from their website and had it shipped to our friends over there, where they wrapped the presents for me and gave them to her on her birthday. Here are some other crafty online shopping ideas for long-distance gift giving.

Using Amazon wishlists

Now, I hate Amazon. But I’m not immune to its convenience, especially when I need something quick and inexpensive. My girlfriend keeps a running Amazon wishlist that I generally don’t use except for spur-of-the-moment gifts (like celebrating a high mark on her last semester of school).

The wishlists lets you buy directly from the web extension of the maker’s list (for example, when I subscribe to my girlfriend’s wishlist, clicking email links to the list takes me directly to .co.uk instead of .com). This means shipping will be easy, and buying prime items will likely have free shipping at a threshold point. Amazon automatically converts the currency, and the experience is incredibly painless. When my mom or grandma wants to buy gifts for my girlfriend, I link them to her Amazon wishlist.

Etsy and Instagram

Shopping locally is really the key to painless gift-giving experiences in long-distance relationships. Just last year, I started looking for Etsy sellers in the country my girlfriend lives to keep shipping prices down and to find something original. Plus, supporting small artists is a huge bonus.

The same can be done on Instagram. While under lockdown in May, I sent my best friend flowers for her birthday by dming a florist in her city on Instagram. Finding local artists and businesses on Instagram in the location of your partner might prove more difficult than finding Etsy sellers, but the option is definitely there. I also messaged my girlfriend’s favorite independent café on Instagram once looking to buy her a giftcard, which I thought was a perfect idea. The café ghosted me, so I never followed through, but it’s still a great idea.

Booked Experiences

For my final nugget of long-distance gift-giving, book experiences are a great gift if you have plans to see each other soon. My girlfriend’s birthday is in September, and we hand plans to reunite in October, so that year I bought us reservations to a cat café that we’ve been eyeballing for years along with tickets to the London Bridge Tour. The shipping for one was the cost of a British stamp, and the other simply emailed me the tickets. We had an extremely exciting couple days in London later that year, and she loved it.

A cappuccino has a paw print design in the froth.
The cutest cappuccino ever from the cat café.

Similarly, before J.K. Rowling preached her transphobia to the internet, my girlfriend booked us tickets to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour before my first trip to see her back in 2016. Experiences are a great thing to gift one another since the distance already makes you value the time you have together so much.

Happy Valentine’s Day

I hope this gift-giving guide helped a little bit for all my long-distance couples out there! Let me know what gifts you and your partner have sent each other in the comments. This guide of course also works for sending gifts to all the long-distance friends you’ve met on the internet.  

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