I took bamboo needles with me to London (from Newark, NJ) and had no problems at all. I knit happily the entire way. If you simply cannot bring needles, how about making some good old-fashioned friendship bracelets. You can befriend every student in you group! : ) Good luck and have fun in Spain!
I just tackled my first cable project. I made a hat for my sister from the free pattern at ww.littleturtleknits.com It's the Mary Jane Pithy hat with modifications for the Elizabethtown hat. That will make much more sense if you look at the pattern. It was actually pretty easy. The only annoying thing with the cable needle is when it falls out as you knit the other stitches, but other than that, easy peasy! : ) Good luck!
I think in the spirit of the season you should make something that you know she would like. Is there something the two of you both used to enjoy? Do you know what she's into now? Maybe it'd be a nice gesture of goodwill. That's a tough position to be in. Good luck! If you give us more ideas about what the person is into I'm sure you'd receive more suggestions!