Although it is tradition to give gifts during the holidays, we have found that giving experiences is far more rewarding. Read on as we explain and provide you with the ultimate guide for gifting an experience.
Why gift a thing when you can gift a lifelong memory?
If you know Scott and me, you are familiar with the underlying theme that runs deep in our relationship and everyday lives: adventure. We believe that life should not be measured by the things that we own but rather by the experiences that we have. It is our experiences which shape who we are and who we become. These adventures become the pages of our life story.
We realized that when we reallocate spending from things to experiences, we have increased opportunities for discovering the wonderful world around us. It is for this reason that we have decided to give each other the gift of experiences this holiday season.
But first, we decided to test our “experience gift giving” abilities on our niece and nephew. For their birthdays this year, Scott and I gifted them a “gift certificate” for one slumber party at our “castle”, complete with an all-expenses-paid trip to Chuck E. Cheese. We were afraid that they would be disappointed that they did not receive an actual toy, but to our surprise, they were filled with glee holding the little paper “certificate” I had drawn up on construction paper.
A few statistics that will help convince you.
The transition of giving experiences rather than gifts may seem odd at first. This is particularly true in that experiences generally are more expensive up-front; however, the benefits far outlast those of material gifts in the long-run.
Still not convinced? Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist, has compiled a few statistics that may help to sway your opinion:
- There are 300,000 items in the average American home. (source: LA Times) I grew up Filipino so at least 1,000 of those items were old plastic margarine containers which my mom kept as Tupperware and closet organizers. Do we really need all that stuff?
- 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage (source: NY Times) If you haven’t used something in over a year, you have to ask yourself, is it really worth keeping?
- Research found that the average 10 year old owns 238 toys, but plays with just 12 daily. (source: The Telegraph) Of all the toys I had growing up, I can remember only Beary (my favorite teddy bear), the Barbie with purple hair, my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Troll doll, and my Rainbow Brite refrigerator. Now I know that I had 20 Barbies, 10 My Little Ponies, and a collection of 100 Trolls, but do I remember what they all looked like? Heck no. Do I remember their names or even what happened to them? Definitely not. What I do remember is my dad taking my sister and I to sell lemonade at the golf course. I remember my parents taking us to California every other year to go to Disneyland and watch Michael Jackson’s 3-D movie Captain EO. I remember the road trips, the road-side hotels and the adventures.
- Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours searching for misplaced items. (source: The Daily Mail) If I think about all my earrings that accidentally snagged on something and disappeared, or the rings forgotten in hotel rooms, or the necklaces that fell off without me noticing, then there would be enough to fill a pirate’s treasure chest. And no, Scott doesn’t buy me jewelry anymore.
- The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually (source: Forbes) while throwing away/donating 65 pounds of clothes in the same year (source: Huffington Post). In other words, save your money on new clothes and become a thrift shopper instead. Spend that money on something more valuable like…hmmm, maybe experiences!
- The diminishing marginal utility of income and wealth (stuff) suggests that as income increases, the corresponding amounts of happiness and satisfaction will begin to stagnate or even decrease. I don’t know where that quote came from, but if you haven’t heard that familiar economic principle, now you have. Basically, it means an infinite amount of more money and more stuff does not lead to more happiness.
Related content: “Best Gifts for Adventure Travelers that Actually Give Back”
The Ultimate List of Best Experience Gift Ideas
Now that you have hopefully been convinced that gifting an experience is something worth trying, I would like to present the ultimate list of “experience” gifts.
Subscriptions or membership passes
- Subscription Box – Whether you are shopping for your husband, wife, or kids, there are so many subscription boxes available on the market now. These vary from beauty and hygiene to cooking, crafts, and games. Some of our favorites are Bulu Box (supplements and nutrient essentials for fitness buffs), Blue Apron (cooking for him or her), Cellars Wine Club (select wines for him or her) and Bonding Bees (date activities for couples). In fact, Scott bought me a subscription to Snack Crate last year, a monthly snack box for global goodies. I must say, it was a tasty experience.
- Year-long pass to national or state parks – With the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, you gain access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Similar passes are available for State parks.
- Membership pass to a theater – Many local theaters offer season or annual passes. Scott actually used his annual pass to take me on a date to watch a local production of Hamlet. It was a nice experience to sit in a more intimate community theater and view a Shakespearean classic.
- Fill a Seat Membership – An alternative to a theater membership is purchasing a seat-filler membership. These membership programs enable members to participate as seat-fillers for area shows and event. Members can choose from the available shows and event that interest them and attend for free. Check out companies like SeatStir and OTL.
Membership to a zoo, aquarium, rescue center –A membership to a zoo, aquarium, or rescue center would be an ideal experience gift for animal lovers or families with children.
- Membership to a fitness studio – Fitness studios can sometimes be pricey, so any sort of membership would likely be appreciated by fitness buffs. This is also a chance to give the gift of something new. There are several niche studios such as rock climbing, acro-yoga, aerial silks, Jiu Jitsu, pole dancing, etc. Find something that might be a new adventure for your gift recipient. WARNING: If you all of a sudden give a gym membership to your pregnant wife without explanation, it might not go over well so make sure you think it through first.
- Spa and massage membership – Who wouldn’t want a spa day or a Swedish massage? I for one would be ecstatic to receive this gift. In fact, you could go one step further and gift a couple’s massage experience so that you can join in the fun.
- Netflix or Amazon Prime – There are a lot of movies and shows on Netflix so a membership makes sense. There is a lot of stuff on Amazon Prime, so sure, why not?
- Maid service – Just like the warning I gave with the gym membership, I will accompany this suggestion with a WARNING: If you give your messy wife a maid service subscription out of the blue, it is possible that she won’t have your intended reaction. Instead, it is possible she might retort with “Wait, what are you trying to say? I’m messy? You think I’m messy?” So again, think this one through first.
- Theme park pass – A season pass to Disney World or Six Flags? I would be all about that.
- Cooking class – This is a great gift for an individual, but also for couples. Take a class together, then go home with a few steaks and have a date night practicing what you learned.
- Knife Skills class – I gave this as a gift to Scott one year when he was going through his “Gordon Ramsey is my muse” phase. I purchased a knife skills class from Sur La Table, along with a brand new German chef’s knife. (Now he cooks me lobster tail and filet all the time. We all know who the real winner is.)
- Photography class – Check out your local photography shops for a crash-course in photography. Take this one step further and hire a photographer to take your professional shots. It is kind of fun to feel like a dolled up celebrity with paparazzi snapping your shots.
- Makeup class – Sure a girl can just study YouTube and Instagram tutorials, but an actual hands-on makeup class might make for a more effective learning experience
- Dance class – Take your pick from a variety of dancing styles: Ballroom, Swing, Latin dance, Hip Hop. My parents gave themselves a membership to Arthur Murray Dance Studios for Christmas over 10 years ago, and they haven’t stopped dancing since.
- Paint and Sip – The ever-popular Paint and Sip experience is always a popular choice. This can be given as a gift for a girl and her friends or for a couple to try together.
- Music lessons – Give the gift of music by purchasing an introductory course to piano, guitar, or even voice lessons.
- Scuba Lesson – Do you live near the coast? A lesson in scuba diving would be an exciting adventure gift.
- Golf Lesson – Tiger Woods ya’ll.
- Couple’s Massage class – Kick up your intimacy a notch with this couple’s experience gift idea.
- Sailing class – Let him feel the wind in his hair like Fabio, or let her gaze off into the water like Moana with a class in sailing.
- Surfing lesson – You don’t need to live in Hawaii or South Africa to experience the thrill of surfing. Where there is a beach, there is often a class available in surfing. If that’s not your thing, how about an intro to paddle boarding, windsurfing, or wakeboarding?
- Musical or concert tickets – If Scott surprised me with front row tickets to the Lion King, I would be one happy wife. If he surprised me with VIP and backstage tickets to the Backstreet Boys, he would win the “husband of the year” award. (Hey babe, are you reading this? Hint, hint)
- Sports game tickets – We don’t watch sports so I can’t relate to this one, but I’m sure people who do like sports would appreciate this as a gift. Go Capitals!
- Comedy Show tickets – Give the gift of laughter with tickets to a comedy or improv show.
- Jazz bar tickets – Jazz bars always make me feel like I am taking a step back into the 1920s. Tickets to a Jazz bar would make for a classy and entertaining experience gift.
- Music festival tickets – For music hipsters, grab them some tickets to Coachella, Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. If you know someone who is all about the “nsk.nsk.nsk.” electronic dance music (aka me 2 years ago), then grab some tickets to Ultra or Tomorrowland.
- Rent a fancy car or race it on a track – If it wasn’t my tendency to back into immobile objects like parking garage pillars and parked cars, then I would probably get this as a gift to myself. However, because I know driving is not my forte, I would save this gift for a better driver. He can be the one responsible for crashing the Lamborghini. Disclaimer: I was admittedly a bad driver 10 years ago, but I have significantly improved if I do say so myself.
- Skydiving – This is something every adventure junkie should experience once in their life. Maybe you can be the one to give them that experience.
- Bungee jumping – If the idea of jumping out of a plane is terrifying, how about jumping off a bridge while tied to a cord?
- Hang gliding – I went hang gliding over Rio while visiting Brazil. It was an absolutely incredible experience. Give this gift, and they won’t be disappointed.
- Ride a hot air balloon – Ever since watching the last scene in Wizard of Oz, riding in a hot air balloon has always seemed like such a magical experience. If you want to add to the magic, plan this gift to coincide with one of the many Hot Air Balloon Festivals like the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu or Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta.
- Food Tour – Exchange that gift certificate to a restaurant for tickets to a Food Tour. Check out Urban Adventures for some great tours available internationally.
- Wine tour – An all-expenses-paid tour of wine country in Napa, Tuscany, or Bordeaux? Do I need to say more?
- City tour – We recently took a Nightly Spirits Tour and Pub Crawl of Old Town Alexandria. Unlike most city tours which focus solely on providing an education in historical facts, this tour was about the “Boo’s and the Booze”. It was both entertaining and quite enjoyable. Search your local city for available tours which may include everything from ghost and historical tours, to graffiti and architectural tours. If you have the finances, you can even get a little crazy by gifting a helicopter tour.
- Cruise – On the pricier end, there is the option of gifting an actual getaway vacation such as a multi-day cruise. On the more budget-friendly end, you can look for a lunch or dinner cruise. You can even look for a one-day riverboat tour. It is still on my bucket list to do a riverboat tour on a paddlewheel ferry down the Mississippi, such as those seen on American Cruise lines.
- A night in a unique accommodation – Nowadays you can pretty much pay for a night in any type of location: an igloo, castle, cave, treehouse, etc. Check out Airbnb for some unique stays from the adventurous to the quirky to the luxurious.
- Spartan Race or Tough Mudder – Sponsor your friend or beau with entrance to an obstacle race like Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race.
- Chef’s tasting menu – Here is another one for your foodie friends. Treat him or her to a full chef’s tasting menu. These can often range between $65 to over $200 if wine pairings are included. I can attest to the fact that sitting at the “chef’s table” and experiencing a specialty tasting menu is a completely different experience than just ordering off of the menu. The behind-the-scenes look at the chef’s art, and the sampling of off-menu items which the chef has worked hard to perfect makes this an experience to remember. I will say that it is a sight for the eyes, a delicious aroma for the nose, and definitely a delight for the taste buds.
- Immersive Experience – This gift will take a bit more research, but here is an example to kickstart your brainstorming. Dude Ranch Vacations are famous for giving guests a peek into the traditional western lifestyle. Sleep on the ranch while experiencing cattle ranching, horseback riding, garnet digging and gold panning. Animal sanctuaries, aquariums, and organic farmsteads are other examples of attractions which often offer some variation of immersive experiences.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it is definitely a very LARGE list. We hope it helps to get those brain wheels turning so that you can pick out the perfect experience gift for your loved one this holiday season.
Have we left any out? Do you have any favorite experiences which you have either given or received? We would love to hear all about them!
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