15 Experiences You Can Give as Gifts (Instead of Things)

During this time of year, it’s natural to start making a list of things you’re planning on buying your loved ones. What if, this year, you opted to slash your shopping list and instead give the gift of experiences to the travel-lovers in your life? According to many studies, millennials are opting to spend money on experiences over things in larger numbers than ever before. And it’s with good reason, too – science tells us that experiences are much more worthwhile than buying things. For those who love travel, experiences are fulfilling and memorable, while small material gifts often get lost or forgotten.

This holiday season, we are challenging YOU to give your loved ones gifts of experiences instead of things. Of course, we all love getting shiny new objects (many of which are really useful to travelers!), but we also know that the value of experiences can be much more meaningful and memorable than material items. Stumped for what to do? Here are 15 of our favorite experiences to give as gifts to jumpstart your thought process:

For the person in your life that loves music…

experiences to give as gifts

1. Concert Tickets

If your loved ones are music lovers or have particular artists they enjoy, there’s no greater joy than going to a live show. For these people, consider gifting a set of concert tickets in your city for the holiday season. Aside from tickets to see pop artists or bands, some other interesting musical gift experience ideas include symphony performances, musicals, ballets, operas, and more.

For the foodie in your life…

2. A Home-Cooked Meal

One of the most fun and unique bonding experiences you can give, especially for families, is a day of learning to cook…together. The best part? It’s super cost effective! All you need to do is plan the menu, purchase the ingredients and necessary equipment, and download the recipes and instructions. Then, pick a day and allocate some time to cook together. It’s even more fun to pair wines or beers with your courses to make it feel extra fancy.

3. A Cooking Class

Does someone you know want to step up their cooking game to the next level? Consider going to a local culinary school or kitchen shop for a cooking class! Unlike cooking a meal at home, these experiences offer expertise from a professional chef, making for an amazing learning experience for any foodie.

4. A Fancy Dinner at a Restaurant

What’s a better gift for a high-class foodie than a dinner at one of your city’s best restaurants? Whether it’s a Michelin-rated dining experience, a prix-fixe menu, or a local gem, fancy dinners don’t come often for many people, and the opportunity to dress up and eat with the culinary elite can be a real treat.

For the active outdoor enthusiast…

5. An Outdoor Adventure Tour

Kayaking? Stand-up paddle boarding? Canyoning? Camping? The world is your oyster when you decide to give the gift of an outdoor experience. Near or far, outdoor lovers will enjoy getting some fresh air no matter what. These kinds of experiences can definitely be more memorable than simply giving a piece of camping gear or equipment.

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6. A Road Trip

What’s more thrilling than an impromptu trip to somewhere beautiful? Instead of giving a gift-wrapped present, surprise your loved ones by having them hop into the car and driving them somewhere unique, interesting, or naturally beautiful. Outdoor lovers will swoon over the spontaneity of the adventure, and the uniqueness of the experience. You can even combine this option with #5 for a gift of an amazing weekend trip.

7. A Rock Gym or Exercise Class Membership

The adventurous people in your life are probably very active, and would love to sharpen their skills. For these people, a membership to a rock gym, a yoga studio, or a spinning class could be the perfect experience to give. This is the perfect present because it enables those people to do the things they love over and over again. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving!

For the luxury lovers…

8. A Relaxing Day at the Spa

There are few better presents than the gift of relaxation. If you have a loved one who enjoys the finer things in life, a spa day could be a great way to unwind and rejuvenate together. A massage, a mani-pedi, or a few hours in a warm spa pool could make for a unique and tranquil memory. If you want to save money on a spa experience, sites like Groupon often have great package deals you can buy at a discount.

9. A Swanky Stay-cation

Does your loved one have an affinity for nice accommodations or luxury resorts? Why not treat them to a night in one of your city’s most amazing hotels? Or a quirky Airbnb? The best part about this option is that you can book many stays with points and miles, thus alleviating the cost of this indulgent experience.

10. An Exotic Car Ride

If you have a luxury car enthusiast in your life, one of the most thrilling experiences you can give is a ride in an exotic vehicle. Think Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and other high-end cars. Many cities offer these experiences in 1-hour increments, or in laps around a racetrack where you can reach speeds of well over 100 mph. Give the gift of adrenaline with a ride to remember!

For people who enjoy learning…

11. Tickets to a Talk or Conference

Many influential authors, scientists, researchers, and more make tours around the United States to share their insights and learnings. If you have a low-key nerd in your life (I’m definitely one of these!), a gift to a talk or conference on an interesting topic can make for an incredible learning experience.

12. An Online or In-Person Course

If your gift recipient is passionate about something specific, they probably love to learn new skills in that field (and spend their free time doing it!). There’s really no better gift for these kinds of people than the gift of education. Many online courses or seminars are cheap (or free!) and can teach important skills like coding, writing, designing, and more. Your loved one will definitely be able to begin the new year off on a good start!

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13. Entrance to a Museum or Exhibit

While there are many free museums that exist in the world, some of the best ones cost a pretty penny to get into. If you have someone in your life who loves to go down rabbit holes and learn lots of interesting information in an interactive way, tickets to a museum or exhibit can be a great way to give them exactly what they want.

For just about anyone…

14. A Day Tour in Your Home City

If you live in a big city (or even smaller towns), you probably have a local tourism office that has suggestions for tours and activities you can do in the area. A fantastic gift is taking your loved ones on a planned itinerary around your home city, discovering new neighborhoods or attractions to visit. We all know it’s easy to take your home city for granted, so why not take this special time of year to explore it a bit better?

15. A Flight, Train, or Bus Ticket

Any traveler would appreciate the opportunity to go somewhere new. Why not jump start the process by giving them a flight, train, or bus ticket to somewhere new? If you don’t know where they want to go, consider giving airline miles, ticket vouchers, gift cards, or an IOU instead.

And, to wrap it all up…

A Scavenger Hunt

Because you aren’t giving anything material, it can be hard to ‘gift wrap’ your experience. One of the best ways to “package” your presents is by offering a bit of a challenge – a scavenger hunt. Whether large or small, it can be fun to make your family and friends work a little bit for their presents. And, for added surprise, make the final stop of the hunt at the place where you want your experience to occur! Whether you set it up around your house or across a city, scavenger hunts are a memorable way to package something intangible.

Unique and Fun Packaging

If you aren’t up for the chaos of a scavenger hunt, you can make your packaging unique and fun. Some ways to do this include time-binding your packages (open at 3:00 PM on December 25) or by using creative means of wrapping your tickets or presents (using magazine covers, relevant newspapers, or cute sayings). If you’re giving an experience as a gift, it’s fun and appreciated to make opening the present an experience in itself!

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Have you ever given an experience as a gift? What did you give? What are your favorite experiences to give as gifts? We want to hear your stories and tips in the comments!

Kay is a full-time media professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare day of time to travel the world. In the last year alone, she's visited over 10 different countries and taken a dozen short trips in between. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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