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100 Experience-based Holiday Gift Ideas

‘Tis the season to shop till you drop—but what if this year, you focused on giving experiences instead of material objects? It’s scientifically proven that experiential gifts improve relationships and evoke strong emotional responses. And let’s be honest—do you know anyone who’s ever said, “Gee, I sure wish I had more stuff in my house!”

Another great thing about experiential gifts is price—they run the gamut from thousands of dollars to absolutely free. The best part? The memories you’ll create, which are priceless.

Here are my favorite experiential gifts.

  1. Get the outdoorsy person in your life an annual state or national park pass.
  2. Art lover? Membership to a local art museum.
  3. Looking for a kid’s gift? Hello, annual zoo or children’s museum pass.
  4. Kids will go crazy over a gift card for a favorite ice cream shop.
  5. A fun board game, like Apples to Apples, What Do You Meme, Bananagrams.
  6. Spark your wanderlust without leaving your couch with a copy of Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America. This stunning coffee table book features fabulous treehouses, Airstreams, domes and more. Get a custom signed copy here.
  1. Costco membership. Is it a store? Is it an experience? Is it a lifestyle? Who can even be sure these days!
  2. Concert tickets.
  3. AirBnB does gift cards! Get them one, and they can literally go anywhere.
  4. Wine or beer tasting at a local brewery/restaurant/wine shop.
  5. Check out a local dinner theater.
  6. Book a food tour in your own city.
  7. Create a mini spa day, with a manicure, pedicure and maybe even a little champagne.
  8. Host a murder mystery dinner.
  9. Plan a weekend at a cabin or vacation home a few hours away.
  10. Take a sushi making class.
  11. Plan a scavenger or treasure hunt (kids will love this!)
  12. Tickets to a sporting event.
  13. Stand-up comedy show!
  14. Improv comedy show!
  15. Gift card to Libro.fm—the first audiobook company that allows you to buy audiobooks through local booksellers!
  16. Does your parent always talk about a dream vacation—like eating their way through Italy, exploring India’s colorful cities, hiking in Patagonia? Offer to help them plan, or if you’ve got some extra cash squirreled away, take them there!
  17. Pay for someone’s passport. Help them navigate the application process.
  18. Spotify membership. Crank tunes ad-free all year long.
  19. Take a day trip to a cute small town with antique stores, quaint breakfast spots, and dive bars.
  20. Go out for brunch.
  21. Plan a movie marathon, complete with popcorn, drinks and cozy socks.
  22. Learn a craft—glass blowing, wood working, ceramics, pottery.
  1. Bring someone to an animal shelter and help them meet a furry roommate!
  2. A fun jigsaw puzzle, especially one from a favorite place they’ve visited (how great is this one?).
  3. Embrace your inner Great British Bake-off contestant and taking a cake making class at your local kitchen store.
  4. A massage. Or a couple’s massage—doesn’t have to be with a romantic partner, could be your mom, sister, friend.
  5. A night or two at a posh hotel.
  6. Book a day cruise or sunset cruise.
  7. Gift card to the planetarium or science museum.
  8. Indoor rock climbing.
rock climbing
  1. Horseback riding.
  2. Hot air balloon ride
  3. Helicopter tour (splurge, but worth it!)
  4. Indoor skydiving (outdoor could be great too, but know your audience.)
  5. Take the kids for the day and let them be. Please, please, please get me this.
  6. Gift card for a local yoga studio.
  7. Ever done a float tank? Perfect for anyone who doesn’t get enough rest and relaxation.
  8. Get tarot card readings. So fun to do in anticipation of the new year!
  9. Subscription to the Calm app—who couldn’t use a little more ommmm in their life?
  10. Take a train ride! You could do a short, scenic trip, or book a weekender on Amtrak (if you don’t love it, maybe it will make appreciate air travel again).
  11. Monster truck rally. Bring your ear plugs.
  12. Take a ghost tour.
  13. Top Golf!
  14. Bowling!
  15. Ice skating!
  16. Roller skating! Everybody snowball!
  17. Visit a salt cave. Whisper about whether or not you think it actually works.
  18. Does your town have a sauna co-op?
  19. Try an ancient bath ritual, like this one.
  20. A recipe box subscription, like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. You give them the code, they do the ordering—no one wants a surprise dinner they have to cook themselves.
gifts that are experiences, not things
  1. Give the Dark Sky app. It’s a high tech weather radar that gets hyperlocal—Yes, it only costs $3.99 to give the gift of being a weather person!
  2. Plan a girls’ day all about “the girls.” Get your mom, aunts, and sisters together for brunch and bra fitting at a nice undergarment store. It’s a lot more fun than you’d think, and will pay off under every outfit all year long.
  3. An oldie, but a goodie: Go to the movies. Bonus points if it’s a historic theater or one running a classic movie you can introduce a younger generation of nieces and nephews to.
  4. Teach a family member a family recipe, or see if an older relative can teach you a family recipe.
  5. Go to an author reading or book signing at your local book shop
  6. Check out an escape room. Go with your family for extra incentive to get out quickly.
  7. Is there a bingo hall in your area? Why aren’t you there right now?!
  8. Sign up for a knitting, sewing or crocheting class.
  9. A cool cribbage board and deck of cards. If you get a small enough one, they’re easy to travel with, too.
  10. A great bullet journal.
  11. Test drive a Tesla. Fingers crossed they let you go into ludicrous mode—some models go from 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds.  
tesla
  1. A flower arranging class.
  2. These DIY bitters kits are the perfect gift for the cocktail aficionado
  3. Axe throwing is definitely a thing now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a place to do it near you.
  4. Try Aerial yoga. It’s fun, and harder than it looks!
  5. Plan a picnic with your loved one’s favorite foods… even if it’s freezing cold, you can host one on the living room floor.
  6. A friendship lamp is perfect for long distance relationships. These in-sync lamps change color with a touch of your hand—or your loved one’s hand, no matter how far away they live. Each person sets up their lamp via Wi-Fi, then reaches out and touches the lamp whenever they want to let their loved one know they’re thinking of them. A material thing that fills every day with warm fuzzies.
  7. Buy a great cookbook and make a standing date to make something from it once a month together.
  8. Take a cocktail tour of your or city. This doesn’t need to happen all in one night, unless you really love being hungover.
  9. Try all the so-called “best” burgers, pizzas, tacos, wings, whatever your town has to offer. Make a booklet or check list you can use to track your progress and comments throughout the year.
  10. Make getting outside in bad weather more enticing with these traction cleats that can attach to any boot!
  11. Go sledding or tubing at a local ski hill.
  12. Learn to cross country ski.
  13. Or downhill ski.
  14. Or snowboard.
  15. Take part in a Japanese tea ceremony—most larger cities offer things like this, either at a local tea shop or even at a conservatory or library!
  16. Give the gift of Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go, Disney+ or your favorite streaming service.
  17. Take an improv class.
  18. Give your favorite people a self-addressed, stamped postcard. Tell them to pop it in the mail when they’re feeling down later in the year. When you receive it, bake them cookies and send them in the mail.
  19. Book a farm stay and lend a hand gathering eggs and caring for animals. Or just stay at a B&B on a farm and pretend you helped.
  20. Bring your kids to something you adored from your own childhood—a soda fountain, Christmas window displays at the big department store, a classic arcade.
  21. Plan a glamping trip in a yurt or rustic cabin.
  22. Take kids on any sort of unique form of transportation. A trolley or train ride is pretty darn exciting for most kids. Even a city bus! You can’t make this stuff up.
  23. Learn how to craft a perfect latte at a coffee making class.
  24. I love an adult coloring book! Pair with the mega box of crayons or colored pencils.
  25. Set up a family photo shoot. Get fancy and book a photographer. If you make it quick and easy, your family will forget the awkwardness of smiling for the camera the moment they see all the wonderful photos.
  26. Give a gift card for a favorite restaurant.
  27. Create a home wine or beer tasting experience. Buy a selection of the same genre of wine or beer (sauvignon blanc or stouts, for example). Offer bottles from different price points, parts of the world, etc. It can be consumed as a part of an event, or one at a time throughout the next few months.
  28. Make someone a playlist. Bonus points if it’s on a CD. Double bonus points if it’s an actual mixed tape.
  29. Teach someone guitar, piano or whatever you’re good at!
piano
  1. Have someone’s astrological birth chart mapped out.
  2. Hire someone a housecleaning service.
  3. Know someone who really loves to travel? Why not book them a flying lesson!
  4. A surprise visit from a friend or family member they haven’t seen in awhile. Maybe even you!

What’s the best experience-based gift you’ve given or received? Share in the comments!

‘Tis the season to shop till you drop—but what if this year, you focused on giving experiences instead of material objects? It’s scientifically proven that experiential gifts improve relationships and evoke strong emotional responses. And let’s be honest—do you know anyone who’s ever said, “Gee, I sure wish I had more stuff in my house!”
This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. Maybe you could reword this one? “29. Get someone a dog! But, you know, make sure they want one first.”
    I volunteer at a shelter, and we strive to be matchmakers. The pet and person need to meet, and see if they are compatible/fall in love. So maybe you could change it to “Bring someone to an animal shelter and help them meet a furry roommate!”

    Thank you!!!

  2. I gave my dad (& myself) a behind the scenes tour of Great American Ballpark where our MLB Cincinnati Reds play. It even included admission to the Reds’ Hall of Fame & Museum. Many MLB ballparks offer tours on non-game days & it can be a great bonding time for you & the sports fan in your life. I know it was for me & my dad! 🙂

  3. Re .96 — YES!! I gave a year of lessons with a piano teacher to my neighbors’ twins when they were 6 yrs old. Now 16, they play piano, guitar and drums, and listen an eclectic variety of musical styles. Their parents love music, so I knew they would grow up with it, but no one in their family played an instrument. It was the same for me: my family loved music, but no one played, so I was lucky to start piano at age 8 and went on to learn clarinet, oboe, sax, and a little guitar. Being able to play opens up an exciting new world to a music lover!

    1. And may I add… take someone camping or on a simple hike! I took these same boys on short hikes as early as age 5, just a half mile out and back. We made it an adventure with binoculars and a snack, then stopped into the little museum at the park for fossils and leaf identification displays. We continued on longer hikes as they got older, and now they’ve gotten their dad back into tent camping. One still gripes about wanting to get home to play computer games, but at least it gets them out in the woods for a while. haha

  4. Last year for Christmas I gave my mom and sister gift certificates for Thermae Bath Spa in Bath in preparation for our girls trip the following summer. It was fun to look forward to our time soaking in the healing waters and them knowing it was already paid for. After a long day of touring the countryside once there, it was the perfect way to unwind in the evening and become nice to each other again!

  5. Gave my newly retired husband a cooking class. He’s been looking up recipes and doing a good job. Lacks technique for some recipes he’d like to try.

    1. I Think Traveling Too Germany & Switzerland During The Christmas Season & New Year’s Eve!!
      Then Maybe Onto The Rail On The Orient Express To Paris!!

    2. hmmm…. How is my comment still being “moderated” while later ones are already showing? Testing to see if this one actually appears. Doesn’t make one feel welcome.

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