30+ Ideas for Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts


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Too much stuff? Consider giving experiences instead of gifts this year.

The holidays are a time of celebration shared with our families. Tradition dictates that it’s also a time of gift giving. But in a world where a book that touts getting rid of everything that doesn’t bring you absolute joy continues to be a best seller, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say a lot of us have too much stuff. Instead of adding to the deluge of stuff, consider giving experiences instead of gifts. Or give small, related gifts to enhance a truly great experience.

Giving experiences instead of gifts

In recent generations, we’ve been conditioned to think that a mountain of gifts under the Christmas tree makes the day. Hanukkah gifts have become more elaborate over the years, too, replacing the more traditional gelt. 

But when does it get to be too much stuff? If you’re concerned about the rampant consumerism that has overtaken our holiday season, consider something different this year.

Instead of trying to guess at the perfect gift (that may very well end up at the thrift store before December rolls around again), check out these activity gift ideas. Whether fulfilling a wish, encouraging a passion, or purely indulgent, these unique experience gift ideas will delight your family and friends.

Too much stuff? Consider giving experiences instead of gifts this year. Check out these activity gift ideas for a memorable holiday.

Classes and education

Get crafty. Online courses from Craftsy offer a little bit of everything. Opt for a specific course that suits a passion — quilting, sewing, knitting, soap making — or give a gift certificate so your recipient can choose.

Get skilled. Know someone who’s intrigued by the idea of canning, gardening, and other “old fashioned” skills? A membership to Rootsy will let them explore some of those projects with the help of experts.

Go forage. Know someone who’d love to forage in the outdoors for edibles? Find an expert guide who can point out the safe (and dangerous) options in their region and arrange for an outing.

Learn about herbs. The Herbal Academy offers courses from introductory to advanced levels.

Paint and sip. Wine and art come together in these one-night classes. Take your pal out and put brush to canvas, following the advice of an experienced artist. No guarantees that you’ll want to frame your artwork, but there are sure to be some laughs.

Make cheese. This course is online and offers easy instructions for making fermented dairy products.

Share your skills. We often overlook our own skills and what we have to offer. Do you make a mean cheesecake? Know how to make top hats? Sing like a songbird? Give a gift of yourself with a coupon for classes with you.

Consider giving experiences instead of gifts this year.

Relaxing and indulgent gifts

A gift certificate for a massage. A massage therapist can relax a stiff neck and ease stressful days for just about anyone. If you’re gifting a DIY personal massage to your partner (ooh la la!), accompany your gift with some of these herbal massage bars.

Spa day. Send your bestie out for a spa day or plan for a relaxing spa day at home. If you do it yourself, package the certificate with a basket of homemade bath salts, soap, a fancy candle, and a dry brush for healthy skin.

Manicure and pedicure. If you can, find a salon that offers non-toxic options.Too much stuff? Consider giving experiences instead of gifts this year. Check out these activity gift ideas for a memorable holiday.

Take a cut. We all need our hair cut. But how often do we spend extra money to get a really good cut? If you know someone who’s feeling frazzled and hasn’t taken any “me” time lately, a good cut can be incredibly uplifting.

Night out. Moms and dads who are so tired from taking care of the kiddos will appreciate nothing so much as a chance to get away for a few hours. Volunteer to babysit and treat them to dinner or a movie or an ice cream that they can enjoy with adult company.

Gifts on the home front

Stay in. Subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime so movie lovers can indulge in the latest blockbusters or vintage flicks.

Solve a murder. Give seven of your closest friends an invitation to a murder mystery party. Plan it for January or February to add a bit of excitement to the dreary winter days.

Scream for ice cream. Package up assorted ice cream toppings — nuts, hot fudge sauce, sprinkles — and set the stage for an ice cream party.

Popcorn movie night. Tuck a classic or popular DVD and some organic popcorn inside this old-fashioned popcorn popper.

Hire a hand. Or two. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with…life. Little kids, too many projects, so many goals. What a relief it would be to have someone come in and clean house, top to bottom. Hire a house cleaner for a day or a month, depending on your budget. (When it comes to giving experiences instead of gifts, this one might just be perfection.)

Give a hand. On the same note, we can all help each other. Create a coupon book full of chores you’ll tackle — with a smiling face — when asked.

Start a garden. If you’re a gardener yourself, spend some time taking cuttings, dividing perennials, or packaging seeds from your place. Bundle them up with instructions for planting.

Peel out. Have a wannabe race car driver on your list? Consider enrolling him or her into a racing school. They’ll have a blast and gain some road skills. New drivers in particular could really benefit from lessons like this. Plus? You might breathe easier knowing that they’ve got some expert driving tips under their (seat)belt.

Check out these activity gift ideas for a memorable holiday.

Activity gift ideas for families

Animal action. Membership to a zoo, an aquarium, or a wildlife rescue center will thrill animal lovers.

Get hands on. Many cities have children’s museums that offer kids a chance to learn and grow while participating in the different exhibits.(My kids used to love visiting these.) Give an annual membership if the family lives near enough to visit often, or a day pass.

Catch a show. Even small communities have performing arts programs. Give a gift of season tickets for some fun live theater.

Action! Package up some passes for the local movie theater with a jar of popcorn.

Plan a trip. Organize a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a dream vacation that the entire family will love. Wrap up a map of the region along with a pair of small binoculars and a cool compass. Unique experience gifts like this offer up a chance for family bonding and enjoying a new place. 

Game on. Football, baseball, basketball — there are numerous options to thrill a sports fan. If there’s not a pro team nearby, look for a minor league or women’s team. 

Swap shoes. Give gift certificates for the bowling alley or local skating rink.

30 unique experience gifts to give

Unique experience gifts for families

Start a tradition. Tuck some pretty paper inside a glass jar. Tie on a tag instructing family members to write down one thing they loved about each day, then read them aloud every holiday season.

Give a listen. There are some amazing audio recordings that will captivate the entire family. I wholeheartedly recommend Odds Bodkin’s retelling of The Odyssey and the work of Jim Weiss.

Say cheese. How many families do you know who talk about getting a family portrait taken someday? Make someday happen; give them a gift certificate to capture their family for posterity.

Build a playhouse. If you’ve got the space for a playhouse or a tree just perfect for a treehouse, this book will get kids’ creative juices flowing. Package it up with some lengths of rope, pulleys and hooks, and other hardware to make the coolest kid space around.

Have a cow. Heifer International works to end hunger and poverty. By providing animals to people in impoverished communities, they help create a way for people to feed their family and earn an income. Get a family involved in giving by providing a set dollar amount and ask them to decide together how to allocate the money. The experience will let everyone participate in doing some good this holiday season.

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