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It’s that time of year again- “holiday gift guide” posts are popping up on all of your favorite websites. They promise to help you find that perfect gift for everyone on your list. The only problem is, no one you know needs more stuff. You might think they do. They might think they do. But I promise- stuff is a prison. Give an experience instead. (Everyone needs more adventure!)
Almost a year ago, I got rid of 95% of my belongings so I could adventure around the world unencumbered. I was apprehensive at first, but once it was all gone, it was the most freeing feeling imaginable. I know I had way too much stuff. I know you do, too. Because everyone does. Source: 15 years as a Funeral Director, listening to thousands of families discussing what on earth to do with all of Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa’s stuff now that they’re gone.
The Best Gift I’ve Ever Received
Several years ago, I dated a man who was a phenomenal gift giver. One Christmas morning I unwrapped an envelope containing a description of my gift: a trip to Minnesota to drive a tank and crush a car with it. Not only was it the most badass gift imaginable, it also got me a mention on CNN Money because I did the tank drive in a floor-length camouflage skirt and flip flops. (Woo, fame!) I can’t recommend the experience enough, so if you think this is something someone in your life needs, check them out at DriveATank.com.
The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given
A year of adventure. Not going to lie, I think I really hit it out of the park with this one. I purchased a tabletop globe in a wooden stand and cut it in half. (This is way harder than it looks, FYI, and should not be attempted on Christmas Eve while marginally tipsy. Or so I’ve heard.) I found 12 envelopes lined with an antique map print and labeled them with the months of the year. In each envelope I inserted a card with a description of that month’s adventure. In January, we visited an ethnic restaurant we’d never tried before (I enjoyed Ethiopian food, he didn’t, but we both had a blast!). In February I sent him on a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt that ended with a fancy dinner at my house. In March we did a weekend-long tour of Florida’s best craft breweries. Etc., etc.
Just a smidge better than a new video game, right?
It only takes a little bit of creativity to come up with a fun and meaningful adventure gift that your recipient will love. Here are a few ideas to get you started. (Bonus: most of them can be sorted just as easily as you would order any other gift online. So even if you do all of your shopping on Amazon, you’re still covered.)
Gift ideas that aren’t stuff:
- Spa day
- Tinggly gift certificate or other experience gift cards
- Dinner out
- Restaurant gift card & an offer to babysit
- Plan a trip! Anything from camping in the county park or splashing out on a flight & hotel or something in between. Even a small adventure is better than none at all. And I might be biased, but I happen to think helping someone check something off their bucket list is just about the coolest gift you can give.
- “Upgrade” an upcoming trip the recipient already has planned. She’s going on a cruise? Pay for a shore excursion. He’s going to Europe? Book him a city tour with a company like Intrepid Travel. They’re planning a tropical getaway for spring break? Pay for their SCUBA certifications to help them have an even more amazing time.
- Sign the recipient up for a class at a local community center or adult education program. Bonus points if you take the class together.
- Indoor skydiving, ziplining, etc.
- Wine or beer tasting
- Cooking lessons, surfing lessons, etc.
- If you live near a body of water, check for day sails, sightseeing boats, etc. I’ve taken boatloads (ha!) of friends on a Schooner Freedom sail in St. Augustine, Florida. Everyone always has an amazing time.
- Book a family photo shoot.
- An annual membership to a local museum/science center/planetarium/theme park, etc.
- A plane ticket for a far-flung friend or family member to visit you.
- Tickets to a sporting event.
- Horseback riding lessons or a trail ride.
- A ride in a train, or a hot air balloon, or a horse-drawn carriage.
- Enroll the two of you in a mud run, color run, or obstacle course.
- A gift certificate to an airline, hotel, or travel agent.
- Pay for a young (or not-so-young) relative to get their first passport.
- A visit to an ethical wild animal sanctuary.
- Many zoos, museums, and other attractions have “behind the scenes” tours that you can find on their website. I’ve gifted behind the scenes tours to an aquarium and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and both were extremely well received. Everyone likes to feel like a VIP!
Bonus tip: Every single woman you know who has young children wants an overnight stay, alone, in a nice, quiet hotel. Trust me on this.
OK, cool, but I’m like totally broke. Now what?
No worries. There are still plenty of super cool experiences you can give.
- Recipient hates to cook? Offer to come over and make a homemade dinner & clean up afterward.
- Scan the local events calendar for your city & make plans to take them on a free city tour, holiday open house, etc.
- If you live in or near New York, score tickets to a TV show taping.
- Schedule a brewery or distillery tour; these are usually free and provide samples at the end.
- Sign the recipient and yourself up for a day of volunteer work at a local soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity build, etc. Bonus warm fuzzies, no charge.
These are great, but I need more inspiration. Where can I find more ideas?
- Groupon! This is a treasure trove of awesome gift ideas. Looking at my local area deals, I see flight lessons, photography classes, driving experiences, and hundreds of other things that would make great gifts. I may or may not have also bought a car detailing for myself. (Try to have a little more self control than I do.)
- Airbnb Experiences. Not just for booking someone’s guest room anymore, Airbnb now has an “experiences” tab where you can book photo shoots, local tours, cooking classes, and all sorts of cool things in a neighborhood near you.
- The local newspaper events calendar. Find gallery openings, festivals, shows, musical performances, etc.
- A local community college. The ones closest to me offer art and STEM summer camps for teens, 50+ learning, and classes in finance, creative arts, and languages.
- Travel deals websites like Travelzoo. In addition to flights and hotels, they usually have deals on sports and event tickets, restaurant discounts, and other creative gift ideas.
No doubt your mom loved that sweater you gave her last year (which looked a lot like the one you gave her the year before, if we’re being honest) but I’m going to be real here: you can do better. Also, your dad doesn’t want another insulated coffee mug. He wants to drive a race car.
Are you giving any experience gifts this year, or do you have fond memories of one you gave or received in the past? Tell me about it in the comments!
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