If you’re stumped on the perfect gift to get someone special in your life, this post is a must-read. This year you can give them an unforgettable experience gift, instead of another thing-a-ma-jig they might not want.
Over the last few years, my family has shifted all of the gifts we give (and prefer to get) to experience gifts. We’ve chosen to seek experiences over stuff and to give the same to others.
Experience gifts are perfect for the person that seems to have everything or who buys themselves whatever they want.
When you want to make a lasting impression with your gift this year, skip the crowded shopping malls, stop browsing Amazon, and give them an experience instead.
Why Experience Gifts are the Best Gifts
Experience gifts have a high perceived value but sometimes are more affordable than other gifts. For example, a one-year family membership to the zoo is less expensive than buying four individual gifts at $50 each. But the value to the recipients is much higher because they can go to the zoo an unlimited number of times for the next year. Typically, just one or two visits at the daily rate costs as much as the membership.
Family memberships usually include all children for the same price. Many memberships have the option to add on grandparents or a nanny. Plus, many zoos and museums participate in programs where members can visit partner locations for free when they travel. For example, our Science Museum of Minnesota membership allowed us to visit the Perot Museum in Dallas for free before we lived here. Our Minnesota Zoo membership got us into the San Diego Zoo when we were on vacation. Truly a gift that keeps on giving.
When you give an experience, you’re giving more than one gift. Some experience gifts, like a membership or subscription, keep giving all year long. For other experience gifts, like concert tickets, a vacation, or a family photo session, you’re also giving your recipient memories to cherish for a lifetime. And they won’t forget who gave them that amazing experience.
I also like to give (and receive) experience gifts because they are “clutterproof.” That’s my word for preventing clutter. Experience gifts are something your recipient will use and enjoy but won’t add clutter to their home. We all know how much new stuff enters our homes during the holidays. Give your recipients one less thing to deal with—one less thing to clean, store, organize. Instead, give them an experience to enjoy and memories to keep.
12 Experience Gift Ideas
Experience gifts fall into four main categories; memberships/subscriptions, entertainment, acts of service, and consumables. Here are three of my favorite examples for each category:
Memberships and Subscriptions
- Family Membership to a local museum or zoo. When we lived in Minnesota, my parents used to purchase a Grandparents membership to the Minnesota Zoo. It gave them free admission for themselves, plus all of their grandkids, and one guest. I used to take my boys to the zoo all the time with my mom, and it was a gift every time. We also loved our Science Museum of Minnesota family membership, which we bought for ourselves and enjoyed whenever the boys had a no school day.
- Classes or lessons for a favorite hobby. My dad is really into photography so one year we gave him a Lynda.com membership so he could take classes about photo editing software. We also like to give our boys Community Education classes over the holiday break. They’re usually half-day classes like Lego Robotics or coding.
- A special getaway. A getaway gift can be as big or small as you want. The getaway might be a vacation for the whole family, or it might be a night away at a bed and breakfast. Getaway gifts are fun to give your own family (so you get to go with) or perfect to give to a couple.
- A streaming subscription for music, TV, or movies. You can either start them on a subscription they don’t have, like Netflix. Or you can purchase a gift card for the service and pick up the tab for them for a few months—they can apply the gift card to their existing account.
- Tickets to a concert, sports event, or the movies. I still remember the look on my brother’s face when his fiancé gave him tickets to Hamilton. Not only was he delightfully surprised but I know he looked forward to the show. The anticipation was half the fun of the gift.
- Something to read. But it doesn’t have to be a physical book. You could give them a digital magazine subscription or an audible subscription—great for commuters. I think a physical book is also a great experience gift, if it’s a signed copy (personalized to the recipient) or if it’s a book you personally loved and recommend—you could even give them your copy.
Acts of Service
- Lawn Care. One year for my husband’s birthday, I got my whole family to chip in to pay for lawn mowing service for the whole summer. The real gift was the extra two hours of free time my husband had every Sunday afternoon, plus a pretty manicured lawn.
- Housekeeping. Some people aren’t comfortable hiring a regular cleaning service, but you could surprise them with a one-time deep clean. Or you could give them a specific service like window cleaning or carpet cleaning.
- Babysitting. If they trust you to watch their kids, offer your time to give them a night off. My sister did this for us once a month so we could have a date night. It was such a blessing because we didn’t have to find a trustworthy babysitter or pay for one. Plus, my sister got to spend lots of time with our boys.
Consumables are a little different. They’re not necessarily a specific experience, but they are “clutterproof” because they get used up or consumed. Consumables are great if you want to give your recipient something they can unwrap. They’re also a great companion gift to give with an experience gift.
- Favorite drink. Give them their favorite coffee, tea, or alcohol. When we moved to Texas, we did not anticipate how much we would miss our Caribou ground coffee, and we had no idea how hard it would be to find down here. We’ve already mentioned to family how much we’d love some Caribou Costa Rica blend in our stockings this year.
- Homemade treat. Give them something yummy to eat. I love giving homemade treats for teacher gifts and hostess gifts. Don’t limit yourself to baking either. We also like to make roasted nuts, like rosemary almonds or maple walnuts, to give as gifts (if our recipients don’t have nut allergies).
- Art supplies. My kids love it when they get new paper and art supplies. They love specialty papers, like graph paper and tracing paper. Scented markers and pens have been a hit recently too.