8 Great Gifts That Are Experiences, Not Things

December 5, 2018 Updated: December 5, 2018

’Tis the season to go shopping. You are checking your list, evening out the piles, and pulling together all of the elements of another magical holiday for your family.

Before you allow too many new items into your home, though, consider whether experiences might make for better gifts this year. (And, does your family really need more stuff?)

The beauty of giving experiences instead of things is that you can set your family up for the season or for the year with joyful and enriching life adventures, all while reducing the home clutter you would otherwise have to bear.

What’s more, memories from experiences, opportunities for family bonding, and the potential for finding meaning can be found through experiences—and rarely through things.

Here are eight gift ideas for experiences you may want to add to your list:


Find a movie, a concert, or a play that you know your loved ones would enjoy and wrap the tickets as their gift. They’ll enjoy the benefits of anticipating the event, enjoying it in real time, and remembering it long after it has passed.

You can choose to share in the experience with them, or just gift them tickets they’ll enjoy on their own. Either way, tickets are a great gift.


Think about who your gift recipients are and what they really love to do. Is there a skill they’ve yearned to learn? Or is there a hobby that they keeps them busy?

Lessons that speak to your loved ones’ individual interests are another way to show your appreciation for who they are. Whether it’s a photography class, a cooking class, sewing, ice skating, coding, painting, writing, or acting, register your loved one for an experience that will enhance their life.

Make Your Own Coupons

Experience-related gifts don’t have to cost a lot. A fun gift can be a handmade booklet of coupons for various simple things. Perhaps your coupon book includes a car wash, a picnic in the park, and a hug. An especially great option for children, coupon books are thoughtful and enjoyable.


Food is an experience in itself, isn’t it? Whatever would delight your loved one, whether it be dinner reservations at the best restaurant in town or a box of chocolates, treat them to something delicious. Other food ideas include: a sampler basket of coffee or tea varieties, a gift card to the local homemade ice cream shop, or a subscription to a steak-of-the-month club.

Photo Shoot

A sentimental experience for your family members may be to schedule a family photo shoot. The shoot itself can be a great bonding time and, of course, you’ll all end up with a treasured family keepsake, which I suppose is technically a “thing” but one worth keeping. A family photo shoot is a gift they’ll never forget.

Fun Activities

If your loved one would appreciate some active fun, treat them to an activity like ice skating, roller skating, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, bowling, golfing, playing mini golf, or biking. What are they into? Help them do more of it.

Day Trips

A day trip is another experience that can be customized to your loved one’s interests. The list is endless; you could visit a museum, planetarium, zoo, winery, festival, historic site, nature preserve, national park, theme park, or a town or city you’ve always wanted to check out. Plan a day trip and bring your loved one along as a guest.

A similar gift would be to give a membership to a museum or an annual pass to a theme park.


Perhaps you’re a go-big-or-go-home kind of giver. If so, maybe this is the year you give what many would consider the ultimate gift—a trip. Would your wife love to get away to somewhere sunny for a few days? Does your husband always talk about someday enjoying a cabin in the mountains? Have you been planning to take the kids to Disney World? You might just blow their minds if you surprise them with a trip as their gift.

This idea may not be the budget buster it seems. If you’re planning to travel in the coming year anyway, consider giving the trip itself as a gift. 

You could wrap up items that you are purchasing for the trip, or simply fill a giant box with balloons and a note that reads, “You’re Going to Disney World,” for example.

Life’s about experiences, not things. Before you load up your shopping cart, give a second thought to what you really wish to give this holiday season. Happy holidays!

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza