12 Fun Ways to Give Experiences Instead of Stuff


Giving an experience, or even one's time, as a holiday gift, in the place of things that people may not really want, is becoming more and more popular. Think about it. Giving an experience means that your recipient won't have something else to clutter their home, and it means that they get to do something that is fun and meaningful for them. (See also: The Ultimate Gift Guide)

If giving experiences appeals to you this holiday season, here are just a few ideas to jumpstart your thoughts.

For the Kids

Kids usually have a long list of things they want, but that doesn't mean you can't treat them to fun (and educational?) experiences, instead.

1. Annual Passes

Give an annual pass to something they'll enjoy returning to, like the zoo, the aquarium, or a really nifty science museum. This is an especially frugal idea if you plan to visit these places multiple times in a year anyway, as these passes usually pay for themselves in 2-4 visits. My kids love to feed the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo over and over again, or watch how Heran the tiger progresses in his training at the Denver Aquarium. (See also: How to Visit Museums for Free)

2. Field Trips

If your kids are in school, give a day off "field trip" somewhere exciting. Take them to an amusement park or an age-appropriate theater show, and throw in a meal at a fun restaurant.

Give each of your children a day in your life. So many kids crave their parents' time and attention, so knowing that you set aside the stuff that they usually see you doing in order to be with them means a lot. Even if you can't afford to go anywhere exciting, your kids will enjoy spending the day with you one-on-one. (See also: 15 Free Ways to Entertain Kids)

For Your Spouse

A great thing about giving your spouse an experience is that it can be one you experience together.

3. Time Off

Give them some time off. You can give them a weekend without work, where you will take on all the tasks that would have been theirs so that they can rest, relax, and catch up on things that are important to them. If you want to, throw in gift certificates to some of their favorite places so they can pamper themselves that weekend, too. (See also: Frugal Ways to Improve Your Spouse’s Day)

4. DIY Classes

Pay for the two of you to take classes in something you think you'd enjoy but have never done. Try cooking or art classes in your neighborhood.

5. Mini Vacation

Plan a small vacation. Maybe you can reserve your favorite camping spot, or get a room in a quaint bed and breakfast near an area you've always wanted to explore. This doesn't have to be anything extravagant — the important thing is that the two of you get away together. (See also: 14 Affordable Weekend Getaways)

For Everybody Else

From the foodies you know to adventurous travelers, you can give all sorts of interesting, thoughtful experiences.

6. Babysitting

Offer to babysit for a night, or two, or even a whole weekend for a parent you know. This is a gift that is virtually free for you to give, but that is also very meaningful for the parents who receive it. Not only does this mean that they get some free time, but it means that they won't have to worry about their kids because they know their munchkins will be with someone they trust. And if you wonder whether this is really giving an experience, think about it from the parent's perspective. Time off plus no kids equals a chance to do something they love without having to worry.

7. A Special Meal

Learn to cook a unique meal that your foodie friend will love. If your friend likes a particular kind of cuisine, you can watch videos on YouTube that can teach you how to make dishes your friend will love. Not only is this an experience you can share with the recipient, but the people who get to taste test your practice sessions probably won't mind, either. (See also: 10+ Tasty Cuban Recipes)

8. Cooking School, Part 2

If your foodie friend would prefer to learn some new cooking skills themselves, take them to one of the classes mentioned above, or offer a gift certificate.

9. Personal Travel Experiences

If you know someone on your list who is planning a trip, see if you can't buy a special experience for them while they're there. Vayable is a website that specializes in offering unique experiences to travelers by connecting them with locals who offer tours or lessons that might be hard to find otherwise. You can also contact the local travel bureau in your recipient's destination and see what they suggest. (See also: Why You Should Travel Off the Beaten Path)

10. Some Holiday Cheer

Spend some time with the recipient now that the holidays are in full swing, just experiencing the season together. Bake cookies, make hot chocolate, build a gingerbread house, and string garlands. Purchase all of the supplies and invite a group of people whose presence will be meaningful to the recipient, and you have a great gift for someone who just adores the holiday season.

11. A Bucket List Item

Buy the recipient a gift certificate to do something they've always wanted to do. Whether it's base jumping, paragliding, or waterskiing, you can help the person knock something off their bucket list. If the price tag is too much for you to carry alone, organize a group of people who can give the recipient the adventure of a lifetime. If all of your friends are web savvy, Share A Gift can be a great way to make this happen online.

12. An Experience Certificate

If you just can't decide how they should spend their time, let them choose their own experience. You can buy a gift certificate to a website like Cloud 9 Living, where your recipient can choose their own adventure. I know my husband would love to be a fighter pilot for a day, and I'd drag him along on my hot air balloon ride. Giving a gift like this not only means that you don't end up buying them something that isn't meaningful, but it also takes the hassle out of things on your end. You don't have to plan anything, and they still get an adventure that is special to them.

Are you thinking of giving an experience as a gift this holiday season? Tell us about your plans in comments.

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