Gifts have gone beyond wrapped boxes with bows; the best gifts are experiences. Giving gifts has always been a way for people to show love and appreciation to other people. Buying expensive stuff may seem like the ultimate show of affection. But experience gifts come with a value that goes beyond the price tag.
Most times when people talk of giving or receiving gifts, they speak about material things. However, research has shown that individuals who spend money on experiences are happier.
The value of an experience gift is not measured by the cost but by the richness of the experience. The satisfaction from material things fades away as quickly as ‘better’ options are available in the market. However, the satisfaction and memories from an experience can last for a lifetime.
The family member or friend who is receiving the present gets to play a big role in shaping it. That makes it more of a personal experience than a more material gift.
Experiences don't have end-of-life periods, unlike consumer goods that will eventually end up in the bin. It also makes the act of gift-giving a lot less wasteful as there is no wrapping paper, tape, ribbons, or packaging involved.
Unlike material presents, experience gifts don't take up storage space in your home. Instead, they are treasured in the hearts of the recipients. So you don't have to worry about storage, regardless of the enormity of the experience gift.
Research has shown that experience gifts help foster stronger relationships than material gifts2. A lot of experience gift options allow you to spend quality time with your loved one. It helps everyone involved interact and bond.
You and your loved ones can also enjoy health benefits from giving and receiving experience gifts. A study shows that persons who have frequent social interactions with friends and family live longer. They are also less prone to feeling isolated, and it can even help them cope better if they suffer from depression1.
Experiences do not need to be manufactured, so right off the bat, issues of unethical resource extraction, carbon emissions, water, and air pollution do not occur.
Also, we know that experience gifting encourages renting and sharing instead of outright purchase. When you rent or share an item, you get a carbon footprint far smaller than if you had purchased it.
For instance, you don't have to buy the latest Xbox or PS4 to give a memorable gaming experience to a loved one. A real game of golf via mini putt (or the real thing) or perhaps a session of bowling all prevent product shipping. Even better, get there by public transport for minimum carbon emissions.
With an experience gift, you don't have to worry about gift wrapping polluting the environment since it is hardly recyclable. They are usually packaging-free.
Experiences like a vacation or classes may cost money for plane tickets, accommodation, registration, and so on. Plus can add to carbon-emitting travel miles.
However, you can opt for affordable experiences. You can give some experience gifts at absolutely zero monetary cost. Teaching someone a skill or setting up a scavenger hunt in a local park won't cost you a dime.
The best thing about experience gifts is that you can give someone a very precious gift by spending very little because it's the thoughtfulness of the present that matters.
Research has established that experience gifts are more emotionally evocative, yet many people still buy material presents. Why?
Perhaps it is because you’re best to tailor experience gifting to the receiver thoughtfully. Also, health concerns have brought about regulations on large public gatherings in some cities. This presents a challenge in finding the perfect experience gift. Not to worry, a lot of experience gift ideas are now available as virtual experiences.
Quick links to some of the best experience gifts ideas:
Knowledge like diamonds is forever. Gifting someone an online course or skill acquisition class is a great gift. It is an investment in their future.
You can choose the right classes for the gift recipient based on their hobbies or career choice. Depending on where the gift recipient lives or their schedule, you can choose between physical classes or online lessons.
If the recipient is the budding home chef, get them cooking classes. A language course, yoga classes, art classes, or a professional course all make fantastic gifts options depending on your recipient’s tastes and preferences.
Both kids and adults will enjoy treasure hunting experiences. They get to look for clues and enjoy a thrilling victory when they find the treasure. You can set up a treasure hunt in your own home.
If you don't have time or want a large-scale scavenger hunt, you can order a City Scavenger Hunt or some other package online. You can check out Let’s Roam; the company has scavenger hunts set up in many cities in the United States.
A scavenger hunt is an excellent way for someone who has just moved to a new city to explore their new environment.
Road trips cost just a bit more than the expense of everyday driving. You don't need to own a car to give someone a road trip experience; you can rent one instead. For a gift recipient who doesn't enjoy crowded spaces, online and offline, taking them on a road trip may be a perfect gift.
Even better these days, you can opt for electric vehicles for minimum carbon emissions.
Gift your loved one a tour experience. You could arrange a personalized tour to one or more of the places they would enjoy visiting. Customized tours can center on the recipient’s interest. If they love art and history, purchase a private museum tour or a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadiums their sports idols play in.
Group tour packages are also available, and you could book one online as a gift. Visiting an observatory, safari, and historical landmarks are excellent touring destinations.
Give your favorite person a chance to experience events. Buy them tickets to attend the concert of their favorite band, a comedy show, or movie premiere tickets.
With COVID-19 regulations, some of these events may be live-streamed. The gift recipients should still enjoy the event, regardless.
The experience of floating in the sky so close to the clouds is not easily forgotten. Buy a hot-air balloon ride experience today and thrill your loved one.
Talking balloons, you may also be tempted to couple your experience gift with a little color and impact by way of balloons. However, simply put eco friendly balloons don't exist, and therefore consider the alternatives you'll find in our run down.
Instead of getting more stuff on the holidays, consider buying a family membership pass at the zoo, amusement park, arcade, or virtual experience game subscription.
If your recipient is a fan of video or board games, you can give them a one-day total access pass at the local game center as a gift. As a pro tip, if the gift is a physical environment, we suggest adding some behind-the-scenes access as part of the gift.
If you can't afford a game day out for your kids, organize one at home. If you don't have video gaming equipment, play a board game or improvise with something fun.
Someone who enjoys wine will love a wine tasting gift experience. You may visit an event organized for wine enthusiasts to sample products. or order a custom wine box filled with brands they have never had before.
Gift cards to choose an experience are great in that they allow the recipient to pick the exact experience they want. You can get a gift card from their favorite local bookstores or an experience gift service.
Now and then, people go to the spa to enjoy the relaxing treatment. Book a complete spa treatment for your loved one as a gift. They will enjoy the skin pampering and massages even more when it's a gift.
If you don't want to pay for a full spa service, get them a gift card to personalize the spa services they want.
One of the best experience gifts for a lover of nature is a national park pass. Get them a year-long pass that will allow them to explore to their heart's content. They can explore safely, too, as many parks enforce social distancing.
The United States Geological Survey sells annual passes. A pass allows holders to visit over 2,000 national parks and federal recreational lands, including the grand canyon and zion national park, across the nation.
The gift recipient can bring up to 3 people along when exercising their pass privileges. Although an entry fee may be required for persons over 16, they don’t charge fees for kids aged 15 and under. The recipient gets to share their gift with others this way.
That family member or friend who is seriously thinking about working out more or has just embarked on a fitness journey at home will appreciate a gym membership gift. If the gift recipient lives close to you, getting them a membership at the same gym you use can create an opportunity for gym buddy bonding.
You probably didn't think cooking for someone could be a gift, but it may be the best present you can give to that family member who does all the cooking. Even if you have a hired cook, homemade food from a loved one provides more happiness than just a full stomach.
Home cook a meal with your loved one, friends, or family. It should be not just intimate but fun as well.
Watching a movie together seems like something too ordinary to be a gift. But with some thoughtful ideas, it could be more fun and unforgettable. You can treat your kids to a home cinema experience with make-believe tickets, popcorn, and juice.
Experience gift ideas are all about thoughtfulness. For some folks, a cleaning service can be the sweetest present. Because it would give them more time to kick their feet up and relax or go do something fun.
Cleaning gift experiences should be the right choice for recipients who may not usually spend on such services but would be delighted not to have to do it themselves.
You probably know someone who dreams of riding luxury cars someday. You can give them the experience of riding in their dream car without having to purchase the vehicle. Some businesses sell luxury car driving experiences. You can rent the car for a short ride, a day or more.
One simple but memorable experience gift idea is a picnic. Picnics are nothing new, but a surprise picnic for your family is an experience they won't forget in a hurry.
To make the experience even more memorable, purchase an outdoor photoshoot session to hold during the picnic. Or you could bring art supplies so the kids can draw and paint artworks as souvenirs from the experience.
A session at the hairdresser's, nails shop, or stylist is a great experience gift idea. Instead of simply buying clothes, accessories, and makeup as presents, give your loved one professional style advice and services. That way, they can confidently explore a new look or revamp their custom style.
Get your loved one or kids out of the house for a weekend on a mini-vacation. Search for a nice place the family can spend a weekend out. It doesn't have to be super expensive; a local hotel will do.
A simple date can be an experience someone may cherish for life. Money or distance is not a barrier to giving a memorable date night as a present. You can incorporate some activities like dancing, stargazing, and karaoke to spice up the night.
Have a date night at home with fun indoor activities if you don’t want to go out. Date nights can also happen virtually.
An online subscription to streaming services like Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix are popular experience gift ideas. For people who can't go out due to COVID-19 restrictions or for some other reason, a subscription to a streaming service could be an entertaining experience.
One thing that makes the gift experience a great gift is that it is not restricted to the holiday season. You don't have to wait until Christmas morning to put a smile on the faces of your family and friends.
Paulina Pchelin & Ryan T. Howell (2014) The hidden cost of value-seeking: People do not accurately forecast the economic benefits of experiential purchases, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9:4, 322-334, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.898316
Cindy Chan, Cassie Mogilner, Experiential Gifts Foster Stronger Social Relationships Than Material Gifts, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 43, Issue 6, April 2017, Pages 913–931, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucw067
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.