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During the holiday season, it’s natural to start making a list of things you’re planning on buying your loved ones. However, if you knew that the average American is estimated to spend $1,007 on holiday material expenses (including gifts and food) this year, would that make you reevaluate? According to many studies, millennials are opting to spend money on experiences over things in larger numbers than ever before. And with good reason, too – science tells us that experiences are much more worthwhile than buying material items. Experiences are fulfilling and memorable, while small material gifts often get lost or forgotten. For those who are hoping to slash their holiday budgets and give meaningful presents, giving experiences as gifts can be the most economical and unique way to do it.

For the last 2 years, I’ve given my family only experiences as Christmas gifts. I’ve barely given anything material at all to anyone. So, based on my experience, I’ve compiled a list of 17 of my favorite experiences to give as gifts to help you jumpstart your gift-giving thought processes.

Stumped on what to get your loved ones for Christmas or the holidays? Why not give them...nothing? In this post, we've laid out 17 ideas for experiences you can give as gifts instead of things. It's the best, most minimalist-friendly gift guide out there! #GiftGuide #Christmas #Holiday #Gifts

17 Incredible Ideas for Experiences You Can Give as Gifts

For the music-lover in your life

1. Concert Tickets

If your loved ones are music lovers or have particular artists they enjoy, there’s no greater joy than going to a live show. For these people, consider gifting a set of concert tickets in your city for the holiday season. You can browse through concert dates and listings in your city on artists’ websites, or on popular ticket vendor sites such as Ticketmaster, LiveNation, and Stubhub. If you’re feeling extra generous, look into upcoming music festivals that your loved one may enjoy.

Aside from tickets to see pop artists or bands, some other interesting musical gift experience ideas include symphony performances, musicals, ballets, operas, and more. In Washington DC (where I live), the Kennedy Center does steep ticket discounts for young professionals under age 30. To save some money (for readers under 30!), check out your city’s performance hall and see if they offer something similar.

experiences to give as gifts
Rocking out at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, Iceland.

For the foodie in your life…

2. A Home-Cooked Meal

One of the most fun and unique bonding experiences you can give, especially for families, is a day of learning to cook…together. The best part? It’s super cost effective! All you need to do is plan the menu, purchase the ingredients and necessary equipment, and download the recipes and instructions. Make it extra upscale by printing menus, decorating your dining room, and designing different courses that you can share one by one.

Then, pick a day and allocate some time to cook together. It’s even more fun to pair wines, beers, cocktails, or candles with your courses to make it feel extra fancy. And, of course, plate your dishes in a classy way so it feels like a five-star experience!

3. A Cooking Class

Does someone you know want to step up their cooking game to the next level? Consider going to a local culinary school or kitchen shop for a cooking class! Unlike cooking a meal at home, these experiences offer expertise from a professional chef, in a large and beginner-friendly kitchen, making for an amazing learning experience for any foodie.

If you’re having trouble finding local cooking classes, try looking at local culinary schools, Airbnb Experiences, or Sur La Table. Or, just Google “cooking classes in [your city]” and browse for the best options.

4. A Fancy Dinner at a Restaurant

What’s a better gift for a high-class foodie than a dinner at one of your city’s best restaurants? Whether it’s a Michelin-rated dining experience, a prix-fixe menu, or a new local culinary gem, fancy dinners don’t come often for many people, and the opportunity to dress up and eat with the culinary elite can be a real treat.

If you’re planning to eat out at a nice restaurant, especially during the holiday season, be sure to reserve a table in advance, as many of these kinds of restaurants require reservations. My favorite reservation system to use is OpenTable, but be sure to check on the restaurant’s website to see how they prefer to take reservations.

The fanciest meal I’ve ever treated myself to at 108 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

For the active outdoor enthusiast…

5. An Outdoor Adventure Tour

Kayaking? Stand-up paddle boarding? Canyoning? Camping? Rock climbing? The world is your oyster when you decide to give the gift of an outdoor experience. Near or far, outdoor lovers will enjoy getting some fresh air no matter what. These kinds of experiences can definitely be more memorable than simply giving a piece of camping gear or equipment, and most tour outfitters provide all of the gear necessary for your intended activity.

For ideas on local outdoor adventure opportunities, check out your nearest national and state parks. Or, just get in the car and go for a long hike together. Which leads us to…

6. A Road Trip

What’s more thrilling than an impromptu trip to somewhere beautiful? Instead of giving a gift-wrapped present, surprise your loved ones by having them hop into the car and driving them somewhere unique, interesting, or naturally beautiful. For even more of a shock factor, don’t tell your loved ones where you’re actually going.

Outdoor lovers will swoon over the spontaneity of the adventure, and the uniqueness of the experience. Culture lovers might enjoy seeing a new skyline or wandering through a cute town. You can even combine this option with #5 for a gift of an amazing weekend trip.

7. A Rock Gym or Exercise Class Membership

The adventurous people in your life are probably very active, and would love to sharpen their skills. For these people, a membership to a rock gym, a yoga studio, or a spinning class could be the perfect experience to give. This is the perfect present because it enables those people to do the things they love over and over again. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving!

For the luxury lovers…

8. A Relaxing Day at the Spa

There are few better presents than the gift of relaxation. If you have a loved one who enjoys the finer things in life, a spa day could be a great way to unwind and rejuvenate together. A massage, a mani-pedi, or a few hours in a warm spa pool could make for a unique and tranquil memory. If you want to save money on a spa experience, sites like Groupon often have great package deals you can buy at a discount.

9. A Swanky Stay-cation

Does your loved one have an affinity for nice accommodations or luxury resorts? Why not treat them to a night in one of your city’s most amazing hotels? Or a quirky treehouse Airbnb? Or an adorable tiny house? The best part about this option is that you can book many stays with points and miles, thus alleviating the cost of this indulgent experience.

10. An Exotic Car Ride

If you have a luxury car enthusiast in your life, one of the most thrilling experiences you can give is a ride in an exotic, high-end vehicle. Think Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and other high-end cars.

Many cities offer these experiences in 1-hour increments, or in laps around a racetrack where you can reach speeds of well over 100 mph. The one I’ve gone to in the past was Exotics Racing in Las Vegas, but a quick search will lead you to others closer to you. Give the gift of adrenaline with a ride to remember!

For sports fans…

11. Tickets to a sports game

What’s better than getting a sports jersey for your favorite team? Getting to see them play live at an energy-filled stadium. For the sports fanatics out there, you can do some research to figure out upcoming games near you and purchase tickets. Often tickets are a bit more expensive during the holiday games, but if you buy tickets in advance for a later game, you can save a bit of money and have something to look forward to.

For people who enjoy learning…

12. Tickets to a Talk or Conference

Many influential authors, scientists, researchers, and more make tours around the United States to share their insights and learnings. If you have a low-key nerd in your life (I’m definitely one of these!), a gift to a talk or conference on an interesting topic can make for an incredible learning experience.

13. An Online or In-Person Course

If your gift recipient is passionate about something specific, they probably love to learn new skills in that field (and spend their free time doing it!). There’s really no better gift for these kinds of people than the gift of education.

Many online courses or seminars are cheap (or free!) and can teach important skills like coding, writing, designing, and more. Teachable, Udemy, Skillshare, and Treehouse all offer go-at-your-own-pace courses with either one-time or subscription pricing. I’ve tried all 4 of them and would highly recommend their easy-to-use learning platforms for the curious people in your life. Your loved one will definitely be able to begin the new year off on a good start!

14. Entrance to a Museum or Exhibit

While there are many free museums that exist in the world, some of the best ones cost a pretty penny to get into. If you have someone in your life who loves to go down rabbit holes and learn lots of interesting information in an interactive way, tickets to a museum or exhibit can be a great way to give them an immersive learning experience they’ll never forget.

For just about anyone…

15. A Day Tour in Your Home City

If you live in a big city (or even smaller towns), you probably have a local tourism office that has suggestions for tours and activities you can do in the area. A fantastic gift is taking your loved ones on a planned itinerary around your home city, discovering new neighborhoods or attractions to visit. We all know it’s easy to take your home city for granted, so why not take this special time of year to explore it a bit better? I love using Viator to find new tours and experiences in any city.

16. A Mysterious Afternoon at an Escape Room

One of my all-time favorite things to do with family and friends is going to an escape room. Is it stressful? Umm, kind of. Is it thrilling? You bet. Do escape rooms provide memorable experiences and funny stories for years to come? Absolutely. Find an escape room in your city, pick a course, and bring your favorite group of family and friends to solve the mystery and join in on the fun.

17. A Flight, Train, or Bus Ticket

Any traveler would appreciate the opportunity to go somewhere new. Why not jump start the process by giving them a flight, train, or bus ticket to use on their next adventure? There are often great sales on flights during the holiday season, so if your loved one enjoys spontaneity, buying a cheap ticket to an interesting place could be a fun way to experience the world.

If you don’t know where they want to go, consider gifting airline miles, ticket vouchers, gift cards, or an IOU card instead.

And, to wrap it all up…

A Scavenger Hunt

Because you aren’t giving anything material, it can be hard to ‘gift wrap’ your experience. One of the best ways to “package” your presents is by offering a bit of a challenge – a scavenger hunt. Whether large or small, it can be fun to make your family and friends work a little bit for their presents. And, for added surprise, make the final stop of the hunt at the place where you want your experience to occur! Whether you set it up around your house or across a city, scavenger hunts are a memorable way to package something intangible.

Unique and Fun Packaging

If you aren’t up for the chaos of a scavenger hunt, you can make your packaging unique and fun. Some ways to do this include time-binding your packages (“open at 3:00 PM on December 25”) or by using creative means of wrapping your tickets or presents (using magazine covers, relevant newspaper comics, or cute sayings). If you’re giving an experience as a gift, it’s always fun to make opening the “present” an experience in itself!

Are you planning on gifting experiences instead of things this year? Pin this post to save it for later!

Stumped on what to get your loved ones for Christmas or the holidays? Why not give them...nothing? In this post, we've laid out 17 ideas for experiences you can give as gifts instead of things. It's the best, most minimalist-friendly gift guide out there! #GiftGuide #Christmas #Holiday #Gifts

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