15+ Ideas for Giving Experiences as Gifts Instead of Things

I was a ridiculously fortunate kid. Not like my family was rich, and my sister and I were spoiled, getting everything we wanted, but it’s safe to say Santa was really, really good to us every year. My sister and I would pore over the J.C. Penney Christmas Catalog every fall, carefully circling every item we daydreamed about and tried to get the title perfectly written on our Christmas lists, so there’d be no misunderstandings. We may not have gotten everything we asked for (which I think was for the best), but there was certainly no shortage of incredible, fun things we received (thanks mom, dad and Santa!), and Christmas morning was the best day of the year.

Christmas morning circa 1995. That's me looking prim and proper with a scrunch in my hair and lace on my nightgown.
Christmas morning circa 1995. That’s me looking serious about the job of opening presents while being prim and proper with a scrunchie in my hair and lace on my nightgown.

But as I got older, I started to not be so interested in the number of gifts there on Christmas Day. Don’t get me wrong — I love presents as much as the next person. But whether it’s the millennial in me, or me simply getting older, I began to value time with my family more than ever in recent years and giving the people who matter most to me great experiences. This has become even more so as the time together is so limited with my parents being in Michigan and me moving to Massachusetts then Colorado over the last three years.

I’ve always loved buying gifts for people — when I have a great idea for a gift. I have always hated wondering around a mall searching desperately for something — anything! — they might like and want when I don’t have an exciting idea. I know we can use shirts, but a lot of time, this is just the gift you give when you have no other ideas, and you figure, “Hey — she wears shirts!” And honestly, most of us don’t need another thing bought for us. We don’t want more clutter filling the house, and as for any clothes or everyday things we want, it’s probably easier and more practical to buy them for ourselves, assuming we can afford it.

Yes, that is Santa making his way down our street on Christmas morning!
Yes, that is Santa making his way down our street on Christmas morning!

But fun, enjoyable experiences, you can never have enough of those. So with all this in mind, unless some amazing tangible thing pops into my mind as a perfect gift for someone (because really, those are more fun in the instant gratitude sense of the gift-opening moment), I look most often to experiences I can give as gifts. Many times, I think these have been some of the most appreciated gifts I have given.

I will never forget the time I did a little sleuthing to find out where my sister had gone to a few student-discount yoga classes in Denver (when I still lived in Michigan) and got her a pass for the studio for Christmas. She started crying and said (being a broke college kid) she never thought she’d be able to afford going to yoga again. I had no idea she would be that happy about it. I’ve also gotten my fair share of experiential gifts over the years, concerts being a big one in my family, and it’s pretty awesome when you still have something cool like that to look forward to long after the holidays are over. I also tend to think of things that I know someone wants but is unlikely to buy themselves, therefor making it a really great gift.

So if you’re on the same page as me here or just looking for something different for gifts this year (or anytime), here are 15-plus ideas for experiences to gift to the people you love the most:

  • Parks passes – For the outdoor lover in your life, you can save them big bucks with any number of parks passes. Here’s Colorado’s guide to passes and outdoor gifts.

    Does it get any better?! Give someone a parks pass so they can experience things like Indian Peaks Wilderness in colorful Colorado.
    Does it get any better?! Give someone a parks pass so they can experience things like Indian Peaks Wilderness in colorful Colorado.
  • Theater tickets – Whether the person is a seasoned live theater aficionado, or could use a new experience, theater is SO different from film and TV and there is a good chance there’s something for everyone in your region.
    This is a favorite gift of mine to receive.
  • Movie passes – Going to the movies is not typically a low-budget affair anymore. Movie passes just might motivate someone in your life to switch off Netflix and take in a move that hasn’t been out for a year already. Dine-in movie experiences can be pretty great and make moviegoing an even bigger gift-worthy experience. Here are AMC locations that offer it.
  • Netflix membership – There’s a good chance many people in your life already pay for the crazy popular TV and movie streaming service. But even if they do, they won’t be disappointed for you to cover a few months, or even a year of that cost. So it’s not an experience, per say, but it’s something they’ll enjoy using. Find Netflix gift card locations here.
  • Concert tickets – Concerts have become another splurge thing for a lot of us, even though interest in music has certainly not dissipated. Treat a family member or friend to tickets to their favorite band. Pollstar.com is a great search tool for musicians and venues big and small.
  • Sports tickets – Same deal as the concert tickets. HD may be great, but it still isn’t anything compared to the energy in an arena.

    My adorable parents in Frankenmuth. My dad is playing it cool, but he's as excited as a kid on Christmas morning for his chicken dinner.
    My adorable parents in Frankenmuth. My dad is playing it cool, but he’s as excited as a kid on Christmas morning for his chicken dinner.
  • Gift certificate to a favorite restaurant – My dad was pretty excited to get a gift card for the famous (and his favorite) chicken dinner at Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth.
  • Pass for yoga/Pilates/rock climbing/gym – For the active, fitness enthusiast, or to help your loved one work off the meal at their favorite restaurant! More stuff that ain’t cheap, but a lot of people want to do. Whether you pay for a month at their yoga studio or get them a pass at a place they have been wanting to try, this is a good bet. If they’re into doing yoga at home, but still want guidance and endless class options, a membership to Yogaglo.com is awesome.
  • Massage/spa day – You’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t appreciate a little “me” time at a day spa, even for a 45-minute massage. I particularly think of this gift for people, like busy moms, who never take time to do anything for themselves.
  • Certificate for a nail and/or hair salon – Great treat for someone who uses these services regularly or deserves a treat (or whose nails and hair just need a little TLC).
  • Membership to a store – This can be the gift that keeps on giving. A lot of stores offer memberships or loyalty programs that you have to pay for up front but offer rewards throughout the year. Consider an REI membership that costs $20 up front but gets you exclusive discounts, access to store “garage sales” and earns you a 10 percent annual refund on just about all purchases.
  • Museum pass – Great for people who have kids and could use cheap entertainment for them and family fun out and also anyone interested in a particular museum enough to visit a few times a year at least. Some passes even offer entry or discounts at partner museums.

    I never knew painting relaxed me so much until I did it for a Christmas present two years ago!
    I never knew painting relaxed me so much until I did it for a Christmas present two years ago!
  • Paint & sip / Ceramics painting – I have done this a bunch of times and it’s just so fun and relaxing. There’s a chance your friend won’t go home with a painting worthy of their home’s wall space, but a night out painting and sipping wine with pals has a relaxing effect and laughs are guaranteed. Places that offer a guided paint class like this are popping up all over the country. Paint Nite is one company that travels to different bars and restaurants for classes rather than having them housed in one spot. There are very often Groupon and Livingsocial deals for these events, so keep an eye out!
  • Craft / sewing classes – Helping someone hone a new skill is a pretty awesome gift. Know someone who’s crafty and wants to take their talents to the next level? Or maybe just giving knitting a shot to see if they even like it? Give the gift of learning. Big craft stores like Jo-Ann and Michaels offer in-house classes, as do many smaller spots. For the person who prefers an online class to be watched and bookmarked as many times as necessary, check out Craftsy (a Denver startup I’m kind of obsessed with).
  • Chiropractic / Acupuncture – OK, this might be a stretch, but chiropractic has worked wonders for me and I am a huge advocate of it as a drug-free pain reliever and for maintaining good health. Acupuncture helps a lot of people too. But the thing about it is that many health insurance companies don’t cover these services (I’ll save my rant on this for another post), yet many people want them. If there is someone in your life who sees a chiropractor or acupuncturist (or should), paying for a few visits could be much-appreciated, because, even though it can help people so much, many people just can’t afford the cost of visits.

That’s about all I’ve got, friends! If you have other ideas for experiential gifts, please share them in comments!

Happy Holidays from Little Me!
Happy Holidays from Little Me!
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