We’re approaching that time of the year when the buying madness begins. Everyone starts panicking about Holiday shopping for gifts and often ends up buying a ton of
crap presents, that whilst well intentioned, don’t adequately express the love you feel for your friends and family. This consumerism is aided by the Christmas gift lists popping up everywhere, that encourage you to spend all your money on perfumes, ties and toys. But not only are these gifts often impersonal and boring, they can also be incredibly damaging to our planet. So how about doing something different? What about gifting experiences?
I, for one, have always preferred gifting and receiving experiences. They are such a personalised way of showing someone you love them, leave more lasting memories, and can be adapted to all types of budgets, locations and tastes.
I will always remember the theme park date Warner surprised me with, and don’t even get me started on the road-trip to Berlin he organised (visiting a dear friend included). I certainly cried when one of my best friends from Spain appeared in my home in Brussels unexpectedly, and had a blast with my mum in a day she organised that included archery and mini golf. I also felt incredibly special when on my birthday (in a new working place), a colleague brought me her teapot from home and a special tea to enjoy, because she had noticed I didn’t drink the office coffee. How sweet is that?!
The hardest part of gifting an experience is perhaps thinking of one. If this is not something you often think about, you may find yourself stuck trying to come up with something original to organise. So I thought I could make a long list with all sorts of exciting ideas to get you inspired.
The best part of the experiences proposed is that they can be adjusted to your situation, budget and level of involvement. I’ve organised many a surprise without spending a penny, just because I was willing to put in some though and time. Just consider all the things you know about your loved one, and plan something special for them. Surprising someone with anything that makes them feel important is sure to be a hit!
To make an experience gift more special, make sure to keep it a surprise, and create momentum; after all, the excitement is almost as significant as the gift itself (unless the person hates surprises of course). You can also create some sort of physical reminder, card or coupon for keepsake. And remember, showing that special someone you care about them is not bound to specific dates; this is something you can do anytime of the year!
A classic experience gift will always be entrance tickets to an event. I took Warner to see Bombay Bicycle Club for his graduation, and my mum to see a gospel choir concert that was visiting Madrid for Christmas. If you know your loved ones’ taste, you can be on the lookout for months to find an event that would make them have an incredible day. This gift can also be paired with other things to make it extra special, like a fun day trip (the event may be in a different town to where you live), or a nice meal/drinks to accompany.
- Concert tickets. Whether at the local bar or seeing a huge artist, music is always a treat worth considering.
- Comedy shows. What better that a night of laughter?
- Theatre night out. Get fancy and go see a musical, opera, play or dance recital.
- Cinema date. Go watch that block buster they’ve been looking forward to, or find a screening of a ‘classic’ in an underground cinema.
- Lecture on a topic they love.
- Museum. Visit a museum with your artsy friend, or get them tickets to a cool temporary exposition.
Another classic is to organise a trip for your loved one. I know this immediately sounds expensive but there are many ways to get creative and go on adventure together.
- Organise a day trip to a town / sight nearby. On one of my birthdays, Warner took me to a small french town bordering Belgium. We ate the worst dinner in history (we think they served us chicken instead of the vegan burgers we ordered) and still had a blast.
- Buy an unlimited public transport pass (trains are a personal favorite) and simply go around in circles, or get lost even. You may discover the journey is the funnest part.
- Drive somewhere without a plan. When we started dating, Warner would once in a while just borrow a car and drive me somewhere randomly in the Netherlands when he saw I was sad or stressed. It always made me feel better. In fact, one of our most memorable dates for me will always be a day he took me out after we had had a fight. We ended up eating a huge banana and cheese pancake in the cutest Pannekoeken Huis.
- Find unconventional (and cheap) accommodation, like a housesit or couch-surfing, to spend a night away from home.
- Camping is usually a really fun experience you don’t need to spend much money on. So get your gear together and go away for the weekend!
- Cycling day out / trip. You can rent bikes, if you don’t already own them, and create a fun route to do together. Whether it be to visit different landmarks around your city, or a longer trip to a neighbouring town/country, you are bound to have a great time feeling all that fresh air together.
- Become a tourist in your own city and go on an interesting walking tour (which can even be self-organised). You can adapt this to what they love the most. If they’re a foodie, organise a day tour of the best markets, cafes and eateries around. If they love architecture, find a ton of cool facts of buildings around the city and take them to see them all. You get the gist.
Other ideas for the person that loves adventure could include:
- Treasure hunts have to be one of my favorite things ever. And they don’t have to involve objects / things at all! You just need to make an effort (they do take time to organise), and have lots of ideas, puzzles, hiding spots and surprises, to make the most exciting day/week/month ever!
- Organise a cool hike in the nearest national park.
- Rock climbing. This is a gift I once gave Warner for his birthday. I took him to a cool indoor climbing hall I had found, ready to try it out, and if he liked it, buy him a subscription. We ended up discovering a sport we both loved doing together (miss it so much!).
- Diving / snorkeling session. In central Europe this may be far fetched, but if you live near crystal clear waters, why don’t you rent out a diving / snorkelling set and make a day of it?
- Organise any other exciting activity like kayaking, zip lining etc. that’s available near you.
- Or go crazy and make your loved one jump off a plane. Aka skydiving.
For a more relaxed, yet equally fun experience gift, you can try:
- Organising a beautiful picnic in a nearby park, or even in your own living room. You can make it an intimate affair, or invite all your friends/family to join in.
- Bowling is always fun. I once surprised Warner to a bowling night with his family.
- You can go rollerblading, or iceskating if you live in a colder climate.
- Visit and arcade and have a healthy competition of Dance Dance Revolution (does it still exist?!)
- Go mini-golfing.
- Or to a theme park. Warner once surprised me with tickets to the Efteling, a fairytale themed park in the Netherlands, which I absolutely loved. He managed to get a huge discount on the entrances so it wasn’t as expensive.
- A fun activity that can been done in groups, is going to an escape room.
- You can also bring out your inner superstar and organise a karaoke night, in a bar or in the comfort of your living room.
- And for the person that loves stay-at-home scenarios, plan out a fun movie/game night full of snacks.
- Or a dancing night! Dim the lights and get your groove on.
Is there someone you love that needs a bit of pampering? Get them the following:
- Massage. Warner’s sister treated us to a lovely foot massage whilst in Singapore, and it was heavenly.
- Spa/Sauna/Hammam. I took one of my good friends to a nice morning of sweating, scrubbing, and mint tea at a local Hammam of Brussels. It was delightful and totally worth the not-so-expensive price.
- Facial or other beauty treatments.
- Special dinner. Whether it be cooking yourself, or going somewhere special, there is no better way to show someone you love them than through food. Am I right?!
- Reatreat. Have a bit extra to splurge and know someone that really needs a break? How about booking a meditation/yoga/writing/etc retreat for them?
And what about the gift of learning? Okay, even I rolled my eyes at that phrase, but there are some truly great courses/lessons that can be gifted, such as:
- A voucher for some yoga sessions.
- Going to a fun dancing/fitness class together.
- Cooking lessons.
- Creative classes of photography or painting.
- Or even something more out of the box, like introducing the person to wood-work, calligraphy or gardening.
There’s so much fun stuff to learn out there! You can either give courses / classes in something you already know they love (so they can improve their skills), or push them out of their comfort zone by trying something cool together.
Other special things you can do include:
- Organise a photoshoot to capture some happy memories. You can go professional and hire someone, or go crazy with the props and take some snaps yourself.
- For the animal lover, organise a visit to an animal sanctuary / rescue centre, or sponsor a furry peep from their behalf. Just make sure the organisation is legit! A friend of mine gave me the marvellous present of spending two nights with Warner in an ethical farm in Belgium. We spent the days scratching friendly sheep (there I discovered how sweet they are), talking to the horsies, and cuddling bunnies. I was seriously in heaven!
- Buy them a membership/subscription to something they love. This can range from getting a yearly museum card, to an online subscription to Spotify if they love music, Netflix for the movie addict, or even to a newspaper for the person that loves being informed of global affairs.
- Create coupons gifting your time/services. Whether it be babysitting or a foot rub, I’m sure there is something you can give a loved one that will put a smile on their face.
- Write them a letter. Remember as kids / teenagers how common it was to tell your friends and family how much you appreciated them in written words? It’s underrated, but so meaningful. I have gotten rid of many an object I’ve been gifted, but not the letters. Those I always try to keep.
- Don’t enjoy writing? How about recording a video of yourself and others explaining why you love them?
- Find a place with great views and surprise your loved one with a beautiful sunrise/sunset.
- Your time. Remember that the best way to show someone you care, is by being there for them. So take time to catch up, grab a drink and have a chat!
Oh, and in case this needs to be pointed out, experiences as presents are also totally cool for kids. As a child I was taught early on who was responsible for my gifts, and it was not uncommon for the summer holiday trip to be considered a huge present for me. It made me grateful for everything we did, and bonded me closer to my mum. It also didn’t matter that the activity took place on dates outside those when we were “supposed to” be getting presents.
Many experiences already mentioned can be catered to kids, but here are some more ideas in case (these ideas also apply to adults):
- Organise a crafting day full of colours and creativity.
- Organise a fun sleep over for your kid and their friends.
- Build a fort with pillows and blankets. This was once one of my gifts for Warner (who is an adult, believe it or not). I had all the pillows, bedsheets and blankets ready, along with a cool set of instructions I had found online and printed. And of course all the junk food imaginable.
- Spend a day teaching them how to garden and plant herbs. They can be in charge of their own plants’ growth for the years to come.
- Make costumes with things you already own and put on a show.
- Plan a day where the child can make key decisions, like what everyone wears, what you do, and what you eat.
- Build something together like a kite, or a teddy, or even some furniture. I vividly remember making a doll out of old socks, and shaping clay to make a mug for my mum. It was so rewarding!
- Make up your own secret language and create a fun booklet to remember the rules.
- Let them paint a wall with their friends. When I was 12 my mum gifted me the opportunity to paint a wall in the living room with my friends. Very brave, I know. She let me get the colours I wanted (pinks and purples of course), and prepared everything for us. We then wrote “friends forever” in huge bubbly letters and signed our names all around. It may have been painful for her to look at, but she created a beautiful memory for me that I will always remember fondly.
- Create a whole new holiday with your own traditions and rules. I can’t wait to do this one!
Anything can be exciting for kids if they get some love and attention. It’s the same for everyone!
So that’s it, my long list of experience gift ideas. Hope they inspire you. Now go dedicate some time and thought to your loved ones, and organise something that will truly make them feel special!
Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them.