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Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1 - Give Experiences, Not Things

In November, I'm going to be sharing a series of gift guides. If Oprah can, why can't I?!

I am going to offer a few gift guides centered on topics that I enjoy - travel, technology, books, reading - and there will definitely be one for pets. Each guide will include about 10 items.

The Experiences Gift Guide

In this first guide, I'm going to give you more ideas and inspiration than specific links to products and services. My best friend, Gayle, and I have gone to experiential gifts over tangible gifts on a regular basis. They give us something to look forward to doing together and allow us to create lasting memories together.

Here are a few ideas of the experiences you might buy or put together for someone in your life:

  • "Behind the scenes" or VIP tours - these specialty tours are often offered at places like Zoos, Theme Parks, Sports Stadiums, and more. Gayle has done a couple of Behind the Scenes tours at Disney World. We did one at "The Wilds" - the conservation park linked with the Columbus Zoo.

  • Tasting Tours - What's your favorite food or beverage? Chances are there is a tour for that - whether already made or that you could create. My friends Matthew and Michelle are big tiki bar fans. They have done tiki tours in lots of places around the country. Gayle and I love a good chocolate tour and ALWAYS search for these in any city we're visiting.

  • Take a Class - From cooking to car repair to glass blowing to meditation - you can take a class in anything. Maybe it's a class to be taken alone in which you as the partner agree to support the other person in taking the class (watching the kids, handling chores, etc.) or maybe it's a class you take together for fun. If classes aren't offered close to you, consider an online class and take care of ensuring all of the supplies and materials are available and that time is made for the person to enjoy the class.

  • Create a special day around town - from "yes" days (where you say yes to everything within a certain time, distance, and/or cost limit) to a "stroll down memory lane" day where you arrange a series of experiences to recreate a special memory - your own home town can allow you to show the person you love that you've thought about what they like and crafted an afternoon, evening, or whole day around them.

  • Spa Day - This one feels a little obvious but how could you take it to the next level? Add a massage & mani/pedi for a friend to create a special day for someone special in your life.

  • Be a Tourist In Your Own Home Town - This is an idea I'm adapting from Gretchen Rubin's podcast Happier. Rubin talks about being a tourist in your own home town as a key to happiness. Establish a monthly tourist day and arrange to do something new/special together each month. Theme it to the season (visit an arboretum in summer or fall, take in a holiday light show in the winter, etc.).

  • Arrange for a family photo shoot - I adore family photos, but putting together all the details for a family photo shoot is a lot of work. Arranging the photographer, choosing the day, choosing the location, making sure everyone has appropriate outfits to wear and has hair cuts/styles they like and then getting everyone there and cooperating - it's exasperating. If you don't regularly handle all these details, take care of all of them and let your special someone focus on enjoying the experience. And bonus - the photos will make great gifts for family and friends.


As I prepared this gift guide, I did find a few interesting websites that package services up for you and make it easy to gift and redeem for a special experience. These go beyond the usual suspects of spafinder.

I have not tried any of these (with the exception of buying tickets through viator for my own activities a few times.)

  • Tinggly provides a gift box and booklet explaining the experience. You pick the experience level and your gift recipient can pick their gift -

  • Virgin Experience Gifts provides a similar service to Tinggly but with some much lower cost services -

  • Not surprisingly, Airbnb has gotten in the experience gift game - book your stay and your experience on the same site -

  • Let's Roam creates scavenger hunts all around the country. I might do one of these the next time I visit a city.

  • Viator is the go to site I use for researching activities at travel destinations. It's not as annoying as expedia and other travel sites - and it isn't just for travel.

What other experience gifts are you considering giving this holiday season?

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