This Year, Try Giving Experience Gifts

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor
Tree Ziplining

Stuff. It’s everywhere. It’s easily replaceable, and once out of our sight, we kind of assume it’s been magically absorbed into the ether, absolving us forever. But, no. It eventually goes into a landfill, where it leaches toxins, ruins our environment, and will do so for millennia to come. In the meantime, we just keep creating and getting more of it.

This problem is never truer than during the holidays, when we heap gifts upon one another, many of them un-asked for and unneeded. Sure, you can do good things with those gifts, such as donate them to charity or swap them out for presents you really want. But wouldn’t it be better to avoid the problem in the first place, not to mention the piles of presents that simply get kept for long enough to be polite, then trashed? You bet.

Experience Gifts for All

That’s where experience gifts come in. In a nutshell, an experience gift is simply a present that involves doing something rather than owning or possessing something.

Personally, I’ve been giving these for years, and people always seem to love them: little trips, boat or train rides, or a simple brunch instead of a material item. This year, for instance, I’ll be giving Dear Old Dad the works: breakfast, a trip to a museum, lunch at the local farmers market, and a spin through a boutique chocolate store.

Gifts That Keep on Giving…Even If Only In Memory

Of course, you could also go bigger than a father-daughter hometown nerd-stravaganza. More adventurous ideas include a zip line canopy tour or a hot air balloon ride. (I’ve been trying to give my hubs the latter for like 4 years now, but I’m still too gutless. Next year! *Nods head convincingly.*)

Some other experience gift ideas include:

  • Road trips
  • Tickets to shows, concerts, museums, sporting events, zoos or nature centers
  • National park passes
  • Classes such as pottery, yoga, cooking or dance

Some experience gifts can actually be material-based as well. Craft or scrapbooking supplies, home brew kits, or workout gear can all make great, long-lasting experience gifts. It’s important to note that gifts don’t have to be a surprise. You could always ask your loved ones what they want this year and turn an experience present into a passion present.

Steer Clear of These Gifting Pitfalls


Even if you love massages, they aren’t for everyone. Before you shell out for an hour-long session, you might want to confirm with that lucky person on your holiday gift list | image: Flattr/Flickr

As with any gift, there are a few caveats. You should know the person well: skydiving is not for everyone, and some people would rather walk through fire than get a massage. Further, new (or even adopted) pets do not count as an experience either, and you should really never gift pets as gifts, because the recipient may not be willing to pony up the time and reoccurring expenses involved, potentially adding to global problem of pet homelessness in the end.

While amusement park passes, language classes, or other grand adventures might seem like a lot of fun, make sure the receiver will actually use them. Otherwise, you’re just giving them a colorful little gift card of guilt. This is especially important when kids are involved; always clear any gift that requires regular rides from parents beforehand to avoid creating holiday resentment. Ditto for hobby supplies (like the ones mentioned in the section above), which are no better than traditional gifts if they don’t get used and later are tossed.

Other than that, have at it! While gifts are likely to be thrown away or ignored in a dark cupboard, experiences live forever in the hearts of those who enjoy them. If that sounds a little cheesy, well, deal with it. ‘Tis the season.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.