There is a movement going on right now that is really gaining momentum. It’s a movement that is stepping away from giving gifts that are materials and instead investing in life experiences. More and more people are letting go of their desire to have more stuff and to instead step fully into experience all that life has to offer. When it comes to big events like birthday and Christmas, gift giving can be tricky. What if they don’t like what you buy them? Will your gift actually get any use out of it? All anyone ever really wants (or so they say) is time with the people they love. Maybe that’s what the gifts should be all about! That’s where experience gifts come in! Here are 30 new ideas on little experiences you can gift even the toughest people to buy for!
*Quick note: we may earn a commission on the recommendations we share in this post at no additional cost to you!
Why are experience gifts better than stuff?
If you ask people what they received for gifts last Christmas, the majority of them can’t even name one. The reason this is is that material items only bring us short bursts of joy. On the flip side, it has been shown over and over again that when we spend on experiences and time together, that small burst of joy lasts much longer.
I mean think about it, the proof of experience joy is all around us. Inside jokes, pictures we always look back on, memories we tell for years to come… When you have a real experience with another person (or even on your own), the memories of it is something we can tap into time and time again.
What people want at the end of life
As further proof, a study of the 5 Most common deathbed regrets shows ZERO signs of wishing for more material things:
- I wish I had been more true to myself
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I should have expressed my feelings more
- I wish I had stayed in touch with friends
- I wish I would have been happier
None of these things have anything to do with material possessions…except that perhaps they were held back by them. Our life experiences matter. Our lives matter.
Budgeting for experiences
One of the biggest snags we run into when it comes to experiences is…actually being able to AFFORD the experiences that we want to do or gift to someone else. If you haven’t heard of a little thing called Sinking Funds yet, I highly recommend learning more about how they work.
30 Experience Gift Ideas
I have put together a list of experience ideas that you could gift to another person or group of people. These are also good ideas for a Saturday with nothing to do or if you feel like treating yourself in a new, exciting way.
Airbnb Experiences: If you don’t have time to plan an experience
A newer feature for Airbnb is adding on the option to find experiences in your area. These are often hosted by locals who have a particular skill or interest.
Airbnb experiences include things like:
- Local pub tours
- Photography sessions
- Arts and crafts
- Yoga/meditation experiences
- Walking/biking/segway tours
This can be a great way to try new things in your area without having to plan anything — and you’ll most likely be able to help out a local business and/or side hustler in your area!
Professional House Cleaning: An experience of relaxation for someone who needs it
I know this isn’t exactly an experience, but as someone who has spent over 10 years as a stay at home mom, let me tell you, gifting the gift of a professional house cleaning would be one of the best experiences in relaxation that you could give to a busy parent, family, or friend going through a hard time.
Not only would it mean the world to someone to be able to kick back and unwind knowing that their chores are being done for the day, but this is an ample opportunity to spoil someone rotten by taking them along on another experience while their home is being tidied.
Professional Music lessons: An experience gift for an aspiring musician
I have a friend who absolutely loves Christina Aguilera and spends almost all of her free time singing in the car with her kids. That’s why I was so excited to tell her that you can actually get online singing lessons from professional musicians (like Christina).
Masterclass is a website that offers a variety of online courses taught by experienced professionals in each of the fields.
Gifting someone a year long membership to Masterclass would allow them access to a variety of musicians that they could learn from whether it’s guitar, drums or singing.
Photography session: An experience gift for someone who needs an updated keepsake
If you want to treat a family, consider funding a photography session for them! In fact, you could even check with local people in your area who are offering an Airbnb photography experience — they usually have the best locations already scouted out and usually offer an affordable group rate!
A photography session would be perfect for:
- Grandparents who want photos with their grandkids
- A spouse who would love a romantic session with you
- Single parents that you know who would cherish photos with their children
- Young teens who would die to have some new Instagram photos of them and their friends
Game night: An experience and tradition all in one.
One of our favorite things to do with our kids is have family game nights. (Remember, we are a big blended family which means our kids range from 10 to almost 30).
Whether it’s with a few family members or close friends, getting in the habit of having a game night in place of gifts during Christmas, or birthdays can be a great way for everyone to pitch in (you get the game, I’ll get the snacks), and for you to have an excuse to gather around the table with a few of your favorite people for a good laugh.
Paint night: An experience you can do out and about or at home for less!
Do you have a painter in your family or are trying to find a fun life experience gift for you and your significant other? See if there are any paint nights near you. There are usually a lot of local places that are willing to supply food and drinks along with a full tutorial on how to paint your own beautiful painting.
This is also a great gift idea for parents to give their grown children and spouses! How fun to get everyone out for a night!
**Bonus money saving hack. You could do this as a night in by floating the cost of the supplies and finding one of the thousand painting tutorials available on YouTube!**
Camping or Glamping: An experience bigger than a quick getaway
If you are anything like our family, there is a good chance that you prefer the great outdoors to a quick rush through the airport to a getaway destination. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy both of these things, but there is something so rejuvenating about getting back to nature, and slowing down a little.
This doesn’t mean you have to bust out a tent and prep yourself for sleeping on the ground! Thankfully, there are so many options these days for camping and glamping even if you don’t have a camper!
Now it is easier than ever to RENT an RV just like you would a hotel or vacation home!
Other post you’ll like:
- 3 Day Budget Friendly Glacier National Park Itinerary with Kids
- 3 Day Weekend Duluth, Minnesota Itinerary with Kids
- How to Plan a Road Trip with Multiple Stops
- 13 Ways to Camp for Free in the USA
Escape room: An experience for a group that loves a challenge
Escape rooms have grown in popularity over the years and there are some actually pretty unique ones popping up all of the time.
In fact, The Travel put together a list of the 10 Best Crazy Escape Rooms and including a Titanic Escape Room in Washington DC!
This is a great idea if you have a group of people who you KNOW would have so much fun attempting to solve puzzles, work together and probably have a few laughs (and maybe a few fights) in the mix.
Writing Lessons: An experience for aspiring authors
Just like Masterclass has online courses and classes for aspiring musicians, you can also take advantage of writing classes from professional authors.
Book authors like: R.L. Stein, and Judy Blume.
Poetry authors like: Amanda Gorman
Television writers like: Shonda Rhimes
and many more (including song writers).
The list of potential authors and writers to learn from is seemingly endless. Again, all that’s required for access to all of these things is a single Masterclass membership.
Museum memberships: An experience for people who love to learn (and get out of the house)
Over the years, especially while homeschooling, our family loved taking advantage of local museum memberships. We have had memberships for:
- The Science Museum
- The Children’s Museum
- Historical Society (which offered free and discounted tours of a variety of smaller historical monuments and museums)
This is a great gift for family’s with small children or even your own family!
Funding college tuition: An experience in future planning
Let’s be honest, most of the time when people buy toys for kids, those toys end up broken or getting donated a year later. Instead of flipping the bill for toys (especially when the kids are so little they won’t even notice), what if you could put all of your gift money into a college fund for the children in your life?
This is something that other family members can contribute to and will give you a chance to teach your children about compounding interesting (how their money can make more money)!
Must read: The 5 Minute $25 Investment Plan for Kids
Cooking kits: An experience for a newbie chef (or busy AF human)
One of our older daughters just moved out of the house (again) at the age of 21, and she has been sending me photos of meals that she has been making in her own place.
There is just something so exciting about finally having your own stove, your own cook top, your own everything…
If you have someone like this in your life who you know would love to not only have some free food sent their way, but also maybe give them some new cooking ideas and experiences, you can gift things like Gobble Meals. These are healthy, yummy meals that get delivered right to their door but only take around 15 minutes to cook — so they don’t have to be a culinary genius to make dinner!
While there are more and more companies making quick and easy meal kits like this, Gobble was voted the #1 Meal Kit by Parents magazine!! Plus, you can get 6 meal kits for only $36!
Other posts you’ll love
- 8 Ways to Pay for a Night Out Without Working More
- The Best 6 Gifts for Kids That Bring Lasting Joy
- Ultimate Minimalist Mom Gift List to Avoid Clutter
Cooking classes: An experience for a couple, kid or individual who wants to improve their cooking skills
If you happen to live near the cities, there is a good chance you can get your hands on a fun, in person cooking class. We were lucky enough to have a small business doing cooking classes for kids that our daughter was able to take advantage of the other summer! She learned to make steak, dressings and even noodles from scratch!
Again, I realize that these opportunities aren’t available to everyone, which is why I want to mention (yet again) that Masterclass also has online cooking lessons available which could be great for people who don’t have access to in person classes or for an elderly person who isn’t able to leave home too often!
Personal trainer or gym membership: An experience for someone needing fitness guidance
Is there someone in your life who is really wanting to improve their health and get in shape? A lot of times, the cost of a gym membership is too much for people, let along a personal trainer. They might have some goals they want to meet, but aren’t able to take full advantage of the options available to them.
If this is the case, considering gifting a gym membership or even a few sessions with a personal trainer can be a great way to help someone push their comfort zone and start taking care of their health in a way that works for them. Better yet, you could be their gym buddy and you could aim to meet goals togehter!
If access to a gym is difficult:
The Aaptiv app is the perfect solution if you want to gift someone the gift of fitness in their pocket! In this one app you get access to trainers who will help with:
- Marathon training
- Weight lifting
The best part is, you can get your first 30 days free!
It seems these days more and more people are getting into photography since we all have a phone tucked in our back pocket! While there are dozens of opportunities locally on Groupon to get photography lessons, Masterclass is currently offering lessons with the famous photographer to the stars, Annie Leibovitz!
What could be better than allowing someone to learn the best photography techniques from one of the most famous photographers of our time?
Local concerts: An experience for the whole gang
At just about any age, you can bet your bottom dollar (oh man, that was nerdy), that most people on your list would love to be treated to a local experience like a concert.
If there is a local concert or show in your area that you would love to gift to someone, check Seatsforeveryone.com for the best and most affordable tickets around! You can search local venues and probably get some new ideas on shows you can try out in your area.
Beer making kits: An experience for your favorite beer lover
There are so many breweries popping up these days, there is almost always an opportunity to go sample local beer and develop a fine beer pallet if you will.
However, if you are wanting a more hands on experience (and maybe a few laughs), there are now Beer Making Kits on Amazon that you can easily access!
This is something you could send as a gift to someone out of state or something you could pick up to do with a friend in person. You might not turn into a master beerman, but I’m sure you’d have a good time trying!
Spa day: An experience for someone who deserves pampering
Nothing says “I love you,” quite like a spa day. (At least in my book — hint, hint, family!) Flipping the bill for a day at the spa would be perfect for:
- A day with your mom/grandma
- Treating your child to a special day with you
- Gifting a friend who you know could use a pick-me-up
There are usually a ton of Groupon options out there for different discounts in your area. Just make sure to check reviews before you book!
Pub Pass: An experience for city dwelling beer drinkers
Something our oldest daughter and her fiance (at the time) gifted Tom and I last Christmas was a Minneapolis/St. Paul Pub Pass!
This is a pass that gives you free beer at a variety of local breweries. For the longest time I thought this was only available within the Twin Cities in Minnesota, but was surprised to find that Pub Passes are actually available in a variety of cities throughout the US.
Local sporting events: An experience for sports fans
Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, there is something truly amazing about sitting in the stands with someone you love, snacking on fan food and cheering for your local team!
If you are looking for something to do with a friend or family member where conversation doesn’t have to be the main focus, consider looking into your local sports teams and researching what times tickets are more affordable and/or when they are playing an apposing team that you KNOW will make the game more interesting.
National Parks Pass: An experience for travelers
Every year our family purchases a National Parks Pass which gives you access to all of the National Parks in the US! The best part is, it’s only $80 for the entire year and you get into all of the parks for free! Considering that a lot of parks have an entrance fee for around $20, all you have to do is use it 4 days out of the year (easily one trip), and it has paid for itself.
This has been a great add on to our road trips because it makes for natural stopping points and we have been able to visit so many more National Parks than we would have without it!
Remember, if you’re planning a cross-country road trip, or are wanting to camp in any of the National Parks, make sure to check RV Share to find affordable camper rentals near you!
Vacation: An experience anyone can get on board with
Ever since I saw some old neighbor friends of ours surprise their kids with a trip to Disneyland Christmas morning, I have loved the idea of doing the exact same thing!
Nothing would beat waking up with suitcases wrapped under the tree and plane tickets waiting to be scanned.
I think this is the first experience that comes to everyone’s mind when it comes to an experience over gifts — or maybe it’s just me. If this is something you are hoping to pull off, here are my top recommendations.
- Look into local travel agents (you don’t pay a fee, and they can get pretty great discounts)
- Check Google Flights to see when the most affordable flying times are and plan your trip around them
- If you trust yourself, use a travel credit card to save money on tickets and earn points toward future flights
If you love the idea of being able to travel for free through credit card hacking, follow the Travel Hacking Mom because she is a genius at that!
Local theme park: An experience for thrill seekers
If you have a local theme park in your area, look into when they might sell season passes at a discount rate so you can take advantage of major sales! (Usually around Black Friday or before summer).
This could be a great gift as a day trip with a few people or gifting a pass to someone so they can take advantage of it all year long!
Support a hobby: An experience that adds to their favorite experiences
So, technically this is a “stuff gift,” but in support of experience.
For example, if you have a friend who loves mountain biking, why not get them a gift card for their favorite bike shop, or offer to upgrade their shoes, helmet, or tires!
A lot of times the people in your life will already have experiences that they love taking advantage of and a great way to be a good friend is to help them float the cost of the that experience. This can take a lot of the pressure off because you know they are getting something they will definitely get use out of!
Audible: An experience for your book lover on the go
As a personal Audbile lover, take my word for it when I say that information loving, book nerd of yours would be eternally grateful should you decide to gift an Audible membership their way.
These are something you can easily gift via Amazon and they often run discounts around the holidays, and on Prime Day.
The best part is, Audible usually runs a promotion where you can get the first 4 months for around $5 per month! That’s a pretty affordable gift and can give someone 4 books! Click here to sign up for Audible.
Theater tickets: An experience for drama geeks
Ok, these aren’t necessarily only for drama geeks, but believe me when I say I mean that in the best possible way. One of the absolute best experience gifts I could ever receive is tickets to a local Off-Broadway play!
If you aren’t sure what might be playing around you, you can check the Off-Broadway schedule or simply browse for theaters near you.
Personally, I am very thankful that the Twin Cities is such a theatrical filled place. Remember, theater tickets doesn’t necessarily have to mean Broadway. Don’t forget things like:
- Community theater
- Children’s theater
- Comedy clubs
My personal favorite original show was one called Who Killed Ariel: A Princess Murder Mystery that was run by woman run theater company!
Wine tasting: An experience for people who want to pretend to know wine flavors
My girlfriends and I recently did a pool day together and one of them brought several drinks for us to all sample. This was a fun and affordable way to have a mini experience together that could easily by done by everyone bringing their favorite glass of wine.
Of course, you could always take the “normal” wine tasting route as well and look into local wineries or spring for a big getaway to Wine Country. Whatever floats your tannins.
Animal experiences: An experience for animal lovers and thrill seekers
Depending on where you live, you could potentially run into a few animal adventures near you. I hate to just throw out the zoo as if that is an adventure, and honestly, it’s getting tougher and tougher to find ethically run animal experiences these days, but it’s defiitely worth a shot.
Perhaps that’s going:
- Whale watching in the Pacific
- Swimming with dolphins in Florida
- Viewing the wildlife in South Dakota
- Checking out Goat Lick Overlook in Glacier National Park
- Horseback riding in Colorado
Consider what you have available around you and find ways to make a day out of it!
Filming location vacation: An experience for TV and film fanatics
We are super big, giant nerds when it comes to how obsessed we are with our favorite movies and TV shows. While we were in LA, we stopped at the Modern Family house (The Dunphy House) and in 2021 we made it a mission to get to Canon Beach and the infamous Goonies house in Astoria, Oregon.
This can be such a fun way to plan a trip to somewhere you might not otherwise go.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Filming locations for Stranger Things (Georgia)
- Filming locations for Hocus Pocus (Salem)
- Filming locations for The Goonies
- Filming locations for Top Gun Maverick
Local tours: An experience for history buffs
Often times you can find fun local tours provided through Airbnb experiences or other outlets near you.
These might be tours like:
- Haunted buildings
- Celebrity homes
- History tours
Whatever the case, if there is something that catches your eye or sounds exciting in your area, this could be a great gift to gift someone! Browse here and save $15 on an Airbnb experience.
Extreme sports: An experience for thrill seekers
Do you know someone who has always wanted to go bungee jumping, sky diving or rock climbing? Why not provide someone with that experience, especially because some of these can be a little bit spendy.
Take your time to get referrals and look into the best places in your area with the most trusted reviews! Extreme sports can be fun, but make sure you are operating in good hands!
Rent a restaurant: An experience for the whole group
A lot of times your favorite restaurants or hotels will allow you to rent out a room or conference area so you can gather together with all of your favorite people!
It’s really crappy how most of the time we don’t end up seeing a lot of the people we care about until their is a wedding or a funeral to …uh… celebrate?
Instead, why not make it a point to gather more often and have everyone pitch in!?
The most important thing about gift-giving is making sure you are buying something perfect for the person you are giving the gift to.
Maybe they love unique experience gifts or perhaps they just really want that new KitchenAid they keep talking about. No matter what, it’s important to think about the person receiving the gift. If you don’t, you run the risk of spending money on a gift that may never be used.
Also, I am a firm believer that there is so much more out there than just giving gifts. Life is short and there is no better present then just spending time with the people you love the most. That’s something anyone can do, even if you’re flat broke!