2008 was a year that truly changed our family. In March we found out that our son had a tumor attached to his brain and one in his right arm. That year he was diagnosed with a disease called Osteoclastoma. In August our youngest daughter was born. She was very sick as well with what we would eventually come to know is Mitochondrial Disease and Primary Immune Deficiency. That Thanksgiving she spent her first holiday in the hospital.
I know that all sounds like a pretty depressing opener for an article that promises epic Christmas gift ideas but here’s the thing. All that tough stuff we went through gave us some deep perspective.
See that year we decided to focus on making as many memories as we can, whenever we can, for as long as we can. That was the year that we completely changed the way we do Christmas.
We took our kids that December to Orlando to see Disney World. It was magic in the middle of extremely trying times. It was the beginning for us in a shift from not just giving presents, but giving PRESENCE.
Think about your own childhood. With a few exceptions you probably don’t remember most of the toys or electronics you received that your parents probably spent a small fortune on. But I bet you can vividly remember the moments they spent with you.
Instead of buying your kids the latest expensive toy this year that will end up broken on their bedroom floor in two weeks, think about what memories you can create with them that they can hold to forever. It’s always a choice of where we spend both our time and our resources, so choose wisely. Make an intentional decision to give them presence this year instead.
How you accomplish this can be as varied and exciting as the people on your list. You can give an elaborate adventure package or something simpler closer to home but the focus is the same. Making memories. I’ll give you some ideas here and then I’ll share my favorite part; how we creatively come up with what to unwrap on Christmas morning. That’s right! Just because we focus on experience gifts doesn’t mean Christmas morning is any less exciting! It just takes a little thought and imagination!
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Travel Experience Gift Ideas
I’ll start with what we do. Every year we give our kids a trip. This vacation varies and has looked different from year to year but it’s always the “big gift” we focus on in our family. Travel offers incredible opportunities for memory making but it doesn’t always have to cost thousands of dollars. Here are some travel related experience gift ideas:
1. Hotel Stay
2. Plane Tickets
3. Cabin or Tent Camping
4. Water-park Experience (Aquatica, Volcano Bay)
5. All-Inclusive Resort
7. Sightseeing Attraction Passes like CityPass Tickets or Smart Destinations Go Card Passes
8. Theme Park Tickets/Season Passes to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, or Busch Gardens
9. Cruise Vacation
10. Tickets to a Convention
12. National or State Parks Pass
13. Big Bus or Trolley Sightseeing Tours
14. Museum Membership
15. Zoo Membership
16. Railroad Trip/Eurail Pass
17. Swim with Dolphins
18. Adventure Passes
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Something to Think About: Travel experience gifts can be particularly pricey, but to put it in perspective, you can add up what you were planning to spend on physical gifts for everyone in the family. You may find that the cost of a vacation isn’t too far off, especially if you plan a road trip to somewhere nearby or your trip is a staycation adventure with one night in a hotel. Remember that the gift of a vacation is something that your loved ones will remember for years, whereas the latest gadget or toy will quickly fade into the background and be forgotten. It’s just human nature!
Indoor and Entertainment Experience Gift Ideas
Get out and explore together! Look at local venues in your area. Chances are you can find a whole slew of cool cultural activities and dining options in your area. Groupon is a great place to look or make it super easy on yourself and pick up some great gift cards from Amazon.
19. Movie Tickets or Fandango Gift Cards (AMC, Regal, Fandango)
20. Restaurants Gift Cards for a nice Meal
21. Play or Musical Tickets
22. Concert or Symphony Tickets
23. Paint Your Own Pottery
24. Sip and Painting
25. Escape Rooms
26. Sporting Event Tickets
27. Stand Up Comedy Tickets
28. Froyo/Ice Cream Outing (Cold Stone, Menchie’s, Sweet Frog)
29. Laser Tag
30. Roller Skating Passes
32. Indoor Rock Climbing
33. Trampoline/Bounce House Passes
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Active and Outdoor Experience Gift Ideas
Give the gift of an adventure! Here are some ideas for experiences that are sure to be unforgettable:
35. Horseback Riding
36. Scavenger Hunt
37. Surfing Lessons
38. Snow tubing/Snowboarding/Skiing Excursion
39. Whitewater Rafting
40. Mini-Golf/Driving Range
41. Hiking Excursion
42. Fishing Excursion
43. Boat Rental
45. Indoor Skydiving
46. Helicopter Ride
48. Scuba/ Snuba Diving
50. Flying Lessons
51. Community Pool Pass
Staying In and Pampering Experience Gift Ideas
Sometimes too, it’s great to just relax and unwind with some special pampering or simply staying in for fun night at home. Here are some ideas for experiences that fit the bill:
52. Activity Box Subscriptions
53. Red-Box or Vudu Movie Night Gift Cards
54. Puzzles to complete together
57. Spa Day
58. Manicure or Pedicure
59. Haircut or Color
60. Afternoon Tea
Learning Experience Gift Ideas
If you know there’s a skill your loved ones would like to learn or already enjoys doing, buy them a class! Here are some ideas for fun learning experiences:
61. Cooking classes
62. Cake decorating classes
63. Art Classes
64. Photography Classes
65. Music Lessons
66. Karate Lessons
67. Swim Lessons
68. Dance Lessons
69. Sewing Classes
70. Gymnastics Lessons
71. Ice Skating Lessons
72. Language learning classes
73. Improv/Acting Classes
74. Coding Classes
75. Summer Camp Session
76. YMCA Membership
77. Sports Team Registration
78. Arial Silks Lessons
79. Fitness Classes
80. Yoga Classes
What about relatives?
Our kids have generous grandparents and other relatives, who with good intentions, lovingly load up our kids with latest toys, gizmos and gadgets. Most of the time we are delighted to let them. The way we see it, they are more likely to appreciate those material gifts from Grandma and Grandpa if it’s NOT the 50th item they’ve unwrapped on Christmas.
However, if someone asks us for ideas we either share something from this list or let them know that we’d like cash to pool together with other relatives. Last year we pooled money from grandparents, aunts and uncles and put it together to get SeaWorld and Busch Gardens passes to go along with the Universal Studios passes from us. We took FIVE trips this year with these collective passes including meeting up at the parks with our extended family.
We’ve found that most members of our family have been very receptive and enthusiastically gave their full support to gifting experiences. Especially when it involved spending time with them. It really is a win for everyone. Because it has given us reasons to spend quality time together and it has become something my children look forward to each year.
Something to think about: Experience gifts come with a BONUS! The gift of patience! Waiting for something and not getting instant gratification is an amazing life lesson. When you finally do your “experience gift”, think about how much more they’ll appreciate it!
What About Santa?
You may be wondering how this experience gift business works with Santa. For a long time we simply had our experience gifts come from “Santa” but eventually we switched our main gifts to coming from Mom and Dad and Santa just bringing a few items instead. I highly suggest the “Something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need” model for this. My friend Miranda does an awesome job explaining it on her blog Miranda in Charlotte article “You’re Doing Christmas All Wrong“.
Now that our kids are older and we have very happily moved away from Santa entirely we just stick with the experience gifts only and a stocking full of some fun small items. Let’s dig into how we go about making Christmas morning special unwrapping our experience gifts.
How to Wrap It Up
You all agree- this year you’re ready to forgo the toys and make it all about experiences for Christmas. However, you still want to put something under the tree. Me too! But how in the world do you wrap an experience into a neat little bow topped box? How do you actually give a vacation? How do you wrap a class? Here are a few easy ideas:
- If you have physical tickets or passes you can wrap them up. This is the easiest and most straightforward way to wrap up an experience gift.
- Get printing! Type up your travel itinerary… and print it! Make a flyer with info about an outing or lesson or subscription…and print it! Create a gift certificate…and print it! I like to use Pic Monkey, a super easy photo and graphic editing site and then print using a heavy weight paper like card-stock. Then slide your printed creations into a festive envelope of wrap them in a big cardboard box to throw your loved ones for a loop.
- Take it even further by getting creative with your packaging. Think outside the box, so to speak. Last year when we gifted our kids passes for Universal Studios, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I found giant sized Ferrero Rocher chocolates, took off the outer foil, opened them and placed a note inside about the passes. Then I attached some wings made out of card-stock and….voila! A giant Golden Snitch that made for a magical reveal on Christmas morning.
- If you will be traveling consider putting some photos from the destination and including these in your reveal. If you are going for more than one day you can wrap each day’s itinerary separately and reveal what you will be doing day by day. This is what we’ve done in the past with our kids and it can be very exciting.
- You can even make the printing itself more exciting! I’ve used sites like Shutterfly to create a puzzle that our kids had to put together on Christmas morning. Once assembled it revealed their experience gift.
- Try to think of the practical, purposeful things you will need that go with your experience gift and have your family unwrap those items as part of your reveal. Our kids have unwrapped suitcases that we needed for our trip and even bottles of sunscreen! You could buy goggles to go with swim lessons, some popcorn and candy for a movie night. The idea here is to get something useful for your experience and not just something that will add clutter to your life.
- Create a Scavenger Hunt with clues. This is fun no matter how old your loved ones are! You can create clues and use maps. I’ve used AAA for Trip Ticks and incorporated these handy maps into our scavenger hunt revealing each clue as we reached a new point on the map.
- Yet another year we ran yarn all over the house starting at the foot of our kid’s beds, zigzagging, up and down the stairs, and all over the furniture and ending tied to the tree with tickets on the end.
Something to Think About: It’s really never too late late to start giving experience gifts. And if you’re kids are really young it’s the perfect tradition to start! Our kids no longer have the expectation of a mountain of toys on Christmas morning but they can’t wait to find out where they are going.
Hopefully, these ideas have sparked your imagination and made you think about giving meaningful memories with experience gifts sure to outlast any toy.
What experience gift ideas do you have? Share in the comments if you have something to add to the list.
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