Gift Guide: Experiences vs. Stuff

Each December, we give and get a lot of stuff. Some of the stuff we like, some of the stuff we don’t really use, and more often than not a lot of the stuff just goes to waste. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been lured into reading half a dozen blogs with gift guides for foodie friends or holiday hostesses showing really fun gift ideas. But, while I admittedly spend a fair amount of time ogling wish list items on my Pinterest, I also love the idea of gifting experiences. It can typically be more impactful to receive something that you get to look forward to and create a memory actually doing it. Here are a few ideas to inspire your next holiday gift guide to be little less about “stuff”. 

A Plane Ticket

plane ride

Many airlines offer gift cards that can be purchased online -- easy peasy! You can also gift your own earned miles to someone else or simply offer to pick up the person’s next flight to their desired destination. There's the old saying that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer and I've found it to be unequivocally true. Gifting someone the opportunity to travel (even if it's a short flight away to a new city) is exciting and offers a unique experience, a.k.a the joy won't wear off quite as fast as it does once you unwrap something new and shiny. 

Membership to a Museum


Anybody else love to wander around a museum for countless hours? Chances are you know someone who does! Plus, many contemporary museums offer membership passes that give special access to member-only events surrounding the museum (think fun parties, unique tactile events, etc.) as well as waiving the fee of entrance. Culture and curiosity are just a wander away.

Donate to a charity/cause in someone's name

This one is sorely underrated. While it used to be an ongoing, overused joke that gifting to charities in other people’s names was a lame gift idea, I’d like to officially disregard that notion! Many people have causes they're passionate about and it can be pretty moving to seek out a donation in someone's name. You can waive adoption fees for dogs or cats at your local shelter (for the animal lover on your list), donate to support an environmental cause (for the activist at heart), etc. My friend recently asked for donations to causes she cares for on her birthday instead of gifts and it was such a great ideas! I made a donation to Emily’s List in her name and suddenly gifting felt like much less of a novelty and more so up lifting. 

National Parks Pass

national parks

We all know nature-lovers will rejoice for an excuse to spend extra time outdoors. Who doesn't want a little incentive to visit national parks near them or take a road trip for a slice of adventure outside the office, anyway? I have plenty of national parks on my list to visit and a pass would certainly make me feel more inclined to take advantage and explore! You can purchase annual park passes here.


This one's a little more common, but it’s such a fun one! A surprise ticket to concert, show or conference will usually be a favorite gift for anyone. It’s fun to mix up a night with live entertainment and even more fun to look forward to experiencing it with a friend. It doesn't have to be super expensive (nose-bleed seats are fun, too!) and you can even do smaller event tickets like a wine tasting pass or even just movie theater tickets. 


Learning outside a classroom is usually the most fun, especially since most classes are tailored to specific aspects of interests like Italian cooking, hip hop dancing, photography, etc. A quick google search for classes in your city and you’ll likely find something unique (think floral arrangement 101, a nature photography class, self-defense, etc.) Even exercise classes or a gym pass for a year -- it could actually be more motivating to use it if someone gifted it to you. 

class to learn

Bonus: Zero-waste ideas

Another great idea for giving gifts that help reduce waste. These are a few of my favorite ideas that I use myself. 

  • Reusable water bottle; I especially love my Klean Kanteen!
  • Texture subscription; a digital magazine subscription service.
  • Reusable shopping bags; I love my Chico bag and love to take it with me when I travel too! 
  • Kindle: while I love real paperback books, a Kindle is ideal for travel and in general, saves your shelves so much space!

Which gift idea is your favorite? Are you gifting any "experiences" over stuff this year?