Experiential Gifts for the Holiday Season

By Lambeth Hochwald / November 23, 2015

If you’re struggling with what to give a loved one this holiday season, the answer might be closer at hand than you think.

These days, everyone’s talking about how much fun it is to receive a gift that’s actually an experience, instead of a material possession. After all, how many sweaters does your BFF need?

Whether it’s a one-day pass to a climbing gym or a cooking class, you’re helping a friend or family member experience something she might never have considered and, at the very least, you’re helping to create a precious memory.

“Most people will tell you that they have enough stuff,” says Michelle K. Geib, founder of Xperience Days, a Steamboat Springs, CO-based company that offers thousands of unique and memorable gifts, from food tours to racecar driving, flight lessons to dinner cruises. “And, when it comes to giving gifts, it has become increasingly difficult to purchase something unique for a friend, family member or even spouse.”

Experiential gifts are memorable in ways that material gifts just can’t be, says Trevor Traina, founder of IfOnly.com, a San Francisco-based online marketplace that offers exclusive experiences to people who are passionate about food, wine, music, sports and travel.

“While a physical gift is something that will only be enjoyed for a short time, an experience is a part of you,” he says. “Research shows that our satisfaction with new material possessions and experiences are similar at the time of receiving them but that the satisfaction you feel about a physical gift actually decreases over time.”

By contrast, an experience is something you will relive, talk to friends about and share with others. Experiences are also that much easier to custom-tailor.

“Just think of it this way,” Geib says. “The gift of a unique experience isn’t something that might end up in the back of a closet or sold at next year’s yard sale.”


*Give a session with a personal stylist, share a visit to the spa or spring for fitness classes to enjoy together.

Five Ways to Make an Experience Sparkle

Here is what to keep in mind if you’re considering gifting with an experience this year.

  1. Match the experience to the person’s personality. The last thing you want to do is gift a friend with a hot air balloon ride if you know she’s afraid of heights. “If you know your friend loves fashion, then a session with a stylist will be a perfect fit,” Traina says.
  1. Make the experience as convenient as possible. If your friend or family member has to travel or prep for the experience, rethink it, Traina says. “You don’t want to gift a friend with an experience if the scheduling is too challenging.”
  1. Know the limitations of the activity. Before you consider gifting a friend with an experience, research it. “Make sure you’re aware of any weight, height, health or other limitations which may make it impossible for your friend to participate in the experience,” Geib says.
  1. Factor in additional costs. Find out if there are add-on expenses your friend will encounter in order to enjoy it. “Find out if a gratuity is included, whether there will be fees to park or if there are any extras that haven’t been factored in,” Geib says. “Those aren’t costs your friend should incur.”
  1. Consider joining in the fun. “Just think of how much fun it would be to join in and experience the adventure along with your friend,” says Geib. “That’s what I call a gift!”

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