Choosing the perfect gift can be a daunting task. Like, where do you even start? And what if they don’t like it? Her Campus compiled a series of holiday gift ideas as solutions to those problems. But what if they don’t end up using it, and it just sits on their shelf forever?
This is a case for experience gifts. Instead of buying presents, provide your loved ones with an experience (and avoid falling into holiday consumerism). Things come and go, but feelings will live within your memories. An abundance of psychological research shows that experiences bring people more happiness than possessions. A 2020 University of Southern California study found that even if the experience is bad, the novelty of trying something new can be remembered as something positive.
Don’t worry if your love language isn’t gift giving or receiving; many of these still apply to quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service, so there’s something for everyone. You can also do many of these at home or outdoors, depending on your preferences. Without further ado, here is a list of ideas for the best experience gift ideas for couples, families, friends, your mom, and anybody else you’re thinking of this holiday season.
- Play tourist in their hometown
There’s no better gift than enjoying each other’s company. Make your gift receiver a tourist in their own town, or go to your nearest metropolitan city. There’s plenty of beauty in the ordinary that may get taken for granted. Search up nearby eateries, look on local lifestyle blogs, and go check out anything that’s exciting in their city, from historical landmarks to museums to Instagram-famous restaurants. Bonus points if it’s a tourist hot spot that you both haven’t been to before.
- Travel in your own home
Traveling abroad isn’t easy right now and may be out of your college budget, but you can still take your gift recipient somewhere “new” by traveling within your own home. Stream a show set somewhere foreign like Emily in Paris and make or buy food specific to that country (baguette, anyone?), so you can almost pretend you’re there.
- Buy concert tickets
Music is the soundtrack to our lives. If you share similar music taste, look up what bands are touring. Local shows are more accessible, but if your favorite band is performing several hours away, make it a trip! Seeing a show is a great way to create an unforgettable experience.
- Book a class together
Look up any local offerings in your area. It can be an activity-based class like martial arts or dance, or consider picking up a craft like pottery or foraging. You can look for in-person classes on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, or for virtual classes on MasterClass. Taking a class is a great way to meet new people and expand your shared social circle, too.
- Host a self-care day
Self-care is necessary for our own mental health and self-preservation, and giving your loved one a self-care day can show them how much you value their well-being. Treat your gift receiver to a self-care day in which you get mani-pedis (or do them at home!), apply face masks — the works!
- Prepare their favorite meal
Sharing food should be a love language. To cook or feed someone can be such an intimate act; it declares, “I want you to be nourished and satisfied.” Find out what their favorite thing to eat is, and make it! Whether you’re baking or cooking, it’s an act of love. If you want to take it an extra step further, you can create a recipe book as a side project to document the process.
- Give them a coupon book of experiences
Make an original voucher booklet for those times in need. Tailor it to fit your unique relationship. A couple of ideas to get you started: a coffee date, a picnic with no phones allowed.
- Write in a secondhand book
Pass on your copy of a book that changed your life. Explain how on the inside cover. This is an especially great idea for a friend group. You could all add your thoughts and takeaways so it becomes like a shared yearbook for your friend to cherish.
- Curate a playlist
Since concert tickets are not always the most accessible, let your gift receiver know that they’re the main character by making them a personalized playlist. Create a certain mood, or craft a playlist of songs that remind you of them. They’ll gain insight into your perspective of them and think of you fondly whenever they hear one of those songs.
- Buy a digital course
Show them you’re invested into the relationship by demonstrating that you’re invested in their person. Buy a digital class in something they’re already interested in, so they can start watching immediately from home. Try Udemy, Masterclass, or Creative Live for classes in art, design, technology, and more.
- Set up a note swap
Give them direct insight into your feelings by writing from the heart, and inspire them to do the same. You could write each other a gratitude list, a single card, or a series of letters. You can make it easy for them by getting cute stationery and pens, and maybe even mailing them out so both letters arrive to their recipients as a surprise for later.
- Make them a plant parent
Yes, a plant is technically a “thing,” but taking care of a living creature can be such a rewarding experience that goes beyond other inanimate objects. Unlike animals, plants can regrow if they are neglected. It’s a lesson of discipline and consistency. Psychology holds that plants are therapeutic and can boost productivity. Being a plant parent can actually improve your mental health. NASA research found that being surrounded by greenery can help with cleaning the surrounding air, creating a sense of well-being, and enhancing your life.
- Create art together & let them keep it
Consider painting something together with your person, whether you buy the supplies and set it up yourself or treat them to a paint-and-sip or crafting class. Relax a bit and explore your artistic sides — you don’t have to be the next Bob Ross. When you’re done, your work can hang proudly on their wall and serve as a reminder of your love.
- Make a video montage
Track down old photos and videos of experiences you’ve shared together, and edit them into one video they watch whenever they’re feeling nostalgic. Having it documented will give you both something to look back on in the future.
- Go stargazing in your own backyard
Bundle up and head outside to look at the stars together. Apps like Star Walk and Sky View Lite make it easy to see constellations even when it’s cloudy. This is perfect for anyone who’s interested in science, astrology, or nature.
- Get your birth charts read
Speaking of astrology-themed gifts, getting your birth charts read together can be a fun way to connect on a deeper level with your loved one and find out how compatible the stars think you are. You can get your birth chart for free by filling in your birth date, time, and place info on sites like Cafe Astrology. Whether you decide to get them read by a professional astrologer or just utilize internet resources like YouTube astrology guides to figure it out yourselves, you’re bound to have something to bond over.
- Have a holiday bake-off
Whether it’s pies, cookies, or any other holiday dessert you know your gift recipient loves, gather all the ingredients and supplies to have a holiday bake-off! You can make this as competitive or collaborative as you want — by the end, you’ll both be getting a sweet treat, anyway, so everyone’s a winner.
- Hit up a comedy club
We all need a laugh after the past two years, so why not take them to a comedy club? You can listen to standup from smaller local comedians (or if a more famous comic that you know they like is touring in your city, you can head to a bigger venue), and share a drink and a laugh to unwind.
- Plan a picnic
If you’re lucky enough to live in a warmer weather climate, head out to your local park with a basket full of good food and a picnic blanket, plus maybe a frisbee, a good book, or anything else you think your gift recipient might want for a relaxing day outside. Cold weather doesn’t have to be an issue — you can set up your living room floor with cushy blankets and pillows, a stash of snacks, and even some warm fairy lights to bring the picnic fun indoors.
- Host a movie night
Movie nights may be nothing special as a concept, but if you go all out, they can be something to remember. Let them choose from a selection of films tailored to their interests, because nobody likes scrolling endlessly through Netflix because there’s “nothing to watch.” Then, have all their favorite movie theater foods stocked in the kitchen, and get creative — you can center the night around a theme (rom-coms, the early 2000s, Timothée Chalamet) or just go with the flow of whatever they’re in the mood for.
- Make a scavenger hunt
If your gift recipient is more adventurous and active, a scavenger hunt is the perfect way to keep them engaged. You can set up little clues around your neighborhood, your favorite place to hang out together, or even somewhere more exciting, like a museum. Whether they have to look for specific signs and numbers, artwork, or even notes that you stash in secret places, you can make it as personalized and tricky as you want. At the end, you can surprise them with a physical prize, or treat them to a meal.
- Do an escape room together
If you have a puzzle-solving, mystery-loving friend, putting your brains to the test in an escape room is a great way to get an adrenaline rush and work under pressure together. These range from art heists to prison breaks to mad scientist labs, so you can find anything that suits their interests and fear tolerance levels. You can probably find good deals for escape rooms on Groupon, and if you’re worried about getting stuck with a bunch of strangers, invite some other friend along!
- Go to an arcade
No, you’re never too old to play arcade games, and anyone who says you are is lying to you. Whether you take them to a boardwalk, an old-school arcade, or even just your local Dave & Busters, you can have fun challenging your loved one to skeeball, racing games, and more, and pooling all your tickets to let them take home the biggest prize possible at the end of the day.
- Get a palm or tarot reading
If you have your own deck, you can give your loved one an in-depth tarot reading yourself, but many of us aren’t, and that’s okay. Find a local psychic in your area and pay for a palm or tarot reading — either just for your gift recipient or together, as a bonding activity — to see what the new year might have in store for them. Even if you or they don’t fully believe in or understand tarot, it’s fun to try out once with a friend!
- Take them on a hike
If they’re the outdoorsy type, you can plan out a sunrise or sunset hike on a trail in your area that allows them to get the best view (because if you didn’t Instagram it from the top, did you really go on a hike?). You can do the work of making sure you have enough water and anything else you might need, while they can just focus on the nature around them and spending quality time with you.
Don’t let the experience-giving process end here! While these gift ideas are meant for more grand gestures, experiences comprise our everyday life. You can make any day special or exciting.
Skavronskaya L., Moyle B., Scott N., (2020). The Experience of Novelty and the Novelty of Experience. Frontiers in Psychology.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2007). Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments. NASA Spinoff.
Stanborough, R. (2020). A Hobby for All Seasons: 7 Science-Backed Benefits of Indoor Plants. Healthline.