the trend of giving experiences as gifts featured image

The Trend of Giving Experiences as Gifts

Last summer my mother had a milestone birthday. COVID-19 safety restrictions put the kibosh on a big party. At this point in her life, my mom isn’t interested in acquiring a lot of new things. If anything, she’s working to get rid of some.

So we decided to celebrate with an experience that included mom, my brother and me and our spouses, and my two kids. My mother loves museums. But many were closed due to the pandemic. Music or a play? Everybody has different tastes. 

My mom and a goat at an experiential gift
My mom and a goat

It can be tough to find something kids love that everyone else does, too. But one thing everybody in our family shares is an enthusiasm for animals.

We designed our own animal intensive weekend which included a private appointment with a farmer to “meet and greet goats.” We stayed overnight at another farm with a variety of other animals including horses, chickens, ducks, cats, a donkey, and a magical white peacock. Altogether, it was a fun and sometimes funny experience that we’ll all remember.

My brother and a goat at an experiential gift
My brother and a goat

Why is giving experiences as gifts becoming popular?

My mom isn’t the only one who feels like she has enough stuff. Most of us don’t need more. And physical belongings may not make us any happier anyway. Spending money on services makes people happier than spending money on possessions, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which focused especially on the benefits of services that save time or free people from chores.

More people are appreciating and giving experiences. A report by McKinsey says more people expect to increase their spending on services rather than products in the next year.


Greater intention to spend more on services compared to products in the next year from McKinsey & Co.

Greater intention to spend more on services compared to products in the next year from McKinsey & Co.

The trend toward experiences over things has been growing for a while, but COVID likely sped it up. Many of us are eager to get out and spend time with others after 18 months of relative seclusion because of the pandemic.

In addition, experiences are often more environmentally friendly than buying possessions. Awareness and concern about climate change has been growing as many Americans have experienced it first hand in the last year through fires, hurricanes, and most recently, the tornadoes in Kentucky and other parts of the central and southern US.

How to give experiences as gifts

Many people are considering experiences as Christmas gifts (or gifts to celebrate other occasions) this holiday season. To start, obviously you’ll want to consider the hobbies or interests of the person you’re giving to. Another consideration is whether you want a fully virtual or an in-person experience.

For in-person experiences you’ll need to take into account both what’s available and what’s in-budget in their geographic area. Experiences can run anywhere from $30 for a cooking class to $800 for a hot air balloon ride. One good place to start your research is Airbnb Experiences, which are hosted by experts from around the world. Sample experiences include everything from learning to surf in California to horse whispering in Spain.

Examples of fully virtual experiences include classes such as cooking or language learning. My daughter loves Japan. For her birthday my husband and I gave her some online Japanese lessons. To go with them, her grandparents gave her a Japanese subscription box filled with food and trinkets from Japan.

Other things to consider include whether you would like yourself or perhaps the recipient’s significant other to participate in the experience, too. Experiences are a great opportunity to arrange for some high quality time together. A friend of mine hosted a virtual birthday party fitness class that included making a donation to a charity she supports. Several friends from around the country joined (including me)!.

Lygeia Ricciardi and a falcon
Me and a falcon

Also, a couple of years ago my brother and I bought an introduction to falcons and other birds of prey to share together. It was one of the more epic experiences I’ve been part of!

Not all experience gifts have to be so involved. You can just make a coupon for an outing to get ice cream, visit a skating rink, or go to the zoo.

After you’ve decided what to give, you can think about how best to deliver it. Of course you can send a simple email, but there are also many creative ways to present it. For example, a gift to go shoe shopping together could be presented with a pair of socks. Similarly, a race car driving experience could be presented with the gift of a match box car.

Added bonus: think about how you can help the giftee remember the experience after the fact. Maybe it’s a picture or a small photo book. Or maybe it’s an object related to the experience, such as a Christmas tree ornament or a small kitchen gadget.

Unique experience gift ideas

So what does your giftee love to do? Maybe they love adventure, travel, pampering, learning, cooking, or something else? At AdaRose we especially love health and wellness! Here is a list of some of our favorite health and wellness experience gift ideas.

1.) Give the gift of time by helping a loved one outsource a chore or day-to-day task:

2.) Book a day pass or appointment for a unique self care experience

  • Salt cave spa (try Bethesda Salt Cave near the AdaRose HQ—if your recipient is near DC, check it out!)

  • Float spa (your giftee can experience “profound relaxation” through sensory deprivation in a float pod at one of the TrueRest locations across the country)

3.) Purchase a subscription to a health app or online wellness tool

  • Meditation/mindfulness app (Headspace is a well known meditation app for $69.99 per year)

  • Digital health coaching (A popular choice is Noom, which focuses on the psychology of weight loss. They offer a variety of membership options to fit various budgets.)

4.) Buy a pass to enjoy fitness and nature

  • Community fitness classes (Your giftee can take advantage of multiple fitness classes in their geographic area through Class Pass)

  • National Parks (The National Park Service offers an annual pass to visit any—or all—national parks for $80)

5.) Sign your giftee up for an online or in-person class to learn a new skill

  • Painting (Wine and Design has locations across the U.S. for a fun day of painting and bonding with others)

  • Cooking (Sur La Table offers both virtual and in-person cooking classes)


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