Christmas Gift Guide: Experiences over Things


Hi friends, happy Tuesday!  I’m forgoing gift guides this year, I hope you won’t be disappointed.  We’re also forgoing presents in general, for the adults in our lives and each other.  I love presents (both giving and receiving) as much as the next person, but we feel compelled to offer up experiences to our friends this year in lieu of gifts.  We created a magical evening for some of our closest friends that included a cheeseboard spread that rivalled this one,  lots of wine, a couple of beautiful salads and one of my favorite soups.  We played Christmas music, we laughed, we decorated our Christmas tree, we introduced people who didn’t know each other to other people who would come to adore each other.  All in all it embodied everything I love about the holiday season.  It was our gift to them, their gift to us.  And isn’t that a beautiful thing, the idea that spending magical time together and creating memories can be the best gift of all?  Maybe it’s because we’re all past that age where we need things.  Yes, there are lovely items that could be added to our houses, but those won’t really enrich our lives the way that experiences do.

Who knows if this tradition will stay, but so far I’m pretty obsessed.  And it got me thinking, for actual gift giving, wouldn’t it be lovely to offer up experiences in lieu of things?  (Better yet, experiences that you could share together!)  Some ideas I came up with after the jump!  If you have ideas leave them below, will you please?  This is new to me as I’ve been a very traditional giver in the past, finding the prettiest somethings or most functional presents without thinking much about experience based gifting.  So I’m wracking my brain a bit to come up with ideas…  Happy holidays my friends!!!  xx- Sarah  {photo of our home from my Instagram – @sarahyatesmora}

For the art lover:  sponsorship of an art class of their choosing from a local college or private instructor, tickets to an exhibit at a local museum.

For the adventurous spirit:  ticekts for a hot air balloon trip, sponsorship of a wilderness survival class or trial membership to a rock climbing gym, an adventure pass (for California state parks).

For the fitness enthusiast:  yoga, spin, pilates or other fitness classes, personal trainer appointments, a day bike rental for touristy cruising around your city.

For the foodie:  cooking classes, gift card to a special restaurant, a well-planned meal cooked by you- just for them, a nutrition course.

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Reader Comments

  1. Sarah|

    Yay! This is what we’ve been doing for a while now and it is so so special, especially when the experience is something you can do WITH the special people in your life.
    A few ideas:
    For the kids:
    Train Ride
    Children’s Museum (or other museum/zoo) Passes
    Horse Riding Lesson/s

    For adults:
    Floral Workshop
    Photography Workshop
    Sporting Event Tickets or Tour of Stadium/Arena
    Live Show/Musical/Comedian/Concert, etc.

    The sky is the limit – think of the person and what they like and go for it. 🙂

  2. Sarah|

    What a lovely idea! A recent study has shown that at the end of our lives, it is memories of relationships and experiences that make us happy, not the things we accumulated. I often give massage vouchers as presents, or for something special a night away at a bed n breakfast makes a great gift. And for people with young kids, offering to baby sit for a night is a fantastic gift.

    • Sarah Yates|

      YES! It’s so true! And even when you look back at the last decade of your life- it’s never the things that you have that make you smile in memory, it’s the people and the experiences. Love your ideas and spirit!!! xx

  3. Sasha Swerdloff|

    Love this! We’ve been talking about doing this too and instead of gifts giving a donation in someone’s name. Next year we’ll do it for sure.

    • Sarah Yates|

      Yes Sasha, another brilliant idea! I would be so touched if someone gave a donation on my behalf, I think it’s a beautiful gesture. Love this idea! xx

  4. Maggie|

    I have given cooking classes many times as gifts and they are so fun because they can be enjoyed sometimes months later! I like to gift experiences and I usually try to book them for a few months after Christmas for that very reason- so that it isn’t just Christmas day when a person enjoys a gift but months later as well! It makes it a lot more fun to have something to look forward to doing as well as a fun surprise when the day actually arrives. I love the idea of something touristy within your own city or nearby. A year state park pass is an amazing gift as well!


    • Sarah Yates|

      Yes, love that idea and that you extend the holiday for them by booking for a few months out. So sweet! 🙂

  5. Jenna of This Is My Happiness|

    I completely agree! We sometimes forgo gifts and give donations in each other’s names instead. (or we limit it to one small gift plus a donation). Tinggly is a website that sells experience gifts, like a farm tour or a rafting tour (there are other sites like it, I just can’t remember the names). Other ideas I have are a museum membership for the art lover, a wine club membership or subscription to those organic farm boxes for the foodie… Happy holidays! 🙂

  6. Kelly|

    I completely agree. My husband and I decided to go this way very early in our relationship. So, on every special occasion we tend to book a day at the spa or have dinner at a fancy restaurant or perhaps do a little city trip.

    Other things I came to think of are cooking classes, photography classes or just creative classes in general. I just had the pleasure of attending a hand lettering workshop last weekend. I bet I could make some people really happy with that.

    Other than that, instead of sending Christmas cards by mail, we send them out by e-mail. All the money we usually spend on printing and mailing the cards (which is a lot) is given to charity. We pick a new charity each year. This year we’ll probably make a donation for Red Nose Day in Belgium which helps youngsters facing mental health issues.

  7. Leanne|

    I love the idea of giving experiences instead of gifts. Thank you for sharing your ideas, I especially love the “For the foodie” list.

    This year, I purchased a Living Social deal for a 4 hr ATV rental in Ocotillo Wells (just over the hill from Julian!) for my boyfriend as a Christmas gift. Once the holiday craziness settles, we will be headed to the desert for some good ol ATV riding! I totally recommend it to others.

  8. Lavenderhill|

    I am reading this post late as not in the us but in China. Jet lagged and reading blogs. I totally agree with you and want to add books to the list. Books I have read and passed onto others and a chain book Junkers paradise. For a friend who will celebrate her 90th bday June 2026, she already asked everyone to bring their favorite dish plus that recipe which she will compile and make into. Book. For her 80th bday, she had everyone bring their favourite book so she would have reading material for several months.

  9. Elizabeth|

    Love this idea! I always do it. For my SO one year I got us a trip riding a raft down a river to view eagles in our area, and I just got him a gift certificate to our local dive shop for SCUBA equipment (we’re very outdoorsy!). I’ve also gotten people improv classes and massages, and once a ‘swim with dolphins’. I think anything that a person enjoys doing, they’d love to get a chance to do for free! 🙂 The adventure pass is a great idea that I hadn’t thought of before!

  10. Rachel|

    I gave my best friend (who I share a birthday with) a whale watching trip for her/our birthday and it was fantastic. If there’s whale watches in your area, I definitely recommend it. Such a wild experience and something you may not spring for, for yourself otherwise.

  11. Sara|

    Love this idea! And it seems that a lot of people are starting to think that this makes more sense. It’s so great to see people value memories over materials. I also love the idea of support local shops and businesses when doing holiday shopping. It’s super easy to combine giving experiences with supporting local. That way the gifts have a story to tell as well!
    Here’s a few other ideas: