There’s a lot of pressure to gift something around holidays and special occasions. Unfortunately, this often leads to buying for the sake of buying, and you end up giving or receiving gifts that aren’t that useful.
Experience gifts are a great alternative, as they allow you to reduce potential waste from unused physical gifts. Many even give you the opportunity to spend time with the person you love.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gifting physical items, especially if you know they’ll be used and appreciated. But, if you’re looking to try something a little different, here are 40 experience gift ideas categorized by interest: art, food, travel, entertainment, sports, and subscriptions.
Keep in mind that experience gifts do require some further research, as many are local and should be specific to your needs. This isn’t a traditional gift guide where you can just click and buy. I will include specific links where possible though. Some of those links will be affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a small commission on any purchases, at no extra cost to you. This income helps me keep my blog running and is much appreciated!
1. Paintbar evening
At these paint nights, everyone follows the instructor to create versions of the same painting, which you select beforehand. These events are great for anyone from beginners to more experienced artists. Sometimes, food and drink is offered, though it often costs extra. Average prices are usually $30-40 for the class, though you might be able to get better deals by signing up for their email list or looking on Groupon.
Some of these events do create a lot of waste, but you can reach out to the studio to ask about their policies, or do a virtual version. If you end up not liking your painting, remember that you can always add to it at home, or paint over it.
2. Drop-in classes (pottery, jewelry-making, dancing)
Similar to paintbars, there are some local art or dance studios where you can do a drop-in lesson. You could also consider purchasing a series of local courses.
3. DIY or professional photoshoot
You could offer your own photography and editing skills, or hire a local professional to do a portrait session.
4. Personal stylist sessions
This is a great option for those looking to revamp their style, discover new ways to wear what they already own, and fill gaps in their wardrobe. You can do in-person or virtual sessions. My friend Thalia (@polychrom3) offers virtual personal styling and they have really helpful tips on their social accounts too.
5. Museum tickets
See if there are any special exhibits in your area, such as the famous immersive Van Gogh experience (though keep in mind that some have said it’s overrated). Permanent collections can also be great options, as it’s easy to overlook what’s in your own hometown.
Food, Foraging, Gardening
6. Cook a nice meal or eat out
To make this even more special, consider teaching your friend how to cook a dish they love (this is especially meaningful for family and cultural recipes). Enjoying a meal together in a restaurant is also a classic option that most folks will appreciate.
7. DIY or professional picnic
In the warmer months, you could plan a bucolic picnic in the flower fields. In the winter, it’s still possible to have a picnic, especially if there’s a campfire involved. It’ll be most affordable to DIY this, but there are also professional picnic companies that take care of setup and cleanup for you.
8. Grow kit for mushrooms or herbs
While this is technically a physical item, it’s also an experience. You can find relatively affordable grow kits on Etsy for $20-30. Check out this colden oyster mushroom kit and this pink oyster mushroom one. I’ve personally tried a few Back to the Roots kits, and all have been successful for at least one crop. It is expensive for the amount of mushrooms to get, but it’s very satisfying to see your mushrooms grow over the span of a week or so.
9. Meal kit subscription or CSA (community-supported agriculture)
If you’re buying for someone who loves to cook, these deliveries might make their life easier! With CSAs, you’ll also be supporting local farms (though keep in mind this is usually seasonal, from spring to fall).
10. Murder mystery dinner
Set up your own with a group of friends acting out parts, or buy tickets to an organized one.
11. Cooking or foraging class
Learn how to cook a special dish with a professional chef, or discover the wild food sources in your area. Foraging has grown increasingly popular, but it’s important to get help identifying your findings, especially if you’re new to the practice.
12. Membership to the local mycological club
These clubs often meet weekly (in-season) to go on walks, and experienced mycologists will help ID any mushrooms you find.
13. Get a plot at the community garden
Often more common in urban areas, community gardens allow residents to keep their own plots and plant whatever they like. Most communities try to keep annual membership fees around $50, but there are usually long waitlists (sometimes years long!). If you live in a place with a bit lower demand, this could be a good option, or you could also opt for an indoor garden kit.
14. DIY compost bin or pickup subscription
Setting up your own home compost system can be tricky, so it’s nice to have some support in the process. Otherwise, footing the bill for residential compost pickup is also a nice option.
15. Pick your own farm outing
Depending on the season, you could pick strawberries, blueberries, apples, pumpkins, corn, or even wildflowers!
16. Plan a unique trip
Any sort of trip would make a great present, whether it’s local or international. If you’re looking for more unique experiences, you might consider:
- Renting an RV
- Doing a long-distance train trip in a sleeper car
- Going off-grid in a tiny house or cabin
You could stay in an ice hotel like Quebec’s Hôtel de Glace
If you can’t make it far from your hometown, it’s still fun to book a local hotel or Airbnb/VRBO to get a change of pace. Spend the day relaxing in the new space, or being a tourist in your own city.
Stargazing is a year-round activity, and it’s relatively inexpensive if you have a car and live near a rural area. Check to see if there are any upcoming meteor showers; some impressive ones are the Perseids (mid-August) and Quadrantids (early January).
19. See the Northern Lights
Often associated with Arctic regions, the Northern Lights can actually be seen from the Northern United States in some years. In 2021, there were sightings across New England and the Pacific Northwest. Other viewing locations include Michigan’s upper peninsula, Minnesota, and Idaho.
20. Sunset cruise
This is a lovely photo op and chance to enjoy a meal/drinks on the water. Some operators have organized dinners or snack bars, though you can save money by bring your own picnic (if it’s allowed).
21. Whale watching
It’s awe-inspiring to see these massive creatures in their natural habitats. Make sure, however, to choose a responsible operator that contributes to marine research and has a naturalist on board.
22. National Park Pass
The annual American the Beautiful Pass costs $80 and covers the entrance fees at National Parks. There are also short-term individual passes, which usually cost $35 per vehicle for seven days. This annual pass makes the most sense if the gift recipient is planning to travel to at least 3 National Parks in the next year.
These are fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t include any descriptions or context, but these are an especially fun way to spend time together.
23. Amusement park tickets or season pass
24. Concert tickets
25. Drive-in movie
26. Arcade day
28. Tickets to a sporting event
29. Gym/club membership or workout passes
Yearly membership fees can definitely be hefty, so covering a month or two (or the signup fees) would be thoughtful as well. Some gyms or studios also offer discounts if you buy a set of day passes, which are nice since they offer more flexibility and less commitment.
There are also running and fitness clubs that meet weekly for group workouts, and they often have a smaller yearly fee. If your friend is already active in one or looking to join one, you could cover that as a gift (and join together!).
30. Rock climbing/bouldering
Most indoor gyms offer day passes and intro courses for beginners, and there are also some organized outdoor trips you can take with local tour groups.
32. Ice skating
33. Axe throwing or archery
Axe throwing has become trendy over the years, with new rooms opening up in major cities. If you’re looking to test your aim another way, try archery.
34. Escape room
You’ll usually need at least 2-3 people, making this ideal for a group of friends. Some rooms are more puzzle-based, while others are more physical.
Subscriptions are one of the most helpful gifts to give, though the annual fees can be hefty. If you’re looking for a more affordable gift, you can always pay for a month or two of the subscription instead of the full year.
35. Spotify Premium ($10/month)
36. Netflix ($8-18/month)
37. Skillshare ($32/month or $15/month annually)
Get access to a wide array of online courses, from productivity lessons to sewing basics.
38. Canva Pro ($13/month or $120 annually)
Canva is a user-friendly platform for creating visuals. Pro users have a wider library of images, fonts, elements, and effects. I personally have paid for Canva Pro for over a year now, and would recommend it to anyone needing eye-catching visuals for social media, presentations, and events.
39. Adobe Creative Cloud ($10-53/month)
Adobe’s most popular softwares include Lightroom and Photoshop for photo editing, and Premiere Pro for video editing.
40. VSCO X ($20/year)
VSCO is a trendy photo editing app with photo editing tools and hundreds of presets. With the paid version, you get access to the full library of presets and tools. I’ve been paying for this for the last 3 years and would recommend it. You can get the paid version in the app only.
Let us know if you’ve received a particularly meaningful experience gift, or gave one yourself!