The Gift of Experience

My eyes were not closed to what an amazing gift this was. Coincidentally, we were married in that building behind us five years earlier.

It’s Black Friday, and I’m making my list and checking it twice. What I’m checking for is experiential gift ideas.

Basically, the idea is: think beyond the physical items you’ll wrap and put under the tree. (Let’s face it. Sadly, the majority of those items are just going to end up gathering dust or in a landfill somewhere anyway.)

Instead, think about what experience you want to give the person through your gift. Think about how they’ll use it and enjoy it.

Think about the mental snapshot they’ll have afterward, reminding them of a certain time, person, place, knowledge, or emotion. After all, isn’t that the essence of a life? A collection of mental snapshots filed away in our heart, reminding us of the things and people that matter to us most?

Sue was the queen of experiential gift giving, but frankly, she did so on a scale that isn’t financially feasible for most of us.

Included below are a few of the ideas Sue gave to us. If you’re low on cash (as many of us are these days), you can still use the kernel of the idea and adjust it to fit your wallet.

Glassblowing Classes

For six weeks, as Sue’s birthday treat, my husband and I spent Sunday mornings learning glassblowing together. Now our home is peppered with colorful little flowers, bowls, cups, and vases from that experience. ((They also make excellent conversation pieces!) These mementos are fond reminders of that time in my life and what I learned from the experience … about the craft and about me, Ryan, and how we work together in the face of a challenge.

For a budget-friendly version, consider gifting an introductory course instead of a whole series. Or better (and cheaper) yet, if there’s something fun that you’re good at, why not provide the “class” yourself? For instance, if you’re good at photography, promise a day of instructional shooting at some beautiful locale. You can even make a gift certificate, put it in a frame, and fill that frame later with their best shot from the day.

Dinner Flight

For our fifth anniversary, Sue rented a water taxi plane to fly us to a nearby island and back for dinner. Every time I see a biplane at sunset I think about that moment: arriving next to the place where we got married, Ryan giving me his hand as I maneuvered down the pier in heels, seeing Seattle coming alive at twilight below, landing at a quiet lodge where a wedding was in progress, making plans for a future family trip hopefully with our dog and a little one in tow …

Even a gift certificate to a unique local restaurant could provide a “getaway” dinner experience. For something extra special, throw in a town car with driver, provide free babysitting, or send them flowers at the restaurant.

Huh. I’m wearing the same dress again. Oh well. That dress had some great experiences.

Sue organized many family trips in lieu of holiday gifts. Four generations of us traveled to the Caribbean, San Diego, Mexico, and Jamaica on these unforgettable getaways together. For one week every-other year, it made us all carved out time to catch up, have fun, and create memories. No diamond in the world can come close to that.

If you’re on a budget, a family camping trip can provide the same idea for much less. Or why not plan a weekend getaway close by, thus saving the money you’d spent on flights? You could even rent a house through a site like VRBO (often cheaper than a hotel) and splurge on someone to cook and clean for a dinner or two, giving the whole family (including Mom and Grandma) more time to just have fun together.

So sleep in, skip the lines, and spend your hard-earned dollars in ways that will last in the hearts of your family and friends this holiday season. I know it may not seem worth the thought and creativity required now, but trust me, the value will only grow in the years to come.

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