Need a Thoughtful Last-Minute Gift? Try the Gift of Experience

So, it’s the eleventh hour and you need a gift, but you want something that is thoughtful and will touch the person you’re giving it to.  Instead of heading to the mall to hunt for something tangible, give the gift of a wonderful experience.   Tickets to a play, a NASCAR ride-along, a morning deliver of latte & donuts, a creative way to display pictures—you can craft a gift of almost any experience to delight your loved ones.

An experience gift can be a welcome surprise, especially for those who live in small spaces or who have accumulated plenty of belongings.  Many of us struggle with having more stuff than we have space for anyway.  So, here are 8 ideas to inspire you to put together your own experience gifts.  All can be pulled together at the last minute, and there is something here for almost any budget.

1. Spectator Events – Theater, Sports, Music, Movies                                                                            

theaterTickets to a fun event make a fabulous gift.  What kind of entertainment does your recipient love?  Local theater, basketball game, rock concert, modern dance?  You’ll find something for any budget here, from an affordable pair of movie tickets, to mid-priced college sports games, to expensive professional ballet tickets.  Your gift recipient will have a fun time, thinking fondly of you while they’re enjoying their event.  And hey, maybe you’ll even be invited as their guest.

2.  Twelve Days of Christmas Pictures                              

Delight someone you love with 12 Days of Christmas Pictures.  This is an especially ideal gift for grandparents.  Send them

Grandma photos each day from Dec. 25 – Jan 5.  It’s a thoughtful way to send smiles over several days.  You can email or Instagram photos, or for a more lasting experience, use a specialized service, Photo Mambo, that repeatedly displays your pictures in a screensaver/slideshow, so loved ones can enjoy them all through 2015.  Each time you send pictures, they’re added to the screensaver, with no need to save or download the pictures.  You’ll stretch the Christmas joy out to 12 days, and they’ll enjoy the photos well into 2105.

3. Creation                                                                                    

PotteryGive someone the time & tools to express their creativity this Christmas.  Last year, I gave my daughter two pottery wheel sessions at a local ceramics studio.  She had a wonderful time throwing pots, and is delighted to use the finished pieces as vases.  Many of my grown-up friends enjoy chatting over a glass of wine at the pottery glazing studio, and a new business in our neighborhood is offering painting lessons over cocktails.  Check your local area to see who is offering fun creative sessions; you never know what you’ll find.

4. Adventure                                                                          

Know someone who wants a little adventure in their life?  You can give gift certificates to drive a NASCAR car, try the flyingskydive trapeze, skydive in an indoor wind-tunnel, tandem skydive “for real”, or snuba in the tanks at your local aquarium.  Too wild?  How about an afternoon of laser tag or trampoline jumping – even for grown-ups.  These adventurous quests don’t usually come cheap; but for that special someone in your life, it might be just the thing.

5. Connection                                                               

The gift of spending a fun time TOGETHER can be one of the best gifts of all.  If family is close by, give the gift of a fun afternoon or whole day together.  Declare a  “Grandparent’s Afternoon” and gather to make home-made ice cream and play board games. Or plan a shared outing to play golf or hang at the

If your relatives aren’t local, get a technology-assist to create a fun connected experience.  Maybe surprise far-away grandparents with dinner and bedtime stories.  Have a local restaurant deliver dinner to them, have dinner ready at your house, then dine together via Skype or Facetime.  End the evening by letting the grandparents read bedtime stories to the kids over Skype.  It gives a special time and focus for using video chat to stay connected.

These are, of course, all very intangible gifts.  So, you’ll need a special way to present them.  Make a paper invitation describing your gift, and have the kids decorate it in their best artwork.  Schedule a date for the event to make it more real.  Wrap it up and voila, you’ve given the gift of connection.

6. Travel                   temp                                                                  

Send your loved one on a trip—near or far.  Our family friends do a “big” vacation every 3 years or so, and they make it a fun Christmas gift for their kids.  Planning spring break in Florida?  Make the kids a package with a pair of cool flip-flops and a note telling them they’ll be beaching it in April.  They’ll be excited immediately, and can enjoy the anticipation before the trip.  Or plan an overnight or weekend get-away for someone dear.  We’ve given Grandma an overnight trip, booking her hotel room & dinner at a nearby fun location.  It was a big hit, and didn’t leave her with one more glass knick-knack to place in her already crowded home.

7. Time                                                                                                       

Sometimes your time, skills, and thoughtfulness make the best gift.  These can be particularlyMow the lawn nice gifts for teens to give their parents or grandparents.  Give a loved one a gift certificate to mow their lawn, take down their Christmas lights, or wash their car.  Or plan a special delivery.  I’ve twice had a friend bring me a fresh baguette and hot latte on my birthday morning. Possibly the best gift ever!  Transform it for Christmas, by making a certificate promising fresh baked goods and latte to be delivered on a specific Saturday morning in chilly January.

8. Helping Others      temp2

Our neighbors have a tradition I really love.  Once every 3 or 4 years they all agree replace gifts to each another with gifts to charitable organizations in honor of one another.  They find out what charitable organizations their siblings love to support, and make a donation to that charity in his or her honor.  It’s a chance to find out what matters to your loved ones, and to learn about charitable organizations you may not be familiar with.   And it’s a lovely way to put the idea of holiday giving to work in the world.


So, forget about running to the mall to buy some gift item that may never get used.  Get your creative juices flowing and enrich your loved ones’ lives with a fun, entertaining, or educational experience this year.

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