Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin, ©Denver Botanic Gardens

If you want to simplify your holiday shopping, add an eco-friendly approach, and delight your recipients, we’re enthusiastically on board. And eager to share our ideas.

Skip the stuff. Offer an enticing experience. Perhaps tickets to a popular attraction. Or a wine tasting workshop. Or a voucher for an ice skating lesson.

We love experience gifts for many reasons. They’re easy to tailor to your recipient. And your budget. Be frugal. Or extravagant. You’ll browse online, not in malls. No driving. No plastic packaging. No wrapping.

Exhilarating Experiences

iFly indoor skydiving
iFly indoor skydiving. Photo: iFly

Experience gifts are great for folks who enjoy action. Consider vouchers for ice skating rinks, indoor trampoline parks, or scavenger hunt adventures. If your recipient is a skier or snowboarder, how about a lift pass for a nearby ski facility?

Another fun option, if available in your area, is iFly indoor skydiving. The activity inside a wind tunnel with an instructor allows participants to experience the sensation of flying without jumping from a plane.

Escape Rooms

Escape rooms are extremely popular and offered in an array of themes and levels of difficulty.

Participants typically are presented with a fictional scenario, often in an elaborately decorated space,  and work together to solve a set of interactive puzzles and “escape.”

Various websites offer information about escape rooms, reviews, and deals, including Groupon, Association for Room Escapes of North America, and International Association of Escape Games.

Food Experiences

Tastes of southern foods displayed for Atlanta Food Walks
Participants in the Atlanta Food Walks Downtown Tour are treated to flavors of the South. Photo: Atlanta Food Walks

For plenty of people, a present focusing on food is always a winner.

Your foodie friend or family member is sure to appreciate a gift certificate for an interesting or favorite restaurant. Perhaps the recipient is vegetarian, or a novice in the plant-based world. Use Happy Cow for browsing vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants by location.

Or, elevate the experience with a voucher for a food tour.

Food tours, especially walking tours, offer a delightful opportunity to experience a variety of restaurants in a single excursion. Often, they’re led by a knowledgeable host who tells stories along the way about the local history, architecture, and other points of interest.

That’s part of the appeal of The Downtown Atlanta Tour from Atlanta Food Walks, which stops at seven restaurants for 15 tastings emphasizing Southern favorites, including praline pecans.

Other experience gift ideas for friends who love to eat and drink:

  • Cooking class
  • Wine tasting event
  • Brewery tour

Entertaining Experiences

Wildlife Rising Display at Desert Botanical Garden
Wildlife Rising Display at Desert Botanical Garden. Photo: Desert Botanical Garden

Tickets to a show, intriguing attraction, or holiday event may be ideal for some people on your shopping list. For ideas of what’s popular, unique, or unusual in your region, browse your town’s tourism website.

Botanical gardens often offer interesting exhibits, such as Wild Rising at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, which is described as “more than 1,000 animal sculptures … made from colorful and recyclable plastic.”

During the holiday season, botanical gardens often offer extravagant light displays, such as Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens.

Blossoms of Light display at Denver Botanic Gardens
Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin, ©Denver Botanic Gardens

Art Experiences

Artsy folks may appreciate vouchers for pottery painting, art classes, or other art experiences.

For example, Paintin’ Pottery in Wisconsin offers walk-in and group art experiences. Select from paint-your-own pottery, wheel throwing, wood signs, wine glass painting, glass fusing, mosaics, and others.

For an extra earth-friendly approach, select an art workshop that emphasizes recycling and upcycling. Clever Octopus in Utah and many other reuse centers offer craft classes using materials that might otherwise be garbage.

Flight Simulator

Flight simulator with virtual reality scenarios
Flight simulator with virtual reality scenarios puts you in pilot’s seat. Photo: Florida Aviation Academy

Offer your recipient a flying adventure without leaving Earth.

Some aviation training schools sell vouchers for a whirl in a flight simulator. The simulator at Florida Aviation Academy features the sights, sounds, and sensations from taxiing and take-off to setting the plane down on the runway. The gift recipient will be in the pilot’s seat, with an instructor along for the ride. Pick from an array of scenarios, including different locations, time of day, and weather. Eco-friendly advantage — no jet fuel required.

DIY Experiences

If you’re willing to do it yourself, you can organize any number of custom experience gifts for your recipients. For example,

  • Show off your kitchen prowess and invite your recipients to a feast, perhaps a vegan feast or a vegan dessert party.
  • Host a game night. Plenty of tips are online, such as in this article from The Spruce.
  • Organize a nature walk, bike ride, or birding excursion. Scout out an interesting venue, perhaps a local park. Pack a low-waste picnic. Bring binoculars. Download or print out a guide focusing on wildlife, such as information on birding from Audubon. Or use Audubon Bird Guide App, a field guide with interactive features for identifying for more than 800 species of North American birds.

Do you have other ideas for experience gifts?

Feature image Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin, ©Denver Botanic Gardens

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.